Friday, September 30, 2011

Review -- Keen Austin SPD shoe

I wrote this review a few months back. It originally appeared in the Summer 2011 edition of Bicycle Quarterly.

Keen Austin Pedal
Test distance: about 500 km (300 miles)
Cost: $120
Weight: 533 g
Country of manufacture: China

As a daily cyclist who appreciates clipless pedals, I’m always on the look out for “normal” looking SPD-compatible shoes. There seems to be no shortage of SPD compatible shoes in the world, but like Lycra, most SPD shoes do not blend well in casual non-bikey company.
The Keen Austin hides its utility well in a normal looking and comfortable Oxford-style shoe that is fit for daily use on and off the bike. Like most Keen shoes, the Austin has a distinctively wide toe box and a thick black rubber sole that wraps up over the front of the toe. The Austin’s muted tan color is officially called “Shitake.” Thankfully, there are no garish colors or overtly loud labels to distract from the quiet and unoffending design. In fact, the Keen Austin may be the only boring looking shoe that is SPD compatible. But boring is a huge win in this category, and in the end, the Austin blends well with a wide range of casual clothing and performs reasonably well on the bike too.
The Austin is advertised as a “waterproof” shoe, which is not a claim that should be made lightly to a cycling audience. The Austin does not use a waterproof layer such as Gortex to provide its water resistance. Instead, the leather is mechanically impregnated with silicon. So while the shoe is, strictly speaking, not waterproof, it is impressively water resistant. I have been caught a number of times in hard downpours and I’ve commuted through slushy snowy conditions with this shoe. On a bike with full fenders, the shoe will keep your feet dry until water finds its way through the ankle. On a bike without fenders, the leather will “wet out” when the shoe is subject to constant wheel splash for an hour or so. The Austin has a thick removable footbed that when soaked, dries easily overnight if you remove it from the shoe.
Given the wide design of the Austin, it runs a bit bigger than my other cycling shoes. If you are considering getting a pair, I’d suggest finding a place where you can try them on. If you order them online, size them as a normal shoe, not a cycling shoe.
The roomy toe box is a nice feature in cool-weather riding, as it allows me to wear a medium-weight wool sock without compressing the sock. I’ve ridden comfortably around town in freezing weather with these shoes and medium wool socks. That said, I don’t think I would attempt a long ride out of town in freezing weather with these shoes. But for any weather above freezing, the Austins are an easy choice.
As a shoe – to walk in – the Austin feels like a Keen. While the sole sort of squishes or gives a bit, the Austins generally feel well-supported. They are not overly stiff in the way most traditional racing-oriented cycling shoes tend to be. I wouldn’t want to hike for days in these shoes, but as daily, active, get around shoes, they work just fine.
I’ve had these shoes for nearly five months and I wear them multiple times a week as my daily shoe. Aside from some water staining, they show almost no signs of use. At this rate, I expect them to last for a few years.

My only real complaint with these shoes is that I’d like the SPD cutout on the bottom of the shoe to be a bit better designed. The cutout does not extend far enough to the heel. I position my SPD cleats far back toward the heel. When I initially set up the shoe to put the cleats where I like them, I was unable to clip in easily to my standard Shimano (PD-M520) pedals. The pedal would not recess into the sole without butting into the side of the cutout. With some time and a bit of determination, I’m sure I could remove a bit of the sole around the rear of the cleat, but instead, I positioned the cleat as far back as I could while still clipping in easily. If I used these shoes for long rides my solution would not be ideal, but since most of my rides in these shoes are under 10 miles, my slightly misplaced cleat does not effect my comfort.


Rachel said...

They should come in black.

John Speare said...

They do. The female version is called Presidio. And it's black.

Rachel said...

Interesting, thanks. More sporty looking than the men's version.

Wileydog said...

Thanks for the review. I've had my eye on these at REI for awhile waiting for a sale...

KEEN said...

Check out the KEEN Blog today...