"Great, another blithering review of an incredibly personal piece of cycling equipment."
This is the exact thought bubble that fills our heads whenever we pick up the latest matte-papered rag or scroll through the litany of media outlets online and see another shoe or saddle review. There's an unfortunate reality that one must come to grips with when it comes to both, an elephant in the room that the industry-supported journalists don't want to pull the curtain back on. Let us help: Comfort, with shoes more than almost anywhere else especially, is incredibly personally subjective. It's why pro teams are often sponsored by a particular shoe manufacturer, yet half the team isn't wearing them. Or they're in shoecovers in mid-July in sweltering Southern France. Or the team doesn't even have a shoe sponsor, which is more often than not the case. Some riders absolutely cannot ride a SIDI shoe. Some swim around in Shimano's narrowest offering. Some can't handle the pronounced arch of *insert shoe brand here*.
It is, without a doubt, a troubling feat then, to really review a shoe. Which is exactly what we're doing.
Enter the fi'zi:k R1B, the famed Italian saddle manufacturer's first foray into an all-Boa retained shoe, and the re-emergence of the top-tier R1 line in their footwear range. The last shoe to fill the slot, the Kangaroo leather-built strap-clad version, was something of a polarizing endeavor. The unique, massively-arched last and infernally hot shoes made for what many riders thought was an Italian torture device.
This version, the third to take the helm at the top of the Italian maker's line, is an entirely different venture, and what we'd like to think of as a maturation of fi'zi:k's footwear. Compared with prior shoes in the line, it's a far more universal fit, with the single-lace (but dual-dial) Boa retention system allowing for a wider fit (thanks to the great range of adjustment) than a traditional strapped shoe, and in turn they tip the scales at about 500g for the pair - a good 100g less than something like the SIDI Wires that we replaced with the R1B. The fit is ample, comparable to a Wire from a width perspective (read: Narrower than Shimano, wider than Specialized), and the single-lace retention vastly reduces any hint of hotspots over the instep. Like many other Italian shoes, comfort is king. While not as stiff as many other race-oriented shoes, the R1B provides a sublime balance between comfort and rigidity. Just enough flex in the sole makes hours four, five, six, and beyond pleasant, while the easy-to-adjust retention system lets the user open up the shoe easily during rides when the foot expands over time. They also shirk the former R1's thermal regulation properties, venting more than adequately in hot conditions.
On sizing: These run a good size large. The arch is low - our tester normally wears a 46 in SIDI/DMT, and the 44.5 R1B was just right. As an aside, it's always good to leave a bit of room during the initial try-on. Feet expand when they get hot, and we always err on the side of having room to spare to loosen the shoe (per above) rather than not, which can end in an agonizing final hour of a long ride.
We've been beating our review pair to death for a solid six months and 6,000 miles. This is the end result after more than a few hike-a-bikes on gravel, getting hit by a Toyota Prius (you'll notice the large car tire abrasion on the outside edge), and general abuse by someone who's renowned for obliterating road shoes by taking them where they were never meant to go.
They are, in fact, still presentable, especially with the help of a shoe whitener. That said, the trademark fi'zi:k Microtex construction is a bit soft, and in the white color somewhat susceptible to easy scuffing. The lack of a forward walking pad is frustrating for off-piste photography, and the rear heelpad is flimsy at best. And, while we're never ones to explicitly expect native 4-hole Speedplay mounting, it'd be a nice consideration, one that fi'zi:k overlooked.
Aesthetically, the R1B is the finest fi'zi:k shoe to date. Minimalism is king, and the unique single-lace construction allows for a total lack of paneling, stitching, and unsightly stitching across the shoe, save the rear seam. They are, in a word, beautiful. Even in black. And we hate black shoes.
Verdict? We're into them. There's a few minor improvements to be made, but when it comes to our two top criteria - comfort and appearance - they knock the ball out of the park. We'd like to address the durability of the microtex, the oversight when it comes to the walkability of the soles, and the sizing, but overall they tick our boxes for that elusive comfort metric while keeping weight down and nailing the critical look. But, as we've alluded to - footwear is an extremely personal choice.