Friday, February 1, 2008

Keen SPD Sandals: Review

May 5 -- Go here for the follow up Keen Commuter SPD Sandal review.
I have fat feet. In general, the cycling industry does not offer much for SPD-compatible shoes for fat-foot-folk like me. For the last few years I've been a Shimano sandal guy. I like the Shimano sandals because they allow me wear a bulky wool layer with a gortex sock for winter riding. This combination has worked well for me down to about 25 degrees for about 1.5 hours. Good enough. I use the sandals year round, and so far I've resisted buying the $200+ winter SPD boots.

Generally, the Shimano sandals are good. The complaints I have about the Shimanos are:
  • While they allow my fat feet to be happily fat compared to other cycling shoes, the designers of the Shimano sandal assumed narrow-footed users. There's not enough strap/velcro to hold the front of the sandal on my foot and it's especially insufficient when I pile on the thick wool and gortex socks.
  • They fall apart. Especially the plasticy weird support piece on the inside of the heel. This always comes unstiched and I must snip it off. I've also spent more time than I think I should stitching up the sandals where seams have come unraveled.
  • Velcro gives up the ghost eventually. As the sandals get older, the straps just stop holding. This leads to nerdy fixes like this.
Finally -- and this can't really be registered as a complaint -- relating to the design of the Shimano sandals, they just don't hold up to the way I want to wear them. Often my rides take me tromping through mud, streams, snow, etc. When I'm off the bike, I submerge the sandals on a pretty regular basis when I tour or take longer rides in the summer.

So that's the backstory. About a month ago, I was excited to learn that Keen had an SPD compatible sandal this year: The Commuter ($120). I've tried the Keen water sandals (the H2) and loved the space in the foot bed. The new SPD sandal solves most of my complaints about the Shimano too: the way the Keen tightens up uses the single-stretchy shock cord, which can be easily replaced if it gives up the ghost. In addition, the construction of the Keen sandal looks like it expects mud, water, and other crud to be a large part of its life.
The Keen sandal is a much better walking sandal than the Shimano. There's a bit of spongy-spring that feels nice. And they're plenty stiff for riding. The fact that the sandal feels so comfy off the bike is a bonus feature in my mind for everyday sandals.
Finally, the toe cap on the Keen is a great benefit, not really as a guard against stubbed toes, but as a wind block. The toes are always the first warn you that you have the wrong shoes on. THe lack of a windblock is the Achilles heel (heh) of the Shimano design for winter riding.

So what's not to like? Uh.
Well, there's a big one here: the width! The Keen folks make the same crappy assumption that all cyclists have narrow feet. This foot bed is super narrow and they only come in one width. Errg!
These sandals on my fat feet are good for one layer of middle-weight wool socks. So I can't layer the thick wool and the gortex. This cuts them out of my winter rides and out of the cold and rainy rides. And that is a damn bummer, because if these sandals used the same foot bed as the H2, these would be on my feet every day of the year, as my Shimanos are now.
The other benefits of these sandals will make them a great fair-weather sandal for me, and I'd probably buy them again, but I plan on sending a piece of email to the folks at Keen to try and persuade them to offer the 2009 model with the H2 foot bed as well. This is where I plan on sending my feedback:
Go here for the follow-up Keen Commuter SPD Sandal review -- 3 months later


FBC Spokane said...

You truly are a local, sandals-with-socks guy.

John Speare said...

It's true. I am that guy. I am ok with being the target of all fashion police, and the butt of BikeSnobNYC's wool sock and spd sandal jokes.

bleckb said...

You may have to spring for a pair of sidi shoes. They come in wider widths, though with wide price tag to boot.

bleckb said...

I forgot to mention, I have a couple pairs of keens and the only drawback is that when you walk in dirt or sand that it collects in the toe box. That probably won't be a problem so much when you're riding, but even little pebbles get lodged there walking.

John Speare said...

I've looked at Sidis. The problem with Sidis is that they are so damn ugly. I can get away with wearing my shimano sandals pretty much anywhere and folks don't know that I'm wearing cycling shoes. They just think I don't care about looking like a nerd. WHich I would prefer to the racer-bike-guy vibe that I get when I see sidis. Coming from a guy that wears socks with sandals year round, this is probably hard to buy, but I don't like that pro cycling look -- lycra and clumpy space shoes are not my deal. Plus, none of their shoes are year rounders like the sandal option.

John Speare said...

Here's the reply from Keen:


Thank you for contacting KEEN Footwear. We regret the Commuter sandals are not wide enough for a good fit. Most cycling shoes are a tad narrow for varied reasons and this is also true of the KEEN version. Possibly a bit larger size with an insole would do the trick.

Best Regards,

KEEN Footwear"

Anonymous said...

Hey John, Thanks for leading me to the "Keens". I've been looking for a good sandal to wear this summer without having to pay an arm and leg for them. The commuters are a little to steep for me, but the H2's look just right. ScottNorthSide, Columbus, Ohio (

Anonymous said...

what's your shoe size/width?

just wondering for comparison


Anonymous said...

I guess I should have also asked where did you get them? Mail order...? Seems everywhere has to order them...

John Speare said...

Hey Meade,
I'm not sure on how wide my feet are (like how many "E's" for instance), but my favorite non-cycling shoes are birkenstocks, with thier wide toe area. And as I mentioned, the H2 footbed was a great fit. So, I don't think I'm actually outside of normal for wide feet, but for sure "fat" in the cycling shoe world.
Depending on the shoe, I wear a 44 (birk); 45-46 (shimano sandal) and 11.5 (keen).
I ordered the sandals from REI, but according to my wife, they are now stocking these on the floor, in the bike area (at the Spokane REI anyway... ymmv).

Anonymous said...

thanks...the Commuter Keens have yet to make it to the floor on the east coast REIs at least in the DC metro area which are the closest to me...I may have to call again and ask if there is an ETA...

Anonymous said...

Hey John, thanks for the review of the Keen Commuter. I also have paddle feet I and alway have very difficult times find proper fitting shoes, especially biking shoes. Have you looked into trying the Nike Havasu sandal? It looks like they have a pretty wide foot bed.


Anonymous said...

I wrote to Keen on the same issues a few days back (narrow footbed and reduced toebox size) and got this reply:

"Thank you for the great feedback. The Commuter sandal with a narrower profile is more a function of making the shoe stiffer while also adhering to the width restriction imposed by how the shoe is used. Cycling shoes generally have to be a bit narrower for added crank arm clearance."

Keen didn't bite on my question of whether they'd offer a wider version (like the MEGA version that SIDI makes of its shoes). I don't know what crankarm clearance values Keen looked at in constructing this sandal, but it's WAY narrow and I can't help but think it could be quite a bit wider and still not interfere with the cranks on any of my 5 bikes (plus if I'm really was that concerned about optimal shoe stiffness, I'll strap on my road or mountain shoes and bag the sandals). Keep sending Keen requests for some extra width, and you'll never know what might happen.

John Speare said...

yeah, I have another buddy that got same response we got from keen: the "can't be wider" and "stiffness will be compromised" answer.

In my opinion, these are both bogus, but I need to get the calipers out and check my shimano sandals and maybe go to the LBS and measure the wide Lakes/Sidi's.

I may be less sensitive to stiffness than other folks, but my shimano sandals are fine, and I know they're wider.

I love these sandals and I've worn them all day every day since I got them a month ago.

I get a zillion hits on this particular post, so it's worth following up with a reasoned response to the boilerplate Keen response. Hopefully, they'll see the light and provide a wider version next year for fat-footed folks and people that want to layer.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering how the Keen strap system feels on the upstroke while peddling? My concern is that the elastic drawstring does not provide enough tension to keep your foot from lifting off ths sole of the shoe. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I saw these in a DC metro are REI this weekend, actually (try the College Park location). I was thrilled to see another sandal on the market, but I wasn't in the mood to wander around looking for someone who could get me a pair. Anyway, I bought and returned a pair of Lake LX SDL sandals a few years ago and found them to be wider than my Keen H2's - but I had other complaints about the fit and returned them. Anyway, I need to find a store that sells the Shimano, Lake and Keen sandals so I can try all three at once and return the leftovers. :) Thanks for the review!

cyclotourist said...

Thanks for the review! It looks like they address the big problem I have w/ the Shimano SPD sandals: too big a gap in sizing. The 43-44 is too small, and my toes hang out/toe bar hits the ball of my foot, and the 45-46 size is huge and I can't cinch it up tight enough. The 1/2 size increments in the Keens might just be the trick!

Anonymous said...

BTW, for what it's worth, today I happened upon a location I didn't know about for one of my local (DC) bike chains. I wandered inside knowing with all certaint that they, like every other store I've tried, wouldn't carry any sandal-like spd shoes (I can find the Keen's in some REI's). Imagine my surprise when the guy told me they had a sandal by Nike! Nike Havasu! They only had two left (on clearance) but one was the perfect fit! I am wearing them now. I found the Keen's too narrow and don't like the toe ridge in the Lake LXSDL, but so far these are great. They are definitely wider than the Keen, and look a lot like the Keen, but they fit differently. I'm pretty sure the plastic cord pull thing will break one of these days, but that's easy enough to replace. For $79 with 30% off I couldn't pass 'em up.

Anonymous said...

I just found out today that these sandals existed. A friend of mine had a pair on for a ride. I have narrow feet and own a pair of Keen H2 sandals. They are ok fit with the lacing but basically wider than I prefer, so to read that the cycling sandals are narrow is good news to me. Hopefully they come in my size (Sidi 49 equivalent).

I can understand a bit Keen's comments on the width justification. All thier sandles seem a bit thick around the sidss for protection and at least in larger shoe sizes they could fit pretty close to the crank arms. But then again, Shimano and Lake seem to have worked that out ok...

Anonymous said...

So there was me in REI today thinking that the Keen SPDs were a little on the narrow side, but that maybe it was just me! They really are too narrow for my averagely wide size 12s which is a great shame. I wear Keen sandals much of the time but these are simply too narrow to be comfortable. Bummer!

Anonymous said...

Keens are like big floppy clown shoes, actually river shoes, but the big toe box is awesome for scrambling on wet rocks. I own a pair similar and wear them everywhere.

Keen could machine off the thick sole on the inside toe to accommodate making it stiffer. personal aesthetics aside sandles and goretex socks don't cut it in the winter. Get yourself a tad bigger hiking boot spd shoe and where em in the winter. Keens would be good summer cruiser shoes with a light wool sock to keep your feet from sticking to the sole. Any added stiffness Keen MFG's into it would be welcome because with the hardware on the bottom they become a poor strolling around the river shoe.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea I had so many fat footed brethren out there! Sidi megas do not work for me. I can however wear Keen shoes which are based on their "metanomical last", but not any of their more fashion conscious lines. From other comments it sounds as if their SPD sandals will also not work for me. I was considering ordering a pair, but you've saved me the time & shipping expense. Thank you!

mike pydel said...

my origiinal apir of lak/shimino sandfaqwls front came free the ither day. i think this eas due to my grinding off part of the sole to accommodate the space needed for bebop clip less pedals . i really like these sandals they are probably over 3 years old with about 9000 miles on them. i ordered a pair of the new shimano sandals when they first came out, the 3 strap version, i didn't like the confines of the 3 strap and also saw that i would have to cut the strethcy fabric they incorporated on the sides, the 3 strap were also missing the toe ridge that i found especially useful on the original 2 strap version.
i found the Keen water sandal too narrow for my foot, i use them when canoing , so they are passable since i dint portage or walk in them much, but i would prefer i bigger toe box area, i also cut all the velcro on the keen to free up the foot.
i will also write to keen to ask them to offer a wider foot and toe box similar to the original shimano sandal.
the only time i had crank problems was when i was toe in peddling, i use bebops clipless pedals , and i found the original shimano sandal perfectly usable with the cranks.
Now to see if i can find a vendor that still has the 2 strap shimano/lakes, they seem to be out of production and out of stock, will look for the nike version too.
thanks for the keen email addy to request toe box room in further productions

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I have the Keens and don't really like the toe box, so I have the shimano's on order.

BTW, there are plenty of people with w-i-d-e feet in Hawaii, where they are called "luau feet"



Anonymous said...

Email sent to Keen:
Just received a pair of Keen Commuter Sandals. Sandals are size 11 US for my size 10.5 EEE. Tried to stick my high arched, wide foot into the sandal. Barely got the toes in. The limited lacing system keeps the foot from going in.

I had hoped to use these in the summer and by adding 1 to 2 socks use them in the winter. Sandals should offer more expansion for socks than shoes do. These sandals offer no expansion so I have to send them back.

Can you spell disappointment? Yah yah, I know you make them narrow so the wheel spokes don't grind your feet to pulp, etc... But come on, not everyone in the world has princess feet.

If you ever design something for real men, please let me know!!

Hippy Holidays,

Everett, WA USA

Julie Anne Kent said...

The Keen are not really built for narrow foot (I have narrow feet. They are built for sockless feet or at least appropriate cycling or warm weather socks. Sandals are not really meant to be work with bulky or thinker socks as you are pictured. If your feet need to be warm or you are not cycling in a climate of sun or in the summer, perhaps you would choose a more appropriate pair of cycling footware.

John Speare said...

Actually those socks are thin smartwools. The sandals are too narrow for my feet with or without socks.

Unknown said...

I have just spent four days riding with my new Keens and just about killed myself. They are too flexible to transfer torque from your foot to the pedals to release the shoe. ( I loosened my pedal release tension as far as it would go. )I have used SPD's for years and never had a problem. I fell four times with these shoes and am my way back to the store to return them. Not recommended as a cycling shoe!

Gernot said...

Email sent to Keen:

I have a pair of Keen H2 sandals, and 2 pairs of Keen shoes, and am very pleased with all them. I am an avid biker and would love to buy your cycling sandals, but the narrower width doesn't work for me.

I think you are doing yourself (and your loyal customers) a great disservice and limiting bike sandal sales by offering them in a width different from ALL your other shoes. I am quite sure that a large percentage of people who consider Keen bike sandals do so because they already have one or more pairs of Keen shoes and love them. And the people who love Keens tend to have wide feet. People with narrow feet won't try them because they know that Keen shoes run wide, and people who love Keens will try them and be disappointed that they don't fit.

Your argument that bike shoes have to be narrow to be stiff and not interfere with the crank is bogus, or at least only valid for the absolutely largest size you make. Let's consider for a minute: I wear a size 8 in Keens, and you would probably suggest I'd get a 9 or 10 in the bike sandals to accommodate my feet's width. Now the 9s or 10s of course are too long, compromising stiffness. (That's a joke.) So what you could/should do, is make your size 10 Keens (which presumably don't interfere with the cranks, and are plenty stiff) and make them 2 sizes SHORTER, thus increasing their stiffness! (Another joke.) And you can just call them size 8s if you want or size 10 extra shorts, or whatever floats your boat, just make them, and I will buy them as soon as they are available!

Time to admit your mistake and make Keen bike sandals for Keen customers in Keen widths, and stop making excuses about the "varied reasons" why bike shoes are narrow. The shoes of the most respected name in bike shoes, Sidi, are plenty wide for my EE feet in the normal width and my regular size 42 (i.e. they are NOT narrow), AND Sidi even makes extra wide versions of several models.


keen shoes said...

These Keens are a very cool do everything kind of shoe. I actually purchased these shoes for myself after seeing that the men's versions only came in the same boring blue, black, grey. Me being extremely secure with my sexuality I decided that I wanted the Process Blue(bright) and that I was willing to wear a womens size to get them. I have 4E wide feet...that is right not one E but 4, however I usually wear a 9 in mens shoes. Well after some trying I found the the womens' 11 fits me perfect. After going through all of this I recieved the shoes very quickly and found them to be a bit tight but after a short hike on the Appalachian Trail they settled right in nicely and have been very comfortable especially on the hikes where you have to cross a stream or river and your feet are doomed to get wet and stay that way. So far not a single blister from my neon blue womens' Keens on my big fat duck paddle of a foot.

John P said...

I pruchased a pair of Keen bike sandals and have only 3 rides on them. I feel they are far too narrow in the toe box and I have blistered toes to prove it. I think that for $114.00 Keen could come up with a better fit than that. These are the most expensive bike sandals on the market and the worst design. The string fasteners come loose while riding and could get caught in the chain. The cleat backing plate is very cheap and strips out very easily.
My new Shimano sandals are in the mail and on the way.
So long Keen,

John P

Rachel said...

I've had a pair of these in women's size for a couple of years now. They're holding up well, but you're right, they're very narrow. I have narrow feet to begin with, and I still think they're narrow. It's difficult to wear socks with them.

My complaint is that they don't breathe like I expect a sandal to. They let out more heat and let in more air than my PI X-Alp Seek shoes, but I still turn to my regular old Birkenstocks in the heat of the summer. I like the keens for the spring and fall.

My only real complaint is the cinch cord. The cord itself is great, but the cinch piece that keeps it tight doesn't hold very well. As soon as I take a step, let alone a pedal-stroke, they loosen back up.

These are the only women-specific cycling sandal that I know of. They're ok. I might buy another pair if they are still the only thing in the future. Or maybe I'll just try out a pair of the mens sandals.

Pondero said...

I wear my Keen sandals year ’round. In the summer, I have the breeze on bare skin. In the winter, I have the warmth of wool socks. To borrow a phrase from Kent Peterson, I am not a fashion role model.

Anonymous said...

I am a pro Bike expedition Tour guide and I've got a pair of the Keene commuter sandals that I have put over 3000 miles on in the last 2 years. I like the closed toe design but the the sandal is two freaking narrow, my little toes always pop out the sides when I'm walking or sometimes when I'm pedaling. And I am not at all impressed with the quality of the build. The stitching has come apart several time and I have had to sew it back together. Not A quality item. Bummer because they look nice. P.S. Hey John lose the sock man, its embarrassing to us all.

GetGlamr said...

that's look really tough designer footwear !!