The number one question I get from readers is for shoe recommendations. Making a shoe recommendation is hard. Nearly as hard as making recommendations for saddles. The problem, of course, is that a shoe must render a form-following fit but feet come in long and short, wide and skinny, flat and arched, high-volume and paper-thin. One last and 20 sizes simply can’t accommodate everyone out there.
With that preface, I’ll offer another that may sound familiar. My feet are relatively short for a man my height. I usually wear a 41.5 cycling shoe, but I have a high arch plus a very high volume foot. Italian shoes tend to fit me the way a Sprinter van fits in a compact parking space.
Of the few manufacturers out there that offer shoes in widths, Shimano’s are notable for the sheer number of sizes they produce, and for the fact that any bike shop on the planet can get them. It’s a potent combination, kind of like Coke syrup without the carbonated water. After reviewing a number of Shimano shoes over the years, and doing reasonably well with their standard last (on the wide side of D), more recently I’ve had the opportunity to try some of Shimano’s shoes in the E width.
Broadly speaking, my feet have been more comfortable and have been less prone to circulation issues. It’s harder to cut off my circulation when the shoe fits—no great revelation there, huh?
With Shimano’s R321 road shoe there are a few unusual features to the shoe, making it something other than your usual two-strap, one buckle shoe. The first is that the buckle works in reverse to others; the top lever, when pulled out tightens the shoe, while the bottom lever, when pressed in loosens the buckle. It makes on-the-fly tightening easier by shortening the reach necessary. The strap has two mounting points so that you can adjust how the upper pulls across the shoe.
Okay, back to sizing. These things are available in more sizes than any other high-end road shoe I’ve found. The R321 is available in available in whole sizes from 36 to 48 plus half sizes from 37.5 to 46.5 in both standard and E width. Comparatively, Shimano’s standard width runs wider than shoes from Specialized and Giro. The E width is a bit wider than Lake’s wide, making it the widest production shoe I’ve tried. Why is it so few shoes come in widths?
The shoe is part of Shimano’s Custom Fit line that can be molded by your Shimano retailer—one good reason to purchase these shoes from a brick-and-mortar rather than online. For most riders I know, the reason to get the shoes molded is to create a more secure fit by elimination slop in the heel cup. As it happens, I go the other way, and end up needing the sole relaxed so that we can get the elephant into the parking garage. The insole is also custom fit, which makes the R321 one of the more complete shoe solutions out there.
Carbon fiber soles are no longer the exception to cycling shoes. They are industry standard at the upper end. The difference between the different soles is where and how they flex and shoes that don’t flex enough tend to create hot spots on long rides. The trick is to create a sole with enough flex that you don’t get hot spots, but not so much flex that you notice it when you put a foot down at a stop light. It’s a vanishing point of a different sort, and one that Shimano’s Dynalast addresses nicely.
The Teijin synthetic leather upper doesn’t stretch the way real leather does, so the fit isn’t going to adjust much over time. That little drawback comes with a noticeable upside, that being you can log 20-hour weeks through the El Ninocalypse and the shoes won’t stretch out of shape. The outer portion of the upper and the tongue feature elastic bands to hold them in place as you tighten the straps.
The electric blue with black color scheme is flat-out the best-looking cycling shoe I’ve seen since Ferrari introduced the California. Okay, so that’s not a cycling shoe, and when the California was introduced I wasn’t a cyclist, but you get the general idea. Reality suggests that most kits will more readily match the white and black version, but if I were Sterling Archer I’d buy kit just to match the blue shoes.
One last observation: As fit precision has increased, the need for adjustability in all aspects of fit has increased. And that includes cleat position. The sole of the 321 includes small channels in which the mounting hardware can be moved either fore or aft to increase a fitter’s options for optimal cleat position.
The R321 carries a suggested retail of $379.99. I’ll admit that I don’t pay that for dress shoes, but I also don’t ask of my dress shoes what I do of cycling shoes. And frankly, thanks to their cavernous volume, these things are more comfortable than my wingtips.