Friday, November 23, 2012

product review and update: chrome kursk cycling sneaker

Three years ago, when I was still working as the lead buyer at Citybikes, the Chrome Bags rep wanted to see if we might expand our shop's Chrome offerings to include their shoes. He offered to sell me a pair to try out. When I told him I didn't really have the money for product testing, he then offered to give me a pair free of charge if I would wear them daily for two months and write up a short review. I agreed, and soon had a pair of Chrome Kursk shoes in basic black.

I wore them daily as asked. In less than six weeks' time, the side trim began to wear and then tear away from the shoe's sole. I contacted the rep and asked about this. Horrified, he asked me to send these shoes back to Chrome and they would send me a new pair. I complied, they complied -- and within two months, the trim began to wear away again. This time, I didn't bother calling the rep. Instead, I read the online reviews because now the shoes were being sold in stores all over the country. Most of the reviews were written by much younger customers who apparently had less of an issue with the short lifespan of the rubber trim. They acknowledged it but felt that since the shoes were "relatively cheap" at $70 retail, they didn't really have much to squabble about. In general these younger consumers loved the shoes and raved about them.

I was struck by the fact that younger customers didn't think that seventy bucks was a lot of money.

By now my shoes had broken in nicely and in fact were quite comfortable. I kept them. As the opportunity arose, I bought a second and third pair of the same model, and held them back for later use. This was in keeping with my mother's advice: "if you find something that fits well, buy it in every color they make, because they will soon stop making it." In all cases I did not pay anything close to full retail, and I think that was what made the purchases seem reasonable.

Here's the first pair of shoes. They've worn out quite a bit more since this photo was taken last April.

That pair of basic black Kursks is showing some real age; in November 2012, the soles are worn bald, the rubber trim on the sides has all but dissappeared, and the cordura uppers are beginning to fray at the edges. Still, in the summer months they're the most comfortable shoe I own and when it's not pouring outside I wear them a lot. I've since begun wearing another pair in olive green for teaching, and a third pair in monochrome black for "dressier" occasions (like Shabbat services or dinner out). The olive green pair has begun to show wear at the rubber trim; this time I've nipped it in the bud by super-gluing the trim back into place before it could tear off completely.

So here's my review:

a. The trim on the sides has a shockingly short lifespan, often beginning to wear and tear away from the shoe within weeks of purchase (assuming near-daily wear). The shoes look sharp when new, but when the wear and tear begins they really being to look a little down-at-heel (no pun intended).
b. You have to wear pretty thin socks with these shoes for a comfortable fit. Thicker wool socks, which I tend to favor in the winter, take up too much room in the shoe and cause too tight a fit.
c. The color selection has diminished over time. The Kursk once came in multiple colors, but this year Chrome has elected to make the shoe only in Black, Monochrome black, and gray.

a. The Kursk is comfortable almost immediately out of the box.
b. The insole is stronger and thicker than in most shoes, and is removable so you can air it out after a long wearing in bad weather.
c. The cordura upper is more durable than the cotton upper found in similar styled Converse sneakers; and does not fade in sunlight the way cotton does. (It also looks more stylish than cotton.)
d. The shoes run narrow.  If you have very wide feet, consider another shoe altogether.

Solutions and fixes:
a. Thinner wool socks will fit, and keep my feet reasonably warm and dry in colder weather. Chrome makes a very nice wool sock that comes in black, gray or olive. Smartwool socks also work well in these shoes.
b. For those seeking a wider color palette, some older stock Kursks in colors (navy, pink, brown and olive) can still be found at discounted prices online, through Amazon, eBay and elsewhere.
c. When shopping for Kursks, know that these shoes tend to run a bit large. I wear womens' 9.5 in most sneakers, but take a 9.0 (equivalent: mens' 7.5) in the Kursk.

Overall: I think $70 retail is still a bit steep for a pair of shoes, especially if I have to repair them with super glue within three to four months of purchase, and espcially if they're made in China (as these are). I recognize that younger consumers have a different relationship with money and may find that $70 retail is perfectly reasonable in this day and age. If they can and want to pay full pop, let them; I will contiune to seek out discounted shoes through other sources. I have four pairs of Kursks now, in different colors and various stages of wear. That should see me through the next few years.

Final verdict: The Kursk is a decent shoe at a somewhat overinflated price. Buy it on discount.

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