Next to cyclocross tires, choosing the right shoes for cross is widely known as the 'next biggest religious debate'. Well, maybe slightly behind the Seattle-vs-Boston-vs-Boulder-vs-Portland regional debates. Cyclocross is a unique and demanding discipline of cycling, requiring the pilot to be on and off the bike frequently throughout the duration of a race...well, unless the course has been Starbucked. In other words, demanding as much pedaling efficiency as running agility and efficiency.
Sidi has been an institution of cycling for eons, and when it comes to Elite-level competition, you will see an armada of the Italian shoe-maker's products outfitting the world's best on the most famous battlefields in the sport...from Koksijde to Kentucky. Their off road product range is very diverse, ranging from the price conscious, to the price unconscionable. For 2013, the new Drako (MSRP $449.95) replaces their long time elite-level shoe, the Dragon, and the Spider (MSRP $349.95) is back as their more price-conscious stalwart. I wanted to look at them both carefully for the application of cyclocross. To really get to the bottom of which shoe would perform and serve 'crossers the best in all capacities from price to performance. Here's what I found out...
Both the Drako (say 'DRAY-ko') left, and Spider, right, fit extremely well. The material used on both uppers (Lorica) is weatherproof, cleans up easy in mud, but molds to the foot well as opposed to being stiff and uncomfortable. Both shoes offer a rubber toe-cap protector (better than the Dragon's old removable toe cap) to save the front of the foot form those occasional barrier mishaps.
The Drako is all race, all the time. It is an ultralight shoe (~400 or so grams for my 46.5's) Much of this is due to the new 100% carbon sole now used on the Drako....versus the Dragon's modular/removable carbon plate which stiffened the forefoot.
The Drako keeps the unique Sidi tradition alive by keeping EVERYTHING modular and replaceable on the shoe's sole. Specifically for the Drako, the cleat mounting area contains a new removeable 'shield' (see above) and enables the rider to not have to use a metal shield such as the steel Crank Brothers shoe shields to protect the carbon from the stress of bolting on a cleat. As always, a great rule opf thumb for Sidi owners is to immediately remove the toe spike screws and replace with bolts that are easier to take out as the phillips-head screws which ship with the Sidis get easily scourerd rendering them nearly impossible to remove when you need to install spikes. Do that out of the box and ensure you use blue lock tight on the new screws you purchase.
The single most noticible aspect to the Drako's soles: STIFFNESS. And as I'll talk about in a bit, EXTREME stiffness. Great for pedaling efficiency, but running....more on that in abit.
Due to the extreme stiffness of the sole, the Drako (like the Dragon before it) enables the heel to be micro-adjusted around the heel itself to ensure it minimizes the shoe from slipping down when off the bike and on foot.
The new Techno 3 buckle system is absolutely fantastic. It's almost necessarry too given how stiff the sole is and the new enclosure system needs to cinch down the foot as securely as possible (combined with the heel lock) to ensure there is no slippage off the heel.
The Drako is well ventilated and has a well padded tounge. There is a cleat bay as in prior models to change the inner plate should it become stripped and needs to be replaced.
The Spider is an absolutely gorgeous shoe. The Italians know exactly what is up when it comes to making you look good and the Spider doesn't disappoint. Note the upper is all Lorica/leather (e.g. no mesh ventilation). Perfect for cross and the conditions faced for the 'real' part of the season (assuming you don't live in LA or FLA). Many riders actually coat their mesh shoes with resin to seal up the vents for a more waterproof/warmer solution. Sidi solves this out of the box. This said, it's heavier than the Drako by some 400g's at about 800 or so grams for my 46.5's)
Like its big brother Drako, the Spider's sole is entirely modular. The pattern of the replaceable sole is a bit different which demonstrated for me a bit better mud shedding in addition to a more stable feeling when running on wet concrete/cement. More on this below.
The inside of the Spider is cozy. The shoe fits incredibly well when the velco straps are cinched down and the Lorica upper wraps your foot well. The sealed upper also ensures your feet stay warm in inclement weather (which *is* cross!)
Side by side details of the Drako (left) and Spider (right) soles. The Drako gets the replaceable cleat shield yet the Spider gets clever in-step sole coverage...again perfect for cross.
Both of the insoles felt about the same comfort-wise although the Drako's (bottom) had a better 'build up' of material over the ball of the foot and better arch support.
So how did these shoes compare side by side when the cyclocross 'rubber hit the road'? I broke down my testing notes in this way:
- Winner: Drako. You push your foot/the bike just goes. Obviously 100% due to the stiff 100% carbon sole and power transmission. This is by every definition a shoe designed for the 'new style' World Cup Mountain Bike circuit...90 minute races, no off the bike maneuvering and constant pedaling and the need for power transmission. They got it right...e.g. the best on earth...for this application.
- Winner: Spider. The Spider was made to run. The nylon composite sole enables amazing off-bike dexterity. When running in the Drakos even for short distances such as through barriers, the soles simply feel too stiff. I felt like I was running on solid wood. The Spider conversely felt literally comfortable and agile. Stairs, barriers and the initial 'impact' on the ground when dismounting were nothing short of comfortable and stayed formed to my foot versus almost fighting to stay on my foot which the Drako felt like.
- Winner: Drako. There is no question that the Drako offers a myriad of adjustable components from the Techno 3 lacing system/buckles to the heel enclosure system. It feels excellent when ratcheted down on your foot. It has to...unless you want the shoe to come off given the stiffness of the sole.
- Winner: Spider. I've mentioned above the soles expert off-bike running prowess, but the material used in the removable sole components feels markedly better than the Drako. It is a bit softer and will feel more stable on wet cement or pavement although both Drako and Spider's soles are harder than any other shoes I've used (Mavic Fury and Pearl Izumi X-Project...both of which have incredible rubber compounds for their soles)
- Winner: Spider. The clever thinking to remove the mesh in factor of closed Lorica simply makes crossing in seasonal weather way more tolerable. You stay warm and can focus on other pain...like going harder!
- Instep coasting: Winner: Spider. This is essentially a pre-release of the pedal in muddy conditions and resting your instep of the foot on the pedal. DO NOT even try this with the Drako as you'll slide right off due to no traction-plate like the Spider has.
- Pedal engagement: Winner: Tie. To be honest, the cleat well on both the Spider and the Drako is pretty cramped making for a smaller 'target' area when remounting. Copund this with mud and it can become very hard for the pedal to re-engage. This may be better on some pedal systems (e.g. the Crank Brothers Egg Beater or Shimano XTR which have smaller (or no) pedal bodies). I use Time ATAC pedals which have a large platform.
- Toe spike placement: Winner: Tie. Both are in a logical position but I feel for the price that Sidi should include their optionally purchased toe spikes...especially for the Spider to market as a cyclocross enthusiasts shoe.
- Mud shedding: Winner: Spider. While I wore these shoes in identical conditions while testing, the Spider seemed to clear mode better. I am not sure why other than potentially materials used for the replaceable soles or perhaps the pattern of the replaceable soles themselves.
So all said and done, the winner: Spider! While not 'inexpensive', the product is more affordable than the Drako and is literally tuned out of the box for our sport's requirements: on/off bike maneuvering, comfort and cyclocross-specific traits many shoes simply overlook.