Is there such a thing as a perfect cyclocross shoe? We’re certainly always looking out for one. In our short little history, we’ve reviewed nearly twenty shoes, and each tester is always hoping that the next shoe he (or she) slips on will have a Cinderella-like fit, be durable and withstand the elements, all while being affordable. A while back, we brought you our cyclocross shoe week, with consecutive days of reviews of different cyclocross-worthy shoes. Since then, more brands and shoes have surfaced, and we’ve been reviewing a few models this season. It’s time to tell you what we think. Have a model you’d like to see tested? Drop us a line.
First up is Gaerne’s Gaerne G. Keira mountain bike shoe. In the following days, we’ll be featuring shoes from Sidi and Giro as well.
by Andrew Yee
Gaerne Brings Italian Craftsmanship and Color to Cycling
Gaerne (pronounced Gar-nay) has been making shoes in Italy since 1962, and currently, like its Italian competitor Sidi, offers both high-end Italian-made cycling and motorcycle shoes. Gaerne also offers trekking boots for your peak-bagging desires. The shoes are made in the Veneto region of Italy, the cycling mecca of Italy where not only shoe brands like Sidi, Gaerne, Duegi, Diadora, DMT and Northwave are based, but also major cycling brands like Pinarello, Selle Italia and, of course, Campagnolo.
My own history with Gaerne shoes is quite limited, but it’s distinct for me. I remember staring at, and wondering if I was secure enough, to prance around in a pink, purple and yellow pair that was sitting around in the now-defunct DreamBikes shop in Watertown, Massachusetts. I ended up trying them on, and they were a tad too big, but the only thing (beside the color) that I really remember is how flexible they were. “Perfect for the running in cyclocross,” I was told. If they had fit, I might still have them today in my closet.
Flash forward 15 years, and Gaerne just might still be a mysterious brand for many of us, but the brand certainly has had some star riders over recent years, including road superstars Cadel Evans and Alessandro Pettachi. This season I finally had a chance to give a pair a true test, and realized how much their shoes (and others) have changed from that first pair I slipped on. Buckles are now commonplace, soles are much stiffer, and synthetic materials rule the day.The one thing that hasn’t changed with Gaerne? The availability of flashy colors. My G.Keira shoes were available standard black and white, but also a bright blue and a fiery red, and new for 2012, a bright green. I opted for the bright blue to match my team’s kit, and they certainly were eye-catching. “How many lumens are those shoes?” joked a training buddy on a night ride when they were brand new. But several months later, they still get the same attention and comments — testimony to the fact that the shiny shoes shed mud and dirt easily and keep the upper section looking good.
The G. Keira shoes are the third-from-the-top model, below the new-for-2012 Viper and G. Keira Plus, and they come in two soles, both the carbon and standard nylon soles. I opted for the non-carbon model mostly out of price concerns, although a bit of flex for running is welcomed. The price? $314.99 on GaerneShoes.com, a US distributor of Gaerne shoes.
Fit for Cyclocross
Upon my first fitting, I found the shoes amazingly comfortable, far more plush and form-fitting than my trusty old Vibram-sole Lake MX-165 shoes. The most noticeable feature, in terms of comfort, is Gaerne’s “Comfort Fit Tongue.” The tongue has some generous padding, and paired with a generously wide top strap, buckling down secures the foot without pressure points or hotspots.
The injection molded heel cup also adds to the noticeable comfort, with a mold that grips my relatively narrow heel well and doesn’t slip due to its “internal non-slip treatment,” which basically means the slight padding and material provide good heel grip.
Further forward, there are two more straps to secure the foot in a toe box that’s generously sized for an average foot. When you’re running a lot, or wearing thicker socks for the cold, there’s a bit of room here to keep things comfortable, at least for my feet. Wider feet may have some issues.The buckles and straps offer some really nice, unique features on the Gaerne G. Keira shoe. The buckle is easy to micro-adjust on the ride, both tightening and loosening, and after the ride, it’s easy to release the entire strap for a quick exit. The two straps up front are Velcro, but on the backside, there’s a serrated rubber edge that provides additional security by engaging the wire loops the straps are threaded through. Gaerne calls it their “Safety Lock Strap” system and it works — no constant loosening of the strap, even as the Velcro ages. It’s a nice, small touch that has really worked well in our few months of testing. Looking at things upside down, the G. Keira has a generous full tread, with a mix of large lugs under the heel and under the toe and cleat areas, and some smaller nubs behind the cleat and in front of the heel. It’s an aggressive tread pattern that provides quite a bit of grip in loose dirt and mud, and the small blocks and full rubber sole behind the cleats makes missed clip-ins a bit easier to correct. The sole has two sets of bolt holes for a good amount of fore-aft cleat adjustment, and up front, you can screw in a pair of studs or Gaerne’s own spikes that they call “MTB Nails.”
It’s nice to have a bunch of high-tech features, but they’re worthless if the shoe doesn’t fit well and isn’t comfortable while riding. Well, thankfully the Gaerne G. Keira was the rare shoe that convinced me to leave my old Lake shoes behind, for good. The shoes are just extremely comfortable in terms of how they wrap my foot, and under pedaling, they were plenty stiff for efficient pedaling without any noticeable pressure points. Off the bike, the non-carbon soles provided a bit of flex that made steeper runs a bit more manageable, and a grippy, stable sole that made dismounting with confidence a natural act. These shoes were really as good off the bike as on, as I never felt like I was in road shoes when I had to dismount or run, whether I was climbing six flights of stairs or running around on grass doing various “Feats of Strength” trying to qualify for SSCXWC.
The shoes aren’t particularly light with their aggressive sole and burly materials, at 505 grams per shoe in a large size 46, but they’re well-suited to survive the rigors of cyclocross, and don’t feel any different than the first time I slipped them on. The sole shows just a bit of wear, and there are a few scuffs on the shiny synthetic leather but other than that, I have full confidence they’ll hold up for more seasons of abuse. There’s limited amounts of mesh on the shoes, which makes them decent as weather dips or when it gets wet — and in muddy conditions my feet stayed relatively dry, but don’t mistake them for a winter shoe. A trudge through a deep puddle will still leave you with soggy feet.
Gaerne does offer some replacement parts, including buckles, straps and heel pads on other shoes, but this model doesn’t offer the lug replacement option that Sidi offers on its Spider and Dragon models. Still, based on my experience, I’d expect all but the hardest users to get several cyclocross seasons out of these shoes, and they’d do great as mountain bike shoes as well.The Gaerne Fit Comfort Insole don’t look like anything special from up top, but underneath the soles feature three small pads under the arch, the heel, and the ball of the foot. These pads are designed to adapt to the racer’s foot and maintain that shape. While the insole was comfortable, the pads can move around as they’re just held in place by a weak adhesive. The upside is that if you have a very flat foot, you can remove the arch pad for a flatter fit. I had no problems with these stock insoles, but later tried replacing both insoles with custom fit CycleSoles and found that these insoles didn’t work perfectly with this shoe since they were designed to fit inside my Lake shoes. I ended up keeping just the right CycleSoles insole in, in order to support my high arch, and riding the stock insole on my flatter foot. This might be an indicator that those with high arches may appreciate more support, but I certainly didn’t have any discomfort with the original insole.
Sizing to me felt like they ran just a tad longer than models I’ve tried from Shimano and Specialized, but a bit shorter than Sidi. The 46 Gaerne might be just a touch longer than I’m used to, but the extra room didn’t bother me and was actually nice for thicker socks. I have very low-volume feet, so much so that I max out some brands’ tightest strap setting. I’m happy to report that I didn’t have this problem with Gaerne, although I was near the tightest settings. For someone who still longs for laces for the most customized fit, the Gaerne G. Keira did very well to satisfy my unique fitting needs.
$315 is quite a lot to spend on a pair of shoes, but given that it’s the one touch point with the bike that you probably will wear every ride (unlike shorts and gloves), you might be able to justify such an investment if it results in higher performance, more comfort, or less overall cost that your dresser full of chamois. Only a long-term test will reveal how these will hold up over several seasons, but I have every indication that they will carry me to many more off-road adventures over the next few years.
Gaerne offers several more pricey options, including this exact shoe with a stiffer, carbon sole and many more affordable options, as well as women’s specific models and winter models. The only challenge is whether you can find them in a local store to try on or even online. GaerneShoes.com stocks many models, but not a complete offering of the whole line that Gaerne makes.
Verdict: The Gaerne G. Keira is an extremely well-built, well-executed, robust shoe with a sole, slight toe flex and material selection that are ideal for cyclocross. Budget racers and weight weenies should stay clear, but others looking for a high-performance, durable shoe for cyclocross racing, training, and other off-road adventures should take a serious look at this little-seen brand.