Vittoria Tierra gravel shoe review: OMG, that purple!
Vittoria — the shoe company, not the tire people — has been diligently making cycling shoes in Italy since 1976, with a modest, though seemingly loyal, following. Even brands with the longest of pedigrees need to adapt to modern times, though, and so it is that Vittoria has entered the red-hot gravel market with the new Tierra.
The formula Vittoria uses here is pretty straightforward, including a lace-up microfiber upper, a carbon fiber-reinforced nylon plate, and an aggressively treaded outsole with a standard two-bolt cleat pocket. The heel cup is deep and decently padded, and there’s soft and thick padding stitched into the backside of the conventional tongue. All standard stuff for sure, though in fairness to Vittoria, the company isn’t attempting to break any new ground here.
Despite the traditional aesthetic, there’s a smattering of more modern features, such as the durable vulcanized rubber reinforcement over the toe cap, very minimal stitching up top to reduce the potential for chafing, and an elastic lace keeper. And my word, there’s also that incredible iridescent purple finish, which changes hue depending on the angle of the sunlight hitting it. Vittoria also makes the Tierra in black, but where’s the fun in that?
Retail price for the Vittoria Tierra is US$200 / AU$329 / €189 (UK RRP is TBC), with available sizes ranging from 38-47 (including half sizes up to 46).
Actual weight for my size 43 sample pair is 589 grams, including insoles.
New-school looks, but an old-school feel
Cycling shoes tend to range from stiff and structured, to buttery soft and sock-like, and the Tierra definitely falls more in the latter category.
The microfiber upper is lusciously soft, readily forming around the intricacies of your foot like a well-worn slipper. Adding to that sensation is the generous array of lace eyelets, which distributes pressure far better than the handful of criss-crosses that you usually get with Boa-equipped shoes. Inside the upper, the full mesh liner adds another layer of coddling, along with the cushy padding inside the deep heel cup and tongue.
Breathability is excellent, too. All of those holes that Vittoria punches into the Tierra’s upper may provide scant protection from dirt and water, but they’re fantastic in terms of airflow and ventilation.
In short, if soft and comfy is what you’re looking for in a gravel cycling shoe, look no further.
Yet despite all that cushiness, there’s a hard edge to the Tierra as well. The heel hold is impressively secure — Vittoria has had plenty of time to refine the heel cup shape, after all — and there’s enough fiber content in the nylon sole to make it admirably rigid. It’s still not nearly as stiff as a true unidirectional carbon fiber plate, but it’s also nowhere near as noodly as Shimano’s XC5, either in bending or torsion. The cleat pocket on the Tierra is well-defined, too, offering a super quick no-look engagement with the pedal and firm contact with the body while pedaling, for a reassuringly stable feel.
As a result, there’s a pleasant directness to how the Tierra transfers pedaling power to the drivetrain that should be amply efficient for most gravel riders. And on the plus side, there’s just enough flex that walking on uneven terrain isn’t overly nerve-wracking. Helping matters in that department is the tread pattern, which extends all the way to the outer edges up around the forefoot and heel areas for good stability. Whatever material Vittoria uses for the lugs seems to be holding up quite well, too.
There remains a decent amount of exposed plastic, though, which can occasionally deliver an unpleasant surprise when scrambling around on rocks; a fully treaded outsole would be preferable. None of the tread blocks are replaceable, either, although in fairness to Vittoria, that’s hardly uncommon in this category.
If you’re going to be ambling about on rocky terrain regularly, you’ll also perhaps want to be mindful of abrasion. That lovely purple finish on the upper looks fantastic when new, but it’s also prone to scuffing. I found a purple permanent marker to serve as decent touch-up when needed, however, and the shiny finish cleans up nicely when needed, too.
Despite the fancy-looking wrapper, there are a number of areas where Vittoria’s more traditional roots make themselves known — for better or worse.
Vittoria builds the Tierra using what it calls a “wide fit” that the company deems more appropriate for this sort of riding, and indeed, there’s a decent amount of room around the forefoot area. However, the toe box is still extremely tapered, which essentially squanders that extra width.
Arch support is sorely lacking as well. The fiber-reinforced nylon plate might be surprisingly rigid, but it’s also very flat, and the included insole is so soft and flimsy that there’s no real arch support to be found there, either. Things improved (at least for me) once I traded the stock footbeds for some semi-rigid heat-molded ones from Specialized/Retul, but that’s an added expense that shouldn’t be required.
Kudos to Vittoria for the Tierra’s real metal lace eyelets — a rarely seen throwback that bodes well for long-term durability. But unfortunately, those eyelets are quite slippery, and the round laces that come stock on the Tierra slide so easily through them that it’s almost impossible to pull off any semblance of zonal tightening. In fact, they’re so slick that I found it tricky to get the overall fit as tight as I wanted, period. I’ve worn a fair number of lace-up cycling shoes at this point, and never have I had to readjust mid-ride as often as I did with these.
Where does that leave the Tierra, then?
Riders that gravitate toward more modern shoes might be drawn to the Tierra’s eye-catching color, but they’ll likely be let down by the upper’s dated toe box shape and nonexistent arch support. That said, riders that have long favored traditional shapes from the likes of Sidi and other old-world brands will likely deem the fit and feel of the Tierra to be spot-on.
Sidi has yet to embrace the gravel market, too, and even if you decided to choose from one of that company’s current crop of mountain bike shoes, most of them continue to stubbornly stick to oddly narrow tread designs that are fine for pedaling, but practically begging for a rolled ankle if you spend any time walking about off-road.
In other words, if you love your Sidi Geniuses and are looking to venture off-tarmac in something similar that won’t break the bank, you’ll feel right at home in the Vittoria Tierras. Just be sure to get the purple ones.