Oh it used to be so simple and all rather humbling.
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Back in the day we all wore EB's and if someone got up a route, boulder problem or a brick edge horror at Bolton Tech' wall it was because they were either better than you, bolder than you or a combination of the two.
Or so it seemed to my teenage eyes. However, there were various shenanigans afoot (literally). For example, at the wall on a winter night, be it Altrincham, Richard Dunn or Bolton you could occasionally, above the sound of fifty noisy climbers catch the sound of a flat slap. This it turns out was the noise secretly manufactured fibreglass insoles made when the crafty climber hit the unmatted ground. These little devices would turn the humble EB into front pointing devils, perfect for dancing across the “back wall traverse” at Bolton Tech'. I tried to make my own after being let in on the secret, my first attempt ended up as sticky lumps and my last attempt only succeeded in making my boots and my mother's kitchen forever sticky!
It illustrates how far we have come from the days of EB's with secret fibreglass DIY insoles.
Then one day EB made a commercial cock up of Terence Rattigan proportion, they moved the manufacture of their market domineering boot to a cheaper factory and overnight the quality dive bombed and the floodgates opened for others to try their hand at making sticky boots for climbers. Boreal Fires were king for a while, you could even stick the soles together such was the friction properties of their rubber and they were still good old boots. Then in the mid eighties the climbing boot became a shoe and ever since then, whether we succeeded or failed to get up a route or an overhanging V10 problem on pink blobs could be attributed (if one was looking for an excuse for failure) to what we put on our feet.
Back in the day(1980 approx)! Joe Healey Climbing Harvey Warbanger at Pex Hill, watched by Tony Mitchell. Note the EBs!
UKC Gear, Sep 2009
© Ken Travers
And so a couple of months ago arrived a pair of Red Chili Matadors. They have been designed by Stefan Glowacz along with Red Chili's latest signing Andreas Bindhammer. Whilst climbing at the fantastically steep Deverse in the Gorge du Loup I saw Mr Bindahmmer, I was in his way as I was taking a couple of days to redpoint the warm up route (it's a tricky 7c!) and so he had to warm up on Sika! He did the full 8b version without breaking sweat.
So the Matador has been tested, fine tuned and approved by a man so strong that he could wear tartan wellies and still climb harder than most.
Design-wise the super-tensioned, toe down last is fairly standard these days for top end shoes. They have combined this with a low-stretch synthetic upper forcing the foot forward into the toe of the shoe thus allowing great force to be generated on the footholds. Laces have been dispensed with and the triple velcro straps allow quick release and easy adjustment.
Note:The last is basically the 3-d form around which the shoe is shaped. The toe-down part refers to the fact that the sole is not flat but points downwards so that when you put your foot in the shoe and climb you can generate more force through your feet and actually grab footholds on steep ground. In a shoe like the Matador last is designed to focus power on your toes whereas a shoe with a more conventional flat last (where the sole is just that) allows more comfort and all-round performance. There is a useful article on rock shoe design here.
What of the rubber?
The Matador comes with plenty of it, profiled arch rubber and lots of heel rubber for dragging on grit. I particularly liked the over the toe rubber, very useful for modern climbing walls and Parisella's Cave.
How did they perform?
They certainly point the toe down and I found I could generate lots of push on very small holds, this seemed most useful at the wall and on limestone sport routes. They performed better on grit after being “worn in” for some time, feeling a little unsubtle for gritstone when fresh out of the box. My foot stayed firmly in the shoe and did not slide around and I found that the heel suited my foot shape and performed well when hooking. The rubber is certainly as sticky as the other top brands and performed well. It seems to be lasting okay too. However, if anything it may be a little too soft as the rubber on the toe seems to be curling a bit and whilst this does not seem to have affected performance it does suggest that the density of the rubber may not be spot on.
Overall, The Matador is a shoe designed to compete with other top end shoes, it certainly does this, has some good features and performed well in the tests. It illustrates how far we have come from the days of EB's with secret fibreglass DIY insoles.
Matador Review by Kevin Avery-UKC
extremely proficient pushing into small edges and pockets and allowing a lot of body tension on steep ground.
I've used the Matadors for a couple of months now. I've tested them on the training board, at the local walls, on the grit and sport climbing on limestone. I've also used them occasionally for some trad.
During the initial stages of testing I found them to be extremely proficient pushing into small edges and pockets and allowing a lot of body tension on steep ground. This was great on overhanging sport climbs at venues such as Kilnsey Crag, as well as indoors where the Matadors were generally excellent. The rubber is very sticky but due to the soft compound I have found that after a bit of wear, the toe has started to deform when I put pressure through very small holds and consequently the shoes do not perform quite as well at the more vertical and technical venues like Malham Cove.
Richie Patterson of Red Chili UK had this to say regarding the rubber:
"The batch of shoes that the test pairs came from had rubber which was not 'cured' - and therefore was exactly like you both pointed out too soft."
We currently have a new pair on test with the new rubber and will comment on the difference in due course.
The fit is good for my feet. This is a shoe with a radically down-turned toe and to begin with my test pair felt super-tight but not excruciating. They did however loosen up, in fact possibly too much for a performance shoe of this type. Perhaps this is because my pair was not small enough, but I'm not sure I could have got them on any smaller! My test pair are now at the point where they flatten out quite comfortably rather than force the toes down and this means that they have become slightly less effective for toeing onto holds on steep ground.
On the local grit crags the shoes performed adequately but they are perhaps too specialist to be ideal for this medium and I would probably revert to a shoe with more of a standard flat last for general grit use.
A specialist shoe but well worth a look!
The heel fit is great, being snug and secure. It is also quite narrow and consequently good for hooking small edges. The three velcro straps pull the shoe securely around the foot and allow a precise fit to be achieved. Build quality is also proving to be very good although like I said earlier, the rubber is wearing quite quickly. This is not uncommon on this kind of performance shoe though as they are generally built for maximum performance and grip.
All in all I am impressed with the Matadors. They are an excellent choice for steep sport routes and boulder problems as well as the climbing wall. The rubber is sticky but wears quickly, the fit is precise and the heel excellent. A specialist shoe but well worth a look!
NB. Look out for an update to this review in a month's time when I have tested the new rubber.
Check it out hombre, what you see is what you get. The all new Matador is uncompromising, red, angry and perfect. This is the shoe for action climbers, for boulderers, the shoe for the best.
Stockists: Red Chili UK Stockists
About Pete Chadwick:
Pete Chadwick climbing at Gordale Scar Pete Chadwick began climbing aged 14 at Pex Hill, he later produced a guide to the Merseyside and Cheshire Sandstone, he has climbed throughout Europe and the USA and is keener than ever for getting out and enjoying the craic. He lives in Merseyside with girlfriend Naz, also a keen climber and works as a teacher.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Pete Chadwick and Kevin Avery - UKC: