There was a time when all cycling shoes were leather. Back in the days when you changed gear by taking your wheel out and swapping it round.
Time and innovation have left leather in the monochrome anals of cycling history, the few remaining examples displayed among other memorabilia in cycling museums at the top of Italian mountains.
One company is changing all that. Dromarti, established in Putney in 2009, has revived the leather cycling shoe, much to the relief of riders of vintage and custom-built bicycles.
These aren’t any old leather shoe either. They are vaguely reminiscent of a pair of vintage football boots and the first thought you will have will be that they look far too cool to wear just for cycling. The second thought will be how you can realistically walk around town with a pair of cleats attached to your soles.
You could of course go for the other model in the Dromarti collection, which takes SPD mountain bike cleats and actually has a sole.
We, however, tested the Race model, a super-slim and gorgeous shoe peppered with perforations of varying sizes, which has the combined effect of offering incredible ventilation and looking rather fetching at the same time.
This ventilation was a welcome feature in the deserts of Dubai, where we took the brown pair for a warm weather test. Temperatures over there at this time of year are around the maximum UK summer levels (25-30 degrees), and a stuffy pair of shoes is going to prove fairly uncomfortable.
Over three rides, one on the 85km Al Qudra cycle track, another up the Jebel Jais mountain in Oman and the other around the rural roads of Al Madam, never once did I even think about my feet. The nicest thing was they actually felt as if they were being ventilated - you could feel that breeze coming through the holes.
Not only that but considering they had never been worn prior to this trip, the shoes offered an unparalleled level of comfort. While there have been reports of them loosening up as the soft Italian leather warms up and stretches, this didn’t present an issue in this case.
In referencing a vintage look in their design, Dromarti have circumvented any hint of a trend in cycle shoe style. No need to worry about velcro or Boa fastenings here, just a good old fashioned pair of laces. Tried and tested footwear fastenings that have been around for years and something Giro is also dabbling with at the moment.
Laces of course have their advantages. Should one fail on a ride it’s likely you’d be able to either bastardise the piece you have left or find a fresh pair from a newsagent. Dromarti themselves also sell replacement laces. As a side note, the Dromarti David Millar wears have blue laces, which either indicates a custom pair for him or that he’s gone elsewhere to do his shoes up.
There isn’t much to fault Dromarti shoes on a comfort level. These shoes are made with all the expertise and attention to detail of a master craftsman, and the leather lining and insole are on a par with the finest handmade shoes.
They don’t cost a lot more than other shoes either which leaves you wondering why everyone isn’t making shoes out of leather.
And then you wear them in England. In winter.
The black pair we were sent got the bum end of the deal, by all accounts. While the brown pair sunned it up amongst the camels, the black pair were covered over with a neoprene overshoe for protection and taken onto the filthy, greasy, wet and muddy roads of Essex. This is a place where the sun never seems to shine much anymore, where there be monsters. That’s probably what the shoes thought.
The comfort levels remained the same although the holes in the uppers worked to our disadvantage and just facilitated even colder feet. But the wet made it through the neoprene and got into the leather. By the end of the ride we had sodden feet. The shoes spent the next few days stuffed full of newspaper. The only benefit in riding these shoes in the winter was the ease with which you can get the overshoes on, given the Dromarti’s slim silhouette and lack of buckles.
So they are summer shoes really, and therefore entirely appropriate given that summer is approaching.
A couple of other things to point out. The sole, while stiff and compliant, is fairly unremarkable and lacks any replaceable parts. The raised heel and toe protectors are simply part of the moulding of the sole. Once these wear down, the shoes are essentially knackered, which is a shame really because properly looked after, the uppers would go on for ever.
But perhaps the biggest issue was with attaching the cleats to the black shoes (not the brown ones, weirdly). For some reason standard cleat bolts were too short so we had to buy extra long cleat bolts which were too long, so we had to hacksaw them down. All six of them. We would imagine this would be considered a technicality too far for many a purchaser and represents a fairly fundamental problem. Dromarti either need to address the manufacturing process of the soles or provide suitable length cleat bolts in the box.
Otherwise these shoes are stunningly amazingly fantastic. Perhaps not the first choice for a cyclist who races or who likes their bikes and kit to look pro tour, but that’s not who they’re aimed at. If you’re someone who appreciates timeless style and probably rides a custom frame, most likely in steel or titanium, there really is no other shoe to consider this summer.
Summary: A classic cycling shoe manufactured in beautifully soft Italian leather which offers supreme comfort out of the box. Could do with replaceable elements on the sole and we had issues with fitting the cleat bolts. The soft leather and perforations makes these unsuitable for wet winter conditions, even with overshoes, but they excel in dry heat.
4 / 5