These mountain bike shoes strike the ideal balance between performance, comfort, and style
As the bike tester for Outside, I go through more shoes than a club racing team. It’s nice having choices, but with something as critical as shoes, it’s important to have a pair of my own that fit perfectly, have the cleat position dialed, and won’t destroy my feet or knees on a ten-hour ride. Right now, that’s the Specialized 2FO Cliplites.
I used to lean toward a lighter, stiffer, plastic-soled racing cleat, but have come to prefer the practicality and versatility of a sneaker-style shoe. For one, the sticky rubber outsole combined with the inset cleat position means you won’t slip and slide or crack your skull if you need to dab or walk in techy and rocky terrain. This was illustrated perfectly at a recent media event in Sedona when a handful of editors in race cleats tumbled like rag dolls on the exit to Hangover, while I just put down a foot and waited my turn to ride. The low-tread outsole makes hike-a-bikes a snap, too, and the rubber has held up admirably despite lots of pushing and walking. They’re not soft by any means, but the foam in the heel provides enough cushion.
These aren’t just some cheap skate-shoe knockoffs, either. Specialized has invested heavily in their Body Geometry fit program to ensure medically correct ergonomics, and the 2FO Cliplites (like many models in the company’s line) are some of the most comfortable bike shoes you can buy.
The outward tilt of the midsole helps to rotate the knee into a strong, stable position for riding, and the deep heel pockets ensure your feet never slip or move. The removable insole is about the best on the market for a stock pair of shoes. (Though truthfully, I always ride with custom insoles, which I find make the biggest difference of any fit change.) Meanwhile, the combo of two Boa S2 dials and a Velcro strap make micro-adjustments easy. And whereas many sneaker-style bike cleats are floppy and pedal inefficiently, the sole here is almost as stiff as a race cleat. These shoes aren’t as gossamer as a high-end racer—they weigh 758 grams for the pair (that’s 1.6 pounds)—but I’ve still showed up to the starting line with them on.
Despite a couple of years of hard use, including wet, muddy, winter riding and tons of rock desert rock scrabbling, the synthetic upper shows almost no signs of wear. You don’t want a $180 pair of shoes falling apart quickly, and these seem like they will go for years to come. And for the price-conscious, there’s a lace version ($120) that delivers the exact same foundation, design, and materials without the Boas.
The 2F0 Cliplites are also low-key enough for around town. I’ve used them on bike tours in Europe and South America where they provide a high-performance ride all day but can segue to cafes and museums. The red blaze camo, which was a one-off special edition, is no longer available, but Specialized has a flash green pair for those who like to attract attention and a staid black and gray for keeping a lower profile. I’ve been tempted to buy a pair of each, just in case these ever give out. But here’s hoping Specialized realizes what a hit they have and keeps the 2FO Cliplites in the line.