|Cyclingnews TV News Tech Features Road MTB BMX Cyclo-cross Track Photos Fitness Letters Search Forum|
On test: Lake CX400 custom-formable carbon road shoes
Mark Zalewski acts as a human last for a pair of Lake's custom-moldable super-shoes.
Lake Cycling's Lee Katz has been designing and making cycling footwear since 1982, and has long been known for good quality, value-for money shoes. However, Lake's new CX400 shoes represent a major step up for the shoemaker with an innovative carbon fibre sole that can be moulded to custom-fit the rider's foot.
Carbon fibre is nothing new in cycling shoes, but this way of using the material allows for an unusual combination: a stock shoe with customisable fit, achieved by literally baking the shoe in a convection oven.
To find out more - and pick up a pair of the shoes - I visited Lake in Evanston, IL. Entering the company's office the first thing you notice are shoes, shoes and, um, shoes. Floor to ceiling, cycling shoes of all kinds are strewn about, from advanced prototypes to shoes that belong in a cycling museum. This perfectly illustrates the company's primary focus on the cycling foot.
Then we got down to business and I was then presented with a set of new CX400s. The uppers were white, giving a professional look, and the heel support sporting natural carbon. The ventilation of the shoe sports some silver accents to give a little bling-bling.
The first thing I noticed about the shoe is that it is light. 235 grams for each shoe. The shoe is constructed of very supple kangaroo leather, which Lake calls K-Lite. The ventilation and inner fabric of the shoe is the company's Outlast SmartFabric which they say is a temperature-regulating fabric to keep the temperature in the shoe consistent.
This is all built on what Lake calls its Integrated Carbon Stability Platform, which is a combination of stiff carbon on the sole with a heat-formable carbon layer around the heel and sides of the foot that give the custom fit.
The closure system is Boa Technology's eponymous ratchet-lacing system, which uses stainless steel micro-cables wound around a ratchet wheel that is very easy to use and adjust, providing a fit without the hot-spots of other types of closures.
The heat is on
We met Lake founder Lee Katz over at the nearby Turin bike shop in Evanston with the CX400s in hand. The staff at Turin set up a bike on a wind trainer and pre-heated a convection oven to 150 degrees. Excuse me, did you say oven? Was Betty Crocker making cookies? Not quite. The salesperson took one of the shoes and placed a special thermometer sticker on the side. He then placed the shoe into the convection oven for about five minutes.
The heat softens the moldable carbon just enough to make it slightly pliable. Upon reaching this state, the shoe is placed on the client who then sits on a bike to achieve the foot position used when cycling. The salesperson then begins to work the shoe around the foot to create a customized fit. While the first shoe was put on my foot, the second was placed in the oven to soften.
Does it burn? No. Actually, it's quite a nice feeling -- like putting your
slippers in the oven on a cold winter's morning. Actually, Lake says you can
theoretically reheat the shoes as many times as you like. So if you want to
have a warm foot for those cold weather morning rides, just pop them in the
Putting the CX400 shoes on is easy. Slip them on, turn the Boa a few times, and the shoes are ready to roll. And the on-the-fly adjustments are easy, something that I always look for in a shoe. A couple of clicks of the wheel to tighten them right before the race, or a push of a button releases the Boa to give more movement. True to the claims, the Boa provides a pressure-free fit without any hotspots on top.
Having the heel cup of the shoe custom-fit to your foot makes more of a difference than I ever imagined. Other shoes that did not quite keep my heel stable really affected the ride of the shoe, particularly over long distances. Even better, the moldable carbon reaches far forward on the foot, insuring a comfortable and stable fit.
I have a slightly wider foot, and have had trouble finding cycling shoes that fit well in the front. Too many shoes pinch around the front near the metatarsal where all of the downward pressure of a cyclist is focused, which for me leads to the dreaded hot foot syndrome. I gave Lake the size of my typical cycling shoe, and luckily the test pair fit well around my foot in the shop.
However, out on the road, I felt the start of the familiar burning sensation around the front of my foot. I did not panic though. Instead, when I got home, I heated up the oven and popped the shoes back in for five minutes. After reworking the rear-to-middle portions of the shoe, the fit around the front of my foot did improve, alleviating some of the pressure. But on longer rides, the hot spots returned. Lake does make wide versions in the men's sizes and in retrospect, I should have tried on a pair of these.
Two words come to mind to describe the CX400s: light and stiff. At 235 grams each I was particularly looking at the stiffness to see if there was any flex in an effort to save weight. None at all. The shoes transferred power like it was their job (as it is.) Except for the slight discomfort on longer rides, the shoes were comfortable to wear -- almost unnoticeable at times! The air circulation is top-notch with well placed ventilation and quality inner fabric. And while this might not necessarily fall under the performance category, the fabrics used on the inside also are anti-microbial, which is probably why the plants in my apartment are not wilting under the odour.
The custom fit really comes into play on race day, when sprinting and jumping out of the saddle requires a shoe that holds your foot snug while pulling 360 degrees. The CX400s are the best shoes I have used in this regard; they simply don't budge however hard you yank or reef on them, providing a solid transmission of power from foot to pedal. That's comforting: you know that the equipment will match your effort, however hard.
After three months of training, racing and a few too many social rides, the shoes have held up splendidly (especially without any TLC from yours truly.) The construction is what I have come to expect from an industry leader like Lake. No fraying ends, no damage to seams and the scuffs I usually put on shoes were minimized from the quality kangaroo leather used in the uppers. However, due to the white colour, the shoes did get a little dirty easily. I would recommend a pair of shoe covers for the dirty days, or even every day, especially with the amount of scratch one lays out for a pair.
A really good pair of cycling shoes, period. I would say a great pair, but cannot due to the discomfort I felt on long rides. However, I am fairly certain that a wider version, which is available, would have eliminated this problem. Additionally, there is a mountain bike version (MX400) with a nice rubber grip that only adds another 100 or so grams, as well as a triathlon-specific model (CX410) that uses velcro for easy on/off.
Now for the bad news mentioned earlier -- the MSRP is $479.99. But what you get for nearly five bills is a lot -- a lot of stiffness, performance, durability and fit, without a lot of weight. And the price isn't that much more than top-flight non-customisable shoes, which tend to run $300-$400.