Reviewing shoes induces equal parts fear and exhilaration. Nothing else I review is as fraught with possibility … and pain. A bad cycling shoe can be a device compatible with the Spanish Inquisition, while a good shoe could be confused with a summer day at the beach wherein your feet were sunk to your ankles in wet sand.
I’ll be honest and say that Shimano’s shoes have been all over the map for me. There were times I wore them not because they were the best-made shoes, but because they were the only shoes in my price range that offered anything resembling a fit. It was not unlike hiring a bar bouncer for the Secret Service. It’s a fit, but it’s not a fit, is it? So it can go with shoes.
I can no longer remember just which pair of Shimano shoes I purchased first. Certainly, they were acquired with the assistance of a shop employee deal, but I can’t recall if they were road or mountain shoes. No matter. I can recall at least six pair of shoes over the years. This last stat is significant if only for one reason.
My feet are wide. They have always been wide. The are likely to continue being wide unless I do like that one guy at scout camp who was splitting wood with an axe and went through a log and his boot and just about excised two toes all the way back to the heel. Moving right along….
Over the last 20 years no one has more consistently offered a shoe cut on a wide-ish last than Shimano. No matter what your price range, they’ve had a shoe that works for wider feet. And by wider, I mean those of us for whom all the standard D-width stuff almost work, but not quite. The particular shape of my foot is such that I have to wear a shoe that is technically too long for me, at least, on paper. That helps me a bit with the width, but by any standard, even after you factor out my hammer toe, Morton’s Foot (speaking of missing toes) and arch high enough to park a bus beneath it—and I accept that factoring all that out is a bit like saying rattlesakes are great fun so long as they don’t bite—I still have a wide, weird foot. Depending on who the shoe maker is, I’ve ranged between one and five Es.
You read that right. I have a pair of Italian-made shoes that say “EEEEE” inside.
So I’ve been riding the R320s as a big part of my shoe rotation this season. That part shouldn’t surprise you; after all, this is a review of those shoes. However, this bit will definitely surprise you: Shimano makes these shoes in a standard width and a wide version. After all that talk of how wide my foot is, here’s the kicker: I’ve been wearing the standard width.
When the shoes arrived, I was momentarily dismayed. I’d been dying to try them and they said they’d send the wide. But I got the standard. In one of those “what the hell” moments I pulled them from the box and tried them on. Turns out, they fit at least as well as some other shoes I’d reviewed and as these are part of Shimano’s Custom Fit series, I figured they’d fit even better once we’d done the toaster-oven-vacuum-pump-thingy to them.
And that part was right. I visited Steven Carre at Bike Effect and he took me through the fitting process and I have to admit I was shocked by how much the fit of the shoes improved after going through the fitting. It was most apparent when we took the bag and toe cup off and I was able to stand up with one molded and one unmolded shoe on. I got pretty excited about my ride home.
I’m such a geek.
I’d like to add that I tried the R241B and didn’t like that shoe. For reasons that aren’t readily apparent, that shoe struck me as rather poorly made. The tongues didn’t line up properly and the straps seemed too thin. I know the shoe was meant to be relatively lightweight, but the presentation was disappointing, like finding out your date smokes.
By comparison, the R320 is also a relatively light shoe, at 277g per shoe in the 42 size, but the straps held firm and the tongues ran true. Carbon fiber shoe soles, such as these, are so far improved over what we used to ride on that I really can’t register one as being stiffer than another anymore. The last time I was able to detect a shoe was unusual it was because it had a high degree of flex because it was meant to make walking easier. There’s probably a difference in stiffness between this and, say, the Rapha Grand Tour shoe made by Giro, but they both fall so squarely in the sufficiently stiff range that I have yet to tell them apart, at least, not in that regard.
The shoe is cut from, well, a lot of plastic, carbon fiber and Rovenica, an artificial leather. It offers a degree of elasticity which will increase your comfort in hard efforts, but that also means it won’t stretch. Ever. Stretching is a handy thing for improving a shoe’s fit, if volume is an issue for you; more on that in a sec. On the upside, the material also resists abrasions and because it won’t stretch, the shoes will last longer than some wheel sets. That channel you see in the sole is a big reason why the shoe is as stiff as it is. You need a structure with some edges and corners to generate stiffness.
This is still a production shoe and in that regard it, like every production shoe I’ve ever worn, falls somewhat short in a couple of regards. The insoles simply don’t provide as much support as my feet could use. Adding some molded units to these shoes would take care of that problem, but then they would bump up against the shoe’s other weakness—volume. With an insole providing more support, the amount of volume in the shoe would increase and these shoes really aren’t built for a super-high-volume foot. It may be that this is where the wide shoes would help. I don’t have a lot of contact for the middle, Velcro strap; you can see how little overlap there is in the top photo. Increasing the volume any further may make it hard to keep that middle strap closed. This is one reason I remain a fan of the BOA closure system.
I need to raise a note of caution on those criticisms. They are entirely peculiar to me and unlikely to pose a problem for most riders. Fewer than 10 percent of all people are said to have a high-volume foot. Damn bell curves. I’m always in the shallow end of one pool or another.
Another reason to like Shimano shoes is that they offer a wide array of sizes, wider than many of their competitors. They offer from 36 to 50 in whole sizes plus half sizes from 37.5 to 46.5. The wide last is available in all the same sizes except for the 49 and 50. They retail for $379.99, which seems like a fair amount of money at first blush, but given what I get for $40 at the Vans store, I think a dollar goes a good bit further with Shimano.
Shimano recently came out with a limited production run of blue shoes, as worn by the Argos-Shimano team at this year’s Tour de France. While I tend to like my cycling shoes in either black or white (or both), this is one of the best-looking blue shoes I’ve ever seen.
Given what we used to think were good shoes 10 or 15 years ago, I can say we’ve come a long way. Cycling shoes have improved as much as carbon fiber frames, and that’s an improvement on the order of HD TV. And who doesn’t like HD TV?