Monday, November 12, 2012

Cycling Shoes – Is Spending More Really Better?

If you ride a bicycle, you more than likely wear shoes (sorry, flip-flops don’t count).  The kind of bike you have, and the type of riding you intend to do, will dictate the kind of shoes you will wear.  If this is not the case, it ought to be.

If cycling does have one odd human-factors issue it is with the whole shoe/pedal nomenclature.  You clip into clip-less pedals, but you do not clip into toe-clips.  Once you get past this oddity, you can see it is not too difficult to comprehend.  However, this article is not about pedal types, but about the connection your body has to the bikes locomotion – The shoes.  Road shoes, in this case

There is one thing I have found to be absolutely true regarding road shoes – A stiff, pure carbon sole is better than anything else.  They do not flex, and the power which can transmitted through them is far greater than a non-carbon sole.  Period. 

A friend of mine uses cycling/athletic shoes with an SPD cleat.  Fine and dandy for off the bike (and fashion), however, the power she is losing with that super-flexy sole has to be astronomical.  However, this is the trade-off if you choose to not go with a stiff soled shoe.

Buckles, Boa’s, Laces, And Straps, Oh My!

There is a common belief the more securing systems a given shoe has, and thus, more secure the foot is in the shoe, the better.  This is simply not true in this mild-mannered evaluator’s experience.  The rationale behind a very secure fitting shoe is the precise application of power and optimum tactile feel.  However, this, in my opinion, does not add up dollar-wise in the real world of ever-more expensive shoes.  The double-edged sword of snug and secure are countered by the issues of restricted circulation and hotspots as the feet warm up and swell.  I find simple straps extremely sufficient to get the job done.  If I was a Pro Tour rider I may feel differently, however, the bulk of manufacturer’s customers are not racers, so a “Racing Snug” fit is an over-sold feature to everyday cyclists.

Case in point: I have a pair of Sidi Genius 5 Pro Carbon’s and a pair of Lake CX-235C’s (the “C” designating a full-carbon sole).  Both are very good shoes, however, they go about performing their jobs in very different manners. I paid $60.00 for the Lake’s (on close-out), while the Sidi’s were $220.00 on sale (regular retail was $269.99 at the time), and have a “Millennium Carbon” sole, which is market-speak for, well, not real carbon.  While I am a big fan of Sidi, and their stuff fits me like a pair of slippers, their shoes get awfully expensive at the upper, carbon-soled, end of the range.  You can get top of the line, carbon soled, Sidi’s for about $500.00, which is nowhere near cheap for most people (If you are really feeling brave, you can pay $1250.00 for a pair of custom fit D2's or Riivo’s). 

                                                         Sidi Genius 5 Pro.  Image Courtesy Sidi

The Sidi Genius 5’s are made from Lorica (synthetic leather), and comes with two Velcro straps, plus one of them ratchet-type, thingamabobs all the shoe makers seem to rave about.  Sure, ratchets are a nice feature, and you can get your feet plenty snug with them, but I find them a pain to fasten and unfasten.  Overall, the shoes fit really good, look great, are well built, and are prone to giving me severe hot-spots.   

The Lake’s are amazing, full-carbon soled, real leather cycling shoes, with three, simple Velcro straps.  They have now been replaced in the Lake model line by the CX236C’s.  Shame, as the 235’s completely rock!  They fit darn good, are very well built, super-easy to adjust on the fly, and do not give me any hot-spots.  The only down-side I see, so far, are the non-replaceable heel pads, which are part of the molded, carbon sole.  So, when they get too worn, I will have to get creative to find a workable solution to this issue.

                                                        Lake CX235C - And, The Sole Is Vented!

In the real world of road testing, both pairs of shoes performed very admirably.  Getting in and out of the Lake’s can be done quickly, and can even be performed without looking at your feet.  Once underway, if an adjustment is needed, it is easy to do so with the Velcro straps.  The Sidi’s require a super-precise guiding of the buckle through the ratchet (it rarely works the first time), and adjustments on the fly takes a bit more work than I consider safe. 

Between the two, there is noticeable flex in the soles under power, especially going up hills with the Sidi’s.  The stiff, all carbon sole of the Lake’s produces nothing but forward motion.  Since efficiency is the name of the bicycling game, I strongly urge all to seek out a full-carbon sole to put all of your pedal strokes to good use. 

See, what truly matters to the everyday cyclist is not a lot of the bells and whistles, but the balance of procuring the stiffest sole their wallets can afford. 

                                                                        Real World Testing
Yes, We All Have To Walk, Too

A few tips about going bi-ped in your very expensive cycling shoes.  First, do it very carefully, as you will be perched upon the cleats of the shoes and the heel pads.  And, all heel pads are not created equal, so pay attention to what you have, and practice a little bit if you must.  My other tips for waking in your cycling shoes are to do it as little as possible, and to use cleat covers to minimize the damage that can be done to said cleats, whilst also cutting down on the noise.  Unless, you enjoy sounding like Gregory Hines tap dancing on concrete, that is. 

Putting It All Together

So, when looking for a cycling shoe, having a good understanding of what kind of riding you will be doing and what you wish to accomplish will help in the selection of the correct pair.  And, for those of us not having the fortune to be born trust fund babies, being conscience of price becomes a moral imperative. 

The latter is why actually purchasing features we can use are more beneficial than simple marketing hype. 

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