Bikes July 16, 2019 SPECIALIZED S-Works Road Shoe If you’re going to drop cash to shave weight on gear, ultralight shoes are worthwhile because they represent weight you directly have to spin. And because shoe weight is not restricted by the UCI, this is one of the key places the pros look to save a couple of hundred grams. Despite being the heaviest of our four finalists, and requiring a long break-in period, the Specialized S-Works Road was our Editors’ Choice for best men’s superlight shoe. “They feel bomber,” said one tester, “The best Boa shoes I’ve ever worn.” The shoes in our test group (other contenders listed below) weighed less than 550 grams per pair (in size 45.5 to 46). The Giro Empire SLX and the S-Works stood out thanks to snug, supportive fits, and the feeling that they were transferring every last watt of power. But we preferred the Boa closure system on the S-Works over the old-school laces on the Empires, even though the latter wins on style points. The Boas made entry and exit faster, and allowed easier adjustments to tension while riding: A twist of the dial tightens the fit for intense efforts or gives swollen feet some relief in the closing miles of a long ride. Testers also considered the stiffness of the sole to be top-of-the-class and praised the support offered by the Body Geometry footbed.The S-Works is not perfect. Some testers suffered heel rub and hot spots until the shoes broke in, which took a half dozen or so rides. Airflow was average: better than the Giro, but not as breezy as the Pearl Izumi or Mavic. And the S-Works is nearly 100 grams heavier per pair than the lightest in our test. But it still earned the most first-place votes, showing that even in a gram-centric test, weight isn’t everything.Info: Specialized.com Giro Empire SLX Giro hit one out of the park with its lace-up Empire SLX. Not only are these shoes feathery light and the lightest in this test but the fit is also second-to-none when the lace tension is perfect. Plus, the vintage look is uniquely cool. Related Posts: 15 Best Men’s and Women’s Cycling Shoes You Can Buy Right now 9 Best Women’s Cycling Shoes for Road and Mountain Bike Laces may seem like a step backward to some but the contoured fit and even tension across the foot compared to all other closures currently on the market is unbelievably supportive, yet at the same time comfortable. The seamless microfiber upper conforms to the foot like a glove. “They provide the best pressure distribution and most complete fit I’ve ever experienced,” said one tester. “I can wear them tighter than any other shoe for a feeling of efficiency, but my feet are still comfortable.” Giro’s unidirectional carbon sole is stiff but not quite as rigid-feeling as the Specialized’s. And an adjustable arch height via variable thickness arch spacers makes these footbeds best-in-class and increases the already-comfortable shoe’s ability to feel like an extension of your body. The same laces that make these shoes so great are also their Achilles’ heel and kept them from completely winning the hearts of all our testers. Mid-ride adjustments are impossible without stopping and getting off the bike. And as the laces seemed to loosen up with a little heat and sweat, adjustments were almost always needed. The trick is to over-tighten the shoes to just the right level so that they loosen up to the sweet spot. But getting the lace tension perfect every time was a crapshoot for most. And then there’s getting in and out of the shoe it takes much longer than a Velcro, plastic ratchet, or Boa system. But if you are willing to put up with occasional mid-ride stops for lace adjustments in exchange for untouchable comfort, lightness, and efficiency and a timeless look these shoes are well worth the price of admission. If Giro figures out a way to make laces fast and adjustable on the fly, the world better watches out because these shoes might just become the perfect package. Mavic Huez No other shoe feels better on a hot day than the airy Mavic Huez, which comes in the company’s trademark yellow hue. Mesh is everywhere, making your feet feel almost as if they’re in sandals, not cycling shoes. That cool breeze comes at a cost, though: All that mesh makes for a flimsy-feeling upper under hard efforts. Clamping down on the Velcro straps to fight this soft feel just introduces hot spots on top of the shoe at the strap’s anchor points and still didn’t deliver the connected feel of the others. Our larger footed tester complained about having to completely undo the upper Velcro strap to enter the shoe, which slowed entry time. This is the most plastic-feeling and uncompromising shoe in the test. Its insole was also the flattest and unsupportive-feeling too. The fit seemed to favor those with a narrow foot but even some of them thought the toe box was on the narrow side. The final factors that keep the Huez off the podium are a price that’s significantly more than the other three tested and a confusing size system that splits its European size range into thirds. Pearl Izumi Octane SL III Pearl IzumiAn ultra-plush feel makes Pearl’s lightweight shoe feel like a slipper. Its synthetic leather upper offers a conforming fit, and it has large vents covered in fine mesh to provide generous airflow. Three Velcro straps are each angled to follow the contours of the foot, eliminating material bunching or hot spots. Although simple, this closure system comfortably secures the shoe to the foot. “Three Velcro straps this just works for me,” says one tester. These shoes were comfortable enough to grab a first-place vote from one test rider who climbed Hawaii’s famed Haleakala volcano in these shoes. “After six hours, my feet were one of the few parts of my body that weren’t cramping or aching,” he said. Other testers found that the supple upper offered too much float of the foot and a lack of overall support. The solution for these riders was to cinch down the Velcro straps as tight as comfortably possible. But these are higher volume shoes that favor a wider foot, and they tend to bunch with excess material when tightened. Plus, a soft footbed gave some testers the sensation of a flexing sole. But an insole swap showed the carbon outsole to be adequately rigid. Most riders balked at the SL III’s only available color: safety orange. Sizing runs larger than usual; most riders went up a half-size to get proper fit. Scott Road RC Lady Shoe Jonathan PushnikThe RC Lady Shoe received the most consistent praise from our test group for its combination of comfort and speed. The carbon-fiber sole transferred power efficiently, without being painfully rigid. The Velcro strap across the midfoot what Scott calls its “Anatomic Centering Strap” is claimed to align with the instep of the foot to contribute to a second-skin fit. Combined with the foot-hugging, synthetic-leather upper, the RC Lady Shoe indeed contoured to the variety of foot shapes and profiles belonging to the four women in our test panel. Further adjustability came from the removable pad Velcroed to the bottom of the insole, behind the ball of the foot, which provided extra support under the arches a detail that one tester, who has flatter feet and bone spur issues, appreciated. We also liked the small, squishy pillow that lines the upper edge of the tongue and prevents chafing in this potential hot spot. Another tester noted that while the roomy toe box took some getting used to, the design prevented her feet from going numb on long rides. The shoe is well-ventilated, with mesh windows along the sides and over the toes, and one under the toes on the sole. The Boa closure offered testers the ability to quickly tighten and loosen the shoe, but two editors would have liked to see another Boa instead of the Velcro straps. Testers also were divided on the shoe’s patent-leather accents, but the glossy finish did prove easy to wipe clean. And in the end, the issue of performance dwarfed style. As one tester put it, “I honestly felt like this shoe made me faster.” FI’ZI: Women’s R4 Donna BOA Road Cycling Shoes Fi’zi:kAll of our female testers agreed on one thing about the Fi’zi R4 Donna is beautiful shoes. We loved the clean lines and simple design. The Donnas are easy to cinch in place via a single Boa dial and hook-and-loop Velcro toe box strap. A few of our testers particularly appreciated that the Boa dial was micro-adjustable in both directions you could both tighten and loosen the shoe rather than having to fully release the Boa dial by pulling it outward. Performance-wise, the carbon-fiber sole is extremely stiff and delivers a very efficient pedal stroke. “I enjoyed immediate power transfer on climbs and pretty much throughout my last fast group ride,” said one rider. “These shoes felt like they were made for climbing,” noted another. Our testers also loved how cool the perforated upper kept their feet, though they wished for a bit of ventilation in the sole, which is completely solid. But the Donnas also required a longer break-in than the other shoes in the test. Two testers found the high-rising tongue rubbed a hot spot on the top of their ankle, and the tapered toe box irritated the pinky toes of another for the first several rides before abating. One more rider also noted that the shoe rubbed her heel bone the first two rides, but that it disappeared after a short break-in period. So while you should always try before you buy, it seems particularly important to try on these unique shoes before making a purchase. Overall, the Donnas are an elegant, lightweight shoe that may require a bit of a break-in period, but once broken-in, will deliver race-ready performance for the right rider. Louis Garneau Carbon LS-100 A shoe rarely inspires so much confidence upon first glance and touch that you’ll take it out of the box, slip it on, cinch it up, and ride a century in it the next day. The Louis Garneau women’s Carbon LS-100 is that shoe. “These shoes were so light, stiff, and comfortable right out of the gate, I did a 95-mile Fondo on them the second day I had them,” raved one tester. Another did two, back-to-back five- to six-hour days in the shoes after a single ride without a second thought. Both loved the single Boa closure that allows for easy on and off and on-the-bike adjustment. The supple synthetic leather-like upper hugs the foot snugly and the slightly rough cat’s-tongue material in the heel cup prevents slippage. Testers also loved the combination of stiffness and comfort usually a difficult marriage in a high-end, race-oriented shoe. “When you squish the soles between your hands, it flexes more than the other two shoes in the test,” noted one tester, “though the sole is still extremely stiff. These would be my first choice for a long road ride because they are so comfortable, thanks to the supple construction and feel on the foot.” The LG is also a low-profile shoe, which two of our four testers liked and two didn’t care for as much, as they felt like their foot was slightly less secure in the shoe. But those same testers also weren’t as crazy about the closure system, which pairs a single Boa with a single Velcro strap across the toe box they felt didn’t it provide enough adjustability. So while nobody disliked the fit of the shoe, those who loved it, really loved it, while the others just liked it well enough. What everyone agreed on was the great value of the LG. You get a very light shoe that is packed with great features: a Boa closure, carbon composite outsole, race fit, and good ventilation throughout. It even comes with two insoles Cool Stuff and Hot Stuff, to switch between hot and cool weather riding. Put together, all this makes a high-performance shoe that is tremendous bang for your buck.