Review: Quoc Pham - Night

I'll say it right off the top. This review has some history to it. That's because the idea of this particular review actually started in, February 2016. That's when I met Quoc face to face. He was on an event tour debuting early models of his new road cycling shoe range and stopped in at the Toronto International Bike Show after attending NAHBS the weekend before.

 I first met Quoc at the Toronto Bike Show in 2016 where they were touring events with their road shoe prototypes.

I first met Quoc at the Toronto Bike Show in 2016 where they were touring events with their road shoe prototypes.

Before the Toronto show I always look at the exhibitor list and make note of who I want to check in on. I'd seen Quoc Pham shoes on social media and at the Mission Workshop store in San Francisco, so I was curious to see what they would have on hand in Toronto. When I dropped in to see what was up, they insisted I meet with Quoc himself. With no expectations the founder would be there himself, I was happy to have the opportunity to meet him. We chatted for about 20 minutes before exchanging contact info and I snapped some pics for the website.

At that time, they were showing off prototype samples of the soon to be available "Night" shoe. These samples were so early that the final sole wasn't even ready yet. The ones I saw had 3D printed plastic soles. But you could tell they had a lot of potential.

After the show I kept in touch with the marketing team at Quoc Pham and they asked if I would be interested in reviewing the shoe when it came out. I jumped at the chance to try out their full leather version. Almost exactly a year later, the shoes arrived at my doorstep right in time for the spring season.

But do I really need another pair of cycling shoes? Probably not. My wife jokes that I have more cycling shoes than I have chances to ride my bike. She may be right but, N+1. After a season of riding around in the Quoc Pham Night - Leather, these have become a notable member of my footwear collection. And thus, I've got a full review to share.

Initial Impressions.

The Night Shoes from Quoc Pham are like nothing else I own because they are a throwback to the more classic days of cycling. They'd best be described as a contemporary classic with a careful mix of modern tech and nostalgic aesthetics. The tone for the Night shoes is immediately set by the differentiated packaging. The shoes were lovingly wrapped in tissue and set inside an undied cardboard box with simple branding. A departure from others that seem like the packaging was an afterthought. If first impressions are everything, Quoc Pham knows how to make an impression.

The Night conveys a genuinely subtle aesthetic with its perforated full grain leather upper and accent colored eyelets sitting atop a carbon composite sole. Yet the real hero may be Quoc's simplistic lock-lace system. Although a bit sceptical about how much I'd like using laces, I was pretty excited to measure up some cleats and get on the trainer to dial in the positioning.

Design & Construction

Sometimes it's easy to comb through specs and info sheets to tear a product down for review. Yet it never really feels like the full story. So I arranged to interview Quoc for the review. In the end I think we talked for about 90 minutes and this gave me a clear sense for the passion and pride put into the design of his first road oriented shoe. Quoc added a proper road shoe to their product lineup to address his own personal interests, ie road cycling, and felt the market needed a nice pair of road shoes. Something you’d also be proud to wear when the ride is done. So he set about designing one.

First things first, the shoe is designed in London and manufactured in China with a natural bovine leather upper and a synthetic liner. There are not a lot of shoes being made with full grain leather anymore, let alone an entire upper. So why a bovine leather rather than kangaroo for instance? It really comes down to intentions. The Night shoe was made for the weekend warrior, not the sufferfest racer crowd. It's better suited to the Fondo type of riding. The natural cowhide leather has a greater longevity and will only get better with age… if you care for it. Because the full leather upper is a heavier material, the Night shoe is also available in a full synthetic upper for lighter weight and more carefree maintenance. The synthetic version also comes in various colors where the leather comes in any color you want, as long as it's black. 

 The Lace-lock system on the Quoc Pham Night shoe works well to create to seperate zones of tension on the foot.

The Lace-lock system on the Quoc Pham Night shoe works well to create to seperate zones of tension on the foot.

The upper is completed with a full leather tongue that features a fish tail split. This helps the tongue to better sit flush and centered on the top of the foot at the ankle. The entire upper is well perforated for breathability, including the tongue. This is important because leather does a pretty good job at wicking moisture, but it's not the most breathable material. It's hard to miss but a critical detail. The top of the tongue features an elasticized webbing to hold down the loose ends of the laces while riding. Don't overlook that!

When I first saw the sample versions they had a pretty crude printed sole, so I was pretty stoked to see its final form. The Quoc Pham Night shoes have a full carbon composite sole. The ‘composite’ means that it's different than the pure carbon soles commonly found on higher end road cycling shoes. The composite carbon sole is made from a blend of carbon and glass fiber threads that are suspended in a slurry and then injected into a mold where they are cured and hardened. As the fibers fill the mold, the mixing of carbon and fiber glass settle and give the sole a really cool marbled appearance. Injection molding technique is used shapes not viable for layups or to add materials like glass fibers when stiffness is less critical. A key upside of injection molding is that it also helps keep costs down which in turn those savings can be passed to the consumer.

While there is no doubt that glass fibers are heavier than carbon threads, the inclusion of them into the sole gives the Night shoe a different road feel. The sole has a noticeable amount of flex in it compared to full carbon soles – but it is still stiffer than a nylon or plastic sole. It's also quite a bit heavier than full carbon, but again it comes down to intentions. When ultimate watt transferring performance isn't the main objective, it's far more comfortable to wear a shoe that is a bit more forgiving. This may make the difference between long distances rides you enjoy rather than ones you can't wait to forget.

The sole has been drilled for 3 hole cleats such as the Shimano or Look clipless systems and additional ventilation holes have been provided under the toe box. At the rear of the sole there is a user replaceable rubber heel pad (part # QU-16015) which is secured to the inside of the shoe by a 2.5mm Allen head bolt found under the insole.

Speaking of the insole, the EVA foam insole has a sweat absorbing top layer to keep the foot funk in check. As you'd expect, the provided insole is a perfect fit for the shoe, but what I found most interesting is the firm and raised area of the insole that sits just behind the ball of the foot. About where the cleat hardware is. I thought this was intended to provide extra protection from the hardware… until Quoc clued me in. It’s a metatarsal pad, and it’s there to prevent pain in the front of the foot. This type of discomfort is called Morton’s Neuroma and is the result of pinching one of the nerves leading up to the toes. The condition is exasperated when excess pressure is concentrated on the ball of the foot such as when walking in high heels or repeatedly pushing down on your pedals. The additional padding works by helping spread out the metatarsal bone which prevents pinching of the nerves. Cool!

Of course how did I get this far without addressing the most obvious design aspect of the Quoc Pham Night shoes? It's because I was saving it for last. Clearly they are a lace up shoe. In the box they include a pair of white and black laces (I prefer the white ones for the high contrast look). What's really unique about the lacing is how they lock in place, aka "lace-lock." This is a unique setup where the lacing pattern overlaps on itself to lock down with friction. The design for the lacing pattern originates back to when Quoc was running track and field at the age of 12. Lace up shoes were frustrating to keep securely and tightly tied. So he began tinkering with lacing patterns and then transferred this learn and best practice into the road shoe.  

On each shoe there are actually two sets of lace-locks. One for the lower half and one for the upper. They work separately to provide varying tensions in two zones. Similar to a double boa system. If you're wondering where they are on the shoes, Quoc Pham have used bright orange eyelets around the lace holes for the lace-lock, which also give a bit of visual interest to the shoes. Over the course of the R&D period, Quoc and his team went through ~30 different variations of the setup to get it to where it is today. They experiment with how many zones, how far up and down the lower zone would be, and if whether it needed to even be on both sides.

Aside from the bright orange eyelets or white laces, there isn't much to call attention to on the Night shoes. The signature Q and Quoc word mark logos are stamped into the leather for a very discreet tone on tone appearance. However, at the rear of the shoe there is a 3M high vis reflective strip applied to the heel to light up the rider in dim conditions.

 The sole on the Quoc Pham Night Shoe is a carbon and glass fiber composite manufactured through injection molding.

The sole on the Quoc Pham Night Shoe is a carbon and glass fiber composite manufactured through injection molding.

On Foot

This is a section where I get to be really honest. Aside from getting a late start with the shoe, this review almost never happened.

As expected with any cowhide leather shoe, it took some time to break in the upper. And that break in period isn't always fun. But it really wasn’t that bad and I managed to much of that out of the way while dialing in the cleat position on the trainer. It was the laces that were the real learning curve.

Here's the thing, my feet tend to like to settle into a shoe during a ride. Plus, I like to tighten up my shoes before a climb and conversely loosen them up during calmer periods of respite. Not usually a problem with dials or Velcro, but you can imagine how much more is involved with adjusting laces. At first I found them either too tight or too lose, and thus I confined my use to solo rides until I felt more comfortable with the setup. And once I got that licked, the Quoc Pham Night shoes and I started to get along in a whole new way.

Tip: When I found that I had really nailed how I wanted them tied, I marked the laces with a small bit of permanent marker at each of the lace locks so I could quickly and easily get them back to these points time and time again. 

The lace-lock works impressively well. It may not be as exact or as micro-adjustable as dials, but the lacing has only ever slipped slightly. Definitely not to the point where I felt it had to be readjusted do to slippage. Any adjustments were made because my were feet swelling in the summer heat or due to an incorrect initial setup. Where laces really hold an advantage over other systems is that they more evenly distribute the tension across the foot and with the two lace locks, you can set separate tensions for the upper and lower portions of the foot.

The Quoc Pham Night shoe is built around a very natural last shape. It errs a bit on the narrower side with a subtler arch and provides less rigid arch support. This leaves room to insert custom insoles. For someone like me with a normal width foot and a low arch, the whole shoe feels securely locked in place and makes for a really positive contact point with the bike. Whether out for short rides or long adventures they always seemed to maintain a high level of comfort. In fact, I think I start to appreciate them more with each and every mile.

What I found was that the Night shoes paired best with my Cherubim Uli or with my Cinellie Gazetta. Both of these are steel bikes and what I'm riding when it's either a city commute or more for enjoyment than setting PRs on Strava.

But off the bike, the Quoc Pham Night shoes are one of my favourites. The composite sole has just enough give so you don't feel like you're walking around the coffee shop in a pair ski boots. It might not sound like much, but when your feet are tired from a long day on the bike, this really feels oddly satisfying.

Critiques

It's probably not going to come as much of a surprise that the laces are a big of a flashpoint for the Quoc Pham night shoes. Look around cycling forums and you'll find plenty of debate on the subject. People either get them or they don't - and that's ok. Quoc even admitted to me that they know it may just come down to personal preference.

Resource: Forum discussion on boa vs laces
 The full grain bovine (cowhide) leather upper on the Quoc Pham Night is well ventilated to keep your feet cool. 

The full grain bovine (cowhide) leather upper on the Quoc Pham Night is well ventilated to keep your feet cool. 

I'm really not sure if this deserves to be a critique or not. The combination of the full bovine leather upper and the carbon composite sole are not the lightest, and add to that the more involved nature of the lacing system and you don't have the highest performance cycling shoe. However, it was never intended to be one. Forethought into when and which rides this shoe is best suited for is really important. Some of this could be mitigated by using a lighter natural upper like kangaroo leather or going to a full carbon sole.

Getting the fit right is a bit tricky. Quoc offers the Night shoes in UK sizing only. There is a conversion chart but when you make the cross over you lose the US full sizes. That can be an issue for people like me who take a standard full US size, rather than a half size. They suggest you size up to the next available size if you are in doubt. They will also communicate directly with you to help determine the right size.

If you really want to try them on first, finding a local retailer is going to be even harder. There are only a small handful of stockists worldwide. This is an indication of the complexities of footwear sales in general - not just in cycling. Shoes take up a lot of shelf space, they require large inventory holds to cover a full size run, and they are expensive inventory to float. Therefore, retailers are not keenly inclined to carry the overhead or they want really protective terms which are hard for small brands to support. Kind of a chicken and the egg scenario. The real downside is how much harder it makes it for consumers to get hands on with new products. So purchasing the Quoch Pham Night shoes is very likely going to be an online purchase.

Bottom Line

It took a long time to get the Quoc Pham Night shoes to really work for me. Above and beyond the expected break in period for the leather upper, and the trial and error of nailing the cleat position, there was a steep learning curve to the laces. Because of that I was hesitant to put them on foot and head out the door for fear they wouldn't be set right and I'd either have to awkwardly ask everyone to stop, or I'd have to ride in discomfort until an opportunity to re-tie. But I’m glad I pushed through because they rewarded my increasing miles with more and more subtle softness in the leather upper. This is a quality shoe. GTake care of it and it will take good care of you - for a long long time.

My advice is to really understand what kind of cyclists and what riding scenarios the Night shoes were designed for - and work within those parameters. The Quoc Pham night shoes perform best when the ride may be a bit more relaxed, ie: focused on fun vs suffering. Or choose the Night shoes when you're heading out for a really long day in the saddle and you want some extra comfort for your feet. If you need a visual queue, take a look at the product photos on their website and see how they are dressed to ride.

Visually the Quoc Pham Night shoes harken back to the classic days of cycling but I think they look their best with the contrasting white laces. Remember to mark the laces with a small spot of permanent marker when you find the right tension so you can quickly find that spot time and time again. 

If you’re keen on the Night shoe but prefer something a bit higher performance and race oriented, Quoc says they are working on a new version with a hand laid full carbon sole and an adjustment dial system.