What with chasing poor bike shops to change their name and concept stores showing a level of sensitivity towards women matching that of Sunrise’s David Koch you’d be forgiven for thinking that as a company they are, well, evil. But dammit, why does evil have to make such awesome shoes?!
One of the most important parts of your bike isn’t actually on the bike… its the shoes that link you to those pedals in the first place. Get a good pair and you never think about them but if they’re not right it turns every ride into an ordeal. So when I needed a new pair after my Mavic Mantra’s sacrificed themselves on last year’s Tour Divide I had a pretty specific set of requirements for what needed to replace them (Mavic stopped making the ones I previously had or I would have just bought another pair.)
The list of things I was looking for included:
- They needed to be comfortable for multiple 12+ hour days;
- Stiff and efficient when pedalling;
- Comfortable with enough grip for hike-a-bike sections;
- Durable; and
- No fiddly buckles.
My list immediately discounted any sort of ‘pure’ XC race shoe – they’re stiff and light but lets face it have almost no grip and are so stiff that walking in them isn’t fun for you or them (I wore a pair of Sidi Dragon 3’s for Southern Brevet a couple of years ago… my toes still haven’t forgiven me).
Most cycling shoe companies do have a dedicated hike-a-bike shoe in their range (a friend of mine reckons that the Shimano MT 90 is all you need but then he also likes running 50+km…) but most of these are oriented more towards the ‘hike/walk’ end of the performance spectrum and hence a pretty flexy to ride in. Not ideal when most of the time you’re going to be riding!
I was beginning to despair! The ideal shoe seemed to be a dream that was to remain unfulfilled.
Luckily in the attempt to create yet another niche, bike manufacturers have jumped onto the Enduro bandwagon and are creating specific equipment for it. Well, I think for once they’ve outsmarted themselves! Enduro gear needs to be light, durable, efficient and also be comfortable enough for some walking… sounds like the sort of stuff that we need to any sort of riding really?!
I reckon they _are_ enduro – well at least according to the video.
After a bit of searching I found my way to the new Specialized S-Works Trail which are marketed towards the enduro crowd. The site has all the specs so I’m not going to go into that here but suffice to say they’re light, have a bit of grip for walking, incredibly stiff and as a bonus don’t look like a clown threw up on your feet!
But how are they in practice?
2 days after I got them (purchased with my own hard earned, warning these things aren’t cheap!) I headed out with fellow Bike Bag Dude team mate Ollie Whalley for a 320km, 2 day bike packing adventure out around Wombeyan and Jenolan Caves. Apart from the rookie mistake of putting on Shimano’s beginner cleats which meant I kept popping out of the cleats on steep climbs I really didn’t notice the shoes… which is amazing considering they had’t been worn – they just settled onto my feet like they were a pair I’d had for years – so comfy!
But bike packing is nothing without some hike a bike and the second day of our trip involved much pushing of bikes up the unridable sections of the 6ft track. This was really the acid test for me – the SWorks Trail is a _very_ stiff shoe, stiffer than my current pair of XC race shoes in fact, so walking any distance in them was likely to test the friendship.
I’m happy to report that they passed the test with flying colours – sure its not like wearing a nice hiking boot (or MT-90’s) but certainly comfortable enough for an hour or so.
Since that trip they have pretty much become my go-to shoe – the only road bike I have at the moment is a TT bike which means I spend most of the time on my cyclocross or the mountain bike so I’ve been wearing these for at least a couple of hours pretty much every day and also done a couple of long days in the saddle (including a 210km road ride).
From bike packing to long road rides to picking up the kids and stopping on the way home to do the shopping these shoes pretty much do it all. Mmmm… the precious… but I digress! I even wore them to work… purely in the name of science and not because I forgot my work shoes.. honest!
They do what it says on the tin. They’re light but still pretty durable with enough protection on them that when that errant stick whacks you on the toe it isn’t agony. There’s enough grip to get off and push but they are stiff and efficient when you’re giving it your all to ride. Most importantly they’re comfortable enough that once you get going you forget about the shoes and just concentrate on getting from A to B.
Not many and its nitpicking but the boa lace system that is on them is pretty good – easy to adjust on the fly etc but I would say it requires a little bit of practice in getting them on in the dark. It’s a little fiddly to get the loop right and I reckon with winter gloves on that is likely to be annoying. I’m also not sure about how resistant they are to copious quantities of mud. Time will tell I guess.
The last point is that the tread is non-replaceable so when it wears out its time for new shoes. Mine are showing signs of wear after about 1500km of riding – nothing major but worth noting given that this is a $400 shoe – if you do a lot of walking I’d get something else (like MT 90’s) as the wear will send you broke!