Saddle specialists Fizik are the latest company to try their hand at cycling shoes, with three road models – the top-end R1, men's R3 Uomo and women's R3 Donna – arriving in US and European stores in December.
And in keeping with Fizik's usual mode of operation, the company are putting a strong emphasis on Italian construction quality, style and fit.
Indeed, all of the new models are simply gorgeous, with genuine kangaroo leather and synthetic microfibre uppers joined with svelte 'rivoltato' stitching, old-school perforations in strategic areas for ventilation, and classic colours that include matt and gloss black, white, and red.
The details have been well thought out, too, with logoed zinc strap ends for a finished appearance, heavily stylised and oversized main buckles (with the top-end R1's being made of compression moulded carbon fibre!), and a cheeky tricolore graphic on the inside of the tongue.
The R1 Uomo uses a heavily stylised and oversized moulded carbon fibre buckle lever
Lest you assume Fizik's new shoes are nothing but style, there's plenty of technical detail as well, starting with an unusually complex three-piece '3D Flex' sole that the company claim blends efficient power transfer with just enough strategically placed give for long-term comfort.
The centre of the sole is built in the usual fashion from high-modulus carbon fibre for stiffness but wrapping around the heel cup and outsole perimeter is a softer 'Mobius' composite rail that helps lock in the back of your foot and also lend a bit of flex to the sole's edges as they transition to the upper.
Lying between the rearmost Mobius loop and carbon outsole is yet another semi-rigid, U-shaped composite bit that's meant to provide even more heel stability. All three pieces are individually moulded then bonded together before being hand-finished for an integrated appearance.
A fibre composite piece adds further heel stabilisation
Up top, the ratcheting buckle strap plus twin Velcro forefoot straps are made of sailcloth to prevent stretch, and the main strap is easily adjustable in length to accommodate a wide range of foot volumes.
As previously mentioned, the top-end R1 buckle lever is made of carbon fibre – the R3's slightly less showy lever is aluminum – and the atypically stylized shape is larger than usual, with Fizik comparing the concept to a large men's watch.
The top-end R1 also features a high-tech semi-rigid insole system from Sidas. Heat mouldable materials are included in strategic areas for a customised fit, fibre composite reinforces and cups the heel area, and memory foam is used throughout the cotton-and-polyester top sheet for comfort.
The R1 will also come with a heat mouldable semi-rigid insole from Sidas
Tongue padding is dense and generous but also customisable via a unique 'pocket' configuration – pull the padding out if you prefer a more bare bones feel, or replace it with an even more protective technogel strip (available separately). Designer Steve Delacruz has even incorporated semi-rigid strips inside the upper to prevent the non-offset D-rings from digging into the top of your feet.
Weights are competitive but not superlight. According to Fizik, the R1 is 274g for a size 43, the R3 Uomo weighs 258g and the R3 Donna is 206g (size 38.5).
Though we weren't able to try them on, the lasts look to be typical Italian as well, with an impeccably well formed heel cup, a slim fit through the middle third and a fairly tight-looking toe box. Few words can describe just how buttery soft the kangaroo leather feels and it's almost unbelievably supple as well – even if your foot doesn't fit the standard last perfectly, we expect the material will conform to your personal anatomy over time for a more custom feel.
The new lasts are distinctly Italian, with snug-looking fits through the rearmost two-thirds – especially around the heel – and a fairly narrow toe box
Pricing will be at the upper end, but given the complexities of the sole and the high-quality construction, the numbers almost seem reasonable. The R1 will retail for US$400/€340 and either R3 model will cost $300/€240. Men's shoes will be available in sizes 40-48 with half sizes up to 47, and the women's shoe will come in 37-43 with half sizes up to 42.
Fizik say this year's fairly modest debut will be followed by additional models next season, plus related accessories such as shoe covers and socks.
If it seems to you like the shoe market is suddenly getting awfully crowded, you're not alone. But at least the newcomers appear to be more than worthy of a second look and our initial inspection gives good support to Delacruz's assertion that Fizik's shoes will "bring back the heritage of Italian craftsmanship". Welcome to the party, guys.
Fizik are proud of the shoes' Italian heritage but want to be a little subtle about it, too
Want more? Be sure to check out our video coverage of Fizik at Eurobike.