For 2013 Team Sixcycle-RK&O is proud to once again partner with Louis Garneau. We’ve written about the incredible quality of LG’s custom kit in our Louis Garneau Kit review and we’ve written about our appreciation for LG’s helmets. Now we’ve had the opportunity to spend several months in Louis Garneau’s brand new Louis Garneau Course 2LS shoes. After putting in extensive miles in these shoes we compiled our thoughts in a comprehensive review that follows.
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Louis Garneau Course 2LS Review by Team Sixcycle-RK&O’s Matt Richards
A shoe review is a funny sort of thing. It’s something akin to a drink mix review – certain aspects of the product can be discussed, but there are likely to be a number of personal factors involved in your selection. To understand how one will work for you, you’ve got to try it for yourself. I suppose this could be said for any number of cycling products, but it’s been my experience that this is especially true of shoes.
Ever since I started riding regularly, back in high school tooling around off road on a Cannondale Super-V, I had problems with my shoes and as a result problems with my feet. What started out as numb toes progressed to what many cyclists call “hot foot” and ultimately to a diagnosis of Morton’s neuroma and subsequently other neuromas between additional toes. Neuromas are formed when the metatarsal bones in the foot are compressed (chronically), aggravating the nerve endings between the toes. In defense scar tissue is formed, presumably to protect the nerve, but effectively this makes the nerve larger and easier to aggravate. I have heard the sensation associated with this condition described as having a flame thrower put to the bottom of your foot. I’d say it is closer to having a drill bit (on fire) rotated through the sole of your foot and in between your toes. It’s extremely painful and I once pulled out of a high profile race as a result of it. I simply couldn’t pedal any longer.
There are a number of conditions that can lead to the formation of neuromas. In my case, and I suspect for many, the diagnosis was pretty simple – my shoes didn’t fit. What I found was that while this was true, there were a number of other related factors.
Cleat position, and generally your fit overall, is important and you should see a professional fitter to make sure you are in a healthy, efficient and powerful position (regardless of whether you have foot problems or not). For me this meant a few minor adjustments to saddle position and stem length, and a fairly significant change to my cleats. Moving the cleats back kept pressure off the ball of the foot and helped prevent the metatarsal compression. This was a good change, but I needed a shoe that could accommodate a rewards cleat position without drilling new holes or buying adapter kits.
Next up was the foot bed. Some arch support was in order, as was a metatarsal bump. This is a small rise in the foot bed just behind the ball of the foot. This bump spreads the toes and prevents the metatarsal bones from compressing and aggravating the nerve ending (you can simulate this by raising your hand with your palm facing you, extending your fingers and using the thumb and index finger of your other hand to press on the center of your palm – you will see your fingers spread slightly). I got custom eSoles which helped a great deal.
Lastly, and most relevant to this write-up, was shoe selection. I needed a wider toe box to give my forefoot some room to expand, great heel retention so my foot didn’t slip forward into the shoe, an enclosure system that allowed for both fine grain adjustments and independent control over the pressure on the cuneiform and metatarsal bones, and as mentioned previously, a sole that allowed for the cleats to be positioned pretty far back on the shoe. Easier said than done…
Over the years I’ve ridden shoes from many of the major manufacturers. Multiple pairs from Sidi, Northwaves, Bontragers, the list goes on… Each shoe offered something different, but all together I can’t say that any one was better than the rest.
This season, as a part of our growing relationship with our kit manufacturer Louis Garneau the team was sent a few pairs of their new flagship shoe, the Course 2LS. We had collaborated on an advertisement for their custom kit program that ran on cyclingnews.com, and the shoes were their “thank you” to the team. I selfishly took a pair, and the others were distributed to the Matt, Charlie and Ashley (Ashley’s review follows below).
Where to start? While Louis Garneau has a strong position in cycling clothing (retail and custom) and a growing business selling nutrition, they are not often thought of for racing shoes, largely because they haven’t had a high end offering to compete with the likes of other manufacturers. The Course 2LS will surely change that.
I’d be remiss not to start by commenting on the fact that this is a Boa shoe. In fact, being my first shoe with Boa, it’s been tough to write the review focusing on the shoe itself and not the Boa system. Overall, I’m pleased with the system, largely because LG chose to use two separate Boa dials, allowing for independent control over the pressure on the cuteiform bones (top of the foot, near the ankle) and the metatarsal bones (lower down the foot). Some shoes have only one dial, limiting how much control you have over how pressure is distributed across the top of the foot – this would have been a deal breaker.
I have only two criticisms of the Boa system (not the shoe itself). While it does allow for a level of tension control that is finer grain than a buckle, it becomes difficult to control as it gets very tight. Additionally, it is not possible to release tension in small increments. You have to release the tension entirely, and start tightening again. According to Boa, they do have a dial that allows for incremental release but it was designed exclusively for Specialized shoes and Boa is under contract with Specialized not to use these dials on shoes from their competition. As such this sounds to be a limitation with all non-Specialized Boa shoes.
By far and away the most notable feature of this shoe for me has been its exceptional heel retention. I’ve always had difficulty with my heel slipping up and down in my shoes, and the lack of good retention meant that I was slipping forward into the toe box and compressing my toes – neuromas! This simply doesn’t happen with the Course 2LS.
Louis Garneau claims three features that aid in heel retention:
- Stretchy anti-slip unidirectional spandex: Provides a good support and prevents heel lift
- HRS-300 reinforced injected nylon: Secures the heel in place, optimizes fit, and reduces loss of power from slippage
- Polyurethane spandex inside heel up: Enhances heel support
However they did it, the shape of the heel is perfect and for the first time my heel is securely in place. This feature alone has meant that the Course 2LS has already become my favorite shoe yet.
The sole of the shoe is made of “Exo-Jet Carbon” which at the very least sounds fast. What I can tell you it that I’m no small rider and this is a stiff sole. In addition to it’s stiffnes, the process by which the carbon is molded is claimed to allow for thinner construction, which yields a lighter shoe with a smaller stack height, bringing the pedal closer to the foot. Vents from front to back bring airflow through the shoe, and two foot beds are included, a blue summer foot bed that is cooled by the passing air, and a solid red winter foot bed that prevents cold air from reaching the foot. I’ve not been able to test these, as I have my eSoles in their place.
It’s hard to compare how a sole is drilled for cleats from one shoe to the next, but the pattern on these shoes definitely allows for the cleats to be positioned sufficiently far back enough for me, and that’s saying a lot.
While a small thing, I was also very pleased with the markings on the sole. Some shoe manufacturers seem to do a better job here than others, and the “cleat position indicators” on the Course 2LS did make positioning the cleats a breeze.
A few of the other guys were surprised to find that the shoe ran a bit small. This was not my experience. I checked the sizing chart on louisgarneau.com and that of my previous shoe company and the set I got was sized as expected. The Course 2LS is also not the widest shoe I’ve worn, but I wouldn’t describe it as narrow either. As someone who’s very sensitive to toe box width, I feel like they’ve struck a great balance between the narrow, heel gripping rear of the shoe, and a fairly generous front end. If you’re not explicitly looking for a very wide shoe, you’ll be happy. If you’re like me and need extra width, you’ll probably be good, but I’d try a set on at the shop before you purchase.
At 240 grams per shoe (size 42), this may not be the single lightest shoe available, but it’s definitely in the same class. The use of the Boa system surely contributes to the relative lightness. They are noticeably light when you take them out of the box. You’ll be pleased.
The Course 2LS has a clean, modern look that’s tough to argue with. It’s available in white and black, both featuring a simple red stripe. I like the clean look, and I’d argue that it’s a good direction for Louis Garneau, who’s shoes have tended to have a “busy” feel to them.
At $359.99 retail the Louis Garneau Course 2LS is certainly not a budget shoe. That said, with high end shoe prices rising to over $500 in recent years, the Course 2LS is nearly $200 cheaper than top of the line offerings from other manufacturers and it’s been my experience that it holds it own. This is an exceptional shoe at a great price for what is offered.
Overall, the Louis Garneau Course 2LS has quickly become my favorite shoe yet. The only thing I’d change would be the lack of incremental release on the Boa enclosure, but it’s hard to hold this against LG. If it gets the attention it deserves, it’s likely to be the shoe that brings LG into the high end shoe market, and at a great price. Had I not received a set from the company directly, I’d be buying a pair retail right away.
Louis Garneau Course 2LS Shoe Review by Team Sixcycle-RK&O’s Ashley Doane
The Louis Garneau Course 2LS is a high-performance, ultra-light and ultra-stiff cycling shoe packed with technology and designed with an appreciation of modern bike fit. While choosing a cycling shoe is highly personal, any serious rider in the market for a high end pair of kicks would be remiss not to include the Course 2LS in their selection process.
Several years ago, when I first had a bike fit, I was surprised to learn of the focus placed on the foot and foot-pedal interface by many top bike fitters. It’s an aspect of cycling fit as personal and idiosyncratic as the choosing the right saddle, and one that dictates power, efficiency, and comfort. In addition to fit characteristics, quality of construction is essential to handle daily use, and style points are highly recommended. With all these qualities in mind, the Course 2 LS is an extraordinary fit.
The first thing I noticed about Louis Garneau Course 2LS was their popping white color with silver mesh vents. High marks for design points here and throughout. Grasping the shoes, I was amazed by the incredible light weight of the shoes. When first trying them on, I found the shoes to be remarkably comfortable (they remained so through hours of riding). In fact, they were so comfortable that at first I wondered if they would provide the necessary rigid support. After a week of riding, including a healthy dose of hill repeats and sprint work, I can say emphatically that the Course 2LS are luxurious in both level of comfort and support.
As far as general size and feel, the Course 2LS performed very well. The material in the shoe’s upper has a touch of elasticity, helping the shoe to fit tightly yet without digging into my feet or causing undue pressure over the top of my foot. The heel cup fit securely, locking the rear-foot into place without causing any discomfort or pinching, and the forefoot had plenty of space in the toe box. Throughout the inside of the shoe, there was plenty of space to accommodate my rather bulky custom insoles. This is a nice feature, with many riders using custom or semi-custom insoles (e.g. superfeet). In general, my feet felt locked in place without feeling compressed. In terms of sizing, my subjective experience was that they run slightly small in length and slightly wide in width. For reference, my feet are fairly narrow, and I wear a size 10.5 Nike. The Course 2LS in size 44 was a touch wide, though not problematic, and perfect in length.
I often retighten my shoes 15-30 minutes into a ride, and with the Course 2 LS shoes I was easily able to dial in some extra tightness without the hassle of straps or buckles. As it turns out, muscular contractions in the legs force extracellular fluid from our feet, where it normally accumulates, causing our feet to literally shrink as we warm up. Asking a few of my teammates, I’m not alone in wanting a shoe that is easily tightened and retightened on-the-fly, especially when hitting the wind and taking those first couple hard pulls of the day. In their ability to tighten and retighten with ease, the LG Course 2LS has you covered. They are equipped with the Boa closure system, consisting of two Boa dials that offer on-the-fly adjustability, and that can easily tighten the wire lacing for the securest of fits. And, the Boa dials loosen just as efficiently. Like breaking a seal on a tight vacuum, With one pull on each dial, the closures release and my feet could easily slip out after a ride.
Adding to the secure upper of the shoe is the ultra stiff Ergo Air carbon sole. I found these soles to be as stiff as any cycling shoe I’ve tried, and those looking for a super stiff and light platform at the center of the foot-pedal interface need look no further than the Course 2LS shoes.
Cleat position is an aspect of the foot-pedal interface intrinsic to bike fit, and an important consideration in a cycling shoe is the placement of the cleat holes in the sole. As a google search will reveal, cleat position is a contentious issue among bike fitters, but most authorities agree that manufacturers have an unfortunate tendency to place the holes to far forward, thus eliminating a more rearward position. The LG Course 2LS shoes strike a golden mean here, offering the potential for a more rearward position without eliminating a standard, moderately forward placement. (A google search will also reveal the Louis Garneau shoes receive positive accolades for slightly more rearward cleat hole placement along bike fitters around the globe). A typical forward cleat position places the 1st metatarsal phalangeal joint- that is, the base knuckle of the big toe- directly over the peddle spindle with the foot parallel to the ground and the crank arm at 3 o’clock. This happens to be my preferred cleat position, and with slightly long toes (effectively moving the cleat back slightly), I had no trouble dialing-in my cleats on the LG Course 2LS. I had a touch of room to spare if I wanted a more forward position (unlikely, for me anyway), and plenty in rearward aft placement, using my Shimano SPD-SL cleats.
In summary, the LG Course 2LS are a brilliant combination of comfort, support and style, integrating an awareness of bike fit with ultra high-end materials construction and materials. I look forward to many miles ahead with these pedal pushers securing my feet to the pedals.