Having seen some of the high-end carbon-soled road and XC shoes from Suplest last year, we wanted to look a bit deeper into their line-up. The young Swiss-designed shoe company spreads most of the features of their top shoes all the way down, with differentiation primarily an issue of different sole constructions (and a bit with upper materials.) With a lot of cyclocross racing here in Europe, we wanted to look at something with a bit more flex for all of the running; so we passed on the full carbon soles, for a pair of good old fashioned reinforced nylon soles. Suplest does a pretty solid job with even this mid-level SupZero mountain bike shoe, and I was never really left wanting for a stiffer shoe during a wide mix of cross, road, and mountain riding and racing.
Follow me past the break for a look at how the shoes help up to 4-season riding, some of their details, and pricing…
The shoes I tested are in the Crosscountry SupZero range, which basically denotes the use of the same seamless upper design. The naming scheme from Suplest is pretty opaque and not overly rational. So for reference, our sample shoes are the 02.022 that retail for just under 200€ and include a nylon sole, two velcro straps, and a ratcheting buckle strap. To compare, a similar pair with only velcro straps and the same nylon sole sells for 180€, and with a carbon sole and the same buckle for 280€. The upper of each of these is made of a two-thicknesses microfiber Polyurethane that creates something of a semi-rigid net (called the Organic Grid Upper) from the thickened fabric, with the thinner sections allowing a bit more flexibility and having perforations for ventilation. The shoes also get a large, thickly-padded tongue, which is hollowed out like swiss cheese for ventilation.
The SupZero shoes get a deeply lugged sole with large straight line tread blocks that provides solid traction. The sole is made of a relatively soft, aggressive rubber that does a good job balancing good grip on hard and wet surfaces, while also not having worn down much in almost a year’s worth of riding. Our size 43 sample shoes weighed in at 788g for the pair with the included lightweight foam insoles, and without cleats attached.
I spent last winter and spring subjecting the SupZero shoes to as much bad weather abuse as we could find. The waterproof polyurethane fabric of the upper did a solid job of keeping mud and water at bay, and even when the shoes got wet they didn’t absorb water (so dried quite quickly.) On the other side when water did infiltrate through the small vent holes or tongue, it stayed in the shoe until they were turned upside down and left to dry. When I left the damp shoes upright with other pairs after a wet ride, they never totally dried under the insoles until I removed them and turned the shoes upside down to air out. Otherwise the little bit of moisture left in the shoes would start to smell, presumably from something starting to grow. In the end the wet weather resistance seemed to pay off, and I quickly learned to pull the insoles and turn them upside down after every wet ride.
While the upper was resistant to water, the mesh and perforated tongue were not. Water that splashed up on the top of the foot didn’t typically make its way in to a noticeable degree, but on longer rides in the rain and cross races on waterlogged courses, it soon resulted in water creeping in from above. I don’t recall a problem while riding, but when mud was added in, the foam perforations of the tongue packed up a bit and took a good bit of effort to clean out.
The somewhat stiff upper did result in decent durability of the shoes overall construction. While the mud and grit of cyclocross can wear though pretty much anything in its path, the shoes have survived well with just a few scuffs here and there. We’ve heard feedback from some that the colors and graphics are a bit devisive. The tomato red of our sample shoes is not the same fire engine red typical of bike parts and kit. And after a year of exposure to the elements, it does look like different parts of the shoe have aged differently. While the main upper has faded just a bit (to a more orange-y hue), it seems like the straps have kept their original red color a bit more. The difference is subtle, but a few of our other testers noted it. There is also the odd 100% Cycling graphic on the inside of the foot that a couple of people mentioned before riding, but once I started pedaling the shoes I never noticed it again.
A strange but oddly annoying occurrence was the tread blocks’ tendency to collect rocks. The long straight blocks are parallel, deep, and soft; and they regularly pick up and hold gravel. Not really a big problem, but typical tapered tread doesn’t have the same issue. The only real durability issue I had overall was with one of the thread-on toe spikes posts on the sole. While we were happy to see the inclusion of toe spikes, one of the four mounts lasted only a half a cross season, breaking off mid way though our races. We had some tough conditions, but nothing that should have warranted this failure. It looks like on the nylon soles, the toe spike studs are simply molded under the outer rubber layer, and just aren’t up to proper cross torture. That being said, with the toe spikes removed anyway for drier dirt road and trail riding, and proper mountain bike riding, we haven’t missed the toe spikes and only now thought about them again with cyclocross season on the horizon.
The SupZero shoes have a large volume and as a result of the material do not compress a lot across the forefoot. This meant that the shoes worked best throughout the cooler months when slightly heavier socks prevailed. But on the other side in the heat of summer, when I reached for super thin socks my foot felt like it floated around in the shoe. Cinching down the main ratchet strap worked well to adjust the fit overall, but clamping down tight on the forefoot straps bunches the stiff upper material and created some hot spots, so it was best to just let the volume stay high. The thick padded tongue does well to makes up for most of the limitation of adjustment at the forefoot, allowing a comfortable fit. But one more thing that took a bit of adjustment was the forked end of the tongue. Its shape required a centered fit, otherwise flexing the ankle to pedal put undue pressure on the foot. After one or two attempts, it was pretty easy to line the tongue up for comfort each time, but it did require a bit of attention the first couple of tries.
All in all, the SupZeros make a solid mid-level cross country shoe, especially for cooler riding. Based on our experience, the toe spikes are probably only up to one season of proper CX racing, so they won’t likely make a long term cyclocross race shoe, even though the water resistance is a big plus. But now that we’ve seen what these shoes can handle, we’re pretty curious about how the 300€ top-of-the-line S8+ shoes can do with their softer, more flexible upper and stiff carbon soles.