Now that Boa and other dial-and-lace systems are ubiquitous on high-end cycling shoes, brands are shuffling around the placement of the micro-adjust dials.
The Sidi Shot and the Pearl Izumi PRO Leader III have double dials mounted on the tongue of the shoe. Benefits of the design include the absence of hardware on the upper and even tension across both sides of the shoe
Aside from this design, the two shoes vary considerably in construction, fit and feel. We explore the differences here.
Sidi’s outsole, like virtually all high-end road shoes these days, is carbon and stiff.
In keeping with Sidi’s tradition, the heel walking pad is replaceable with a screw. Similarly, a front vent can be opened and closed (and replaced) with a screwdriver.
Stack height is a relatively high 1cm and the insole is a flat, plain number.
The PRO Leader has slightly better ventilation, while the Shot has a replaceable bumper and an operable front vent Ben Delaney / Immediate Media
Pearl Izumi PRO Leader III
Pearl’s construction by contrast is quite novel, as the cardboard lasting board (the bit you see inside shoes when you remove the insole) was eliminated.
Normally shoes are made by wrapping the upper around a last and under the lasting board, which is affixed onto the outsole. Pearl wraps the upper directly under the carbon sole, and then finishes it with a colorful piece of plastic. The end result is a 5mm stack height on a still-very-stiff shoe.
Pearl’s heel pads are not replaceable, but they are fairly thick. The carbon sole is wider than the colored finishing plate, especially in the area between the cleat and the heel.
Pearl has a unique design that eliminates the lasting board, and thus stack height is a mere 5mm on a very stiff shoe Ben Delaney / Immediate Media
Pearl’s insole comes with inserts for the arch and forefoot to tune the interior fit.
Sidi uses a synthetic leather it calls Techpro Microfiber, which is pliable without being stretchy. It isn’t very breathable — there are patches of perforations and a few vents stitched in, but it is easy to clean. Plastic lace guides are stitched in.
The feel is substantial, holding the foot in place over the carbon sole. The material does fold a little around the spidery black details etched into the microfiber.
The PRO Leader’s upper is thinner and more pliable than the Shot’s. Both come in a few loud colors, as well as black Ben Delaney / Immediate Media
Pearl’s thin, mesh body is on the other end of the spectrum, built in one seamless piece with a thermoplastic polyurethane grid fused over on top. Fabric loops as as lace guides, with two per lace loop stitched into the underside of the upper.
The Pearl is a touch wider through the forefoot than the Sidi.
Proprietary dials vs. Boa IP1s
Sidi has been making dials and laces long before Boa turned up on the scene. Its latest ‘Double Techno 3 Push System’ is a mouthful, and also a bit of a handful to operate.
The small-diameter dials only tighten, and you need to flip up the levers on top to do so. To release, you push a lever at the base of the dial and either unwind the dial or pull open the tongue. In any event, it’s a two-hand process.
For tightening, the Sidi dials offer a pronounced click and a positive feel. The laces slide easily through the guides.
Sidi’s in-house dials tighten the laces, and you have to press and hold a lever to release Ben Delaney / Immediate Media
On both the Sidis and the Pearls, the upper dial pulls one loop to tighten the upper section of the shoe and the lower dial pulls two loops in a figure eight to tighten the middle and the lower portion.
It’s a good system. Northwave opted for a single dial on its new Extreme RR, which provides a uniform tightness (and cleaner look) across the shoe, but many riders like to be able to adjust the top and bottom independently.
Pearl has Boa’s IP1 dials, which micro-adjust in both directions and pop open by pulling up for easy, one-handed release. On the downside, they are substantially bigger than the Sidi Techno 3s.
Pearl’s Boa dials micro-adjust in both directions, and pop open for an easy release Ben Delaney / Immediate Media
Both shoes have the basic padding under the tongue against the foot. The two big differences are the tongue materials, how the dials are mounted, and how each company protects the tongue from the laces.
The Shot’s dials are built into a single, sculpted piece of rubbery plastic. It’s nicely contoured to the foot, but fully rigid under the length of both dials.
The upper material is the same semi-stiff Microfiber as the uppers. The end result is a heavily fitted feel, like a low-top ski boot. Getting in and out feels almost like clipping into a pedal.
The plastic mount isn’t uncomfortable, but it is apparent on the foot Ben Delaney / Immediate Media
The PRO Leader III has an almost floppy tongue, with the Boas stitched on individually and surrounded on the top by thick, squishy padding underneath the laces. While the tongue moves easily between the two Boas, there is a bit of resistance at the top.
Once on, neither design causes hot spots or any real annoyance.
The Boa dials move independently of one another on the tongue, which is heavily padded top and bottom Ben Delaney / Immediate Media
Heels: sculpted and locked down vs. soft and loose
The rear of the shoes are night and day in construction and subsequent feel.
Pearl goes for a soft, minimal design, with a T-bar replacing the traditional cup for holding the heel in place.
Both shoes have a lip of padding around the upper rim, but Pearl leaves the end more open and flexible, while Sidi pinches off the Shot with an acute angle secured with an adjustable plastic clamp.
The Pro Leader at left has a semi-flexible heel closure, while the Shot uses a rigid and adjustable closure to lock the foot in Ben Delaney / Immediate Media
Each side of the Shot is adjustable with a small screwdriver. Loosening each screw pushes out on the back of the plastic bar, which makes it pinch in slightly on the front end.
Additionally, Sidi retains the solid plastic heel cup.
The end result is a locked-in fit on the Shot, and a comfortable but squirmy heel on the PRO Leader III.
The Pro Leader has a minimal T-shaped heel counter over a semi-flexible heel. The Shot’s molded heel cup is solid all the way around Ben Delaney / Immediate Media
Bottom line: fit and feel
So which shoe is better? Well, which shoe fits you better?
Individual shaping aside, the Sidi Shot feels almost like a piece of hardware. It’s comfortable, padded and well shaped — Sidi has been making cycling shoes for decades, you know — but it’s hard not to draw parallels to the brand’s substantial motorcycle footwear.
The Pearl Izumi PRO Leader III sits on the other side of the room, with a whisper-thin upper that doesn’t stretch but offers little shape of its own, especially in the heel.
The PRO Leader III is priced at £249 / $320 and the Sidi Shot is a whopping £349 / $549.
Arguments could be made for a locked-in, mechanical design and a more forgiving construction. They’re both interesting experiments in exploring the best way to connect your feet to your bicycle.