Taiwanese brand Exustar haven’t yet broken into the Australian market, but it may only be a matter of time as they expand production and spread their tentacles. They already export across Europe, Asia and South and North America. I spotted an announcement of their substantial warehouse upgrade and reached out, wanting to learn more about the brand with the awkward name.
Exustar were receptive; to provide an insight into their brand they sent over some cycling shoes (E-SR472K) for review, as well as their Shimano SPD-SL compatible cleat and pedal system (E-PR18ST). To show you these shoes before I tell you about them, I prepared a short video with an overview of the whole Exustar shoe/pedal system.
Now that you’ve got an idea of these products, let’s talk about how they performed. I began the testing by fitting the Exustar pedals to my indoor training bike and attached the cleats to match my cleat setup on my regular Northwave cycling shoes. While I took a lot of care setting up the cleat to get the right the position, the Exustar’s sole was slightly different to the Northwaves. The cleat setup was straight forward; 3 bolts (with a 4 mm allen key) for each cleat and done. The pedals however would only accept a 6mm hex key (to tighten / loosen) since the axle didn’t accommodate a 15mm wrench, which is standard on Shimano and many other pedals. I find the option of a spanner convenient, though it needs to be a thin spanner (or a dedicated pedal spanner) which you may not find in everyone’s tool kit.
Clipping in was easy; I adjusted the tension springs in the cleats with a 3mm allen key to about half-way and a click confirmed I was properly clipped in. From the first ride the cleat position felt good, my legs and knees were tracking properly.
During the first few rides, the tongues of the cycling shoes were annoying because pressed into my ankles. It took a couple of rides before the softened and I didn’t notice it any longer. The tongues do have slits cut in them, designed to allow them to flex, they just needed a bit of time. For my broad feet the fit was tight but (eventually) comfortable. On long rides however, I did get numbness; the shoes felt tight and the winter temperatures easily made their way through the mesh sections on the upper shoe. I should point out that my broader feet make shoe selection harder, even the stylish narrow pointed gentlemen’s shoes are a no-go for me.
After the first trial on an indoor-training session, I started to get some knee pain that I was able to (mostly) eliminate by switching to my heat molded G8 innersoles (which came from my other cycling shoes). The soles fitted well and provided a better all-round fit, albeit a little tighter around the toes.
One thing which I didn’t duplicate from my regular shoe setup were the wedges which I have to provide millimeter height adjustment to the cleats to compensate for different leg lengths. An exact duplication would still not have taken into account the differences between this shoe and my regular shoe; a professional cleat fit (by your bike fitter) is the only way to do this properly.
One of the things I noticed when removing the cycling shoes after riding was sweat build-up inside the heel. Other cycling shoes general have a breathable material in this section. The smooth material Exustar use inside the heel is not breathable – though it didn’t affect my riding or the fit so is just an aesthetic quibble.
Another issue was that only after a few rides, the comforting ‘click’ of clipping in was sometimes absent though neither the cleats or pedals appeared particularly worn. In the video I mentioned a rubber insert on the cleats and couldn’t find a definitive answer on this ‘patented’ technology. My own experience was that this affects the wear and tear by adding a softer interface between the cleat and pedal. This rubber insert probably affected the ‘click’ by slowing and dampening the clipping-in process.
While there weren’t many coffee stops or walking around during my test time of 6 weeks, the rubberised heal and toe piece on the bottom of the shoe revealed that I had taken at least a few steps on solid ground. Both of these in-molded parts appear to have been dipped or coated in a clear lacquer which started to peel. The lacquer gives the black carbon fiber nylon composite sole its sheen and the peeling back appears to be concentrated only on the heel and toe parts, not the sole.
In terms of power transfer, there was nothing lacking, I didn’t feel flex of the sole nor had the impression that the shoes were underperforming. On all-round fit and comfort, I still prefer my Northwave shoes which have a ratchet and a boa style dial which allow better ‘micro-tuning’. As a comparison, the Northwave are a premium cycling shoe with a refined design and functionality, the Exustar are a mid-range cycling shoe – functional though kinder on the budget.
While I would replace the velcro straps for a dial strap, the ratchet, while large, was also convenient to use, very easy for your hands to find and use, even while riding.
In the video I discussed the shoe’s design; while Exustar boast a range of styles, it will come down to personal preference. These shoes have a bit of flair and I found them hard to match with my cycling kit, though I do prefer to wear the BNA kit with dominant blue and black. It required a style shift to white socks and white or red jerseys to match; it is no good heading out onto the roads like a badly designed rainbow. The shoes win plus points for the reflective dots and rectangles on the rear – fantastic for catching the eyes of motorists approaching from behind at night.
These are noted to be Shimano SPD-SL compatible shoes and cleats. After using the shoes with the Exustar pedals, I tried them with both Shimano SPD-SL Ultegra and 105 pedals. It was never a perfect marriage; the shoes required a bit of wiggling around to properly to clip in. Mixing and matching is probably best avoided – stick with the Shimano cleats if you ride Shimano pedals. For the review, Exustar provided their red cleats which have some float. There are also black cleats available with no float – analogue to the Shimano yellow and red cleats. [Editor’s Note: The red and black system seems to match the colour coding for Look Delta cleats].
The shoes performed well for me – a professional shoe / cleat fit would have further improved the the fit. The ratchet and velcro straps are not as refined and stylish as I prefer, particularly for micro-adjustments, but the quality was good. These are a big step ahead of entry and mid-level shoes which tend to focus on comfort at the cost of flex and loss of pedalling efficiency.
The E-SR473K shoes have a US retail price of $220 and currency exchange pushes this up to $315 Australian dollars. The E-PR18ST pedals are AUD $100 and the cleats (E-RSL11) AUD $26
Exustar are looking for an Australian importer, which will be important for cyclists who would then have the ability to try before buying at the local bike shop – a crucial step to ensure you really have the right fit. In the mean time, you can find out more and about the brand and their range online: www.exustar.com