Premium UK cycling footwear brand QUOC launched their Gran Tourer shoes last year and these were specifically designed to suit the needs of Gravel Grinders and Bike Tourers. Designed for Shimano SPD cleats, these cycling shoes promise a balance between comfort and stiffness. Whether you are pedalling or walking, they claim to keep your feet dry. In the course of this review, I discovered that the Gran Tourers were the most comfortable cycling shoes I have ever worn and lived up to ‘most’ of the promises.
Gravel Grinding is in full swing across the globe and first-time road cyclists who head off the beaten path are in for a revelation. It’s not about about the ultimate aerodynamic performance, saving every last gram or crossing the finish-line first. The journey is the goal and to make the most of this off-road experience, you need to rethink your equipment.
I have been known to ride my carbon fiber road bike with high-pressure 25mm tyres on single trail and challenging fire-trails, but it is sketchy. There is no question that a Gravel bike with wider tyres at a lower pressure and more suitable geometry is a better fit and provides a more more natural transition from the tarmac to the trails. Not to mention that road cycling cleats such as Shimano SPD-SL, Look Keo or Speedplay don’t really make sense for walking. Throw away those road shoes because this is the territory for recessed SPD cleats and a shoe design with an appropriate sole that gives you the grip to clamber over rough terrain.
So why not simply choose a Mountain Bike shoe? You could do that although you will find that MTB shoes are usually suited to specific types of riding such as Cross Country, Enduro or Down Hill. A Gravel specific cycling shoe or Bike Touring style shoe pushes long-distance comfort and functionality over short-trip performance and weight savings. The multi-day bike-packing tours with various terrain and conditions are where the QUOC Gran Tourers can set themselves apart.
Design and Style
The Gran Tours replace the QUOC line-up of more traditional leather bike touring shoes. They have a distinctive design that sets them apart from mountain biking and road cycling shoes. Rather than appearing sleek or sporty, the Gran Fondo shoes appear to be robust and durable. A prominent black band for waterproofing wraps around the shoe, the camouflaged ‘upper’ is subtle and there are no velcro, dials or latches, rather laces which lend these cycling shoes a more classic look.
There are four styles including the unusual is the pink / brown version which I previewed last, if you really want to make a statement, these are the ones to get. The all-black shoes are an understatement although remind me too much of my black leather school shoes so the two camouflage versions are, in my opinion, the most interesting styles.
The manufacturing quality, like all of the QUOC shoes, is excellent. The inner-sole is not a simply a flat cushion, rather is more rigid with arch support. Underneath the inner-soles you won’t find a mess of glue or awkward metal staples, rather the carbon composite midsole is neat and tidy. When you hold these shoes in your hand and put them on your feet, you will notice that a lot of attention has been injected into the finer details. However this doesn’t mean that these shoes are delicate, they are robust and well crafted.
Size and Comfort
For review, I had the Black Camo version with a patterned antracit upper, black band and brown sole. Recessed Shimano SPD cleats were easily fitted and out of the box, the fit of the shoe was superb. I didn’t need to use my own custom insoles as the original insoles provided the right arch support and comfort – it felt as though these shoes were custom tailored to my feet.
The shoes range from UK 3.5 – 12.5 (EU 37.5 – 46.5) and I selected UK 8.5 (EU 42.5). On the proviso that the shoes have the right length and width, this is the perfect size. I was initially uncertain as the QUOC ‘Night’ Road Shoes are fairly narrow and the 8.5’s don’t fit me. In contrast, the Gran Tourers are wider.
For readers who feel that laces are old-fashioned, Quoc created a ‘Double-Lock’ lacing system which simply works. The inherent comfort means that you wont need to adjust these shoes mid-ride. The Double-Lock allows to naturally adjust lacing tension and it is seriously just as good as any elastic, velcro, ratchet or dial system.
While walking, there was no heel-slippage and while I tried to avoid scuffing the shoes, they were suprisingly robust… even when I got lost and had to clamber across fallen trees or when I got stuck in a boggy sump.
To compliment the shoes, a lovely pair of Australian Merino wool socks were also in the box and I wore these for every ride. They were neither too thick nor thin and beyond the comfort, my feet didn’t freeze or overheat.
Selecting the right pedals to compliment these shoes is fairly important as there are a few different styles of SPD compatible pedals. I tried a few of my MTB pedals and discovered that broad platform MTB pedals with pins make it difficult to clip in. While I like broad platform pedals as you can quickly grip and don’t need to properly clip-in to pedal on challenging terrain, the deep tread of the Gran Tours make it hard (but not impossible) to clip-in.
Although a lot road cyclists are comfortable with the single-sided SPD-SL clip-in pedals, though single-side SPD pedals are not well suited to Gravel cycling. The moment that shoes, cleats and pedals are caked in mud, then it is a real-struggle to clip-in.
Also, double-sided pedals without platforms require a lot practice and sometimes luck to clip-in so instead I recommend a pedal such as the Shimano XTR PD-M9020 which has a medium platform. This type of pedal provides enough surface contact even if are not completely clipped-in and within a few pedal strokes you should be able to naturally find the sweet spot. If you walk through thick-muddy areas then platforms are even more important when your cleats and pedals are clogged.
As is standard, you can set your cleats further forwards or back and get the right position. The marking on the sole help with alignment. On my first ride one of my SPD cleats started moving and I couldn’t unclip even though I had tightened the hex bolts sufficiently. Before the next ride, I used a drop of loctight on each of the hex bolts and no longer had any further cleat movement.
With the right pedals, these shoes become invisible and pedalling feels good and natural. Even after a long day in the saddle, my feet were still happy.
When I was a young mountain biker, one of my favourite challenges was to tackle difficult single trails with steps and logs and attempt to ride the entire length without setting a foot down. Gravel Grinding is usually far less technical unless you get stuck in a bog… like I did while testing the Gran Tourers.
My single-track disappeared and rather than back-tracking, I spotted a clearing a ‘probably’ the next firetrail. Riding through the undergrowth was almost impossible so the bike went across the shoulder and I them stumbled across a large forest plot that had been brutalised by a storm and every tree was uprooted or snapped. Not only that, the ground was a bog and my challenge now was to climb across the massive trunks and navigate the scarred terrain.
Quoc have created a sole which they call GravelGrip and my own adventures put these to the test as a shoe that will give you grip when the going gets tough. Other scenarios which I didn’t test, but imagine are well suited are watery, mossy, stoney trails and paths. The Gran Tours reall make sense for bike packing and touring on unsealed and rough trails when you have to push a fully-loaded bike.
QUOC make a fairly bold claim, “thanks to the Gran Tourer’s “no-sew” bonded upper, fully waterproof from the SPD-compatible sole cleat to the black seam border, your feet will remain dry and moisture-free, no matter how many puddles you have to step through.” If you have ever done long distance hiking or touring and suffered from wet feet, you will know how valuable it is to keep them dry.
Perhaps my experience was an exception as I got stuck in a storm. The puddles on the road were now a river and from above I was being pelted with fat and hard raindrops. I escaped by seeking refuge at a petrol station and but my feet were drench before I even set a foot down. Not that I was surprised, this is what happens when yoy get caught in a nasty storm.
In perspective, the waterproofing abilities mean that water won’t seep in through the SPD cleats or the sides. I was able to fend of puddles and splashes on other rides and in comparison to regular mountain biking or road cycling shoes, the Gran Tourers are well ahead.
It is now time to discuss the price of these ‘Premium’ cycling shoes. The QUOC Gran Tours are available for purchase online (from the UK) and retail for £183. For Australian buyers this coverts to around $335. Shipping is included though GST will also be levied during import so the total cost to your door is just shy of $370.
There are cheaper shoes targeting gravel grinders and bike tourers. For example the Shimano XC5 retail for about $199 (AUD) although don’t have the same grippy sole or robust build. The Fizik X5 Terra have a recommended retail of $300 and share a lot in common with a Cross Country MTB shoe. While they are lighter that the Gran Tourers (282g verses 353g in size UK8.5) they have more limited water protection and not as robust.
The purchase price can put these shoes out of reach for ‘occassional’ Gravel Grinders. For bike packing and multi-day cycle tours, foot comfort is an absolute must and the QUOC Grand Tourers deliver. As the most comfortable cycling shoes I have ever worn, this is also complimented by a thoughtful design and quality construction.
For more information and purchasing, visit: quoc.cc