Ekoi XC R4 Gravel Shoe Preview
A while back I asked the question “what makes a gravel shoe?” Thankfully I have a pair of Ekoi XC R4 shoes that might be able to answer that question.
Ekoi say that both gravel and Mtb riders are looking for shoes with similar characteristics. These are: sturdiness, grip, support, efficiency, comfort and ease of maintenance. Seems a reasonable list, but it’s difficult to see what would separate a gravel race shoe from a Mtb one. I’m still coming down on the side of a road shoe, with some grip and a bit of protection. Could the Ekoi XC R4 be the one?
Looking at the Ekoi XCR4 it does look similar to their R4 road shoe; maybe they share the same DNA? That would seem to suggest that it may be the shoe I’m looking for. The main difference would be the sole. Ekoi use 3K carbon on the road shoe, while the XC R4 uses nylon. Ekoi say this is to allow some flex when walking; I wonder how much and is it noticeable?
So let’s look at Ekoi’s list starting with sturdiness. The XC R4 has a TPU ‘shield’ that runs around the sides of the shoe and reinforces the heel. It’s meant to protect the bottom of the shoe from scuffs and scrapes. I assume it will also stop any water from coming in, but only from shallow puddles. While I don’t want anything too over the top, some protection’s a good thing in an off-road shoe. This seems about right, so that gets a tick.
When it comes to grip, again TPU is used to form the tread. Ekoi say the tread has “been studied to guarantee the best grip, especially on muddy grounds.” You can also fit a pair of toe spikes, for really muddy days, or if you use them for ‘cross. As I said I’m not too worried about having spikes as I’m looking for a gravel race shoe, but they’re handy to have.
The tread, like all off-road shoes, surrounds the cleat, keeping it clear of the ground. This reduces cleat wear and stops you slipping on shiny café floors, but means you have a smaller pedal-shoe interface. Using a road pedal would give you a firmer stance on the pedals, but be a nightmare to walk in off-road.
When Ekoi talk about ‘support’ they talking about the closures, how they tighten on and support the foot. For this the Ekoi XC R4 uses two ATOP buckles. I like the ATOP closures, they allow you to fine-tune the fit a click at a time. This allows you to easily tighten or loosen the ratchet to get the fit you need. Then when you want to take them off, you simply pull the dial up and it releases; simple. I’ve found using two buckles allows for a much better fit, so that’s another tick.
When it comes to comfort, well that’s very much a personal thing. There are so many variables involved, people tend to find a brand that works for them and stay with that brand. Which is fair enough, good quality shoes aren’t cheap, so constantly switching isn’t an option for everyone. The ATOP buckles will help as they exert an even pull, which should allow you to avoid hot-spots on the top of your foot.
Here I’m only concerned about the “rigid enough to be effective – flexible enough for walking” nylon sole. Will that flexibility mean a shoe that is too flexy? Only one way to find out and that’s to ride it! Also the steel cables in the ATOP laces will help keep your foot from in place, especially on the up-stroke, so another tick there.
When it comes to maintenance, Ekoi say the XC R4 only needs a brush and soapy water to keep it looking good. With it’s minimalist look, there shouldn’t be too many places for dirt to get stuck in. Which means keeping them clean should be easy; just a shame they’re not white!
I’ll be testing the XC R4 out over the coming weeks and will let you know how I get on. In the meantime check out the Ekoi XC R4.