Mavic's new £900 Comete Ultimate shoes offer unrivalled performance for racing, but the limited size range and the massive price tag are going to be stumbling blocks for many (most?) cyclists.
Mavic has thrown out the rule book that most cycle shoe manufacturers have adhered to for generations, and taken inspiration from the ski footwear market. It's designed a two-piece shoe: a carbon outer shell with a separate one-piece bootie.
Development began back in 2011/12 to meet requests from Mavic sponsored rides for a stiffer shoe, and countless prototypes later the Comete Ultimate was born. The aim was to create the most rigid, light and stable shoe possible without going down the full-custom route.
The carbon shell provides the stiffness and low weight, the inner bootie the comfort. It's a carbon shell in the most minimum sense. There's very little to it, with large holes not only contributing to the low weight but also to ventilation for hot weather cycling. Inside is a small removable metal mounting plate, something to attach cleats to, and the heel rubber bumper is replaceable. It's a thin shell but Mavic has impact tested it to ensure its toughness.
The carbon shell also provides a very low stack height – the distance between the bottom of the shoe and the pedal axle – of just 4.5mm. It's generally considered to be a good thing to have the shoe as close to the axle as possible, and in this regard the Mavics come out trumps compared with most other high-end shoes on the market.
The bootie fits into the carbon shell. The tongue is padded and ventilated, and the bottom has a grippy material to stop it slipping inside the shell. A winter bootie is being produced that will provide more insulation for the colder months.
An inner sole is placed inside the bootie and is used to tune the fit: a thicker version for smaller feet, a thinner one for bigger feet. And this is where the Mavic differs from other cycling shoes. Instead of one shoe for each foot size, the Comete Ultimate comes in just six sizes, with the inner sole used to adjust the fit. I'm a 45 so used the thinner of the two supplied inner soles. A size 44 would have required the thicker inner sole to provide the right fit.
In an age of custom mouldable shoes and half sizes, it could be a potential limiting factor for some people. You'll definitely want to be trying them on first and Mavic is operating a fitment and trial scheme through select dealers for this very reason.
As luck would have it, the shoes fitted my feet well. The most immediate observation is that the toe box is shallower than most other shoes I've tested recently (Sidi, Fizik, Giro), so that's something to be aware of, but in all other areas the fit is excellent.
The design and technology set the shoes apart from everything else on the market, and it's the same story when it comes to riding in them. They are unlike any other cycling shoe I have ever tested.
A few impressions are very quickly formed. They're incredibly stiff, stiffer than any other shoe I can recall testing in recent years. Press down on the pedals and there's no hint of flex from the one-piece carbon shell, and that translates into a phenomenal feeling of speed and acceleration. You feel like you have any extra 80 watts at your disposal.
Ankle movement is the other big factor and a key differentiator to almost all other high-end shoes. Ankle movement is unhindered compared with other shoes. Because of the low cut ankle of the carbon shell and the flexible tongue of the bootie, my pedalling stroke – which does have a reasonable degree of ankling – felt freer and less restricted than with other high-end shoes that wrap higher and closer to the ankle. This freedom of ankle movement is the biggest takeaway for me of the Mavic shoes and goes some way to supporting Mavic's claims for 'rounder' pedalling.
So they feel more efficient and smoother through the full pedal stroke than other shoes I've tested, but is me feeling faster just a psychological benefit of wearing £900 shoes?
Mavic claims the Comete Ultimate shoes improve pedalling efficiency by reducing 15% of the energy cost of the calf muscles with a rounder pedal stroke. It says there's less variation in the power output at the dead point and the power phase of the pedalling cycle, as Nicolas Gregoire, the man in charge of biomechanics testing for Mavic, explains: "The goal of one of our tests was to maintain 250 watts for the duration of the test. If we look at the instantaneous power during the pedalling cycle, there is a variation between 70 watts (through the 'dead point') and 400 watts (when the crank is around 90° – in the power phase). With the Comete Ultimate shoes, we discovered less variation (4.2 watts less) due to a more efficient stroke through the dead zone. So, to maintain 250 watts, you require less effort through the power phase."
You can read more explanation and see some graphs on Mavic's website here.
Keen to get some numbers from real-world rather than lab testing, I bolted a power meter to my bike and set out for some comparison testing. I rode the same stretch of road and a set loop, with a few climbs, in various shoes including the new Sidi Shot, Specialized S-Works and Fizik R1B, and then the Mavic Comete Ultimate.
And having collected some data... well, to be honest it was difficult to accurately and consistently produce figures that backed up my sensory feedback. In a few places, notably on the climbs, I saw higher average power figures with the Mavic shoes, but the difference was too slight to call out as a significant performance benefit without factoring in a margin of error due to other uncontrollable variables. I did feel faster wearing the Mavics throughout the testing, but it's difficult to put an absolute figure on it.
They're also surprisingly comfortable, to a degree. The bootie and carbon shell combine to provide an excellent fit, and the two rotary dials, easy to micro-adjust in either direction on the move, keep the shoes nicely in place. So good is the fit that only light tension is needed on the dials. There were no pressure points or hotspots during longer rides, and no heel lift during even the hardest bouts of pedalling or climbing out of the saddle.
Where the comfort does fade away compared with other shoes is on longer rides. The shoes are hard on your feet. That's because there's very little cushioning between the fleshy underside of your foot and the pedal axle, and all vibrations from the road surface are felt through your feet. On a stiff race bike it can be rather tiring; I certainly found them fatiguing on a six-hour ride. They're shoes for racing not for cruising.
Can a pair of cycling shoes be worth £900? Is that good value for money? Difficult questions to answer, but the performance is definitely there, even if it's difficult to measure and quantify.
Whether they're worth two or three times more than other high-end shoes is another question, and you've probably already made your mind up about the answer. If you're after the best racing shoes and have deep pockets, the Mavic Comete Ultimates are at least worth trying because, if they fit, there is no doubting their performance.
For everyone else, well, it'll be interesting to see where Mavic takes this technology. There's something highly appealing about the radical design and certainly some encouraging benefits over regular shoes, but there are a few issues that need resolving to broaden their appeal. They also need to lower the price, but the trickle-down effect will most likely take care of that, eventually.
Some definite performance benefits but not without their issues, the biggest of them being that massive price tag
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Mavic Comete Ultimate
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Mavic says: "Our new Energy Carbon Shell is revolutionary in every sense of the word. The groundbreaking full carbon frame delivers consistent power from the first km to the last, created with an incredibly low stack height that leaves your ankles free to move fully.
"This unique construction can make all the difference in sprints to the finish line – giving you that extra split second. It also gives the shoe versatility for all weather types, as you can swap between the rain bootie and the hot ride bootie depending on conditions.
"It's micro adjustable thanks to two Mavic Ergo dials, so you can find your fit to the closest mm. Soft internal fabric gives you an adaptable fit on the top of the shoe. While a smart release function makes the shoe quick and easy to get off – once you're done leaving everyone in the dust."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Mavic lists these features:
The Energy Shell Carbon offers 360° power transfer and transmits all the energy delivered by the racer to the bike - a game changer in cycling shoe construction
Bio-position is optimized with a very low stack height (4.5mm), delivering an incredible connection with the machine
Carbon material produces the same stiffness and performance from the first kilometer to the last
Two Mavic Ergo Dials provide two-way micro adjustment for optimal fit and support
The Smart Release function added to the Mavic Ergo Dial makes the shoe easy and quick to open
Soft intern fabric on strategic parts of the foot delivers an adaptable fit on the top of the shoe
If they fit, the performance is tremendous.
I've been testing them for several months and durability has been great.
They aren't going to fit everyone – only having six sizes and different inner soles to accommodate the full range of sizes is a limiting factor. If they fit, though, they fit well.
Echo my comments on fit above.
They're among the lightest shoes on the market.
You have to remember these are high-performance race shoes, and are designed for such use, so for gentle long rides they might not be as comfortable as regular shoes.
Tricky one this. On the one hand the performance is highly impressive, but on the other, are they really three times better than £300 cycling shoes?
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Very easy to look after – the bootie can be removed for cleaning.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Provide high performance for high performance cycling, but at a high cost.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Great fit, stiffness for racing and damn, they look great.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Not so comfortable on longer rides, limited sizes and no getting away from the price tag.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Not until I win the lottery.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? If they won the lottery.
Use this box to explain your score
An incredible shoe design that offers genuine advantages, even if they are hard to validate, but the price tag is hard to swallow and, along with the comfort and potential sizing issues, has to temper the score.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.