footwear is a strange animal, depending on the context in which it is worn. sort of the same as where does my lap go to when i stand up? head off for a wander down the street, and a pair of leather shoes attuned to their surroundings can be oh so appropriate, or, if a greater degree of funk is required, there's always those converse basketball shoes. the latter are actually rubbish, because they don't keep your toes cosy and they are particularly averse to rain, but the coolness factor cannot be overstated. consider if we all sat down to watch eurosport live with commentary on walking down a street. one can hardly imagine sean and david pointing out the chap with the brown leather brogues.
footwear applied to the art of road bike riding almost inhabits a different context entirely; cleated shoes are hard enough to walk in at the best of times, and can certainly not be used to creep up on someone unexpectedly. the sole has to be frighteningly stiff to enable efficient transfer of power (do i have any of that?) which rather precludes its use for running on sports day or, come to that, ambling round the local supermarket with any degree of comfort. waterproofing is almost an unknown requirement; ventilation is the name of the game (some of that unknown power will convert to heat). and fixtures and fittings need to be industrial strength lest someone should have the audacity to go for the line first, and an explosive sprintng effort needs to be brought forth.
seen in this context, it's a wonder the european union has not outlawed use of the word shoe when referring to those destined for the cyclist. a functional disorder, if you will.
there are craftsmen still living and working in obscure corners of italy, producing quality, handmade leather cycle shoes, artefacts that bring forth one or two aye, aye, aye, aye, ayes and perhaps a brace of oh la, la, la, las (exclamations used with the permission of the real peloton podcast). these are, in similar manner to a curly hetchins, not entirely the province of the gonzo racing cyclist. but at the other end of the footwear spectrum are highly technical road shoes that hide from no-one just exactly what their intentions are; soles with the elasticity of a forth railway bridge girder, and a closure system that would have defeated houdini.
the suplest street racing carbon shoes inhabit the latter space.
now i may have coloured the landscape rather more black and white than is truly the case, for i do not wish to imply that the suplest carbon shoes have the comfort factor of a bed of nails; in fact, conversely, they are quite a distance from that particular space. the shoes can be had with either three velcro straps for safety of closure, or in the case of those tested, two velcro straps and a main ratcheted version. thus the ratchet makes the initial tension on the foot, and fine tuning is accomplished via the two forward velcros. what makes these shoes a bit different from the norm is the material occupying that other than the sole. suplest describe it as a high-end micro-fibre upper, but it rather closely resembles carbon fibre matting without the impregnated resin.
i am nowhere near competent enough in the area of materials science to know how closely the two are cousins, but it's a one piece fabric that looks very much like carbon fibre matting, and gives the impression of being much stronger than i am. the sole is quite definitely carbon fibre, with a large weave clearly visible through the clearcoat. it doesn't bend. there are the three drillings to allow fixing of the majority of modern pedal cleat systems (i tested with mavic pedals)
foot space at the front is expansive; these are, relatively speaking, a wide fitting. if you have difficulty finding cycling footwear to enclose your wide feet, these could conceivably be those. it's a rigid square toe, but the rest of the matting is soft, flexible and comfortable. the interior constitutes an anatomic footbed that helped hold my feet steady when huge power was unleashed (a guy can dream can't he?) adding to the decor, and possibly contributing nothing to the structural qualities of the shoe are some black shiny bits, contrasted by thick white lining, a suplest logo, with the brand and location around both sides of the heel area. this constitues the bulk of my problem with these shoes, in that, instead of looking like a svelte pair of carbon shoes, they look like a cross between a football boot and a monochrome advertising hoarding.
one does have to ask why?
the weight is a mere 330g; that's eleven ounces in old money, a heft that is going to add very little to anyone's hardship. with such a stiff sole, power transfer was exemplary. tension the ratchet, pull the velcro tight and give it some welly; all that will happen is that the bicycle will move forward very quickly. there is no untoward movement that would bring the word flex to mind. similarly, clipping in and out can be achieved with comfortable ease. the contoured footbeds encourage this feeling of comfort, while the spacious width up front and upper material ventilation obviates any degree of overheating, at least as far as the current weather on islay would describe.
new shoes always hurt; no matter how well they fit, and how comfortable they feel when tried on in the shop, it's a foregone conclusion that at some point in the opening gambit, they will hurt your feet somewhere. these are no exception, but the hurty bit has rather mitigated against participating in what they were apparently designed to do best. where the upper meets the perforated tongue, just before the ratchet strap, the upper material is of a substantial thickness relative to the rest of the upper. due to the curve at this point, i found it digging just below my inner ankle bone on both feet. the discomfort prevented my standing up to wallop up the occasional incline.
i am not naive enough not to accept that this would likely lessen through extended use, but during the time that i had these on test, comfort didn't improve. just so's you know.
if the peloton judges its brethren by its footwear, then these have a head start. aggressive may not be an adjective normally applied to something as docile as footwear, but if i were heading towards a finish line in the company of cavendish, pettachi, greipel and mr boonen, there would be a unanimous cry of no, no, - after you. the suplest streets would put the fear of death into anyone with sprinter written in their job description; whether you find this to be an attractive portent is entirely up to you.
allowing for the (temporal) discomfort, functionally the suplest street racing carbons are up there with the world's finest. however, i would respectfully suggest that the people in berne, switzerland, from where suplest originate, lose the stripey stuff and simplify the look of their shoes. of course, those are purely cosmetic factors, so i checked just how often i looked down at my feet while pedalling; not very often. maybe i'm making mountains out of molehills. however, the rest of the velo club peloton were similarly unimpressed with the visual aspect of the shoes, so it's not just me.
if you're paying £240 for a pair of shoes, you want them to be amongst the best in the world. that box is comfortably ticked by the suplest street carbons, but it would also be nice if they looked like the best in the world.
posted wednesday 19 may 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................