The ultimate ‘cross shoe? The Fi’zi:k Uomo M3B comes close
Fi’zi:k M3B Uomo shoes
- Price – £229.99
- From – ExtraUK
Big title, big claim, big price – the Fi’zi:ks have got a lot to live up to. Since we received the company’s top-of-the-range XC and ‘cross shoes back in July, they have been my first choice shoe off the rack. During that time, they’ve done all day rides in the middle of summer through to an hour of mud and slop at the tail end of ‘cross season. How have they stood up (pun intended) to the task?
Before we get into the performance of these shoes, what does £229.99 buy you nowadays? The M3B Uomos are no compromise race-oriented footwear. The sole is a one piece uni-directional carbon number, designed to create a stiff platform for maximum power transfer from foot to pedal to forward momentum. Fit is (literally) dialled in via a single BOA dial on each foot. There is a distinctive “swoop” to the shoe opening, designed to remove pressure spots on the top of your foot. The outer is a mix of two fabrics – a patent style shiny black Microtex toe area and an anti-scratch matt black rear. This makes a good bit of sense. The shiny finish should shed mud reasonably well, while the parts of the shoe that most often see rub and wear have a little more protection. The front of the shoe has some small laser cut perforations, but there is no real mesh on the shoe.
That carbon sole has some good sized cleats to bite into the ground when off the bike, as well as threads for two front studs.
The overall shape of the shoe is really low profile. There is minimal padding to the upper and it conforms to the shape of your foot well. That low profile and carbon sole add up to a low overall weight. The claimed weight for the shoes is 356g for a 42.5. My slightly larger pair weight 390g per shoe with Crank Brothers cleats fitted and a bit of racecourse still hiding on the sole.
Slipping them on, my 43eu (UK9) shoes were true to size. My feet aren’t as narrow as some, but equally don’t suit very wide shoes. These felt about right. I do have a relatively shallow foot, which means I often need to cinch down fastenings a long way to prevent the front of my foot lifting inside the shoe. The Fi’zi:ks were no different, but it didn’t reach the end of the adjustment range. It also meant there was enough adjustment to cope with everything from thin summer weight socks through to chunkier merino in the winter.
I’ve got mixed feelings about BOA. I like the minimalist looks, and ability to make micro-adjustments to fit (even on the move). I don’t think it is the perfect system, especially for off-road use though. Even when brand new friction in the BOA “lace” loops tends to mean that the cable pulls tight nearer the dial, but leaves lower down less tight. Some shoes get around this by using more than one dial, which certainly helps, but adds a bit of weight. It is also an issue that gets further exacerbated when the shoes are dirty. Mud and grit doesn’t help the smooth running of the cable. It was something I consistently felt with the M3B Uomos. It was rectified by a bit of hand pulling the thin cable first, and re-tightening the shoe after a few minutes of riding and everything had settled. This obviously not a major problem, and was never more than a little frustrating, but worth noting.
On one occasion, the BOA dial itself got gunked up after a particularly crappy ride. This lead to the cable getting chewed up inside and not releasing fully. I managed to wrestle the shoe off, take apart the BOA, clean it out and rectify the problem. Again – any fitting system can have similar problems in truly terrible conditions. I just think BOA is a little more sensitive to it than velcro or ski-style ratchet mechanisms.
There is plenty of room for cleat adjustment, from running them on your tip-toes through to my preferred slammed back as far as possible. I run my cleats towards the front of my foot arch – more shoes allow this than they used to, but occasionally I’m not able to get cleats quite as far back as I’d like. No issues on the M3B Uomos.
Shoes on, and walking to the bike, the Fi’zi:ks feel like the stiff shoes that they are. There is no discernible flex to the sole, which means these would be a long way off my first choice for something for the Three Peaks, but felt incredible once riding. I used the M3B Uomos with most flavours of Shimano SPD and Crank Brothers Egg Beaters and Candies. They played nicely with all, and there were no pressure points felt, even with the minimalist pedalling “platform” that the Egg Beater offers. If you have never used a stiff-soled riding shoe before, you will be amazed at the difference it makes in terms of feel. Without being too gushing, I love the sense of no wasted energy, each pedal stroke punching you forwards just a little further than expected. Obviously, you get used to even the best shoes, and it was only when I swapped back to some flexier shoes that I again noticed the difference. Could I tell the difference between the Fi’zi:ks and other high end race shoes though? Not at all. My shoe drawer is full of similar offerings from Specialized, Bontrager and Lake and they all have near identical levels of stiffness.
‘Cross requires more than simply pedalling efficiency though. My last race of this year’s season was at the infamously muddy Todmorden. I’d guess that 50% of racer’s time was spent running. While a stiff set of shoes will never feel as good as a pair of running shoes, the Uomos were not uncomfortable – as good as I’d ever ask for in the circumstances.
Again, a comfortable ride isn’t necessarily at the top of my list of expectations when it comes to a racing shoe. It is important though. It goes without saying that if your feet are in pain then at best it is a distraction and at worst will lead to a deterioration in performance. I was impressed with how comfortable the Fi’zi:ks were. The downside to out-and-out stiffness is that shoes end up transferring more trail and road feedback and buzz back to your feet and legs. I’m not sure whether it is just that my poor trotters have got used to this over the years, but I seem fairly immune to the effects of this now; I was happy to use them for all day off-road rides, and experienced no real discomfort despite the constant rattling that gravel-bikes give over rough ground. The only times I would maybe reach for something else is if I knew I’d be doing a lot of hike-a-bike or walking as part of the ride.
Thanks to their stiffness, I pressed the shoes into pure road-duties on a few occasions and again appreciated their pedalling efficiency and still didn’t suffer from the hotspots that seems to appear after a few hours in the saddle on the road.
The clutter free and smooth finish to the shoe’s upper helped shed mud easily – I’d go as far as saying that in wet conditions, they stayed relatively clean for longer than other shoes. Thanks to the lack of mesh, they resist water ingress well and kept my feet drier than I would expect of a race shoe. I don’t tend to suffer from overheating feet, but they didn’t feel too hot in mid-summer heat. The lack of padding doesn’t help warmth in cold conditions, but it does mean the shoes dry out quickly once wet.
Once muddy, it was also easy to clean the shoes back up to “good as new”. In fact, I’m really impressed with how well the M3B Uomos have worn. The really are few signs of the heavy use they’ve had over the last six months. Of course, I would expect a shoe that costs over £200 to be well made and last well, but it’s still good to have those expectations more than met. All black is not necessarily the most exciting colour way, but it does mean that there are no grubby patches. The welded construction style also means that there are no stitched seams to pull or discolour. The only visible signs of wear are some scratches to the outside of the BOA dial and the sole of the shoe. The shoe tread is also holding up well.
Shoes have to be one of the ultimate try-before-you buy items – especially when you are thinking about spending a large amount on them. What fits my feet may well not fit yours, but if the Fi’zi:ks do work for you, then there is much to recommend about them. Light, comfortable and a practical shoe for the race course. Even better, they transfer across to all-day, everyday use very well and are wearing well. Are they the ultimate ‘cross race shoe? Well, other than a few niggles with the closure system, they are as near as damn it.