Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Extremely light weight, very stiff, great adjustability, super comfortable
Cons: Heel may be loose, lacing could be easier to cinch up
Manufacturer: Louis Garneau
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite IIs is an improvement on an earlier LG offering. They include a number of improvements, including a more supple, but lighter upper, a tighter heel, air channels, bi-directional dials, and a few other odds and ends. Our favorite aspect was the awesome comfort. It's rare to find a shoe that's wildly light, super stiff, and yet quite comfortable. It was easily our Best Bang for the Buck Award winner because it had that top-level performance, plus excellent comfort, but came at a discount to other top-level shoes.
High flyers though they are, we still want you to see how they stack up against the rest of the field. We broke them down across a handful of measures and compared them to the other road bike shoes in our group. Take a look below and see if they're right for you or if you might be interested in others.
These were a real surprise here. Typically the shoes with top power transfer have middling or downright terrible comfort. The Editors' Choice Fi'zi:k Infinito R1s have excellent power transfer, but only fair comfort. It maintains a lot of energy transfer without sacrificing comfort by using a high-density microfiber upper in combination with a super stiff carbon outsole.
It also has a pretty unique feature, the X-Comfort Zone insert, which allows the shoe to naturally move between B-width and D-width. It's an elastic spandex patch on the outer metatarsal area of the upper, where scuffing tends to happen. It's a clever idea that could significantly improve comfort as the foot expands during the downstroke, but it's not without its risks, particularly for the unfortunate folks who make contact with pavement, poles, trees, other bikes, and whatever else is out there.
There are few other road bike shoes out there that can match the snug, natural fit of the LGs. Foremost among the contenders is theShimano S-Phyre RC9 SPD-SL, which won our Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flat. The choice here comes down to style and price, really. Both have natural fits, and both have slightly loose heels (see: power transfer). If you are looking for a more stylish shoe and don't mind paying a slightly higher price, take a second look at the S-Phyres.
Aside from the slightly loose heel, the only drawback we could find here was that the LG's tongue slips down when putting the shoe on, forcing you to dig your fingers into the shoe to fish it out. Speaking of that loose heel, it's also worth noting that both the LG and S-Phyre use a sharkskin or cat tongue lining that lets you slip your foot into the shoe, but limits slipping out.
Quite a lot went into LG's super low weight here. A pair of men's 44 comes in at just 18.7 ounces, or 530 grams, just barely edged out by the impossibly light Scott Road RC SL. That lightness is owed to the seamless microfiber upper. The Air Lite II uses an improved upper from the earlier Air Lite version. It's a high-density material that's thinner, but stronger and provides a bit more comfort than the previous version. The rest of the weight can be explained by the Carbon Air Lite outsole. It's a thin layer that doesn't lose its rigidity but also has a few vents cut, which further reduces the weight. They also use a titanium insert for the cleats, reducing the weight and showing their care for details.
We'd be lying if we said that the super low weight wasn't one of the big factors in giving these our Best Bang for the Buck Award - they're a top scorer here, coming in just behind the 18.4 ounce Scotts. Coming in just behind them are the Top Pick for Lightweight Shimano S-Phyre RC9s, at 19 ounces. Yes, they're a bit heavier than the LGs, but they perform a bit better in a few other categories, like adjustability, and they look way cooler, frankly.
If you want something that has a bit more adjustability and maybe a bit more street appeal, check the Shimanos. If you are looking for an even stiffer ride with better adjustability, try the Scotts. If you are after the comfort and bargain price, stick with the LGs.
Two things go into great power transfer: upper adherence and sole stiffness. The LGs have top performance in both of those areas. The snug microfiber upper closely adheres to the foot so that just about any movement of the foot is directed into the pedal - very little energy is wasted inside the shoe. The Carbon Air Lite sole doesn't quite have the rigidity of the light premium or heavier and thicker carbon soles but is still super stiff. Taken together, they make for a solid ride with almost unmatched transference.
The S-Phyres are major rivals across a number of measures, including this one. They have a similar carbon sole with a snug, but not immovable upper that errs on the side of comfort. Both score very close to the top. The real difference is price. The Course Air Lite IIs earn their Best Bang for the Buck Award here because they offer the same performance, but at a bit of a discount to the Shimanos and other top road shoes.
To find superior performance, you need to look to the current Editors' Choice Fi'zi:k Infinito R1 and the previous Editors' Choice Sidi Wire Vent Carbon. Both use top of the line carbon fiber soles and excellent uppers. The Scotts use a Carbitex carbon fiber upper for direct power transfer without waste while the Sidis use thick microfiber and all sorts of ratcheting to dial the shoe down for zero wasted energy.
The only major detractor here has been mentioned elsewhere. It's the loose heel, but that is somewhat mitigated by the use of a cat tongue or sharkskin lining that helps grip the foot as it tries to slide out. Even so, it would be preferable if the heel were tighter and cupped more. Neither the Scotts nor the Sidis experience that, but most riders will get what they need with the LGs.
The LGs do fairly well here simply because they're simple. There are two bi-directional IP-1 Boa dials placed along the side. The two-way dials are really the ideal here. They let you adjust 1mm in either direction and include a quick release so you can easily adjust whether you're out on the road getting ready to hit a climb or just getting home and ready to kick'em off and shower.
The X-Comfort Zone feature really shines here. It's a small ventilated elastomer-spandex insert on the outside of the foot near the toes that allows the shoe to expand between B and D+ width feet, and it also expands with your foot on the downstroke. This isn't necessarily a personalized adjustment like dialing in, but it's certainly an accommodative feature.
We didn't have any complaints about the adjustability. The dials were quite sufficient to get the fit we needed, and the X-Comfort Zone did seem to improve the fit. That said, there are a few other models that do a bit better here.
The Scott Road RC SL and Shimano S-Phyre both have the same basic dial setup, except they both use an anchor over the toe that has an additional cleat for you to double the wire over to get even more control over the toes. While it's not a deal-breaker not to have that feature, it sure does improve the fit and gives a bit more customization. If you're in the crowd that needs that extra bit of adjustment over the toes, take a look at one of these. If you need even more customization, check out the Sidi Wire Vent Carbon, which uses Sidi ratchets and dials for a similar upper configuration, but also has an adjustable heel band to improve fit.
They do a good job of basic protection and longevity with their thick microfiber upper, bound with tough threading and few seams. The outsole is strong carbon fiber, so no worries there either. We were also happy that they decided to include replaceable heel pads (bumpers), but replaceable toe pads would have been nice too.
The vulnerabilities it does have are mostly confined to its various vents and holes. Those in the upper, especially the mesh over the toes, and the outsole are vulnerable to punctures and fraying or wear. As we mentioned elsewhere, the X-Comfort Zone insert along the side might be ideal for improving fit, but it's an area of the foot that tends to see a lot of scuffing and unintentional contact with curbs, poles, pavement, trees, other bikes, and whatever else is out there to opportunistically catch you. It's probably not a serious concern, but it's something to keep in mind.
The tougher models have less ventilation and stronger upper material. The Lake CX402 uses a strong K-lite kangaroo leather upper and a super thick carbon outsole to make it up near the top of this measure, just ahead of the LGs. Topping the measure out is the Scott Road RC SL, which uses a carbon fiber upper and outsole with limited ventilation. It's an tough shoe that will last quite a while. The Scotts are the closer match to the LGs.
These are made for cruising. If you're after great performance but spend most of your time working toward the seasonal gran fondo, these are the right choice. They are stiff and responsive with great power transfer and a good bit of comfort, so they are well suited to sitting in the saddle and cranking it out at a steady pace for hours on end.
These puppies retail at a pretty fair asking price for all they offer in power transfer, weight, and comfort. To get comparable performance in a shoe, definitely expect to shell out more.
The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II is a super impressive road bike shoe, and we found ourselves constantly grabbing them no matter the course, distance, or speed. They served us as well on the white-knuckle Tuesday/Thursday crit rides as they did on the slow Sunday Funday slogs out in the mountains. They perform as well as the best road shoes out there, yet they tend to sell for quite a bit less than flashier models like the indisputably beautiful Shimano S-Phyre RC9. But it's because of the gap between market price and performance that the Garneaus earn our Best Bang for the Buck Award. If you're in the market for a top-level shoe at a bargain price, we can't suggest these enough.
— Ryan Baham