First, a disclaimer: I’ve known Specialized shoe designer Andy Pruitt for 30 years. I’m a member of the masters racing team he founded in Boulder, Colorado, and also the co-author of his RBR eBook, Andy Pruitt’s Medical Guide for Cyclists.
But I bought these Specialized shoes with my own hard-earned cash, and I wouldn’t ride in any brand or model that didn’t work for me — it would be too painful. So I can claim a certain amount of objectivity in this admittedly favorable review.
In the accompanying review of Shimano PD-A520 pedals, I explained why recessed-cleat mountain bike shoes are often useful on a road bike. They let you walk at rest stops or into convenience stores without slipping, clattering and waddling like Charlie Chaplin in Lycra. If you have a mechanical problem you can hoof it as far as it takes to get help. Road shoes with their smooth, hard soles and exposed cleats are really only useful for riding.
But until recently, if you wanted to go the walkable route, finding MTB shoes that were light enough (and looked sleek enough) was almost impossible. Now, with the advent of carbon soles, high-end mountain bike shoes are essentially road shoes with some tread on the sole and a bit of reinforcement at the toe. They don’t look out of place paired with your best road bike. Other riders may not even notice you’re wearing them.
A Shoe for All Reasons
I’ve been using an earlier incarnation of these Specialized shoes on our tandem for 3 years. I bought the new BG Pro Carbon MTB model for that bike and to use on my “adventure bike” for dirt road jaunts. But since discovering the road-like Shimano PD-A520 pedals, I find I’m using these shoes for much of my riding. They will be my pedal/shoe combo for a 450-mile (725-km) week when I coach at the PAC Tour Desert Camp this spring.
The BG Pro Carbon MTB shoes fit my medium-width foot well especially in the toe box where I like a bit of wiggle room (important for long-ride comfort). Two Velcro straps in the toe and instep area are combined with a micro-adjust buckle at the top of the shoe. By leaving the Velcro straps relatively loose and adjusting the buckle for a comfortably snug fit, I’ve avoided hot-foot, numbness and other foot ailments.
The shoes are relatively light at 730 grams per pair (size 42). The equivalent Specialized road shoe, the BG Pro Carbon Road, weighs 560 grams per pair. I could have chosen Specialized’s top-of-the-line mountain bike shoes, the BG S-Works MTB, a gossamer 670 grams. But they cost $280, nearly a buck a gram difference, so I’m willing to tote around the additional 60g. If you want a recessed-cleat shoe as light as most road shoes, the S-Works version might be worth the money.
I also like the tread on the BG Pro Carbon MTB. Earlier versions of this shoe had a hardermaterial that sometimes slipped on rocks or pavement. This tread is grippier. It is minimalist too, so doesn’t shout “mountain bike shoe!” as you ride. Even so, it’s thick enough that the cleat doesn’t protrude and touch a flat surface during walking, which might cause a slip.
For me the shoe’s best feature is the varus built into the sole. Pruitt (who’s also director of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine) determined from 30 years of clinical experience that the feet of most cyclists need a slight amount of tilt toward the outside of the pedal. This is built into the BG Pro Carbon MTB and other shoes in the Specialized line. Although it isn’t something you sense, varus helps align the foot and knee directly over the pedal.
Another key to comfort is the metatarsal arch in the removable insole (sock liner). This is a small bump just aft of the “knuckles” of the foot. it’s designed to spread the bones, thus eliminating pressure on nerves between them. If you’re like me you won’t notice it under your feet, but it’s always there, doing its job unobtrusively.
The little things count in this shoe. For instance the tongue doesn’t slide to the side, an annoying design flaw in some other shoes. THere’s ample reflective material on the heel. And the predominantly black shoe is highlighted with silver and red for a pleasing look.
My only gripe is that the buckled strap sits a bit high on my ankle. The strap has a 5-cm-wide pad to spread the pressure, but its upper edge pressed into the tendons on the front of my ankle at the top of each pedal stroke. Cleverly, there is an adjustment for moving the strap up or down about 15 mm. The pad could be trimmed with scissors, but I found that after a few rides it molded to my ankle and wasn’t a problem. The strap is also adjustable by 2 cm in length.
Combined with Shimano PD-A520 pedals, BG Pro Carbon MTB shoes provide the best of both worlds. Together they are light, supportive and sleek like a road system, but the shoes are walkable as well.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.