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Footwear veterans join forces for Unparallel Sports shoes, launch new line of MTB shoes

Published December 14, 2018
Unparallel’s Up Link men’s clipless MTB shoe

Editor's note: A version of this story appeared in the December issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

FULLERTON, Calif. (BRAIN) — Mountain bikers who know their sneaker-style MTB shoes will see a few familiar features in the Up Link clipless model from new footwear brand Unparallel Sports. Start with the outsole: That's similar to Teva's Pivot clipless shoes from the brand's brief foray into the MTB market, right? Actually, it is the Teva outsole design.

Unparallel owner Sang Lee worked on Teva's MTB shoes for parent company Deckers, and when Teva exited the bike market in 2014 he purchased the tooling.

"So this is actually a Teva outsole package. Now we just use our own Unparallel rubber — two different compounds and co-molded those two compounds for higher performance— and also redesigned the upper. So this is exactly the same as the Teva bottom," said Lee, who has also produced shoes and boots in California for customers including The North Face, KTM, K-Swiss.

But that's only the start of the shoe development knowledge going into Unparallel's new line of mountain and commuter shoes.

In 2006, Unparallel creative director Steve Delacruz developed Five Ten's first mountain bike shoes. Those shoes were manufactured by Lee until Adidas acquired Five Ten in 2011.

After leaving Five Ten, Delacruz went to Italy to create Fizik's first shoes. He also spent a stint at Oakley in the early 2000s working on an array of footwear projects — an experience Delacruz likens to going to "shoe-making college."

"In 2½ years we made everything from sandals, golf shoes, heels for women, military shoes to skate shoes, mountain bike shoes — just this huge range. It was a great learning experience," he said.

WIth 20 years of experience creating shoes for Etnies, French shoe designer (and mountain biker) Franck Boistel rounds out the Unparallel product development team.

"So that's one of the fundamental strengths of our brand is the three of us," Delacruz said. "Myself, all my racing and bike design and development experience, and Sang's manufacturing and contacts and expertise as a shoe maker, and then Franck as a designer. It's only three of us, but we've got a strong team."

Unparallel began selling its mountain shoes consumer direct on its website in late August, with plans to sell through North American IBDs as well. Delacruz is working to raise awareness of the brand and is visiting key shops local to the company in Southern California before building out a dealer network and courting distributors.

At its factory in Orange County, Unparallel manufactures an extensive line of rock-climbing shoes. And while the brand's bike shoes are manufactured at its factory in Busan, South Korea, Unparellel develops its rubbers for those shoes in-house in Southern California.

"We master batch the rubber and control the rubber — that's absolutely key. Rubber's first. So it's the design, the development and rubber control we do here," Delacruz said.

"It's only manufacturing in Korea. All other processes are here," Lee added.

The mountain bike lineup consists of three models — the West Ridge and Dust Up flat-pedal shoes and the Up Link clipless shoe. The Dust Up and Up Link also come in women's versions. For commuters and city riders, Unparallel will offer five models, with clipless versions available for three of them.

"We wanted to come to market with a range that's not only for all-mountain/enduro and the more enthusiast hard-core riders — we also want to pay attention to city bikers and commuters. We feel there's a lot of growth there. And also just have a cool casual shoe that you don't have to switch out of when you ride into work," Delacruz said.

But Delacruz predicts the Up Link clipless shoe will be Unparallel's best-seller out of the gate.

"We'll also get quite a bit of traction with the West Ridge — more of a burly freerider kind of a shoe — but the majority of our sales are going to be with the Up Link," he said. "With the city bike shoes it's going to take a little bit longer in that we've just got to find the right retailers. It's more of a location shop. It's got maybe a coffee shop or it's a higher-level shop that has customers who go in to really check stuff out."

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