Geared Up: Spring has Sprung

Apr 21st, 2020
Shimano RX8 Women Gravel Shoe

Shimano RX8 Women Gravel Shoe, $250

The best shoe for bike touring walks the fine line between being stiff enough for best-in-class energy transfer for efficient pedaling but also comfortable enough to walk in. Shimano’s RX8 MTB Shoe, which they’ve also positioned as a gravel shoe, is. It’s made for racing, with a super stiff and light carbon composite sole. Some riders might find too stiff. For me, it was just right. I wouldn’t normally choose a carbon-soled shoe for touring. But in this shoe, Shimano pairs the stiff sole with light, grippy, long-wearing TPU lugs. They aren’t as sticky as the Michelin rubber lugs on other Shimano mountain bike shoes, but they’re deep and grippy enough to get me through mud, rocky scrambles, and treks into grocery stores and roadside tiendas.

Shimano says the shoe gives maximum pedaling efficiency and stability when paired with SPD pedals, which is how I ran it. The cleat tucks into the lugs, which are arranged for maximum pedal contact with SPDs. Check out the sole of this shoe and you’ll see lightly textured rubber between the front lugs and behind the cleat mount. Climbing over downed trees on one ride, that rubber gave me secure footing. My wider foot isn’t always compatible with women’s lasts, but the women’s RX8 fit great thanks to loads of adjustability designed into its closure. The upper wraps from the inside of the foot toward the outside and micro-adjusts closed with a Boa closure and a Velcro tab at the toe. I could snug it down and adjust it on the fly, and my feet never hurt or went numb. On hot days, mesh-lined perforations in the synthetic leather were cool without compromising abrasion resistance. The shoe’s grippy synthetic cuff kept my foot from moving around when I pedaled.

And, in a world of mostly black and white shoes, the navy camo was fun to wear. Yes, they’re expensive, but, with high-quality materials, they should last for a long time and keep you comfortable and efficient to make every mile you’re clipped in as good as it can be. –Berne Broudy

Bontrager Adventure Shorts

Bontrager Adventure Shorts, $100

Maybe it’s the mountain biker in me, but baggies are required equipment when I’m touring — no wandering into convenience stores in Lycra for me. Bontrager, the Trek-run parts, accessories, and apparel brand, has a new “Adventure” line out, and the eponymous shorts tick a lot of boxes. Stretchy without being saggy, these blue bottoms are coated with Schoeller ecorepel, a DWR-esque finish that sloughs off splatters. I found it quite effective during mixed-conditions spring riding, though obviously not waterproof. Some will applaud the belt loops in lieu of built-in cinch systems, but even with a low-profile nylon belt and buckle, I got a little belly-digging when in more aggressive riding positions. Still, for an all-day short that I could conceivably wear every day on tour, it’s a nice-looking and high performing option. Men’s and women’s available. –Alex Strickland

Bontrager GR2 Gravel Shoe

Bontrager GR2 Gravel Shoe, $140

In the age of Boa closures, there’s something about a lace-up shoe that seems, I dunno, antique? Maybe classic is a better word, as the GR2 from Bontrager does indeed have a bit of panache to it in the “Old Style Gold” color option. “Gravel” shoes offer touring cyclists an interesting clipless option thanks to more walkability than a traditional road shoe, and as the category expands, there’s an increasing range of stiffness and style all the time. The GR2 falls on the lower end of the scale for stiffness, though I found it to be a plenty solid platform for all-day pedaling. Though I’ve been riding more Boa-equipped shoes of late (and running in them too … ), which I find quite easy to adjust on my large but low-volume feet, laces do offer some customization that a dial can’t quite compete with. The issue is replicating the feat, and I’m realizing laced-up rides sometimes require a stop in the first few miles to re-adjust. Props, however, to Bontrager for the oversized grabber on the lace loop to keep everything tidy — it’s the best one I’ve used. Men’s only. –AS

Pearl Izumi Vortex WxB Jacket

Pearl Izumi Vortex WxB Jacket, $300

What’s a good rain jacket worth? I suppose that might depend on where you ride and your tolerance for misery. Mine is low, and I’m as likely to rearrange an itinerary to stay put under a roof if it’s really letting loose outside. As a result, I typically make do with lightweight, waterproof, but decidedly not-breathable rain gear to get me through on tour, but just barely. The Vortex from Pearl Izumi is not that kind of jacket. With a three-layer membrane and the brand’s PI Dry fabric, the Vortex keeps rain out without holding all the sweat in. Like other waterproof, breathable membranes, that tech ain’t cheap, and the Vortex will certainly lighten your wallet. It does look good enough that I’ve worn it a few times off the bike, so it can pull double duty. One qualm: I don’t love over-the-helmet hoods as they feel a little too parachute-y for my liking when up or down. For $100 less, Pearl’s Torrent jacket has a slightly less high-tech membrane, drops the hood for a high collar, and comes in men’s and women’s. –AS

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