The options for riding shoes are seemingly endless. Tons of styles, features, brands, and price points to wade through. Making a decision can be daunting. Luckily, we’re more than happy to stress test what’s out there and help take some of the guesswork out of the process for you. I just had the opportunity to put the Speed and Strength Insurgent and Highway 21 Axle riding shoes out on the road. After a few hundred miles on each, they’re both excellent options, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Both offer a good bang for the buck, and come in under the $150 mark, with the Axle shoes being the more budget-friendly option at $99.99 compared to the Insurgent’s $129.95. Is the extra $30 worth it for Speed and Strength’s latest offering, or are Highway 21’s foray into riding shoes punching above their weight class? Let’s break ‘em down…

Speed and Strength Insurgent Moto Shoe
Highway 21 Axle Moto Shoe

Features and Construction

Both shoes are equipped with reinforced heel and toe boxes, padding in the ankles, and shanks in the sole. There’s durable, non-slip molded outsoles on both shoes, and each have held up to hundreds of miles of riding without showing significant signs of wear. Both have uppers composed of durable textile material, though the Insurgents only partially so, as they beef up (no pun intended) the construction with heavy-duty leather, including a reinforced leather shifter panel on the toe. The Axles have a bit of leather, but it’s limited to some trim pieces. There’s metal eyelets and heavy-duty laces across the board. The Axle shoes get a nod for featuring some nice waxed laces, though I suspect the thick round boot laces of the Insurgents will hold up longer.

Outside of providing protection for riding, the Axles are a straightforward affair. The Insurgent shoes bring a few more features to the table. They have a Velcro lace retention strap to keep the laces secure while riding so they don’t get caught on anything, and a rear access zipper for ease of ingress and egress. A lace retention system is a solid idea and I’m happy to have it, but laces getting caught on my bike is legitimately an issue I have never had. Better to have it and not need it, rather than need it but not have it I guess. The lace retention strap also gets in the way a bit when you do have to lace up and tie the shoes, and the Velcro even catches on the laces sometimes. The rear zipper access is a bit hit and miss. They’re easier to remove thanks to the zipper, but getting them on isn’t actually much easier. I think a side zip might work better.

Neither pair sports any waterproofing. The materials of each will certainly resist some water for a brief period, but I’ve pushed each pair to their limits in wet weather, and you’ll want to have packed some dry socks if you get caught in a lengthy downpour. If the shoes do get soaked, the airy all-textile construction of the Axle shoes dries out faster.

Fit and Comfort

I’m a size 12E, and both shoes fit great in a 12. They run true-to-size, albeit a bit on the wider side. Both were comfortable out of the box, needing very little break-in, and hold up well to wearing all day. The Axles are a bit more comfortable for the first few hours of wear, but eventually taper off. The Insurgents aren’t as cushy initially, but retain the same level of comfort longer.

Airflow and breathability on both is good thanks to the textile construction and mesh liners. Since the Axle shoes are entirely textile, they do flow more air, making them the clear choice for warmer days. Neither is particularly great once it dips below 45º or so.

On the bike, both shoes perform well. Both have flexible ankles, and neither shoe is so thick in the toe box or sole that it impedes operating the shifter or brake. I’ve had plenty of boots where the ankles, soles, and/or toe box were thick and rigid to the point where it was challenging to shift. Both provide plenty of vibration dampening thanks to molded outsoles and composite shanks. The Insurgents provide more dampening overall, but the Axles give better feedback through the controls.

Style

Both shoes sport subtle styling. Speed and Strength more aggressively brands the Insurgent shoes, while the Axles only sport a small Highway 21 shield logo tab at the collar. They’re both casual and easy to wear without standing out as motorcycle gear. Aesthetic preferences are subjective, but I prefer the more understated styling of the Axle shoes. The Insurgent shoe has more going on with its mix of materials, leather panels, and overall more overt styling. The clean lines and classic high-top silhouette of the Axle just do it for me, and I particularly dig the strip of natural gum-colored rubber that finishes off the bottom of the outsole. The Axle shoes only come in black, whereas the Insurgents come in both black and brown, giving you more options to match your personal taste.

The Verdict

There’s not a clear winner here, and I’m not just being a milquetoast fence-sitter. The extra features on the Insurgent are nice, but fall a bit flat for me. I think the Axle offers a bit more bang for the buck and are the better looking shoes thanks to stealthier styling. The Insurgent walks away being slightly more comfortable, and I suspect they’ll have greater longevity given their partial leather construction. Whether that’s worth an extra $30 is going to be up to your wallet. No matter which pair of shoes you go with, you won’t be disappointed.