QUOC Chelsea Boots Review: Performance Casual
Equal parts cool and confounding, the all-new QUOC Chelsea Boots offer an unexpected approach to form and function in the world of clipless-compatible cycling footwear. Lucas and Joe have been testing them out over the past several weeks, and you can find their thoughts in our two-in-one review here…
With additional input from Joe Cruz
It’s quite rare for new cycling footwear to come along and truly surprise us, but the QUOC Chelsea did exactly that when we first got word of it a few months back. As the latest addition to the independent British brand’s growing “Alternative” range, the Chelsea Boot aims to combine the looks of a classic work boot with the pedaling efficiency of a clipless cycling shoe. I wasn’t entirely sure what to think when I unboxed my pair, and after a few weeks of riding, I’m still not totally certain what to make of them, but I’ll do my best to share some early impressions.
Even though I’m someone who prefers to ride clipless pedals on all of my bikes—including my around-town rig—and should “get” these, the big unanswered question floating around in my mind is, “Who are these really for?” According to the team at QUOC, the new boot is for “trail-riders, bikepackers, and city commuters,” but I think I can only wrap my head around them when viewed through a commuting lens. QUOC’s lifestyle imagery and the intro video at the bottom of this post prominently feature riders in an urban environment, and that’s probably the setting in which they make the most sense.
To start with a look at their construction, the QUOC Chelsea Boots have a pull-on design with front and rear loops to help facilitate getting into and out of them. The two-tone suede upper has a wrap-around waxed front for added weather resistance and sits atop a thick recycled cork-infused rubber sole that seems to offer relatively good traction. The sole is stiff but not excessively so (more on that later). There’s a fully recessed cleat mount underneath that comes with a pre-installed cover that blends in nicely. A 3M reflective dotted pattern on the heel offers a welcome bit of visibility and some visual interest. From a technical perspective, they successfully combine the classic features of the iconic Chelsea boot first popularized in the 1950s with the essential features of a clipless-compatible cycling shoe. I can confirm that the cleat mount is well positioned to allow for a secure attachment to the pedals while on the bike, and it stays out of the way to provide a quiet and slip-free surface for walking around.
Putting them on for the first time, I was impressed by how well made they look and feel, and I was also a little perplexed by the fit. They felt loose in some spots and tight in others. Not uncomfortably so, but in an unusual way. Finding a sock that wasn’t too thick or too thin helped some, as did breaking them in a little, but comparing them to the recently released Gran Tourer IIs that I have in the same size (EU 47), I’d describe the fit as less uniform. Or, put another way, a bit sloppier, at least for my feet. Joe had the opposite experience, as he reports below. Your fit will vary based on the shape of your feet, of course, but my experience is that my heel initially slid around quite a bit and the sides felt a little tight against the front edges of my foot toward the toe box. This inevitably led to a couple of hot spots on my early rides, though I’m not experiencing them any longer. The overall comfort seems to be improving the more I wear them, but there was no aha moment when I first put the Chelseas on that made me love them straight away.
Once on the bike, the sole is adequately stiff to be comfortable for long rides without developing a pressure point where my cleat meets my Shimano XT pedals. I can feel where the pedal interface is if I really tune my attention to it (this wouldn’t be the case on a stiff carbon-soled shoe, for instance), but they’re just rigid enough that it isn’t an issue. I asked QUOC how they subjectively estimate the stiffness of the Chelsea’s sole, and they called it 40% stiff. So, somewhere in the middle of a casual sneaker (~20%) and their Gran Tourer IIs (65%). Riding along in them feels good, but because the upper is so soft, I’d note that unclipping feels ever so slightly odd. When unclipping, I first feel my foot move within the shoe and push on the outer face of the suede upper before the sole turns enough to release my cleat, as opposed to the whole movement happening in one fell swoop in a shoe with a stiffer upper construction.
Overall, the sole of the Chelsea Boot feels slightly less stiff than the sole of any other cycling shoe in my closet. At QUOC’s 40% stiffness, I’d say it feels optimized for a generous amount of time off the bike. In my experience, I can wear them around town on errands and they’re about equally comfortable whether I’m pedaling across the city or making shorter transfers on foot. I’ve worn them for full days on end, riding between the barber, the coffee shop, and the grocery store without wishing I had something else on my feet or thinking much about them. All that said, would I prefer them to a pair of Blundstones with flat pedals or a comfy pair of SPD shoes like my Bontrager GR2s? I’m not so sure. And I don’t think I’d reach for them if I knew I wouldn’t be doing any riding as that extra 20ish percent stiffness is noticeable compared to a truly casual shoe.
And, if I’m honest, I haven’t felt particularly compelled to pull the Chelseas on for serious rides, especially of the all-day variety. When I look at the handful of SPD-compatible shoes next to my front door before heading out for a lively ride, they’re not my natural choice (keeping in mind that far more badass bikepackers such as Alexandera Houchin can set long-distance records wearing Red Wing boots, so anything is possible). That’s not to say QUOC’s Chelsea Boots aren’t up to the task, because I’m sure they could be, but I simply don’t equate Blundstone-style footwear with sporty riding, especially given that there’s zero adjustability in a boot like this. They’re either on or off; there’s no middle option when you want to relieve pressure from one part of your foot or let them vent by loosening them. It’s safe to say these aren’t the right shoe for racing, but I’ll be curious to hear input from folks who end up touring in these. They may work as a bikepacking shoe for the right rider, though again, they wouldn’t be my first option.
On the other hand, for more casual applications like riding across the city for a day at the workspace or zipping around Berlin in search of the best spicy pies with the Pizza Gravel (@pizzagravel) crew, I’m pretty into these. If they fit, I think they’re an exceptionally interesting and unique option for what I’ll call performance commuting, however niche of an application that may be. Should QUOC have just made flat Chelsea boots with the same hi-vis details and pink accents? Maybe, yeah, but I suspect there are enough other folks who have a utilitarian approach to cycling and prefer riding clipped in to make these reasonably successful for the brand, especially because nobody else is doing it. Ultimately, it will likely be your taste in fashion that determines whether the Chelsea Boots are right for you, rather than purely objective measures.
Some Thoughts from Joe
Raise your hand if you remember Shimano’s clipless Velcro strap sandals from the 90s. Now raise your other hand if you had a pair. Finally, say out loud, “Hail the gods of style” if you wore them with socks! Okay, I’m putting my hands down. Shimano took an ostensibly non-cycling footwear style and contrived a stiff enough forefoot to mount a plate for a cleat and to make the whole structure plausible for pedaling on a tiny clipless mechanism. They weren’t ideal for walking but worked well enough, and I took many a tour with them so I could have my toes free and be clipped in.
I was therefore pretty excited when I heard about the new QUOC Chelsea boots. Obviously, they’re the opposite of a sandal, but the idea of adapting a central piece of fashion to cycling was appealing (Yes, I’ve also coveted from afar clipless Vans and clipless Adidas Sambas). My experience with the Chelseas ended up being quite different from what I imagined, but that’s more about my preconceptions than about the boots themselves.
I’ll return in a second to what I was wrong about, but let me get this on the table: QUOC’s boots are really attractive and have a premium feel, much more in real life than in photos. The soles have fairly shallow lugs that from the side give the boots a sleek look. I categorically love the tastefully different shades of the panels in the brown pair as well as the contrasting color pull tabs.
Overall, they feel like a high-quality shoe, and I remain very impressed by all of QUOC’s offerings in that regard. And, for me, the fit is excellent and true to size. Chelsea boots are sometimes not roomy enough in the instep, and in egregious cases I struggle to even get them on with my higher volume foot. I had no such problem with the QUOCs and, for me, I’d say they nailed the fit.
Walking in them, they have a kind of blockiness that makes it seem like you’re plodding along a bit heavy-footed. I find that fine, though I wouldn’t relish running in them. As a style, Chelsea boots are a mainstay for me for casual to semi-dressed up occasions when I’m home in NYC. I accept that the fancy ones often feel constricting, but the Quocs present as both fancy and comfortable. So, they seem to me a high-quality shoe, well within the bounds of the retail asking price, and they feel great on my feet. So far so good, what’s not to like?
Their main shortcoming—or, again, is it my own shortcoming?—is the Chelseas seem way too nice to wear for a very dirt-oriented ride, let alone a bikepacking trip. The Achilles area of the boot has a suede texture and feel, which I love. In fact, the mix of textures on the upper of the boot contributes further to how attractive they are. As I type this, I can confess that I’d be bummed to ruin that specific area of the boot, so I haven’t tried them in rain or tracking through slop off the bike.
Like Lucas, the serious question for me is, “What are these boots for?” I’d absolutely wear them joyfully and show them off at the coffee shop. I’d also wear them on, say, a Brooklyn bar crawl on our singlespeed drop-bar bikes. Or, I can imagine them as a second pair of shoes if I was headed to Europe with my race bike and expected to ride to dinner and theater. For any of these, I would find them stiff enough to lay power into the pedals and snug enough that there’s no sloppiness.
A natural reaction might be to wonder why you would want to be clipped in for any of those ventures, but there can be good reasons. Some people, myself included, just prefer the locked-in feel of clipless pedals. To get a similarly nice solid interface with a flat pedal, it would have to have notable spikes, but those can wreak havoc on the sole of a nice shoe. And just about all of my bikes normally have clipless pedals on them, so not having to change to flats and having them all in play for casual riding is appealing.
Perhaps a thought is that these can be worn on a spirited work commute and then all day on the job. Sure, I can conceive of that. But as a person who rides to work most of the time and who tries to dress smart while there (by the notably low standards of academia), I’m wary of allegedly double-duty clothing. My experience is that even a straightforward commute presents enough grime and puddle splashes so that I’d be tromping around in muddy, dirty shoes all day if I kept the same ones on that I’d pedaled to work in.
For sure, I’m going to keep wearing these QUOC Chelseas. However, to say it again, it would take a transformation of mind on my part to wear these on a week-long trip in the backcountry. The conclusion I come to is this: If you’re a fan of this style shoe, if they’re not intended to be your main riding shoe, and if being clipped in is important, then you will be very pleased with QUOC’s daring entry here. Those seem to me a lot of ifs for the general cycling public, but maybe QUOC knows something I don’t.
QUOC Chelsea Launch Video
This one-minute video from QUOC paints an accurate picture of what we think are some of the most practical uses for the Chelsea Boots: coffee runs, around-town errands, daily commutes with quick dirt meanders, and, of course, Bonsai gardening.
- Actual Weight (pair) 1130 grams (with cleats)
- Size Tested EU 47
- Sizes Available EU 41-47
- Place of Manufacture Vietnam
- Price $250 USD (€220 EUR/£180 GBP)
- Manufacturer’s Details Quoc.cc
- Exceptionally well made, as we’ve come to expect from QUOC
- Unlike anything else on the market, making them stand out
- Nice balance of stiffness for time on and off the bike
- Total lack of adjustability means there’s no dialing in the fit
- Not the most practical choice for many applications
- Quite expensive at $250
QUOC should be applauded for bringing something to market that offers a refreshing alternative to the sameness of the cycling footwear category. Sure, we’ve seen other brands—including QUOC—take a crack at marrying everyday footwear with clipless compatibility before, but the Chelseas up the bar in terms of visual appeal and quality of presentation. I hope other brands follow suit, though I’m not convinced they will, given it’s rather difficult to make the case that the Chelsea is something anyone really needs, especially at their price.
Joe and I had different experiences with their fit, with my feet yet to feel truly at home in them and his being comfortable from the first ride. That’s the trick with a non-adjustable boot: they’ll either fit or they won’t. However, if they work for your feet and you find yourself in the overlapping part of the Venn diagram of folks who want to ride in a Chelsea boot and prefer the feel of being clipped in on mellow rides, QUOC’s latest offering has the potential to be a home run. Thinking of where they fit in to my assortment of footwear, I don’t have any intention of bringing them on my next multi-day bikepacking trip, but I’ll surely continue wearing them around town for less involved rides and daily use in my car-free life.
The new QUOC Chelsea is available for pre-order now in black or brown and EU sizes 41 to 47. Deliveries are expected to start in mid-May. You can find additional details and order a pair of your own over at Quoc.cc.
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