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How We Tested Road Bike Shoes

By Ryan Baham ⋅ Review Editor
Friday
Durability matters when you put in the miles and expect performance to last.
Durability matters when you put in the miles and expect performance to last.

We take our testing far when we look at these products. Each shoe gets hundreds of miles of cranking, stretching, flexing, disassembling when possible, and all manner of poking, prodding, and pulling apart. They all saw road time, trainer time, and even time walking around in coffee shops and brewery courtyards. We made sure to get after hills, hit the hammer-fest crit rides, and spend time in tour mode tooling around at 18 for 3+ hours to see what kinds of flaws we could grind out to rate each shoe on a set of comparative metrics.

Beyond that, we look at claims made by the companies and how users are reporting their experience and test to see how those claims hold up in the field. Composite sole just as stiff as carbon? We'll see. Does ventilation cool the foot? Let's go out and get sweaty. Most comfortable shoe on the market? Let's set up the trainer and do cadence work.

Testing is all about putting in the miles (and emailing yourself notes from the side of the road).
Testing is all about putting in the miles (and emailing yourself notes from the side of the road).

We were lucky enough to keep these shoes for long enough to get in almost 1500 miles in hot, windy, wet, flat, hilly, and mountainous conditions. We tested primarily in southern Virginia, but also made it to hilly Richmond and the coastal and interior ranges along the Pacific surrounding San Diego. We're also sure to exploit our well-tenured friends and fellow group riders for guinea pigging, feedback, tech gossip, and support. We use our testing, research, and analysis to bring you honest, unbiased reviews.

Throughout the review, we focus on five metrics, comfort, weight, power transfer, adjustability, and durability, which we describe below.

Comfort


This is a fairly subjective thing, but there are still some universals to comfort. We performed side by sides on the trainer and the road to see what would come out when we cranked and went through the repetitive pedaling motions to check for uneven materials that could chafe and rub and unpadded surfaces that needed padding. We also checked for linings that were too rough and hot spots that only came out on long rides.

Side by side comparison aided by the tortures of an indoor trainer help parse down what's comfortable walking around the store for a minute from what's comfortable after some friction and force in the saddle.
Side by side comparison aided by the tortures of an indoor trainer help parse down what's comfortable walking around the store for a minute from what's comfortable after some friction and force in the saddle.

Weight


This was the easiest measure to check with the simple use of a digital food scale and the good old triple check method.

Two of the lightest shoes in the lineup were the Giro Empire ACC and the Pearl Izumi Road.
Two of the lightest shoes in the lineup were the Giro Empire ACC and the Pearl Izumi Road.

Power Transfer


Testing power transfer was slightly more complicated than the other measures. It is mostly a measure of stiffness in the sole, which can be discerned from researching the materials and verifying with a few good climbs and sprints. What complicates it is that power can also be lost if there is too much give or movement in the upper, which takes more time, more miles, and longer, harder efforts to reveal.

Power transfer really pays off when you're cranking it out. We put these Sidi Wire Vent Carbons to the test with hard sprints and grinding climbs.
Power transfer really pays off when you're cranking it out. We put these Sidi Wire Vent Carbons to the test with hard sprints and grinding climbs.

Adjustability


Adjustability comes into play at entry, during exercise, and at exit. We first tested this by tinkering with fastening systems to see how effective each one was - it's easy to open up and lock down when you get in, but is it going to adjust when you're in the middle of a pack that keeps surging into the 30s? We spent a good deal of side by side time beside and on the trainer looking at the ease of entry and exit, in-motion adjustability (catch a buckle at the top of the stroke without stopping), and quick stop adjustment (stop pedaling without losing your pace). We also tested incremental adjustability at mid-ride for each shoe as our feet swelled.

Each shoe has its own fastening system  which is tested on and off the bike to determine how easy it is to use and how incrementally it can be tweaked. The Sidi Tecno 3 Push Buckles scored among the highest.
Each shoe has its own fastening system, which is tested on and off the bike to determine how easy it is to use and how incrementally it can be tweaked. The Sidi Tecno 3 Push Buckles scored among the highest.

Durability


We looked at design, material, and wear to test this measure. Attributes like carbon fiber, premium synthetics, low-profile fasteners, reinforced wear zones, and heavy stitching help us determine durable designs. Rough, hard riding help us put those designs through the wringer. We also look to see if other users experience durability problems and pay special attention to any features that other users report as weak or low quality.

Superior designs often improve durability. Sidi has included more replaceable parts like toe pads in its Wire Vent Carbon (right)  which vastly prolongs its life over its 5 year old cousin  the Ergo 4 (left).
Superior designs often improve durability. Sidi has included more replaceable parts like toe pads in its Wire Vent Carbon (right), which vastly prolongs its life over its 5 year old cousin, the Ergo 4 (left).


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