Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Product review: Keen’s new “Springwater” bike shoe aims for Portland’s utility style

Posted by on February 11th, 2009 at 12:57 pm

The Keen Springwater
(Photos: Ellee Thalheimer)

[Editor’s note: This product review is by BikePortland contributor Ellee Thalheimer. We asked Ellee to review Portland-based Keen Footwear’s new cycling shoe, named after a Portland cycling landmark. For those unfamiliar with cycling shoe technology, there isn’t much out there on the web, but here’s a basic explanation. ]

Portland’s love affair with Keen shoes just went to the next level.

The company has come out with a new cleated cycling shoe, the Springwater ($130). No, it’s not another version of the sandal cycling shoe for which Keen is famous. It’s a closed-toe, commuter shoe that has all the accoutrements of the beloved Keen shoe but with the support and features of a cycling shoe.

Cycling apparel companies have thrown a cleated commuter shoe or two into the mix before. But it’s always seemed like an afterthought, and has never really spoken to serious commuters in need of a non-fugly shoe both good for walking and cycling. The impracticality of cycling shoe-ness always seems to shine through the companies’ stab at “street wear.”

Story continues below


Within the last couple of years, companies like Pearl Izumi have finally caught on a bit to this under-courted demographic. But the cleated, around town bike shoe is still a rarity.

Enter those masters of public desire at Keen. Their Springwater cycling shoe displays the company’s signature chubby, space-age, outdoor comfort style. Yet it also has a firm sole to support pedal strokes, full length SPD compatible plates, and TPU cleat cap plates. The mesh lining is designed to wick moisture and the 3 Velcro straps make it easy and adjustable, which is especially good for those with narrow feet.

The Springwater provides a comfortable ride, no doubt. They aren’t for the longest treks, though I would totally sport them on a spin out to Sauvie’s Island to pick berries in the late summer. They are absolutely perfect for a commuter running errands, for riding about on the weekends, to wear to a casual business lunch, and for the daily jaunt over the Hawthorne Bridge.

Keen’s style is generally not my own, and I was a bit concerned at first over the geriatric-nurse-goes-bike-commuter feel to the shoes: comfortable, stubby, efficient, and very Velcro.

“They aren’t geriatric!” exclaimed Lucy Burningham, a stylish local writer. “They’re cute!”

Considering Lucy’s opinion, I decided to make sure BikePortland readers got a well-rounded style points assessment of these shoes in the face of my personal bias. So I went straight to the bellwether of Portland style, to hipdom itself: Stumptown on Belmont.

Here’s what Stumptowners said:

“I’d wear them,” commented Aaron Schmitt, local cyclo-cross racer and poster child for the division of hip Portland mountain men.

“They look like they would be worn in this town” contemplated a man in line donning a retro hounds tooth jacket, “They’re cool, actually. Definitely potential.”

“They look great to wear on a field trip to Mount Tabor,” opined one stylishly clad gal.

Her friend, sporting a cute, off-center cap, chimed in, “They could be cute if you put them in the right context: black leggings and a short black cycling skirt would definitely work.”

So there you have it. Portland approves. After wearing them for a couple of weeks, I can say I approve too. There’s really comfy. After years of resistance, I guess I’m on the Keen bandwagon.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you.

  • beEtFarMer February 11, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Kind of a cool shoe.

    I like the hometown reference…but $130? It looks like everybody else’s shoes that sell for $80 to $100…just my 2 cents…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • dersins February 11, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    the 3 Velcro straps make it easy and adjustable, which is especially good for those with feet.

    Note to consumers: Keen Springwater bike shoe not recommended for the footless.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • ayresjk February 11, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    These look like they could be a great next shoe for me. it would be nice to wear the same shoe in the shop as I do on the ride to work. I just hope, for those of us with wider feet, that these fit better than their clipless sandal. As a Keen sandal wearer, I had hoped their clipless sandal would fit as nice as their regular sandal, but suprisingly it was narrower than my Shimano SPDs.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jeff February 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Meh. Kind of ugly. I’d prefer them to be styled after some of their more popular street shoes.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Whyat February 11, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Interesting concept, but like all Keens, WAY overpriced.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Steve February 11, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Any idea if they fit width-wise like other Keen non-cycling shoes or like the SPD sandals they already have available?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Adam February 11, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I don’t get how these are an improvement over a basic closed-toe SPD shoe, or, indeed, over a pair of Sambas with clips and straps. In my years of commuting, I’ve sometimes wanted a cleat, never wanted velcro, and always wanted laces, for an on-and-off-the-bike commuting/touring shoe. Is a lightweight, stiff-soled, cleatable dress shoe or trad-looking sneaker that difficult to create?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • AJ February 11, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Really that is it? What do they look like on the bottom? Do the cleats stick out below the tread. Can you walk in them with out looking like a duck?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • JohnO February 11, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for the review. Much as I love Jonathan, I don’t think I’ve ever read something of his such as “Her friend, sporting a cute, off-center cap …”


    And the shoes would be a, um, step up from my racer wannabe Shimanos.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Mike February 11, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Did anyone proof this?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Dave February 11, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    “But the cleated, around town bike shoe is still a rarity.”

    Really? If I’d known my Shimano MT-40’s were so rare, I’d have auctioned them of by now. And here I’ve just been beating the crap out of them for five years – they refuse to wear out. But I’m sure for three times the money, the Keens will help me talk to the hipster chicks while I get some bad espresso.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Elly Blue February 11, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Yikes. Narrow feet. Thanks for pointing that out, I’ve fixed it. Note — you can always send typos to me or Jonathan over email. elly at bikeportland dot org.

    I let Ellee know this is up, hopefully she’ll chime in on the comments soon —

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • ellee February 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Hey steve and ayresjk

    The shoe did have a narrow fit to it. A woman with wide feet could opt for the men’s shoe (if she doesn’t have small-sized feet), but I don’t know what to say to the guys.

    AJ –
    Here’s the link to the Keen site that shows you a picture of the sole.


    If you wear the shoes on flat pedals or with cages, there’s a cleat plate that makes the shoe feel indecipherable from civilian shoes. With cleats, the shoes clickity clack a little bit, but otherwise are pretty comfortable.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • JDL February 11, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve been waiting for a shoe like this. Where can I buy them?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Tony P February 11, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    I’m with Adam. What’s with the velcro? There are already plenty of “performance” riding shoes on the market. Keen would do well to make a nice lace-up casual shoe with spd compatability. I have a pair of leather Keens and they are quite comfortable and well made. If these shoes are of the same quality they are easily worth the price. Quality costs money folks.
    Nice job Ellee!
    (And aren’t Lucy and I the power couple of bike portland today!)

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • beth h February 11, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    I am amazed at how so many companies continue to churn out products that fewer and fewer of us can afford. For those of us who barter, scavenge and engage in other creative workarounds to stay clothed and fed — and there are more of us in the bicycle “community” than some of you may realize — a 130-dollar shoe simply boggles the mind.

    ..::scratches head::..

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • steve February 11, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    You want companies to market and manufacture goods for people who- ‘barter, scavenge and engage in other creative workarounds..’ ???

    Your complaint has me scratching my head beth. You want the consumer driven, capitalistic machine we find ourselves in to pander to those attempting to avoid it?

    Sure, makes perfect sense.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • djkenny February 11, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Keen is meh. I have some of the common ones with the brown leather on the front. They are awkward…the toe just “feels” bulky with too much room for the toes. They have held up great…but I also find that as water proof as they claim to be…they should not let water in the tongue area…this is a problem with most shoes claiming to be “water proof” though.

    The best sandals so far for me have been these American Apparel Flip flops I found on sale for under $10…they have a tire like tread on the bottom that sticks to my pedals really well.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Seager February 11, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    The original shimano sandle spd is still the best commuting “shoe” in my opinion. Mine have over 14k miles on them. (2 x-country tours and 4 or 5 RAGBRAIs) and they are barely worn out. The are great for walking around, and with wool or sealskin socks they are waterproof and warm.

    The newer generations of the sandle with a third strap aren’t as cool (literally) but still great. Cycling sandles will always be the best commuting wear. Easy off, nice in the summer, and dryer than regular shoes when combined with neoprene/sealskin socks.

    The best commuter “shoe” has been around for over 7 years. 🙂 (and is half the price)

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Joel February 11, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Most of you found a really funny things to complain about. Now back to work!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • patrickz February 11, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    “They could be cute if you put them in the right context: black leggings and a short black cycling skirt would definitely work.”

    I think my wife has a cycling skirt I can borrow. Kidding aside, I have a pair of walking Keens that fit quite well and are fine for short rides on my errands bike, since it has pedal cages. I’ll wait and see what the experts have to say before I splurge.
    Cheers everyone.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Whyat February 11, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Tony P- #15- Quality costs money folks.

    And paying too much for designer labels costs even more. There are so many quality shoes (and a large handful of quality cycling shoes) at a fraction of what these Keens cost. Just MHO.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • AC February 11, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Seems as if Keen has forgotten the wide feet people again. Here’s a copy of my chat with Keen:

    Call accepted by operator Jamahl. Currently in room: AC, Jamahl.

    Hello AC,
    The Springwater does not come in wide.

    that’s too bad.
    any idea if keen is considering making their cycling shoes in wide?
    I love my keen sandals, but cannot wear the cycling shoes because they are too narrow.
    We have many request for this, I can’t say what they have planned though…
    ok, thanks,
    Your welcome

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Madrick February 11, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    While I’m no big fan of Keen (due to their reasonably short lifespan and non-repairable nature), I expected much less of a “traditional” looking bike shoe and something more casual like their existing styles the Bronx, Brooklyn, or Austin. I think those more casual styles combined with SPD compatibility would appeal more to commuters and other urban cyclists than just another bike shoe. $130 also seems a bit steep, but then again the price of everything has been going up.
    Just my 2 cents.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wyeast gal February 11, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    $130 IS too steep. While I love my pair of Keens that was purchased on sale at $50, no way would I pay $130 for a any bike shoe – or any shoe for that matter. Well, boots yes…

    Keen does a great job of supporting environmental groups (LNT – thanks Keen) that interest me, but they’re so pricey. I have a fast growing son to feed, cloth and buy shoes for – no funds for shoes in this price range.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • q`Ztal February 11, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Yeah, $130 is a little steep.

    Unless your feet are 13 wide or larger; then you’re stuck with Sidi.

    They make a durn fine product and their prices reflect an awareness of this fact.

    SPD sandals are nice in dry weather but after 5 years of trying to make the seal skin socks work I learned they only block contacting water. They were never designed to block a water jet hitting like a pressure washer.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Devin February 12, 2009 at 12:44 am


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • dp February 12, 2009 at 8:26 am

    “Most of you found a really funny things to complain about. Now back to work!”

    Joel you hit the nail on the head here.

    Don’t like them? Just don’t buy them. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Tony Fuentes February 12, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Where is the Springwater made?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Tony P February 12, 2009 at 9:30 am

    jonathan: why isn’t Ellee Thalheimer listed in the Team BikePortland over there –>?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Glen B February 12, 2009 at 9:42 am


    If you’re reading this thread – great start! I’ve always liked your shoes. However, those of us working in office environments can’t quite sport the velcro / synthetic look. I’m hoping that this shoe takes off and inspires you to come out with another (leather) version with an appearance more akin to the Boston or Brooklyn models you produce.

    Thanks for thinking of us,

    Glen Bolen
    glenb at frego dot com (if you want to run any ideas by me)

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • andrew February 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Velcro wears out and is loud – laces are better.

    It rains a lot in Portland – what about a snap-on sock-like thing which fits under my rain pants, but stays attached so I don’t have to reattach it everyday during the rainy season? I’m tired of booties.

    I’m wearing my Shimanos right now. Improve on them, and I’m a customer.

    Oh, and manufacture it locally, and I’m really a customer.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • djkenny February 13, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I am always looking for a shoe that is both practical for walking, and rain, with long wear…but also something that would look good going-out-on-the-town-with.

    Any chance you can make a Gibson-like, or Doc Martin style? A well enclosed tongue that keeps the rain off of my socks would be swell to!

    Make it local. Make it comfy. Make it subtle and cool looking…

    I will buy it.



    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • John M April 8, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Looks? What about fit? The Commuters are moronically narrow … how about these $130 berry-field, easy ride, don’t strain ’em waa-waa shoes?

    Recommended Thumb up 0