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Tech review - November 16, 2003
Nike Carnerso MTB shoes
Unusually walkable MTB racing shoes
A refreshing departure from the usual 'road-shoe with knobs on', Nike's Carnerso shoes are great all-rounders with one annoying problem, according to John Stevenson.
Very high-end mountain bike shoes are usually built for one purpose: racing. It's as if shoe manufacturers reason that the only way you'll get someone to shell out US$200 or more for a pair of cycling shoes is to tell them they'll make them go faster, and the only people that bothered about going faster are racers. This leads to a high-end shoe market full of Sidi Dragons and Shimano SH-M221s, Vittoria Ascents and Carnac Siroccos.
None of these are bad shoes for the purpose, but while the Carnerso is unashamedly a racing shoe - it is after all the shoe of choice for multiple world champion Roland Green - it's also rather more versatile, which, as we'll see, is both a good and a bad thing.
As far as design and features go, the Carnerso is your typical off-road racing shoe. There's a carbon midsole under a lugged rubber outsole, with threads for SPD cleats (and the threaded inserts can be easily replaced if you strip them - just lift a flap under the insole); a ratchet buckle plus two Velcro straps attaches the shoes to your feet and provides quick, on-the-fly adjustability. The uppers are made from high-quality, tough leather and mesh with plenty of protection round your toes to ward off roots and rocks. If you plan to race in soggy conditions, there's a couple of threads under the toe for studs to provide traction in the goop. The Carnersos are not cheap at US$260, but the leather is fine-grained and well-stitched, with a double row of thread almost everywhere, the buckle works nicely and the whole package smacks of quality. As it should.
Fit on the Stevenson feet was comfortable, although on the large side of my range. If I'd been buying Carnersos from a well-stocked shop instead of making an educated guess as to what size review sample was likely to fit, I'd have tried a 42.5 as well as our size 43s. That's a nice option to have, and it's one of the reasons these shoes are over $250 - making extra sizes adds costs.
On-the-bike performance is generally excellent. The sole is plenty stiff, and over the last several months I've logged a couple of thousand kilometres of road commuting on the Carnersos as well as using them for mountain biking most weekends. The stiff sole eliminates pressure from the pedals and the mesh upper provides good ventilation. I've used the Carnersos in a range of temperatures from cool Sydney winter mornings to a stinking hot 40 Celsius summer day and they've been fine, though I've been tempted to slip shoe-covers on when the mornings have dropped into single figures.
Testing revealed two problems. After six months or so, the rubber outsole on the crank side of the cleat slot has come loose from the midsole on both shoes. The outsole at this point is almost as thick as it is wide and it just rolls if you walk on uneven ground, pulling away from the carbon fiber midsole and the edge of the leather upper.
I also found that the lugs around the cleat slot are sufficiently tall that they prevent clipping in with platform-SPD pedals such as Shimano PD-M454s. As a racing shoe, the Carnerso isn't exactly designed for use with these pedals, and when I switched to compact SPDs I had no problems. However, there's an aspect of the Carnerso that cries out for it to be as versatile as possible, and that's this: this is a high-performance MTB shoe that you can actually walk in.
Most race-bred mountain bike shoes have a problem. They're basically road racing shoes with a knobby soles. As such they have curved soles and narrow heels, neither of which are conducive to walking on uneven ground, especially if, like me, you have crap, wobbly ankles as a result of sprains. The Carnerso has a relatively flat sole, and plenty of rubber under and around the heel, which means there's almost twice as much surface under your heel than with some shoes I could mention. You still wouldn't want to do a five mile cross-country hike in the Carnersos, but you aren't in immediate danger of falling over if the surface isn't a pool table.
This makes them - and I suspect Nike's marketing department is going to have a word with Tony Soprano about me for this - absolutely terrific casual cycling shoes. You can race in them, sure; you can ride hard; add studs and you can run through the mud - but you can also walk around. What Nike has produced in the Carnerso, is the world's most expensive city cycling shoe.
I have tongue slightly in cheek here, but it is nice to be able to do more than go very fast round some pine trees in a pair of mountain biking shoes. It's possible that the sole problem I experienced was caused by the amount of walking I've done in these shoes (or by my lack of the skills to ride some of the trickier technical sections of my local trails...) so there's definitely a downside to a walkable shoe.
On the whole, I have mixed feelings about the Carnersos. The fit, comfort, sole rigidity, on-bike performance and walkability are excellent. But rubber peeling away from the sole on a $260 shoe just isn't acceptable, and I'm forced to drop them from five jerseys to just three because of that.
After: shots taken after eight months' use on and off road.
Recommended retail price: $US260.00 (but we've seen them for considerably