Saddle specialist fi'zi:k is the latest company to try its hand at the cycling shoe market with three models – the top-end R1, the men's R3 Uomo, and the women's-specific R3 Donna – all arriving in US and European stores around December. And in keeping with fi'zi:k's usual mode of operation, the company is putting a strong emphasis on Italian construction quality, style and fit.
Indeed, all of the new models are simply luscious in person, with genuine kangaroo leather and synthetic microfiber uppers joined with svelte 'rivoltato' stitching, old-school perforations in strategic areas for ventilation, and classic colors that include matte and gloss black, white, and red. The details have been well thought out, too, with logoed zinc strap ends for a finished appearance, heavily stylized and oversized main buckles (with the top-end R1's being made of compression molded carbon fiber!), and a cheeky tricolore graphic on the inside of the tongue.
Lest you assume fi'zi:k's new shoes are nothing but style, there's plenty of technical detail as well, starting with an unusually complex three-piece '3D Flex' sole that the company claims to blend efficient power transfer with just enough strategically placed give for long-term comfort.
The center of the sole is built in the usual fashion from high-modulus carbon fiber for stiffness but wrapping around the heel cup and outsole perimeter is a softer 'Mobius' composite rail that helps lock in the back of your foot and also lend a bit of flex to the sole's edges as they transition to the upper. Lying between the rearmost Mobius loop and carbon outsole is yet another semi-rigid, U-shaped composite bit that's meant to provide even more heel stability. All three pieces are individually molded then bonded together before being finally hand-finished for an integrated appearance.
Up top, the ratcheting buckle-plus-twin Velcro forefoot straps are made of sailcloth to prevent stretch and the main strap is also easily adjustable in length to accommodate a wide range of foot volumes. The top-end R1 buckle lever is even made of compression molded carbon fiber – the R3's slightly less showy lever is aluminum – and the atypically stylized shape is intentionally larger than usual with fi'zi:k comparing the concept to a big men's watch.
Fi'zi:k will also fit the top-end R1 with a high-tech semi-rigid insole system from Sidas. Heat moldable materials are included in strategic areas for a customized fit, fiber composite reinforces and cups the heel area, and memory foam is used throughout the entire cotton-and-polyester top sheet for general comfort.
Tongue padding is dense and generous but also customizable via a unique 'pocket' configuration – simply put the padding out if you prefer a more bare bones feel or even replace it with an even more protective technogel strip available separately. Moreover, designer Steve Delacruz incorporated semi-rigid strips inside the upper to prevent the non-offset D-rings from digging into the top of your feet.
Weights are competitive but not superlight. According to fi'zi:k, the R1 is 274g for a size 43, the R3 Uomo weighs 258g, and the R3 Donna is 206g (size 38.5).
fi'zi:k is proud of the shoes' Italian heritage but also wants to be a little subtle about it, too.
Though we weren't able to try them on ourselves, the lasts look to be typical Italian as well with an impeccably well formed heel cup, a slim fit through the middle third, and a fairly tight-looking toe box. Even so, few words can describe just how buttery soft the kangaroo leather feels in person and it's almost unbelievably supple as well – even if your foot doesn't quite fit the standard last perfectly, we expect the material will likely conform to your personal anatomy over time for a more custom feel.
Unfortunately, pricing will be on the upper end though given the complexities of the sole construction and high-quality construction, the numbers almost seem reasonable. The R1 will retail for US$400/€340 and either R3 model will cost US$300/€240. Men's shoes will be available in sizes 40-48 with half sizes up to 47, and the women's shoe will come in 37-43 with half sizes up to 42.
Fi'zi:k says that this year's fairly modest debut will be followed by additional models the following season, too, plus related accessories such as shoe covers and socks.
If it seems like the shoe market is suddenly getting awfully crowded, you're not alone. But at least the newcomers appear to be more than worthy of a second look and our initial inspection gives good support to Delacruz's assertion that fi'zi:k's new shoes will "bring back the heritage of Italian craftsmanship." Welcome to the party, guys.