One of the first things I learned when I started cycling 24 years ago was that a pair of cycling shoes was way more important, in terms of efficiency, than anything I could buy.
Of course back then I had to put my cleats in place with a hammer and nails and the better shoes tended to be solid wood soles. Over the years, I've worn just about everything on the market, yet it wasn't till about four years ago that I discovered the benefits of custom orthotics.
While I've never had knee problems, I've found that a custom insole has helped smooth out my pedal stroke, resulting in improved efficiency and power. And the best part is these custom insoles can simply be placed in any over the counter shoe.
A few months ago, I was introduced to Rocket 7, a Seattle-based company that builds custom carbon-fiber cycling shoes. The big draw here is weight. Plain and simple, Rocket 7 delivers a custom cycling shoe that comes in at roughly half the weight of most major brands. A size 40 triathlon shoe, for example, weighs just 170 grams (340g a pair).
So the idea of getting a custom fit and an extremely light shoe was very enticing. Not only would I not need orthotics, but I could take nearly a pound off my total weight simply by replacing my shoes! And the fact my shoes are rotational weight, was all the better.
I decided to put Rocket 7 to the test and, like with my orthotics, was required to make impressions of my feet in separate cardboard-enclosed foam boxes. There are specific instructions for creating foot impressions, which works great for do-it-yourselfers, but I would advise getting them done by somebody with experience.
Rocket 7 comes in two standard models, Road or Triathlon. The main difference is the road shoe has three straps while the triathlon model has two albeit wider straps. And the Triathlon model is about 10 grams lighter per shoe.
Three Fit Options
In addition to the road or triathlon models, you also get three fit options: custom, super stock and standard. The custom, as the name implies, gives you a personalized shoe from custom length, width, toebox volume, instep, arch support and heel cup shape.
Super stock is for those that have no problem fitting into standard shoe lasts but want a custom footbed and standard gives you all the lightweight benefits in standard sizing with no customization.
Though my triathlon days are long behind me, I initially chose the triathlon model based on advice from a friend who was riding the triathlon pair and using them for road racing. Unfortunately, my initial foot impressions weren't done by a trained person and the pair of shoes I got back was actually too large for me.
When I contacted Rocket 7, they were surprisingly good about sorting everything out for me.
"Don't worry about it," said owner Brian King. "We can adjust the size and volume around your foot."
I realized I had never even done a volume measurement and that was part of the problem. By explaining how the shoes fit me, King was able to figure out what he needed to adjust.
In fact, I sent them my custom orthotics for them to replicate in the shoe. After some consultation, owner Brian King suggested I try the road shoe model.
Turnaround from impressions to receiving finished product is usually a few weeks, depending on time of year and backlog. Obviously winter months are a little quicker since most of the country is off-season.
When I received my road shoes, it was very obvious that they had nailed it. Each shoe fit like a glove and I had virtually no play in the shoe, just the way I like it. The biggest problem I have with these shoes, quite honestly, is getting in and out. I have to literally pull the sides open to make room to slide my foot in or out.
Triathletes be advised: the road model is not for you.
As for the real test, taking the shoes to the road, it took me almost no time to break these babies in. In fact, my third ride was 97 miles and I felt a little numbness at the end, mainly due to the stiffer carbon sole. Now that the shoes, and my feet, are broken in, I don't feel any numbness.
Another great advantage, since I ride Speedplay pedals, is that Rocket 7 was able to build the Speedplay mount into the shoe's sole, which allows the cleat to be seated closer to your foot. All that's required is screwing the Speedplay cleat right into the four-screw sliding plate that sits inside the carbon-fiber sole.
And with the float I get from traditional Speedplay pedals, I really noticed the play on my first few rides because of how light my feet felt. Imagine if you could attach a cleat to the bottom of your bare foot and that's the sensation you get with Rocket 7s. Just like getting used to Speedplays, this floating sensation went away after a couple rides.
After about 1,500 miles, I'm really attached to these shoes. They feel great on acceleration and climbing out of the saddle. And, for one who's never been a traditional power sprinter, I find myself much more into mixing it up with the sprinters when I'm wearing my Rocket 7s.
My only real gripes center around the Velcro closure straps. While the road shoe has three leather straps, which I barely need because of how snug the shoe fits, the straps don't easily slide through the buckle loop because the straps tend to conform to each buckle by creating a natural crease in the leather.
In order to tighten the straps, I need to pull each strap over a little tighter than you'd think would be required. King explains that in order to put a fancier closure system on the Rocket 7s, it's going to add precious grams.
And when the idea is to keep weight to a bare minimum, I believe Rocket 7 has the formula down. With some slight refinements to the upper last and closure system, Rocket 7 is going to be a very attractive option when you consider many top line manufacturer shoes are charging almost as much for stock shoes.
Pricing runs from $359 for Standard, $399 for Superstock and $499 for complete custom fit. For more information visit www.rocket7.com or call toll-free 800-775-5580.