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On test: Exustar E-SR221 road shoes, December 19, 2005
Taiwan is fast becoming the world's number one cycling manufacturing hub, although many of its products are rebadged with other countries' brands. Exustar, however, is an all-Taiwanese concern; its top of the range E-SR221 shoes are put through the wringers by Cyclingnews' anti-shoeshine editor Jeff Jones.
From Taiwanese shoe company Exustar (formerly Exus) comes the E-SR221 road shoe, the latest in its growing line of cycling-specific footware. Exustar has been in the game for 12 years now, and designs and manufactures its own shoes, as well as pedals and a wide range of accessories. Although the product naming convention isn't particularly whimsical (E-SR202, E-SR211, E-SR212 etc.), there is also a refreshing lack of hype associated with this company.
The E-SR221 is a fairly standard design as far as modern cycling shoes are concerned: a synthetic upper joined to a solid carbon sole. More specifically, the upper is made from synthetic micro-fiber leather and breathable mesh, while the sole is full carbon fibre with a Poliyou® and mesh inner. There's plenty of padding to protect your feet, as the walls of the upper are fairly thick. The heel is raised compared to the toe, although not extremely so, à la the old Time shoes. The fastening system consists of two medium sized Velcro straps with a third ratcheted 'microlock' buckle.
The E-SR221s are available in grey/silver in sizes ranging from 37-48. They're compatible with Look, SPD, and SPD-R systems, as well as Exustar's own pedal system. Although the size 42s are claimed to weigh 650g a pair, our size 45s tipped the scales at 810g per pair, without cleats. Thus, they're a little heavier than many top of the range shoes that come in between 550 and 650g per pair, but are still relatively light. They also come with a nifty shoe bag in order to preserve the gleam factor.
On the feet
After some fiddling with cleat installation, I was ready to roll in the E-SR221s. I noticed several things straight away with these shoes, the first being that the left one dug into my ankle for some reason, while the right one did not! I surmised that this was due to my feet being flat and asymmetrical, and I overcame it by wedging a small piece of foam between my ankle and the edge of the shoe. The second thing I noticed was that the distance between the sole of my feet and the pedals was increased by over half a centimetre relative to my old Northwaves, and this required some adjustment of the saddle height.
I hadn't quite fixed everything before I decided to race in them, a whole day after I'd first put them on. You see, I firmly believe in never doing critical things like this at the last minute. My cleats were still wonky and I had no real power to accelerate, but the race went fairly well nonetheless. After some fore/aft movement of the cleats and some more seat height tweaking, everything was hunky dory. The sole is very stiff, which is exactly what you want for optimal power transfer. I appreciated the extra chunkiness of the base, even if it did presumably come at the expense of a little more weight.
The mesh in the upper allowed the shoes to breathe well, and that had benefits in both hot and cold weather. Your sweat can evaporate, therefore your feet don't overheat...or freeze, depending on the conditions. At no stage did my feet feel uncomfortable riding, either in 40 degree heat or in 5 degree cold, and I found that shoe warmers were only necessary once the temperature dropped below about 10 degrees Celsius. One thing I did notice is that they take a lot of newspaper to dry after you've ridden in the rain with them. There's that pungent 'wet shoe smell' too, that reminds you of why you haven't got a cat.
With regards to fit, shoes are a very individual thing. It did take a couple of months before the left one stopped digging into my ankle, once the shoe softened a little. I have wide feet and I found the E-SR221 to be slightly narrow in the toes compared to Carnacs, but nothing problematic. It did persuade me to get rid of a two year-old plantar wart on my little toe though! Ouch.
Finally, after about four months and around 9000 kilometres of riding in the E-SR221s, the shoes were still in quite good condition, albeit slightly less shiny than when I got them. There were no visible signs of deterioration (fraying, bits coming away from other bits, holes in the upper, excessive scuffing), and that's not bad.
The Exustar E-SR221 shoes are solid enough performers without being outstanding when compared to some of the other offerings out there. They're well constructed, stiff, breathe well, and don't wear out too quickly, all positive points. On the other hand, they're a little heavier than many top end road shoes, the sole is thick, meaning that the pedal axle will be further away from the foot, and they take a bit of wearing in.
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Images by Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews.com
Exustar E-SR221 shoes