Italian style tends to come in two types – either über-flashy (think bright yellow Lamborghinis) or super-subtle (think a perfectly poured thimble full of espresso). The Fi’zi:k M3B uomo mountain bike shoes definitely fall into the latter category. While other Italian shoe manufacturers (Northwave, I’m looking at you) seem to go out of their way to make the loudest cycling footwear on the planet, the 2017 Fi’zi:k M3Bs are so subtle that during the whole of the test period, only one of the wide circle of mountain bikers that I ride with actually noticed them. And he works in a bike shop.
So, if you’re looking for shouty, loadsamoney type disco slippers, these are not the ones for you. If on the other hand, you want superbly crafted, understated and well thought through mountain bike footwear and have a pretty decent budget to spend, then read on.
As soon as you get them out of the box, the Fi’zi:ks shout quality. Actually, that’s a lie, they don’t shout quality at all, they come and whisper it in your ear instead. Probably with a lovely Italian accent. The M3Bs are half matt black and half slightly shiny rubberised black. The toe, instep and outside mid-section of the shoe have a tough rubberised dimpled finish, which seems to withstand scuffs, scrapes and knocks pretty well. The M3Bs have a unidirectional carbon-fibre sole, fitted with “high friction” rubber treads and space for two toe studs at the front for those of you thinking about potentially using these shoes for some CX action, rather than their actual XC categorisation.
The fixings for shoe are minimal in the extreme – just one 2-way adjustable BOA dial (which is the top end IP1-A version, with both forward/backward micro-adjustment that allows the fit of the shoe to be subtly adjusted, rather than the all–or-nothing adjustment of the lower price BOA adjusters found on other makes of MTB shoe) and the associated tensioning wire that runs the whole length of the tongue of the shoe.
The shoe appears to the naked eye to have been constructed with a one-piece upper section – the only visible stitches are those found running vertically down the heel. This lack of stitching is great in terms of reducing potential failure points and water ingress points (useful for British riders), but does also mean the shoe is quite a snug fit, with only minimal adjustment possible when you want to insert/remove your foot.
When you’re putting on/taking off the shoe you first need to ‘pop’ the BOA dial outwards, which removes all the tension from the associated wire loom. Then you need to work your fingers down the length of the tongue gently prising the two sides of the shoe apart. I would definitely rather have a MTB shoe with a snug fit that eases slightly over time, than have one that is instantly too loose/floppy, but it is worth remembering that these are very definitely Italian race shoes and as such, they come with a slim fit – anyone with more Americanesque feet should probably look elsewhere.
Also, while we’re on the subject of sizing, it would definitely be worth you trying the M3Bs on before splashing the cash to make sure you get the length right. I normally take a size 43 and my test shoes duly arrived in this size. While the width was perfect, they were slightly longer than my other MTB shoes of the same size (Gaerne are my personal XC shoes of choice) – this wasn’t really noticeable when riding, but I could feel the spare space around my toes when I was walking around in them.
Obviously, you’re not really supposed to walk around in super expensive carbon disco slippers, so what are they like to ride in? During the test period, I gave the shoes a real hammering – everything from short fast woodsy blasts on the MTB, a huge rock-tastic tour of the Peak District, some gravel bashing on my CX bike and even (don’t tell anyone) a couple of rides on my road bike (with MTB SPD pedals fitted – oh the horror!).
The M3Bs were amazing to ride in – they struck just the right balance between being stiff enough to not waste energy through flexing, yet didn’t give me hot spots during even the longest ride (something some race shoes are prone to do) and were pretty decent to walk in as well. With the micro-adjust system on the 2-way BOA dial, the fit could be adjusted in small enough increments to allow the perfect tension to be applied across the foot. There wasn’t a hint of heel slippage when I was off the bike – I even hoiked my CX bike on my back and did a short spot of running to test the fit to the limit and it was spot on.
The only downsides that I noted were that on wet/greasy rock, the rubber tread didn’t always grip that well and that on the big Peaks loop day (where we did more than 12 hours of riding), as I got tired, I lost the ability to clip in quite as easily as I could when I was still wide awake – it felt as though the pocket that the SPD cleat is located in was slightly smaller than on my normal race shoe and so in order to clip in to the pedal successfully I had to place the cleat more accurately over the centre of the pedal, whereas with my normal race shoe, I can waft the shoe in roughly the right direction and it seems to guide the cleat into the pedal without too much conscious effort on my behalf.
The problem with British weather is that it’s completely unpredictable and this summer has been no exception – dry, hard-packed trails in spring have changed to soggy, saturated conditions now and normally this would be less-than-ideal for a top of the range racing shoe. Luckily the M3Bs have held up well. The microtex material that Fi’zi:k has used to construct the shoe is durable (it’s the same material it uses for a lot of the saddles) and it seems to bead water and shed mud remarkably well. I also found they kept out water more effectively than other XC race shoes. And even after some pretty heavy and concentrated testing, the only signs of wear/use visible on the shoes is some scratching on the carbon-fibre of the sole plate.
At the end of the day the Fi’zi:k M3Bs are pretty amazing shoes – subtle looks, durable construction, great adjustability (assuming your feet are the right shape anyway) and the perfect sweet spot of sole stiffness mean they are a worthy addition to any XC racer’s footwear collection. They are certainly not cheap however and for this reason alone, they will have somewhat limited appeal to the mass market. But if you want some top of the range shoes to race in, and don’t want to stand out like an Italian in a zebra print skinsuit, these should be right at the top of your list of shoes to consider.
|Tested:||by Olly Townsend for 3 months|