Product Test: Gaerne Kobra MTB Shoes

Italians are known for making great-fitting shoes, and they are known for their cycling culture. Put the two together and you can imagine the results. Gaerne is an Italian cycling shoe company that still designs and hand-makes their shoes in Italy, so they can be sure nothing is lost in translation. The $425 Gaerne Kobra MTB shoe brings a little old and a little new to the trail.

Tech features:

The most noticeable feature of the Kobra is the Boa closure system. Rather than more traditional hook-and-loop straps or a strap-and-ratchet design, the Boa system employs two twist-style ratchets that pull thin steel cable “laces” to cinch the shoe closed. According to Gaerne, using the Boa system addressed their weight goals while eliminating pressure points on the rider’s feet and offering more ventilation than a standard strap system.

The Kobra’s upper is entirely redesigned from anything we have seen from Gaerne in the past, with minimal seams, creating an almost one-piece design. The heel cup is constructed of carbon fiber, while the sole is constructed of ultra-stiff nylon.

Our size 44 Kobras weighed in at 1 pound 13 ounces with SPD cleats installed. Gaerne is also offering the Kobra as a carbon sole version for $500.

Field test results:
Simply strapping up our Kobra shoes in the garage made us feel fast. The Kobras share almost identical DNA with Gaerne’s newest road offering, the Chrono, and they would easily blend in on the starting line of Le Tour if it weren’t for the extra tread for the occasional hike-a-bike situation. With that said, “occasional” is the keyword here. These shoes are geared toward cross-country racers looking for pedaling performance and support. The soles are stiff, providing fantastic power transfer when hammering on the pedals, but they are not ideal for all-mountain riding situations where walking the bike for an extended period of time is a must.

The combination of the Boa closures and redesigned upper make for a signature-Italian, glove-like fit with just enough breathing room in the very comfortable toe box. As we ratcheted the shoe closed, it slid together evenly over our foot without any tongue binding or pressure points. The heel cup, while not adjustable like some other high-end competitors’, held our foot sturdily glued to the sole of the shoe.

Durability (so far) has been excellent, with only some minor wear on the softer rubber compounds designed to help grip rough surfaces on the trail. The BOA system has worked flawlessly and can be rebuilt down the road if problems occur.

At $425, the Kobras are not cheap. For the price, we would like to see more features aimed at prolonging the life of the shoe, such as replaceable treads. This would help the rider to look at the shoes as more of an investment over the long run than a one-time purchase.
The fit and performance are top-notch, and there is something to be said for handmade craftsmanship. If you are after a high-performance race shoe and don’t mind coughing up the dough, the Gaerne Kobra’s blend of modern technology and classic Italian styling is sure to impress.