By now, the pattern for adventure motorcycle boots is pretty familiar. Most ADV riding boots look very similar to motocross boots. They typically rise to about mid-calf, with two or three buckles to close on the side. There’s usually some sort of plastic armor on the front. They may or may not be waterproof. They’re usually made from a combination of synthetic materials and leather, with looks ranging from Roger DeCoster aesthetics to Blade Runner 2049 visuals.
And then, there’s the Viberg 251 Explorers. These are a very different approach to dual-sport boots, and while they’re certainly not going to work for everyone, they do have very good elements.
Viberg isn’t a common name in the moto world like Alpinestars; it’s a small bootmaker based on Canada’s west coast, best-known for high-end leather shoes, logging boots and other outdoor footwear. Viberg does make boots for the cruiseratti, but the Explorers aren’t aimed at the V-twin market, despite their looks. According to the company’s old marketing copy, “The Explorer is a boot designed to not simply meet but exceed the high demands of a very specific niche, the ‘Enduro/Dual Sport Motorcycle Rider.‘ ”
I’m not sure whose idea it was to build the boots originally, but Viberg built them with a lot of input from Tom Grenon, one of the trailblazers of British Columbia’s ADV motorcycle scene (check out his adventures on his very old-school website here). They’re $541 CAD, or roughly $410 US for a handmade pair. Last winter, I sent my individual measurements for both my left and right foot into Viberg and they sent me a pair of boots to test.
As soon as you see the Explorers, you know they are not aimed at the hard enduro, Graham Jarvis-wannabe types. They’re old-school lace-up boots, similar to what adventure riders and other motorcyclists used for years, but definitely not providing the same sort of lower leg stability as a set of new REV’IT Expedition H20 boots.
Because these boots are made of thick, tough leather, you’ll still get plenty of road rash resistance in a crash scenario, though, and if you lace these boots up tightly, you’ll still get more ankle stability than a pair of old workboots would provide. In fact, you do have to be careful when lacing them up; just like a pair of hockey skates, you can get these things so tight that you basically put your feet to sleep.
If you’ve ever worn old-school hockey skates, they are the perfect analogy for these boots’ protection. You can lace them up super-tight just like the old-fashioned skates with leather uppers. But old skates will never offer the same stability as a new pair of plastic hockey skates, and these boots will never be as stable as a pair of plastic offroad boots. However, some riders are OK with that. Plenty of adventure motorcyclists are riding around the world in hiking boots, combat boots, or something else along those lines.
Moving past the heavyweight leather materials, you can see the construction itself is incredibly tough. Viberg quadruple-stitches the seams, and beefs up areas like the toe box and heel bases, and adds arch support. When you get the boots, they’re so stiffly made that it takes a while to get them even remotely broken-in. Viberg advises soaking them in water, then wearing them for a few hours, until they mold to your feet. I didn’t actually try that, but I did some hiking in them, and found they certainly take their time to break in. I should have done it Viberg’s way, honestly.
The boots use legit tough hardware, too, with solid brass eyelets for the laces. The quick-release stud hooks are solid brass, too. There’s a Vibram #100 oil-resistant lug sole, and a 10 iron leather insole that eventually molds to your foot’s shape.
Overall, when you handle the boots, you get the impression that they’re incredibly tough and well-made. They ought to be—Viberg makes them by hand in its factory, and that means they’re put together with more care than the lower-end offerings on the moto market. These are boots that should last many years, if they’re taken care of. They’re a far cry from the disposable made-in-China gear that gets foisted on so many riders.
How’d they work?
Unfortunately, COVID-19 meant I wasn’t able to do any long-distance expedition riding this summer, which was my original plan. I was only able to use these boots for shorter around-home rides and local touring.
Generally speaking, I really liked the Explorers because they’re good boots for most everyday riding scenarios, and they’re good boots for off the bike. Marketeers tell us ADV riding is all about bashing through dunes, but most of us are doing a lot of A-to-B riding to get to the wilderness in the first place . . . and when we get there, we’re not exactly riding at Dakar speeds.
For me, this summer’s off-pavement riding was mostly easy tootling around gravel roads, and I didn’t find myself overly worried about these boots’ relative lack of protection; a crash or twisted ankle might have changed my mind, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I really enjoyed having a pair of rugged boots that didn’t leave me looking like a Mad Max extra when I got off the bike. Unfortunately, the false tongue that Viberg gives you with the boots leaves you looking like an extra from a KISS music video instead, but you can leave that out, as long as you don’t mind the boots wearing out faster. Or, you could try to find a false tongue that doesn’t look so, uh, frilly.
When you’re wearing buckle-up ADV boots, it’s pretty easy to get a repeatable, comfortable, firm fit. With the Viberg Explorers, it’s a little more tricky. Again, like a pair of hockey skates, I found it took time to figure out how to make sure the bottom laces weren’t too tight, but ensure minimal play in the top laces. It wasn’t hard to do, but lacing these boots up is definitely more time-consuming than simply snapping a pair of buckles. On the bike, I found that lacing the lower section of the boots too tight would leave me with kinks in my ankles if I bent my legs while riding. It’s easy enough to loosen them, but then you’ve got to worry about the upper eyelets eventually working themselves loose—just what you don’t want in an offroad boot, as you want as much rigidity as possible.
This was my major beef with the boots, along with the “shovelguard.” A shovelguard is a piece of material sewn into the boot’s sole, underneath the arches of your feet. It stops your boot soles from wearing out on tough material, like a serrated footpeg. That’s a good idea on a dual sport boot, except my boots came with a very slippery shovelguard. I think this will “rough up” over time, but in the early days of ownership, you’ve got to make sure that when you stand on the footpegs, you’re standing on the balls of your feet. If you’re on the slippery shovelguard, I could see a scenario where your foot could slip off the peg, if you hit a bump or something.
Now, you should always be standing on the balls of your feet in off-road conditions anyway, but just the same, this is something to be aware of. I don’t really see it as a problem if you’re aware of the issue ahead of time, though. Because these boots are hand-made, you could call Viberg and ask them to put in different, less slippery material. Again, if you look at Tom Grenon’s website, you can see he’s ridden all over the west coast in these boots, and seems to have avoided falling off his motorcycle as a result. I expect any sensible rider could do the same, especially if they called Viberg to work out a solution.
Considering these are leather boots with no Gore-Tex or similar liner, I found they repelled water pretty well. Because we had a summer-long drought, I wasn’t able to test them in any long downpours, but I think a leather treatment like Sno-Seal would get you through quite a bit of rain (call Viberg, and no doubt they’d have a recommendation). You can also buy waterproof boot covers from places like Aerostich, and I think this would be ideal for touring, as even the most leakproof of synthetic boots can get pretty water-logged after a few days of rain. The great thing about these Vibergs is, your feet will breathe much better than they would in a thick, tall boot when it’s not raining. I prefer that when I’m touring. It keeps everything a little less grotty when you’re on the road for days on end.
I had high hopes that these boots would serve well as hikers, thinking they might prove the elusive all-round footgear that so many ADV riders have looked for over the years. I had mixed results, hiking around in them and carrying a pack. They’d last forever in this role, but because there’s no cushy lining like a modern running shoe or hiker, I managed to get some blisters after a couple of days. That’s despite a summer of running, even doing a half-marathon at one point. The answer, of course, is to wear proper socks and break your feet in while you’re also breaking your boots in.
I’d put these boots in a similar category to Aerostich’s riding suits; they’re expensive, with excellent material and tough, handmade construction. Their old-school design means they might not have as many features as more modern gear. They’re also reasonably expensive.
However, once you get them broken in, you’ve got top-shelf kit that will last you a long time, if you take care of it. You don’t have to worry about the boots falling apart on your ride to Panama, or beyond, because they’re made to last. That’s a highly underrated feature, one that many modern manufacturers have gotten away from. In the long run, it’s actually cheaper to buy good gear. I’m not saying these boots are for you—I noted some issues in the review, and I think you’d be wise to carefully consider, if you’re thinking about purchasing them. They won’t offer the same protection as many other moto boots.
Instead, the Viberg 251 Explorers are made for the rider who wants gear that lasts. When they wear out, they can be repaired, instead of thrown away. That’s a good thing; everybody is supposedly looking for sustainability these days, in our eco-conscious world. These moto-boots should fit that description, and even if they aren’t adrenaline-junkie fashionable, they’ll suit many, many travelers just fine, for the long haul. I know I plan on wearing mine until they fall apart, and I don’t expect that to happen for many years.
Viberg has limited its production due to COVID-19, and the Explorer 251 boots are not currently in regular production. However, if you call them up, Viberg has told us they may be able to custom-make you a pair. They will be going back into normal production soon.