If the shoe fits...
Shoe choice can be a baffling decision for the new rider moving from running shoes to clip-in pedals, and the price points can seem just as fraught with confusion coupled with a degree of price envy when making a purchase! We all want that bargain for less than recommended retail right? But just exactly what is is that makes a $100 shoe different to the $450 shoe? I was asked this question recently when I posted a photo of my lovely shoe collection on social media…why do I love the S-Works so much was the question posed. Why are they so different to the rest?
I'll admit I have been accused of being the 'Imelda of Cycling Shoes' by various family members, however I will fess up right now…I wear them all (as you can see from the scuffs in the pictures)! Unlike Imelda Marcos’ famous collection of 3000 plus shoes, I don’t need any special storage for my humble collection of 6 pairs of shoes…no, the floor will do fine! I’m not known for my tidiness so the floor seems as good a place as any to store them all, and since I rotate most of them on a regular basis it seems a practical solution too (strangely those family members complain about this concept of storage). So go on then, call me Imelda and have your jokes. In the mean time I’ll just sit back and rejoice in the fact I have found a shoe that fits..so I wear it! Like always, I need to be really clear here - I’m a Specialized Ambassador and I support their brand, while they in turn support what I do to get more women on bikes. So I use their products because I also happen to think they make excellent gear…and to be honest I’d lusted after their gear for a long time before I was an Ambassador!
But here’s the serious bit - I pay for the gear that I wear. I don’t get freebies and every piece of clothing, bikes and other accessories I have paid for with the exception of my Ambassador kit (helmet, jersey and bibs). I wouldn't buy it if I didn’t love it! So for the purpose of the review, I’ll look at just the Specialized brand shoes, knowing there are plenty of others out there on the market. I’ve worn plenty of other shoe brands in my cycling years, and most have been at the budget end of the range…whatever I could find on sale that would suit the purpose but also the budget constraints. But after my riding days became a little longer and time in the saddle seemed to roll into breakfast, lunch and often afternoon tea, I knew good shoes were essential. But they have their different roles and each one in my collection is there for a reason. So I’m not advocating that you all race out and buy the most expensive or have a collection like I do…nope, you should just get the one that suits the purpose. So that’s how I’ve approached this review…what did I buy each one for? I have six pairs of shoes: 3 road shoes and 3 mountain bike shoes. In the road we’ll look at the S-Works, Zante women’s and the Spirita shoes, while in the MTB range let’s look at the MotoDiva, the Riata and the Cadette. Keep in mind I haven’t tried to list all the stiffness ratings or the Body Geometry features these shoes come with, but rather I’ve opted for some simple explanations and descriptions of what these shoes are about and who they are for. So, like always, here goes….
The Mountain Bikes Shoes
The Shimano PD-M530 pedals I use on my Dolce Comp Evo and the base of the Cadette shoe with an SPD cleat.
Mountain bike shoes are a pretty great choice for those new to clipped in riding. They offer the opportunity for what is known as the SPD cleats - these are smaller and less cumbersome on the bottom of the shoe and offer an easy click-in/click-out option, plus they are less easily destroyed when walking around.
I always like to recommend that riders start with a pedal like the Shimano Click’R pedal. It’s super easy to get in and out of and also allows for a multi-directional cleat - that means you can release using several manoeuvres: twist sideways, twist upwards, twist inwards. Pretty simple! I like to describe the Click’R as a ‘habit former’ because they teach the rider the instinctive action at every stop point to get in and out quickly and easily and all the MTB shoes listed are a great combo with these pedals if you’re first starting. I’ve also reviewed all the MTB shoes with the view they will be used on a road bike, not an MTB.
Cadette These are the funkiest MTB shoes I’ve ever seen. They look like a runner and as an avid fan of the old Nike Airforce 1 shoes, they instantly reminded me of the coolest street shoes on the market. I loved the Cadette’s so much I bought a purple pair and a pink pair. But here’s the thing…I never actually placed cleats in them!
I love the look of the shoes so much that I bought them to just hang out in, and to wear when I rode the flat-bar bike, my ‘pub-bike’ to the pub! They look like runners, feel like runners and have gorgeous colours to choose from. The sole is reasonably stiff and to be honest, after spending 3 weeks walking around Japan in a cleat-less pair, I wouldn’t recommend them as an ‘everyday shoe’. They are a cycling shoes and are really too stiff to get correct foot flexion while walking for long periods. But that was my mistake - I treated them like an everyday shoe when they are a cycling shoe! But for short walks they are great. The Cadette shoes come in some seriously gorgeous colours, and are a great choice for casual riding.
As an entry level everyday riding shoe for SPD cleats they are practical - they aren’t so stiff they will make you feel ‘locked’ in the shoe. But they are comfortable enough to jump off the bike and do a little walking to grab some groceries. They are a super nice choice if you don’t want to look like you have cycling shoes on and they look great if you are wearing them with jeans for that ride to meet friends. Cost: $120 Who are they for: the rider who just needs some cleats that look a little nicer than ‘cycling shoes’ and that isn’t too concerned about transfer of energy to pedal. Pros: colour, price and flexibility to wear as an everyday shoe for short periods. Cons: they aren’t really stiff enough for great energy transfer through the pedals. The laces…tuck them into the little elastic piece or risk jamming them in the chain ring!
Riata To be honest, I only purchased the Riata shoes because I didn’t want to ruin my good Zante road shoes on a long multi-day ride where I knew I’d end up walking through wet, mud and up hills as I supported some teenagers to do the ride. I wasn’t really wanting to spend a lot of dollars and just needed something to work with the SPD cleats and handle the wear and tear across several filthy days. The Riata’s did the trick. The Riata shoes are a step up from the cadette's but offer a more serious looking cycling shoe.
They are certainly stiffer than the Cadette shoes but they aren’t so stiff you can’t walk around a little. They come with three velcro straps which means the adjustment isn’t brilliant, but for the purpose I bought them for they were comfortable. The down side was that I felt they are quite thick and bulky even though they do have some mesh on the top. But my feet still felt hot a lot of the time. They feel a little heavy as well, but I quite like that in a MTB shoe because they feel robust. The upper body of the shoe just felt a little soft and pliable to really make the most of the stiffer sole. But as an entry level shoe I think they do a great job and hold the foot nicely with some comfort without feeling too bulky like others I’ve tried before. They are a great choice as a first pair of cycling shoes and we often recommend these to pair with the Click’R pedals. Cost: $130 Who are they for: the rider who has a budget to stick to and doesn’t want full on super stiff shoes. A great entry level shoe as well as an everyday commuter shoe with just enough stiffness to give good energy transfer. Pros: reasonable stiffness, quite a comfortable shoe with a lower cut heel area for women and the velcro straps makes things easy Cons: a bit ‘sloppy’ or soft for my liking, and they did feel quite hot despite the mesh upper.
MotoDiva Though these rate at the same stiffness level as the Riata, I can’t help but feel they are a more robust shoe. The sealed toe area means great protection if you’re on the trails, but equally when used on a road bike they have great protection assets. But the BOA dial really does it for me…love them!
The idea is that you can use the BOA for on the fly adjustments - I’ve never needed to do that with these shoes as I use them while riding my Dolce Comp Evo, so I’m not thrashing the trails and needing constant adjustments. I like the way they hold my foot firmly while on the bike, but I still feel like I’m not clomping around when I get off. The dipped colour on the MotoDiva is a head turner, but the BOA dial is also a winner.
Because I don’t use these as an MTB shoe it probably isn’t the fairest of reviews, but I like them for the purpose I use them for. I probably wouldn’t always choose this kind of shoe for use with the EVO as they do feel a bit bulky and lack any softness to the shoe upper, however the dipped blue colour is enough to turn heads…and I like that! They are comfortable, but due to the lack of softness in the shoe upper I don’t think they feel fabulous when you’re off the bike. Cost: $200 Who are they for: the slightly more serious MTB rider or someone who needs a tougher shoe on their roadie with a little more upper stiffness. They give great protection and the BOA means super adjustable. Pros: the BOA dial works well for adjusting especially in weather changes, and the dipped colour is sensational Cons: they lack the softness in the upper shoe area so aren’t as comfy for walking around post ride.
The Shimano road cleat and the base of the Spirita shoe with a Shimano road cleat.
Road shoes look a little scary to the newcomer to road riding as they do make the wearer walk in a very odd way and have a tendency to make the wearer slide on tiled floors and end up on their butt! The clip-clop of road cleats is unmistakable in cafes and unfortunately those little plastic triangles of doom can be ruined if walked on too much…I know because I’m guilty of this one! The road shoes are generally a lighter shoe and allow for the 3 hole road cleats only, and won’t take an SPD cleat. They are generally also a much stiffer shoe and made to maximise the transfer of energy from the shoe through to the pedal. I think the road cleats are probably what puts most newcomers to road riding off being clipped in…but they do work!!
Spirita The Spirita shoe is a nice lightweight shoe with just enough stiffness to not scare away the new road rider. The upper is mostly mesh and allows for excellent air flow…in fact I purchased a pair of these shoes because my feet were getting too hot in my Zante shoes during the super hot summer days. As far as road shoes go it’s a pretty basic shoe.
The sole of the shoe is a nylon plastic and offers enough stiffness to get some good energy transfer through to the pedal, and it actually rates at the same stiffness level as both the Riata and the MotoDiva shoes. But being a lighter shoe all over it does feel a little more ‘airy’ in the summer heat. The three velcro straps also make for some good adjustment across the foot, but I usually find the velcro ends up with bits of dog hair, fluff and even grass stuck in it if you aren’t careful. I like the shoe, but for my purposes I felt it was a bit soft on the upper foot and didn’t quite hold my foot as well as the Zante does. Great shoe for the first time road shoe wearer and they look nice and slim too. Cost: $130 Who are they for: a great shoe if you have a budget in mind and just want to get started. Some will stick with this shoe forever because the price point is so great, but if you want more energy transfer then it probably won’t do the job. Pros: nice design is quite slim looking, adjustable velcro straps, good price makes them affordable Cons: velcro gets bits stuck in them, not super stiff, can feel a little lightweight in winter.
Zante These were my first ‘serious’ pair of road shoes and I have been in love with them for a long time…almost a year. But that all ended when I started to suffer from a serious ankle injury from over-use and repetitive movement. That doesn’t mean the Zante is a bad shoe…to the contrary it’s excellent. But it hasn’t helped me in the later stages as the injury progressed. It’s a stiff shoe in comparison to the Spirita and is really for the rider who is quite confident clipping in and out of their road pedals. The road pedals themselves present quite a different action to the SPD ones and are generally a much stiffer action to release, and this is where the fear factor comes in with road shoes. But if you’re up to it, the Zante is a really nice shoe.
It has an enclosed upper shell with air vents impregnated in the shoe body. The sole of the shoe is also a carbon sole so the stiffness factor increases quite a bit from the nylon soled shoes. Couple this with the single click BOA and the velcro straps and you have a really adjustable women’s shoe - the heel region is also cut a little lower for women’s fit. I love the one click BOA that releases the adjustment immediately. A really nice feature if you are a little lazy when you take the shoes off.
I love the 'titanium' colour of these shoes and their one click BOA dials make releasing the shoe really easy. I love the shoes, and the colours are stunning with a pink and black combo or the Titanium version which I have. My only complaint with these, and it isn’t even a complaint, is that I purchased them in summer when perhaps my feet were a little swollen from the heat, and as time progressed I think I should really have had the size down. That isn’t the shoes’ fault…it’s mine! Cost: $250 Who are they for: the rider who has some experience using cleats or someone who is upgrading from a softer road shoe. A rider who likes great energy transfer through the shoe into the pedal. Pros: the single click BOA works a treat when getting the shoes off, and the colours are gorgeous. The stiffness of the shoe and the shaping to a women’s narrower foot is also worth considering Cons: sometimes felt a little hot in summer due to the closed body of the shoe.
S-Works Road Shoe What can I say, I’ve been having a love affair on my feet since I purchased these shoes. They aren’t the latest women’s version but a superseded men’s version from 2015. The stiffness factor is increased substantially from the Zante and the carbon sole makes these completely inflexible on the base of the shoe. The upper body is light and supple without compromising the stiffness of the shoe overall.A love affair on my feet...the S-Works shoe is making my injured ankle feel pampered, held tight and helps eradicate unnecessary movement.
These come with two BOA dials which means micro adjusting is super easy and can be done while on the bike. The down side here is that they don’t have the ‘one-click’ to release the dials so getting in and out takes a bit more work than the Zante shoes. I have the men’s cut in the shoes, so this might mean the heel area is cut a fraction higher than the women’s version, but that’s great for my ankle injury. They hug my heel and the rear of my foot and I just feel so totally stable in these with no ‘flapping’ about on the bike. I’ve described these as like wearing ‘little slippers’…if it weren’t for the cleats I’d feel like they were supple little slippers to totter around the house in! These have been the best investment I’ve made in cycling shoes for sure and I sense I’m choosing to ride my Ruby Comp more just so I can have the pleasure of wearing these shoes…super comfortable and super firm holding my foot just where I needs it to be. The transfer of energy into the pedal is really noticeable as well and who doesn’t want that! Cost: $450 Who are they for: the rider who is experienced with clipping in and out and wants to feel the performance of the shoe working for them. They are also not something you’d want to lash out and buy if you are not sure you’ll stick with road riding, the cost is high, but you get what you pay for! Pros: seriously comfortable shoe that feels light and slipper like, stiffness helps energy transfer and the inner shoe grips the heel beautifully. Cons: the price, they didn’t come in PINK!
Special thanks: to Evan at Cyclic Bicycles in Flemington for helping me choose the right shoes and pedals for each job and for recommending the right shoe to help with my injury. Special thanks: to Specialized Australia for supplying Wheel Women with some demo shoes for our riders to test and try...what a difference that makes to build confidence for our riders!