Pearl Izumi Viper Mountain Bike Shoe
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After a long winter of sporadic road cycling, the first day on singletrack can be humbling. My first fat-tire ride of 2005? It made humble seem downright outlandish. And I shudder to imagine how much worse things could’ve gotten without Pearl Izumi’s new Viper mountain-bike shoes. They’d already exceeded the comfort-level requirements during several early-spring forays across the paved sections of Washington D.C.’s Rock Creek Park and weaving through the harried cherry blossom crowds on the Tidal Basin. And on my first day in the dirt, the Vipers stuck every performance element I needed. Mesh uppers kept things cool and light, the carbon-fiber I-beam design proved stiffer than my postride lower back (which is saying something), and the dial-in lacing system kept things snug with nary a pressure point—a few rotations and your feet are more secure than with any standard lacing method, period. Hard plastic around the front protects the toes like modern-era plate mail, and aggressive treads keep you sure-footed in those rare (or not so rare) moments when you gotta hoof it. These Vipers even come with fangs—screw-in toe spikes for days when the trail becomes a quagmire of mud.
Pearl Izumi Viper Mountain Bike ShoePearl Izumi Viper Mountain Bike Shoe
As expected, the Vipers are compatible with most clipless pedal systems. I paired these admirable kicks with Crank Brothers Candy TIs, not necessarily new to the scene, but still one of the best clipless systems around. (They weigh a feathery 252 grams—reason enough.) But the four-sided-entry “egg beater” titanium spindle makes it easy to trigger that audible click, while the narrow platform will let you grind forward even if you can’t get the shoe and pedal to marry.
The Viper’s only drawback is slight—the airy mesh construction above the hard plastic makes these shoes ideal for the sweltering, humid swampland of the D.C. area. But come colder temps, the Vipers will require thick socks or—more likely—shoe booties (neoprene sleeves that slip over the shoe) to armor up against the cold. Also, when you pedal through a creek, expect a footbath; refreshing for the dog days of summer but perhaps an unwelcome addition on a crisp fall day. Again, waterproof booties or Gore-Tex socks will remedy such situations. So, while I’m forced to wait for the swelling of my softball-size right knee to subside (don’t ask), it’s clear that the Vipers will be able take all the punishment I can dish out… even if I have to wait a week to get back to the grind. $199, www.pearlizumi.com