Category Archives: cycling apparel

Lake MX331 Review Continued: Half a Pair is Better than None

Alas, not all is perfect with my new shoes. Thus far, I’ve ridden about 350 miles in them and there is some bad and some good.

The right shoe is very comfortable. I spent some time heat-molding it, and the really great thing is that, once appropriately molded, the retention can be left relatively loose (meaning, still tight but not as tight as would be otherwise necessary). This has a very clear benefit: On longer rides I experience none of the suffering that comes with tight shoes cutting off blood supply. The soles are extraordinarily stiff–precisely what I was looking for: A combination of the stiffness of a road shoe with some degree of walkability when absolutely needed.

That’s the right shoe. The left shoe, while it has potential, leaves something to be desired. There’s a manufacturing defect in the sole that results in an uncomfortable bump right under my toes. I suspect it would be less unpleasant in summer socks, but in winter socks it squeezes my toes into the top of the toe box. While not outright uncomfortable during the shorter (<70-mile) rides I’ve been doing over the last few weeks, it is very irritating and is likely to become a major issue during longer rides. In fact, I can sort of feel an incipient blister from yesterday’s piddly 30-mile ride.

So, I’ve contacted* to see if they can send me just a new left shoe. I don’t really want to return the current pair until I have a replacement, as that would leave me switching back to road pedals–and I’ve been rather enjoying the capability of being able to hike-a-bike through mud and snow when needed.

So, that’s the report so far. Based on the right shoe, I suspect this will be an amazing pair of shoes–I just need a left without a manufacturing defect.

…And tonight I’ll get around to reporting on my adventures so far this season.


*Whenever possible, I try to buy stuff from my local bike shop, The Bicycle Depot. Bike shoes are just one of those things that are almost impossible to buy locally due to the need to stock a broad range of sizes for multiple models.

A Short Review: Giordana Exo Bib Shorts

Part of being a dedicated cyclist is putting together kit that works for you. For years, I’ve ridden with Assos bibs–the old ones with the orange insert, and jerseys from various companies, including Rapha, Giordana, and others. I’m especially fond of the “Body Paint” jerseys from Castelli. I won’t wear Assos jerseys because (ready for some TMI?) they chafe my nipples horribly.

There, I said it.

Plus, I’m officially boycotting Assos since I went online to buy my annual two pairs of my favorite sock.

Assos Sock

They used to be $28. Ridiculous, I know. But two pair a year isn’t going to break the budget. Now? $61. Combined with their ridiculous marketing I’m done with Assos.

Once you put together something that works for you, it’s tough to deviate from the tried and true. I mean, who wants to put on a new pair of bib shorts for the first time before a 50- or 100-mile ride?

I’ve had a pair of Giordana Exo bib shorts in hanging in my “bike closet” for a few years, but I’ve never gotten around to wearing them. On Saturday, I ran out of clean bib shorts–tough to do since my 8-year collection now consists of about 10 pairs. I had to choose between some ancient Assos half-shorts and the Giordanas. I put on the half shorts and couldn’t deal with the lack of shoulder straps. So I put on the GIordanas. I’ll spare you a picture of my magnificence in bibs, this’ll have to do:

Giordana Exo

I set off on a 50-mile ride, expecting serious pain, especially since the pad on the Giordanas is paper-thin. That turned out to not be the case. In fact, they worked beautifully. Not even a trace of an ass-ache, even after 15 miles of bumpy gravel and tree roots on a road bike. The grippers gripped and the shoulder straps held everything nicely in place (unlike the newer Assos bibs with the blue pad. One word: wedgie). I should note that they are considerably longer in the leg than most bib shorts; if you’re vain and place a high value your razor-sharp farmer’s tan (ahem, I mean cyclist’s tan), this may be an issue.

The lesson to be learned here is more padding does not necessarily equal greater comfort. My old Assos orange pad and newer Rapha bib shorts all have thick diaper-like pads, and they are somehow less comfortable than the Giordanas.

Off for a few days of meetings. I’ll have another route written up for you shortly by Sunday, though!

And finally, Macs would like to say hello.Mix


A Review (Sort Of): Giro Empire Mountain Bike Shoe

We all make mistakes. These shoes were my latest.

My trusty Sidi Dragon mountain bike shoes have seen better days. I’ve replaced the treads and buckles at least once, but the uppers were starting to fall apart. I got four years out of them, though–I think that’s impressive.

To replace the Sidis, I decided to try something completely different–the Giro Empire shoe. Even better, I managed to snag a pair in camouflage! I reasoned that on long rides, the part of my foot that starts to hurt first is the top–and that laces are the best way of distributing pressure across the top of my foot. They arrived last week, and damn they are beautiful shoes. I wish I could get some regular shoes like this.


When they arrived, I immediately put my Crank Brothers pedals on my English 650B, and went out for a 50-mile ride that included some double track, a stream crossing, and a few occasions that required me to shoulder my bike and hike. Not something I’d want to do in road shoes (although, frankly, I have on many occasions!)

The aches set in around mile 25. The top of my left foot–but not my right–started to hurt. I tried to ignore it, but by mile 35 I couldn’t stand even one more minute. I hopped off the bike in the middle of the road, ripped off the shoe and hopped around for a while. Then I struggled home with the laces on the left shoe almost completely undone.

Not a good result, right? It’s clear that my left foot and my right foot are slightly different in shape, because my right foot was fine. Please note that, like all other cycling-related accessories, whether a shoe or bib short or chamois creme or anything else works is a very individual thing. The shoes are extremely well constructed and very light (perhaps because of the lack of buckles and straps). And they are beautiful.

If nothing else, I think my experience with these shoes highlights the value of the Rapha Grand Tour shoes. Like any other leather shoe, the Rapha shoes started out tight and uncomfortable, but after 10-15 hours they molded themselves to my feet. I can easily spend 18 hours or more on the bike without foot pain in those shoes.

So…just because they didn’t work for me doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. If you’re in the market for some Giro Empires–and especially if you want the camouflage version–let me know (my contact information can be found via the About page). Worn once, size 10, $200 ($100 off retail). I even have the original box. Only 400 made! Sold.


A Real-World Review: Rapha Grand Tour Shoes

Some filler while I’m in Amsterdam, land of 10 million bicycles, 99% of which are squeaky, creaky pieces of shit. Understandable, because the local residents use them strictly as transportation and lock them outdoors 24/7. They don’t have the kind of attachment we do to our finely tuned road machines, at least not to the bikes they use for riding around town.  This is my first time here in 6 or 7 years; in fact, the last time I was here it was before I really paid attention to bicycles, so it is shocking to see bicycle traffic jams.

I am happy in my corner of the Catskills, and I was also happy in New York City, but Amsterdam is one of the few other places in the world in which I could happily live, and not just because of the bicycles. It is a beautiful, cosmopolitan city. The Dutch are awesome, and—I don’t know quite how to put this—they seem happier and better adjusted than the people in other major cities I’ve visited worldwide.

If I moved here, though, I’d have to start a campaign to encourage them to oil their goddamned chains.

Before I begin, some perspective on my reviews:  I’m an average athlete, and I am not an expert in anything bicycle related. However, since I started the blog I have received many e-mails asking for “expert” advice on bicycle-related topics. My favorite was a guy asking for advice on nutrition: as the people I ride with will tell you, I sometimes forget to eat until I’m shaking and almost falling off the bike.

My reviews might be useful for the average cyclist who rides longer distances, or one who wants to. Those of you have been reading along know that I like to ride long. I’m not necessarily fast, but 12-, 14-, and even 18-hour days (or more) in the saddle are an at least weekly event for me. Even during the week my rides average 2 to 3 hours. I don’t have to sell ads, so I won’t give you any Bicycling-style bullshit. Please remember, however, that there is an inherent bias in my reviews, in that I will take the time to write a review only if I really like something.

Now, the review:

There is a lot that can go wrong at the interface between the body and the bicycle on a 200+ mile ride. A rough seam combined with a poor fit on a bib short can saw a bleeding gash in your thigh. A pair of sunglasses that clamp too tightly can cause intolerable headaches. A pair of shoes that is acceptable for 6 hours can cause long-lasting nerve damage after 18 hours in the saddle. All issues that need to be avoided, particularly if you don’t want to take a week to recover between rides.

That brings me to Rapha, which is often the subject of considerable derision among experienced cyclists. However, I’m a fan. I love almost everything I’ve ever purchased from them. Not only does it fit well, but it lasts under extreme conditions. I still have jerseys from when Rapha had, if I recall correctly, 4 or 5 products on their website (maybe that was 2008?). They’ve been washed hundreds of times, and still look good and fit well.

I’ve also heard complaints about Rapha’s clothing being sized for, um, bigger gents—you know, recreational cyclists who aren’t serious. I don’t know how the people doing the complaining are built, but I am 6 feet tall and 145 pounds on a (very) fat day, and a standard Rapha medium fits relatively closely. It is not an aero race jersey, and it isn’t meant to be.

I’ve used Sidi shoes almost exclusively since early 2008. I’ve also had brief, tragic experiences with Shimano and Specialized shoes. The Sidis are great shoes, but they caused numbness after 6 or 7 hours of riding. I could never get the ratcheted strap to a tension that retained my foot properly but didn’t cut off circulation. They provided excellent power transfer and I had no issues riding short distances, but it was always a relief to take them off at the end of a ride.

I was looking for something better. I flirted with getting some custom-made shoes, but the molding process put me off—it would be fine if there was someone local to do it for me, but doing it myself seemed like a recipe for an expensive disaster.

Ultimately, I decided to try the Rapha Grand Tour shoe. Here’s what the Rapha website has to say about them:

Rapha en Giro presenteren de beste wegschoen ter wereld, die ongeëvenaarde comfort, duurzaamheid, kracht en stijl biedt. De handgesneden bovenlaag is gemaakt van exclusief jakleer en is gecombineerd met de beste pasvorm en onderdelen – allemaal ontwikkeld en getest door Giro in Californië.

No, I don’t know what that means either. But if they are “de beste wegschoen ter wereld” they have to be good, right? Anyway, I frequently fail to understand even the English-language version of the Rapha website.

I wanted black, but they flew off the shelves so fast that they only had white pairs left in my size. When they showed up, I opened the extensive (and wasteful) packaging, unveiling something that resembled a rather dumb-looking golf shoe. Yeah, I knew what I was getting myself into, and anyway cycling is the new golf, you know.

Grand Tour

I purchased them in my size (according to Rapha’s sizing guide) and they were WAY TOO TIGHT. They felt like they were at least half a size too small, maybe a full size too small. So I returned them and sized up half a size—still quite tight, but acceptable. At that point, I was riding 300 miles a week and didn’t feel that it was the time to try something new, so I put them in the closet for a few months to age like a fine tubular tire, only breaking them out when I had worn out the cleats on my Sidis.

When I tried them on the second time, again my impression was that they were quite tight. I wouldn’t say that my first rides with them were a revelation. They provided adequate power transfer, but I still ended up with numb toes after about the 6- or 7-hour mark. No worse than the Sidis. No better, either.

Did I just purchase really expensive golf shoes?

As it turns out, after 20 or 30 rides, including many in the rain, they began to stretch. The stretch was easily quantifiable because of the ratcheting mechanism on the buckle—every week or so, I had to tighten them a few notches. Eventually, they stretched to the point where I bottomed out the strap. No more clicks. I was annoyed, but I came up with a solution: aftermarket footbeds have considerably more volume than the supplied footbeds. So, I put in SuperFeet, and the shoes fit well again.

In fact, they are now among the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned, including regular street shoes. Am I perfectly comfortable after 16 hours? No, but I have yet to experience any numbness, and there is a little room to ease off on the straps to accommodate my feet as they swell. I think that’s all you can ask from a shoe, right? The stretching has stopped; with the aftermarket footbeds I have 2-3 more clicks left on the ratcheting mechanism.

In summary, I really like these shoes, and—apart from getting customs—I do not see much room for improvement. The looks do take some getting used to. If you decide to try them, I’d suggest you either 1) buy according to the Rapha size chart, and accept that they will be extremely tight for a dozen rides or 2) size up half a size so that they are more comfortable initially, and then after 20 rides put in some aftermarket footbeds. If you need orthotics or aftermarket footbeds, definitely size up. I’d also purchase them in the late fall or early spring, so you can break them in as your mileage increases. You don’t want to try breaking them in mid-season!

Update December 2013: Still great!