Pez-Test: Specialized Pro RD Shoes
I’ve been on Specialized’s Pro RD shoes for almost 2 months of solid riding, including my longest and toughest rides of the year at Tour of California – long enough to offer a reasonable evaluation. The short answer is a good one, but these kicks a worth a closer look…
Specialized has been perfecting their shoes for a lot of years now, but the last time I used the road shoes was 2005. Although they were good back then (in fact their mtb shoe is still going strong for me after 3 years), they’re even better now.
Not a wholesale revolution, but a continual evolution is how I’d describe the improvements.
The shoes are your basic three-strap system, two Velcro and one buckle per shoe.
Out of the box I slipped the shoes on while working away at the PEZ desk, breaking them in on the carpet and within 30-45 minutes they were feeling comfortable. Of course everyone’s feet are different, but I’ve had shoes in the past that never quite felt right, no matter how long I wore them. The Pro Rd’s seemed to settle around my foot quickly, and within two rides felt just right.
The sole is all carbon, and uses both shape and material to provide stiffness while watching the weight. See the ridges under the arch of the foot – that’s part of the shape I‘m talking about. Specialized cal it “Torsion Box construction” and just like folds help make a piece of paper stiffer, shaping can change the stiffness in a fairly thin and light carbon shoe sole.
The sole itself is canted slightly off horizontal at the foot-ball area, designed to better position the average rider’s knee more vertically above the foot, resulting in less knee movement through the pedal stroke and ultimately reducing or eliminating knee pain altogether. This ’canting’ can be further influenced by Specialized’s Varus Wedges.
That’s important because shoe sole camber can help one person while hurting another (which is why lots of companies don’t have much sole tilt). But the wedges help dial it all in.
The sole offers standard three-bolt mounts for most cleats, and is a unidirectional carbon layup with an outer “beauty layer” of 3k weave. The pro sole is approx 6mm thick and is the stiffest, lightest & thinnest offering from Specialized. It’s stiffness index of “11” is about 2x stiffer than their nylon soles, ranked by a proprietary test. All I can say is they’re stiff… how stiff exactly is hard to say, but it’s reassuring to know these do “go up to 11”.
The vent in the toes looks like a good idea for hot climes, but you need to open it from the inside by removing the footbed, and then cutting through the sole liner. I fiddled around with it and discovered it’s tricky reaching it from inside the shoe. Good thing this test took place in January and Feb – when cool toes were the last thing on my mind. I suspect riders in really hot places who desperately want air flow on their feet will also want to cut a vent hole on through the footbed. For winter, simply putting a piece of tape over the hole under your foot beds will seal you back up.
The heel pad is a hard but flexible-enough-to-be-grippy compound, that actually functions pretty well when walking. Although it looks like a seamless part of the outer footbed, it is replaceable by loosening two screws inside the heel, beneath the footbed.
The heelcup offered me a snug and high fit – both with my orthotics and the Specialized footbeds. It’s quite stiff at the base to hold your heel in place, but softens nicely at the top and I never found it irritating.
The tiny holes in the leather (shoe sides) seem to be aesthetic at best, as they do not go through to the inside. There are areas at the mid-section of the shoe where you can see light coming through, but again these are still blocked by the inner shoe liner. The end result is likely a cooler foot than if the holes did not exist, but I’m not sure most riders could tell the difference.
One of my favorite features was the easily adjustable top strap. Specialized has done a nice job addressing the differences in foot height, to allow a better fit across all three of their footbeds, by offering 3 holes from which to anchor the top strap.
This is pretty much an industry standard, and is great for me because I have a naturally high arch, which gets even higher when I slip in my orthotics or in this case the tallest Specialized footbeds (green). By anchoring the strap in the last hole, the padded center of the strap sits nicely across the middle of my foot – not off to one side like some other shoes.
For lovers of clean lines and smooth airflow, the problem with a lot of buckles is they stick out too far, look obtrusive, and disrupt the airflow around the foot. Because of the basic mechanics involved, there are limitations to how small and low profile you can make the buckle, and while some shoes eliminate the buckle with a 3rd strap and velcro, a lot of riders prefer the superior cinching power of a buckle. The lever action lets you really ratchet that sucker down as tight as you like – or can stand.
The buckle itself is simple and functional – no magic buttons or secret twists required to tighten, or release. And it can be mounted in two places if you prefer more, or less strap pull, simply by loosening one screw.
The inside of the shoe is pretty standard for what I expect from the top line these days. The stitching that contacts your foot is minimal, and was not noticeable for me. The tongue is lightly padded for pretty much the full length and has tiny slots cut into it to allow for venting / moisture escape, but as with the side holes, air flow is not as high as some other designs.
The tongue is anchored at the toe-end, and also along the inside of each shoe. This tended to offset the placement of the tongue along the top of my foot. Functionally I did not really notice it but it still looked sorta goofy. The tongue seems to be sewn in place for riders with average shaped feet, and I’m sure it centers nicely for them.
Specialized told me they were the first major shoe maker to offer optional footbeds for different shaped feet – all part of their Body Geometry system of bike and gear fitting.
The inside of the box spells out in easy to read detail their Body Geometry features and benefits, including the Varus wedge, metatarsal button, and longitudinal arch support, all designed to improve the fit and feel of the shoe. Although they’re not a fully customized foot bed, they do offer a reasonable degree of customization to improve fit across a wide variety of feet shapes and sizes.
My own experience, albeit it anecdotal and restricted to a sample of 1, has been noteworthy. I’ve been wearing custom orthotics for about 15 years now, initiated because of knee pain. My very high arch and instep seemed well suited to the custom orthotic, which filled the large void under my foot. Over the past few years I’ve sampled other ‘customized’ inserts and footbeds, but have found none to replace my orthotics.
Enter Specialized’s Body Geometry footbeds – in three ‘contours’ to fit different arches and foot shapes, intended to “provide uniform support across the entire foot”. I tried all three, and settled on the “+++” significant contour. Although not quite the same shape as my orthotics, I was game to try ‘em out.
Adjusting to the different feel of the footbed took only a couple of rides, and although I felt some irritation in my knees initially, this also disappeared as my body adjusted to the slightly new position. I’ve now been riding the BG footbeds exclusively for about 6 weeks, with almost no complaints. I did experience some hotspotting in the left shoe while on two 4-hour rides at the ToC, but only on 2 occasions.
It’s important to remember the BG footbeds are not the same as a custom orthotic, but they do offer some fitting improvements for many riders.
Tech Ed. Charles says:
After also playing with these, I found ‘em to be a pretty nice option and well fit. That’s not much different than what Richard says above, but what is notably different is that my feet do not resemble his feet at all. It’s worth mentioning because the mif stack insoles and some wedge in one foot are what did the trick for me. Specialized are one of the few companies to admit “one shoe does not fit all” and this despite Richard and I having the same sized foot! I would wish for better venting in extreme environments like Arizona, but I’m happy Specialized are offering so many combinations for consumers in the same shoe. I ride custom shoes day in and day out and these do not replace a full custom fit. But they are a couple of steps in the right direction and with the help of a highly qualified fitter, the Specialized offering is a plus in the market place.
Overall I’ve been impressed with the shoes, considering I have less than easy to fit feet. The toe box was comfortable, and the strap placement works well with my feet – so there’s no burning or numbness where the straps cross my feet (like I’ve had on other shoes). I’ve yet to test the shoes in hot weather, but based on the mesh-venting, I expect these shoes to be no hotter than any comparably priced shoe.
I’ve been pleased with the Body Geometry footbeds, and although they do feel different from what I’m used to, I’ve been riding in almost complete comfort and will continue to use ‘em. Specialized reports that a number of the Saxobank pros have switched from custom orthotics to the BG footbeds and Varus wedges, take that as you wish. I have not used the Varus wedges, as Specialized recommends these as part of a complete bike fit by one of their trained dealers, and since I’m riding pain free, I’ve got little reason to mess things up.
• See the website: Specialized.com
• MSRP Shoes: US$260.00
• Body Geometry Footbeds: US$50.00
• Varus Wedges: $US 40.00
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