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Tech review - December 4, 2004

On test: Shimano SH-R215 road shoes

Silver bullets

Shimano's SH-R215 road shoes.
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Shimano are well-known for their bike (and fishing) components, but over the last decade or so, the Japanese giant has been casting their net into cycling's accessories market, focusing on shoes, pedals and wheels. In the footwear department, the SH-R215 is their top-shelf road cycling shoe, and Anthony Tan is more than satisfied.

I remember first trying - later buying - a pair of Shimano road shoes about seven years ago, but found the sole far too fat (read: thick) and far too flat, and the toe-box far too narrow. Why did I buy them, then, you moron, I hear you ask?

Good question - but one I can't definitively answer, other than say at the time, I thought they felt OK when I first tried them on, the alternatives were few (and didn't suit me at all), and I really, really needed a new pair of shoes. And let's face it: you never really know until you're on your bike and have done at least a few hours (preferably a few weeks) in saddle... at which point your chances of returning them are zero. I was also going off the Shimano name and their reputation for functional excellence; after all, I had also controversially swapped my Campagnolo Record group for the latest Dura-Ace offering.

Look at moiye, look at moiye...
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The top strap
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Ventilation aplenty
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Warning:
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The padded insole.
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A closer look at the undercarriage.
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Both Shimano and I have moved on since then, and I've realised my flat feet lend themselves more towards a curved-type sole rather than an ostensibly flat one. (Still one of the best-fitting pair of shoes I own is Specialized's Pro Road Shoe I reviewed a couple of years back.) My rationale with cycling shoes is that people with less of an arch need more support, because we tend to be not as well-balanced, and vice versa.

If looks are anything to go by, these booties certainly look the part. Apart from the black carbon fibre sole, a black band with the Shimano logo on the buckle strap, and a small reflective yellow bit at the back of the heel, the R215s are doused with a brushed silver/aluminium look. And despite how that sounds, silver is actually a relatively neutral colour: it rarely clashes with your frame or sock choice, and goes quite nicely with the rest of your silvery bits on your bike. Fashion victims rejoice!

I'm also impressed with the amount of consideration given in the mesh department. Provided the shoe fits and is comfortable, ventilation is the single-most important factor when out on the bike, and with the Aussie summer just 'round the corner, I'll need all the ventilation I can get.

Apart from the mound of mesh, three other noticeable changes have been made to its 2003 predecessor. The first is the width of the toe-box: probably one of the design elements that gave me the biggest sh%$s from my Shimano shoes of seven years past, significantly more room is now awarded in the tootsie dept., which is a welcome change for those of us with wider feet. There's also a generous amount of room at the other end around the heel cup, with the heel still being very well supported.

The ratcheted buckle system is new too, and follows a trend first set by Sidi; purposely designed to provide added strength on closure while still ensuring a comfortable fit, eliminate pressure points at the top of your foot sometimes caused by a buckle/velcro strap set-up, and allow easy entry/exit. To secure, it's simply a matter of feeding the corrugated strap through the opening in the buckle, and continuously flicking the bottom buckle up until your foot feels secure; to release, hold the top buckle down and pull the strap free. Piece of piss, as they say in Oz.

The carbon-fibre sole has also undergone extensive cosmetic surgery, and is now a hollow-moulded design that is claimed to be lighter and stiffer than its predecessor, but more importantly, allows your feet to sit closer to the base of the pedal, which in turn creates a more efficient pedalling platform.

As Shimano no longer makes road pedals with anything other than a three-bolt cleat, the R215s follow suit with drillings that will only accept a Shimano or Look-style cleat, although an adapter is available for SPD-R pedal users, which are still very popular with trackies. My pedal of choice for the last two years or so has been Shimano's SPD-SL 'Lance' pedals, so no probs for me there. Also, when doing the usual mucking about with cleat position that invariably goes with a new set of shoes, I was pleasantly surprised to notice the three holes have been drilled a little further back than a number of other brands out there, enabling me to get as far as I need to go behind the centre of the pedal axle.

I can honestly say that these shoes were comfy from the first kilometre. Being a bit of an Imelda Marcos of cycling shoes (and that's where the similarities end between Imelda and I), most cycling shoes I've owned required a break-in period of at least three to four weeks, so it was a rather strange sensation for my feet to come back from my first ride relatively unbothered. In fact, I was beginning to think something was wrong, and that these shoes would turn out to be too big for me. (After about five months, I realised I could go for probably a half-size smaller, but I doubt it would have detracted from the initial comfort factor.)

Another immediately noticeable sensation was the weight of the shoes - I'd just come off testing a pair of featherweight Rocket7s that tipped the scales at a rather remarkable 200 grams per shoe (for a size 42), so to switch to the Shimanos that weighed over 200 grams more (610 grams per pair) did feel odd at first. However, one of my gripes about the Rocket7s was the lack of padding at the insole and around the heel cup and tongue - areas where the R215s are generous in - so in my opinion, the extra weight is definitely worth it, particularly on longer rides.

The redesigned sole is another big plus. I'm often prone to hotspots, even on a ride as short as one and a half hours, so to experience no sign of this particular discomfort other than some general numbness is quite a feat.

Five months down the track, signs of wear are minimal. Not that I've cleaned them much (once to be precise), but the nylon straps make the shoe easy to clean and they still look good as new. However, through no fault of my own, one the ratcheted straps has a slight kink in it where it's corrugated, making it a little more difficult (but by no means impossible) to feed through the opening at the buckle joint. The carbon sole also seems to mark easily, but that doesn't really bother me. My only other gripe is the front velcro strap; when tightened hard, the front of the shoe scrunches up, causing slight discomfort at the top of your toes - people with thin feet who require the front strap to be pulled right over may experience a similar problem.

All-in-all, though, an excellent shoe for people who can't get by with some of the narrower, bling-bling Euro performance models like Sidi and DMT, and are after a well-padded, well-ventilated, stiff-as-buggery training/racing shoe. A huge improvement on their previous road models - two thumbs up.

Photography

Images by Cyclingnews

Claimed weight: 610 grams/pair (excluding cleats)
Recommended retail price:
US$240.00/€230.00
Pro: Generous toe-box, well-padded, well ventilated, cleat holes in the right place, no hotspots, easy to clean (or not clean)
Con: One of the ratcheted straps developed a kink after a few months, making it a little more difficult to tighten; carbon sole marks easily; when front velcro strap is pulled right over, material scrunches up, causing slight discomfort at the top of your toes
More information: Shimano website
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