Cycling is not something I think about when I think about Israel. Actually, it probably wouldn’t even make the top 100 list of things I associate with the middle-eastern country, but based on the number of Israeli cycling companies coming onto the world market in the past few years, that may change. FLR is an Israeli cycling shoe company making shoes for the entire cycling spectrum – from MTB to road to touring. They’ve got a lot of work to do if they want to play in this competitive area with the “big boys”, and that means they’ve got to try harder, which is often a very good thing for us consumers.
While FLR is a new name to most of us, you may have seen their products before under different brand names (e.g. think of a company with a naval weapon and a number), so they’ve been testing the local market on the downlow with some good customer reviews. While they offer a range of shoes for all cycling disciplines at a variety of price points, I received the Bushmaster touring shoe for review since most of my cycling is commuting and I need a shoe I can ride in between campuses and wear in the office as well. FLR’s touring range fit the bill perfectly.
The first thing you’ll notice about the shoes is what I’m going to call the differential strapping – the velcro straps are of different sizes and they don’t line up along the front of the shoe. If these shoes arrived as an unknown brand from China I’d think this was a manufacturing fault, but the ungainly looking design serves a very useful function since it allows you to secure the shoes differently across the top of the foot, the forefoot and near the ankle, to suit your particular needs. It’s probably as good as you can get without using those little wire loops and adjustable boa dials, so it’s a good cost saving solution.
These savings seem to have been thrown into the second thing you’ll notice, which is a very distinctive sole. Vibram is a well known brand of shoe sole; they’re probably best known for their Vibram Fivefingers – perhaps the most controversial technical shoe ever developed. The sole of the Bushmaster shoe is more restrained than the Fivefingers, thankfully, and is typical of the kind of sole you’d see on a good hiking/walking shoe. It’s stiff enough for cycling (though not as stiff as a racing shoe), but flexible enough to walk in comfortably (though not as flexible as a sneaker).
Vibram Fivefinger shoe
Apart from those two very obvious features, the rest of each shoe looks like a shoe. There is no ostentation, no annoying flare, no overuse of the brand logo. It has a good sized and useful reflective patch on the rear of the shoe, but it looks like a normal sports shoe, which is exactly what I wanted.
The shoes come with complete with “null” cleats, pieces of solid plastic bolted to the bottom where the normal two-bolt cleats would go. As such, they’re walking shoes straight out of the box and, when you go to attach the cleats, there are already bolts and a mounting plate to use. Installing the Shimano SPD cleats is as easy as removing the inner sole, unbolting the null cleats, adding the good cleats, and you’re on your way. There is a good amount of fore/aft travel available to give you a lot of cleat position choice.
I have worn these shoes now for several months; at BNA we make sure that we give products some real testing under the same conditions you the reader would use them in. I rode with them in 40+ degree heat and in pouring rain and hail. The mesh on the upper foot gives excellent ventilation in the heat and I never found myself uncomfortable due to overheating. The downside of this, of course, is that it lets in the rain and, since there is no drainage hole in the bottom (save for the cleat attachment slots), it can get a bit wet inside. I didn’t wear the shoes long in the rain, so I can’t report on how they would feel after a wet century, but having lived with similar shoes in the past, wet feet are the least of my problems when it’s bucketing down. Since they’re all synthetic material, they dry quickly and without any shrinkage or distortion.
I only had two problems with the shoes: the grip and the fit. While these shoes are quite knobbly (like a mtb tyre) and therefore perfect for dirt and mud (like a mtb tyre), they’re also a bit slippery on flat wet surfaces (like a mtb tyre). This may change once the soles get a bit more scuffed up, but the soles are holding up very well and show little signs of wear after a few months, so I don’t know when this will happen. It’s not a big problem, however, just a surprising one – be wary when you’re walking on the road or smooth concrete in the wet.
The other problem was the fit, and this can easily be solved: buy one size up. The length of the shoe was great, the fit around the ankle was cushioned, secure and comfortable, but the toe box was quite narrow and this caused some discomfort and pinching on my left foot, which is the larger of the two. I don’t think one size up would be too big and would definitely give me the toe room I needed. I’ve never had to buy “wide” shoes before, so I don’t think I have problem feet. If you’re a narrow footed individual, I think you’ll be very happy with the FLR fit.
FLR shoes are very reasonably priced at $139 RP so offer very good value for money with their good build quality. The Australian importer is Bicycle Parts Wholesale who supply (probably) every bike shop in Australia with a huge inventory of parts so if your favourite shop doesn’t have them on display, they can get them in fairly quickly.
FLR shoes are definitely worth having a look at as comfortable commuting, touring and trail cycling shoes.