A solid shoe with a handcrafted feel that’s perfect for big power and long days. As long as you aren’t after a slipper-like shoe, it’s hard to go wrong.
- Heat mouldable as many times as you'd like
- Gorgeous colour options
- Custom designs available
- Ultra-stiff outsole
- Not enough toe protection from tyre rub
Lake is an American brand that's been in the industry since 1982. Almost 40 years in the cycling industry is the kind of experience that few brands can match. It's enough time to watch the rise and fall of trends and certainly enough time for a company to find focus. For Lake, that focus is on fit.
In search of the perfect fit, Lake has seven different shoe lasts. That's a level of dedication, some might call obsession, that's unheard of among cycling shoe brands. Not only do the seven different shoe lasts exist but details are proudly displayed on the Lake website. There's not only a dedication to the perfect fit but along the way Lake involves, and empowers, the customer in the process.
In the Lake CX403, you get to see that dedication to fit come together in the most technologically advanced shoe that Lake offers. There's no attempt to cut costs, or weight, and the focus is on leveraging technology, and fit, for the highest possible performance.
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Design and aesthetics
To understand the Lake CX403 you have to start with the underlying technologies and how they work together. There are three main pillars of technology that combine to create the CX403. Each one is tough to tease apart from the other as the interplay is so strong. There's a kangaroo leather upper, a carbon fibre fabric called Carbitex CX6, and a custom fit carbon fibre outsole.
The most visible technology in the shoe is the kangaroo leather upper. Just from an aesthetic perspective, the Chameleon Blue/Black colourway makes for the most audacious and gorgeous pair of shoes I've ever worn. I like to pair them with some of my favourite socks from MAAP, or Handlebar Moustache, and it's definitely eye-catching.
Aside from the looks, the kangaroo leather serves a function as well. Instead of breaking down, the Lake shoes break-in. Each time I put them on they seem to be more comfortable than the last time. The leather gets softer and more forgiving like the finest pair of dress shoes. It's unusual for high-performance cycling shoes and it requires supporting technology to make it work.
In this shoe, as with many others, Boa dials allow for a precise closure system. Boa IP1-S dials allow tightening or loosening, at the beginning and over the course of every ride. This supports an efficient transfer of power by keeping the foot attached to the outsole without hotspots. In order for the Boa dials to function, they need a stable platform to work from.
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That need for a stable platform is why most cycling shoes don't use leather that breaks in over time. Lake solves this problem by working with partner brand Carbitex. Carbitex contributes its CX6 carbon fibre fabric to the CX403.
CX6 is flexible and comfortable over the foot but it absolutely does not stretch. Just like a bike frame, Lake is able to capitalise on the dual nature of carbon fibre. Flexible in one direction and stiff in another. In this case, it serves to combine the upper and lower of the shoes. Given that the CX6 proudly puts the carbon weave on display, it's both a visual bridge as well as a performance bridge.
Underpinning the shoe is a custom fit carbon sole. The sole covers the bottom of the shoe and also wraps around the foot. At the ball of the foot, the sole is at the shortest point and only wraps slightly. At the rear of the shoe the carbon wraps almost to the top edge of the opening. Heat the shoes in the oven, carefully following the directions, and it's possible to mould the heel cup so that it perfectly fits your foot.
While most companies use a stiffness rating system, Lake hasn't tried to quantify the CX403. Just know that it is very stiff and the Lake outsole feels substantial. There are mesh-covered vents formed into the outsole at the front and rear of the shoe. Put a ruler into the vents and the carbon appears to be 4mm thick at least in that area.
The Lake outsole has a pronounced S curve with the cleat attachment being at the lowest point. At the point where the cleat attaches, the carbon appears to be even thicker. There's 5mm of fore/aft movement for the cleat bolts and lots of alignment marks to help with placement.
I tend to think that first impressions are the most important for new products. That first time you use something is when you notice the details and those details don't always stick around. The Lake CX403 is an entirely different experience. The very first time I put them on I worried I was about to hate the most expensive shoes I'd ever worn. Standing in them was uncomfortable and I did not have high hopes. Unlike other cycling shoes, this was not the end of the story.
That's not to say that the first experience was all bad. Standing in the shoes was uncomfortable but once I got on the bike things changed. When pedalling, the discomfort I'd felt standing disappeared. On the bike, the shoes felt solid and very comfortable. At 340 grams per side, there's a weightiness to the shoes but it doesn't feel burdensome. These aren't shoes I'd describe as disappearing over the course of a ride. Instead, you get a continual sense of support.
This was the state of things for a few rides before I got the courage to go through the heat moulding process. Logically I knew it would be an easy process but at $549.99 I didn't relish the idea of putting the shoes in the oven. When it came time to do it, I read the directions over and over, then put a thermometer in my oven and pre-heated it. Turns out my oven runs hot so it took some time to get the temperature to the required 200 degrees F.
Once I had the temperature sorted, the heat moulding process was both easy and effective. After the time in the oven, the shoes are not hot enough to burn you and don't feel soft. You don't need to remove the cleats either. I did one foot then the next. Each time putting my foot in the shoe and tightening the BOA dials then standing while the shoe cooled.
Don't expect big movement from the heat moulding process. The shoe will gently shift to fit your foot but there's no drastic movement. After the process I found the spots where I had pressure standing lessened and the one spot that worried me on the bike disappeared. The result feels like the gentle break-in of the leather. Both pieces combined have meant that while I worried on that first ride, a few hundred miles later I'm very happy.
I've done a couple of six-hour rides in the shoes, as well as frequent rides around an hour and a half long. I often ride with them on the loose side and gradually tighten them down as the ride goes on. The primary closure is the upper BOA dial with the Carbitex support. The CX6 material functions to connect the BOA dial directly to the outsole and it works. It's wide enough that the pressure is always diffused and no matter how much I tighten it down there's no pinching.
With a shoe like the Lake CX403 it's not a matter of whether it's good or not. It's a shoe loaded with technology and put together in a way that makes it feel almost like a custom shoe. The supple leather upper feels better over time. The CX6 carbon fibre fabric supports an effective transfer of power throughout the lifecycle of the shoes. Finally, there's a massively stiff carbon base that provides a foundation for everything. The shoe feels supportive and solid no matter if you are climbing at max power or riding through the day. There's no way to paint the picture of this not being a fantastic shoe.
The only consideration is one of style. Along with that custom fit and solid power transfer comes quite a bit of bulk. There are other brands that make featherlight options with an almost slipper like feeling. If that's what you are after you won't get that here. What you will get is a shoe that fits perfectly and somehow feels like it's more personal and handcrafted than other options.
Tech Specs: Lake CX403 road shoes
- Weight: 340g per side Size 44.5 (Actual, without cleats)
- Outsole: Heat mouldable carbon
- Upper: Klite Kangaroo leather & Carbitex CX6 Carbon Fiber Stabilizer Support panels
- Retention: IP1-S
- Colours: White/Black, Black/Silver, Chameleon Green, Chameleon Blue/Black
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