QUOC Escape Off-Road Review
With a fresh look for mountain bike shoes, the new Quoc Escape Off-Road eschews categorical classification and blends trail durability with a streamlined aesthetic typically found on road shoes. Joe Cruz put a pair to the test and reports back with this in-depth review…
For me, the QUOC Escape Off-Roads hit the right notes of comfort, versatility, function, and aesthetics. If this style—a road-shoe-influenced design but with a capable sole and concessions to off-bike comfort—appeals to you, these have a lot going for them. I’ve found them companionable for a range of dirt-centric riding, perhaps with a bias toward on-the-bike performance rather than long spans walking or hiking. Their range is from EU38 to EU47, and my experience is that they fit true to size.
QUOC was started in 2009 by Quoc Pham, a cyclist and fashion designer from Vietnam and now based in London. In interviews, he has indicated that he draws inspiration from the classic era of middle 20th century cycling, and to my eye, this shows even in QUOC’s most recent evolutions. QUOC earned my loyalty a number of years ago with their Gran Tourer lace-up shoes. I liked the minimal and sleek look, but far more importantly, they were roomy to wear all day and had a grippy but durable sole. They weren’t inexpensive, but I was glad to have one great shoe that I could reach for on almost any occasion. I recently retired them after frequent hard use. They are still available (US$235), and I was set to order a replacement pair when QUOC sent us the new Escape Off-Roads. It seems like QUOC is trying to achieve the same excellent versatility at a mildly more forgiving price point. I would say that they have largely succeeded, and I look forward to continuing wearing them in the same way that I did those classic GTs.
The Escape Off-Roads have a glass-fiber-reinforced nylon sole, medium-lugged tread, and a polyurethane upper. They are part of the new Lalashan Collection, named after the mountain range in Northern Taiwan. At US$200, no one should call them inexpensive. Alas, shoes are one of those bike items that, year after year, seem to keep climbing in price. I would submit, though, that these represent a reasonable value in that QUOC has done unusually well at finding a balance between all the kinds of considerations that go into judging shoes. Stiff enough to transfer power without foot fatigue? For sure. Flexible enough for off the bike in the context of bikepacking? Also yes. The sole is acceptably grippy, the material seems durable, the all-day, all-around comfort is high, and they’re reasonably roomy. In no one of these dimensions are the Escapes best-in-show, but the specific blend yields very satisfying footwear.
The obvious difference between the laced Gran Tourers and Escape Off-Roads is the dial closure. Dials are by now familiar, what with BOA having infiltrated many different products from their start in snowboard boots to workwear to medical technology. The particular version that QUOC uses was developed in-house and requires that the dial be rotated backwards to create slack in the cords that cinch the shoe. I’ve mentioned over the years that I’m not particularly a fan of dial closures for cycling shoes, since they seem to me a solution looking for a problem that isn’t solved by laces. Laces are low tech and reliable, and they allow tension adjustments at different parts of the shoe. I acknowledge, though, that the loose ends of laces require some negligible extra vigilance and that laces can come undone. The dial system is tidier and more secure. Moreover, if you’re the sort of person who might want to adjust shoe tightness while pedaling, that’s not going to happen with laces but is straightforward with a dial.
On the other hand, dials can break when, say, the side of the shoe is smashed against a rock. Not to mention that they have an internal ratcheting mechanism that is susceptible to wear and grit and manufacturing failures. I’m guessing that field repairing a dial system isn’t that straightforward other than, ahem, finding some cord and lacing them up. Admittedly, though, all of that is just theoretical in my experience, since I haven’t had any hint of a problem with QUOC’s dials. (Notably, that’s not true of my colleague Lucas, who has run into dials that will not release enough to open the shoe sufficiently wide.) On my pair of Escape Off-Roads, the dials work, they seem fine, and maybe they’ve slightly thawed my icy heart on the matter.
One very successful design element of the Escape Off-Roads is the way that the dial cord passes through a reflective band that’s strategically stitched to the side of the shoe rather than through holes or plastic eyelets. Some might remember that in my review last year of the Gran Tourer II, I complained that the edge of the backing of the eyelet dug into the MTP joint—the big joint at the base of the big toe—of my left foot, making it hard for me to wear them comfortably when cinched to the proper tension. I ended up giving those shoes away. The Escape Off-Roads solve this problem completely.
I do find them comfortable, and that is neither common nor unremarkable for me. Even with just one dial, I find that the tension points are well positioned to draw the upper snuggly in the right places (I took a picture of my feet, but the editorial team decided that we shouldn’t share it). Suffice it to say that my feet are low arch, high-ish volume, and blocky. In general, I don’t get on well with old school cycling shoes. These QUOCs fit very well. There is acceptable room in the toe box, and when the dial is cinched, the top of the shoe closes over the tongue in a fairly normal way. I can easily achieve a planted, stable feel in these shoes, even with my preferred sole inserts which, of course, take up some of the volume. If I have a minor complaint, it’s that the heel pocket does not necessarily seem to have the most sophisticated shaping, so if the closure isn’t fairly tight, I can find my heel rising out during vigorous walking. Mostly it isn’t an issue and, thankfully, having the closure tight isn’t uncomfortable, it’s just a bit more snug all around than I normally wear my shoes.
Speaking of walkability, I’d give the Escape Off-Roads a high but not perfect mark. They are maybe a little worse than the laced Gran Tourer, yet a fair bit better than the overly stiff Gran Tourer II. The ventilation holes appear to work well enough, and I’ve been comfortable on spring rides that required tights and an insulated jacket as well as in spring warmth. The shoes feel light on the feet and are in fact reasonably light at 311g in size EU43. For the kind of pedaling that I’m likely to do with these shoes, I say again that QUOC has hit a sensible target of compromises.
In their press material, QUOC describe these as shoes for “mountain biking, trail riding, or gravel.” Maybe QUOC has internalized the backlash against the absurdity of gravel marketing and are hedging their bets by naming everything other than road riding. Nevermind the labels: The Escape Off-Roads are a pair of cycling shoes with walkable lugged soles for clipless pedals. I’ve worn them on the local weekly club fast ride, whether mixed-terrain or just tarmac, on mountain bike rides, and just pootling around type rides. They are suitable for drop-bar and flat-bar outings alike. I see them as ideal for mixed-terrain jaunts where I’m off the bike at a shop or walking around blow downs in the woods or even hopping down to push an unrideable bit for a few minutes. What I can’t see is wearing these when I expect hours-long hike-a-bikes or where they are going to my one pair of shoes on a long backcountry trip.
I suppose that a design distinction can be drawn between this type of shoe and standard clipless pedal mountain bike shoes. Mountain bike shoes present an exaggerated image of off-road roughness, with sharp angular lugs prominent from the side and arrays of velcro straps and BOA cords that protest that, no really, they mean business. That’s silly like the front grilles of pickup trucks popular in the USA (I mean, if I needed a truck bed, I’d want it to be the one on a 1969 El Camino). On the contrary, in terms of aesthetics, the Escape Off-Roads work for me. They look unusual but pleasing enough to be a bit fashion-forward, and the colors are attractive to my eye. Maybe that stitched band that holds the cord looks a little like a stylized snake on the sand and amber colors. You’ll have to decide whether that’s a good thing.
The Escape Off-Roads have rubber toe spikes, which screw into a threaded receiver. They can also be replaced with more aggressive metal spikes for cyclocross, but I don’t know that I’d compete in a ‘cross race with the Escapes. It’s been 15 years since I was serious about ‘cross season, but the freezing mud New England conditions that I used to face are relentless on shoes and the run-ups demand a very solid interface. I think I would have rated these as a touch too sloppy, but only take me half seriously since I’m straining my memory here. It was par for the course for removable toe spikes that they were very loosely tightened when they arrived, and had I not been on to the danger, I could easily imagine losing one within a couple of rides. I loctite’d them on.
There are numerous alternatives to the Escape Off-Roads that are more reasonably priced. The founder of QUOC has gone on record saying that the company is committed to a living wage for everyone involved in making their shoes. I certainly want to believe in that mission and I’m willing and sometimes able to pay more. But as consumers we’re in a low information situation with respect to these claims. Does the fact that, say, Pearl Izumi hasn’t said anything about their wage commitment (or that I haven’t come across it) mean that they have a different practice than QUOC? I dunno.
The conclusion I draw is that I should keep doing the best I can in finding out something about the manufacturing practices of the brands I support while knowing that my inquiry is distorted and limited and far, far from any ideal. A good attitude to me is to repair and refurbish as a first choice, to buy used stuff if I can make it work, and to buy something new only when I really need it and with an eye toward longevity. Compare a shoe like this to, say, PEdALED’s apparently discontinued Mido Boots. I paid US$300 for those in 2016, have repaired them several times, and still reach for them for any big expedition type ride I do. Obviously, they’re for a quite different use case but hopefully the abstract point sticks. Honestly, I can’t tell how robust these Escape Off-Roads will turn out to be. They have so far shrugged off scuffs and with some cleaning still look near new. I doubt that they are resoleable in any meaningful sense; few modern cycling shoes seem to be. And again my mind goes to wondering whether a plastic dial and nylon cord is really enough better than some cotton laces to justify their existence. Yes, it’s a tiny, negligible, minuscule thing, but the world is made of miniscule things.
- Price: $200/£150/€185
- Sizes Available: EU 38-47
- Colors Available: Black, Sand, Amber
- Actual Weight (Size 43): 311 grams (single shoe)
- Place of Manufacture: Vietnam
- More Details: Quoc.cc
- All-day comfortable
- Feels premium
- Sole not too gummy and reasonably durable
- No rigid edges inside the upper to cause hot spots
- Have to be tightly cinched down to not feel sloppy
- Sole not quite as grippy as could be
- Heel cup not premium engineered
- Not much fine tuning possible with just one dial
- Price is low for QUOC but isn’t low
In my fanciful reconstruction of how things went down among QUOC’s designers, they asked themselves how they could make a shoe that got most of the way toward every virtue that their previous and existing shoes have at a mildly more reasonable price. I think they succeeded with the Escape Off-Roads. If you take any one thing that you want in a shoe and go looking for an alternative that exceeds these on that dimension, I expect that you’ll find it. But if you look holistically at all the things you probably want, this is suddenly a very formidable contender. Honestly, if I were choosing between the Escape Off-Roads and the laced Gran Tourer, I’d probably choose the Gran Tourer. But if you like the advantages of a dial system, QUOC has done a very credible job with this option.
Logan’s take: You probably noticed two different colors of shoes in the photos above. The off-white pair are the ones I’ve been testing. Generally speaking, I can see all of Joe’s points here. The Quoc Off-Road is a very well-built and stylish shoe. My only worry for durability are the dials, as he also pointed out. Unfortunately, the bigger reality for me was in the fit. I have a narrow foot and the Off-Roads just don’t work for me. I tried to break them in over a half-dozen rides, but to get a proper and secure fit, I had to winch down on the dial, which led to a hot spot at the top of my foot and some significant pain at the top of my foot during and at the end of each ride. Folks with narrow feat should be wary.
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