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The SH-R150 shoes sit second-to-top in Shimano's shoe range and their features illustrate how far Shimano has come since its first shoes back in 1990, and also how little has fundamentally changed in cycling shoes in a decade. I happen to have a pair of those first Shimano shoes, the SH-R100s, and the differences are interesting.
Like many modern shoes with serious racing intent, the R150s are closed with three Velcro straps. The padded upper and tongue are made from a combination of nylon mesh and synthetic leather, and the whole upper is much stiffer than Shimano's early shoes. The evolution from the two-strap R100 to today's three-strap closure isn't terribly surprising more straps make it easier to hold your foot firmly. The difference in the flexibility of the materials is startling, though, and it's not just down to the age of the R100s they were fairly supple when they were new.
Underneath, the R150 has a carbon and glass fiber sole that's quite gob-smackingly stiff. Now, I realise that's not exactly an objective measure of rigidity, but when you try and flex most plastic-soled cycling shoes you can detect some movement if you grab the ends of the sole and press hard in the middle with your thumbs. The R150s don't budge. The old R100s, by comparison, are noticeably flexy, though the area under the cleat is stiffened by a carbon insert.
The R150 sole is slotted to provide access to threads for SPD and SPD-R cleat placements. To fit Look-pattern cleats, you perform minor surgery, opening the midsole from inside the shoe and changing the insert for one with threads positioned for a three-bolt cleat. Back in the R100's day, Look was the only game in town, Shimano made some very nice Look pedals and the R100s had built-in bolts that mounted Look cleats with nuts in a peculiar reversal of the way everyone else did things.
In the looks department, Shimano have been accused of peculiar taste in the past. (Exhibit A: 1998's bright yellow M300 MTB shoes, Exhibit B: 1995's silver R210 road shoes. The prosecution case rests, your honour.) While the R150s do have a slight case of silver in the straps, they're mostly tasteful, subdued black and grey. Not quite 'none more black' but very acceptable to these eyes.
If grams matter to you, the R150 is the lightest of Shimano's high-end road shoes, tipping the scales at a claimed 620g compared to the R214's 630g. We can't verify those particular claims since Shimano weighs a size 40 shoe, slightly stacking the odds in its favour, given the most common male shoe sizes are 42-44. Historically, though, Shimano's claimed weights for components are within a gram or two of reality. Our size 43 pair weighed 635g, indicating that in this case Shimano's claimed weight may be pessimistic.
Fit is such a personal thing that I hesitate to mention it at all, but a couple of points stand out. The R150 generally conforms pretty well to my size 43ish feet but compared to some shoes it's a little narrow and low around the toes. If you like a Carnac-style big toe-box, these are probably not shoes for you; the fit in the forefoot is cosier.
We tested the R150s with the Speedplay pedals reviewed a short while ago. Unavoidably, the most over-used word in the bike gear reviewer's lexicon keeps coming to mind: stiff. Everything about these shoes is stiff, and sometimes that's not an unalloyed Good Thing.
The stiff sole is definitely a good thing though. Push down and it feels as though your whole foot is pushing the pedal and not just the area over the cleat. You are solidly attached to the bike. This is Good. Physicists and engineers can probably prove that the energy lost in flexing a sole a tiny amount is irrelevant, and that a super-stiff sole like the R150's doesn't actually make you any faster. I don't care: it downright feels faster, and that makes more difference than the numbers.
The stiff straps and uppers are good and bad. Mesh and synthetic leather have very little give and stretch compared to natural materials. That's a good thing if the shoes fit you perfectly from new they will always fit. But if they're not quite right, they won't conform to your foot the way natural materials do after a few rides.
For me, that was a problem with the R150s: they fit pretty well, but not quite well enough. If I snugged the straps down too hard, the lack of stretch in the upper meant I lost circulation and soon had numb toes. I had to learn to pull the straps not-quite-tight, which not only feels odd, but is tricky to get consistently right.
However, you'd be daft to drop roughly US$150 on a pair of shoes without making damn sure they fit right. If R150s are right for your feet, then they're excellent shoes for the money.
Stiff as a very stiff thing that's been dipped in stiffening fluid. That's a definite advantage in the sole, and a curate's egg in the uppers. Check the fit carefully, but if they're your shape the R150s should be on your shortlist for the next pair of shoes you buy.
Pro: Very stiff-soled, good value for money
Con: No 'give'; either they fit, or they don't
More information: Shimano's website
What do you think of the Shimano R150 shoes? Let us know