Studs are an easily overlooked feature when buying shoes for CX - most MTB shoe manufacturers either fill the stud holes at the toe area with flat blanks or don’t thread stud holes in the first place. If there are studs in your shoes when you buy them, they are inevitably plastic and round off with the first turn of a stud key. The studs are then either stuck for life, or, more likely, they’ll fall out at an innoportune moment and you’ll lose them halfway up a muddy Rhodendendron tunnel in north Mull.
Words: Gordon Watt
Photos: Paul Fairbairn
Every Autumn CX riders dig out out their race shoes and set off for Sports Direct to purchase a set of rugby studs (football boots long since having abandoned metal screw-in studs for moulded cleats). If you’re “lucky”, you’ll have the option of a trip to a specialist rugby shop - school ghosts of Wintergreen and A&E hovering in the background - to purchase a bag of 20 lethal looking thumb sized aluminium studs the size of BMX stunt pegs.
Until recently, rugby studs were the only aftermarket choice, but then Horst Engineering debuted their infamous Cross Spikes and the CX world went bonkers. As in all aspects of cycling, the combination of exotic materials (Titanium), premium packaging and scarcity led to an abandonment of reason when it came to pricing. Add in shipping costs, Sterling in freefall and no UK suppliers and we were left this side of the pond with tales of a mythical product that everyone needed, but very few had seen.
And that’s where Paul Fairbairn steps in to the story. Many folk in the Scottish CX scene will have met, raced with or admired the photography of Paul of Fairbairn Fabrications, under his moniker of The Knock on his blog or Instagram. A select few will also have picked one of his hand crafted coffee tampers made from recycled hubs, but it’s his latest creations, stainless steel CX studs, that look like becoming his most popular product.
I was lucky enough to snag a set of those studs from Paul earlier this year, and have been riding them since late Summer. Fitting was straightforward once I’d cleared out the mud that had accumulated in the threadholes after my old studs fell out on “that” run-up at Mull. First impressions were great - no need for a stud key with these as the 10mm wrench flats make installation a breeze. The single piece construction (each 14mm long stud is milled from a single piece of steel bar) looks the business when inserted in a shoe, and the hand cut threads were a doddle to tighten. I put a dollop of Loctite blue on the threads, mainly because I didn’t think Paul would send me another set if I lost them after advising me to put a dollop of threadlock on the end…
The first few rides were uneventful. Cross drills in August don’t generally need studs (even in Scotland), but I wanted to see if I could just fit them and forget them, or whether they would catch and dig on harder ground. Whether the length is just right, or the rocker of my Specialized shoes means the studs don’t point forward I don’t know, but I never caught the studs on anything - no alarming faceplants, no stumbletrips on steps. The studs, despite running up hard packed tracks, rocky slopes and gravel, showed very little wear through the early season races.
The season started dry. A rolled tub at the Callendar Park stairs meant I got to run a lot more in one race than in my last two seasons, but I never caught a toe. I missed the next two races, but wore the studs in running drills and, again, they provided grip when needed but, to be honest, I pretty much forgot I had them fitted. And then the rain came, and SCX4 at Fife College happened, and boy was I happy I had spikes in my shoes. If you didn’t have studs at that race, I dread to think what running the hill to the top field was like. I’m not claiming these made it easier, but I’m guessing that any racers who managed to score a set before SCX4 were as happy as I was with mine. The narrow diameter, relatively short “pegs” worked well on the flatter sections as well, not hauling too much grass on the running sections that developed on the lower field, and I didn’t notice any build up around Carnage Corner. The beauty of stainless (aside from it’s rust-resistant properties) is that it wears so well, and the “beausage” on my set of studs after two races and 3 months of riding consists of some small scrathes on the flats at the tip.
In summary, I’ll simply list the things these studs haven’t done - they’ve not tripped me up, fallen out, rounded off, worn significantly or removed any skin from any part of my body. All these things are huge improvements on my previous stud experiences… If they ever do wear out I’ll be in the queue to buy another set pronto, but I suspect that these are going to outlast many pairs of cycling shoes. So, if you’re after a set of well-made, affordable, long lasting CX studs and want to support a Scottish maker, hit up Fairbairn Fabrications at Paul’s blog for pricing, size options and delivery details.