Road to Cape Epic 2012: Epic shoe testing

After my first big mountain bike ride around six months ago, I quickly came to the realisation there were some key pieces of equipment that needed to tried and tested before I took them to the Cape Epic.

Race shoes are the final contact point where power is sent to the back wheels and if you’ve got sore feet I figured you are going to go slower.

My test criteria were:

- Stiff to provide a solid base over a few hours of riding – not so stiff they send vibrations up ones leg.

- Comfortable to walk uphill in – snug heel cup

-  Breathable in the hot South African weather

-  Hold their fit and straps stay tight – straps and Velcro is strong

I ripped through a few pairs of shoes testing them in my cyclo-cross events and on long rides. I switch my road bike pedals for mountain bike and took those shoes out for long road rides.

Turns out there aren’t many women’s specific performance race shoes. It’s slim pickings. From the six pairs I found my top three shoes came from Giro, Specialized and Scott.

Specialized S-Works £199.99

Sizes go down to 38 for women and they have a narrow toe box fit suited for slimmer women’s fit. The S-Works is their top performing race shoe.

I replaced the front studs for rugby boot studs when the weather turned very nasty for extra grip when on foot. The Body Geometry foot bed system was fitted for free by the Specialized dealer for added comfort.

The double Boa design allowed me to finely tune the fit. Bulk on the top of the shoe is significantly reduced, making it well ventilated. The easy wipe finish clears a day’s worth of mud with ease.

I loved racing cyclo-cross in the shoe and they are impressively light at just 670g. The snag is the Boa system cable. It tangled itself up on a few occasions either jamming the Boa so I couldn’t take the shoe off or not tightening up so I couldn’t ride. Fiddling about with the Boa using the supplied mini tool soon gets the issue sorted out.

www.specialized.com

Giro Sica Women’s Shoe £169.99

Giro pack a lot into the Sica, a technical buckle plus Easton carbon sole and durable upper plus padded heel cup.

They are light compared to many of the men’s MTB shoes available at that price point.  The upper material, is well armoured and offers plenty of long-term durability.  A padded tongue offers support and stays central rather than sliding off to one side.

The design is rather natty and doesn’t carry the dirt after months of riding. Giro use the SuperNatural Fit system, three level of interchangeable arch support  known as ‘arch cookies’. I didn’t find any difference between the mid and the high cookies, both felt as comfortable as each other.

My gripe comes with the buckle that had a tendency to open at inopportune moments. If I took an ‘off course’ line through some undergrowth. Thick bushes could force the buckle to open. The Giro Guage is the men’s version of the shoe.

www.madison.co.uk

Scott MTB Pro Lady £114.99

Not the cheapest of all the shoes I rode in but the cheapest in my top 3. The Scott shoe is trimmed back and doesn’t offer a carbon sole and custom fit foot bed, but the women’s instep was just right.

I was impressed with the fit and the heel cup moulding. The lightweight upper sat around my foot very comfortably. The toe box isn’t rock solid, and if your toe suddenly jolts forward doesn’t end up bruised and smashed.

Three well-positioned straps keep thing secure. Nylon and fibreglass sole isn’t floppy and provides good pedalling efficiency. My shoe weighed in at 580g (size 40), a remarkable featherweight.

www.scott-sports.com

Conclusion

It is a tough call of which to take to the epic. Speaking to national champion Sally Bingham and Cape Epic finisher Tracy Moseley, they both mentioned the heat of the race. I tested the shoes during bathroom based turbo sessions with the towel rack on full whack.

The lightweight upper of the Scott offering was excellent and well ventilated while the  plastic feeling Giro’s were just not up to the same standard, much more suited to mud rich cyclo-cross and soggy British weather.

The Scott doesn’t offer the foot specific arch systems; a few times I thought that a buckle system is a must; shoes with three-way Velcro closure open came unstuck when doused with water.

Filled up with sand a number of the Velcro strapped shoes failed to stay closed. The tightening system of S-Works offers superior fit, my fear is the issues presented by both S-Works and the Giro shoe buckle are enough for me to crown the Scott MTB Pro Lady as my Cape Epic slipper.

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