When most mountain bikers think “shoes,” they think of the usual suspects: Sidi, Shimano, Lake, Gaerne, Pearl Izumi, Specialized and a huge range of brands with established lines of cycling shoes.
But as of just a few weeks ago, there’s another name to consider, one that’s just gaining a foothold in the U.S. market.
The Taiwanese company Exustar has a new agent in America called Q Cycle, and the pair is poised to introduce an extensive product line to riders of every ilk.
“We’ve been in existence for just one month, and our sole purpose is the exclusive U.S. distribution of Exustar products,” said Bill Imielski of Q Cycle.
I had the good fortune to try one of Exustar’s top-tier mountain bike shoes, the E-SM322, and can confirm that this brand is sure to make an impact despite the unfamiliar (for now) name. After about two months of trail time the shoes are holding up and they perform as well as almost anything I’ve tried.
The Exustar Story
According to Imielski, Exustar has been part of the cycling industry for the last 11 years or so. For the most part, it’s been one of those Taiwanese manufacturers that operate behind the curtain as a subcontractor, building primarily private-label products for other brands.
“You’d be surprised at some of the products that Exustar makes for other brand names,” Imielski said.
About five years ago Exustar started to create more products bearing its own brand name, and pushed to open distribution around the globe. The company still does a significant amount of private-label manufacturing as a subcontractor, but plans to make its own name more recognizable.
“Exustar has a large existing base of machinery, which makes shoe production easier for them to get into,” said Imielski, adding that the company has made shoes for 10 of its 11 years in cycling; experience it will bring to the category. “We’re the newest Exustar distributor and the first in the U.S.A. We won’t carry everything that Exustar makes, but quite a lot.”
In fact, the company Web site includes not just shoes and pedals, but clothing, body armor, helmets, sunglasses, bags, bottles and more.
The E-SM322 mountain bike shoes I’ve been wearing are top of the line from Exustar. They are built on a carbon fiber sole with TPU injection tread co-molded with the sole. The upper is made of synthetic microfiber leather with breathable mesh panels and a molded plastic heel cup. A ratcheting buckle and strap provides primary retention, supplemented by two Trihook-branded hook-and-loop closure straps along the mid-foot and toe.
Threaded inserts for toe spikes are molded in to the carbon shoe sole, but I didn’t have occasion to mount the ones included with the shoes.
All in all, the SM322 shoes have the features and build you would expect from a $240, high-end, carbon-fiber mountain bike shoe. My shoes weighed 385 grams each (size 44).
I managed about two months of riding in these shoes, including an off-road stage race with 4+ hour stages, and a couple of normal length cross-country races as well. Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with the fit and function of this early offering from Exustar.
The carbon sole is adequately stiff, but not uncomfortably so. Being primarily a roadie, I really like stiff-soled shoes to compensate for the typically smaller pedaling platform of most SPD-style mountain bike pedals. I had just one day of discomfort in the Exustars, a long, hot day in the saddle when I started to feel a pressure-induced hot spot from my SPD pedals. However, I can’t fault the shoes entirely, as I was not using my custom orthotics for arch support that day. When I swapped in my orthotics, I had no further problems. Power transfer and comfort for both walking and pedaling are good.
Other aspects of the fit are very good as well. The upper is soft and nicely shaped. The toe box is wide and roomy, with a round (rather than pointed) toe area. I have a wide forefoot, and cramped toe space is my number one peeve. No problems with these shoes in this department. Ventilation is good, and my feet were never too hot. The retention straps are perfectly comfortable and create no pressure points. The ratchet buckle is easy to use.
Heel retention could be a little better. The molded heel cup is supportive and offers protection, but the upper is just a little too soft in my opinion to really hold down my heel. It’s a small issue, however, because overall comfort and performance is top notch.
Another small area that could be improved is the tread on the sole. It’s cleverly molded with the carbon of the sole itself and generally offers good traction. But the lugs of the tread are just a little too shallow at the cleat area, such that a Shimano SPD cleat isn’t fully sheltered from contact with the ground. It makes walking on hard surfaces a little slippery at times, as the metal of the cleat prevents full contact of the lugs with the ground.
So far, durability is impressive. The sole is now quite scuffed, as is the toe area, but otherwise I’ve seen no stitching blow out or unravel. The forged aluminum buckle has taken a share of hits, but is still going strong. If I were building the shoe, I might add some scuff protection to the toe, but that’s about it. The Exustars have seen several wet/dry cycles, including two washings, but they’ve done just fine with careful and thorough drying.
If I were in the market for new shoes, I would have a hard time finding a real reason to rule out this offering from Exustar. I am a fan of carbon soles and ratchet-buckle retention systems, so these are right up my alley. Keep your eyes open for broader availability of Extustar shoes, pedals, and more in the very near future.