The first pair of clipless shoes I owned were made by Shimano. They had a grey canvas Cordura upper, shoestring laces, a rubber sole that flexed over the pedal as I rode. They were a recreational level shoe and no matter how tightly I tied the laces the first sign of water would loosen them up from around my foot. If it was a full-on water crossing that dunked my entire foot, the upper would soak it up like a sponge causing my power to be even further depleted.
That was 14 years ago, and Shimano shoes have gone through a plethora of changes. Now my latest pair of Shimano shoes are their top-of-the-line, fully customizable SH-M300. These state-of-the-art kicks reflect all their newfangled technology in their appearance. They look like space shoes with silver and sparkle on from heel to toe.
What makes these so pricey is they are fully bakeable and require your local bike shop to buy an easy-bake oven that looks like a small R2D2 robot in the corner of their shoe section. The result is a form-fitting shoe that seamlessly puts you in-line with every pedal stroke.
The whole experience is romantic and makes you feel like you are buying something totally cool and special. Rarely does buying a pair of shoes become quite a process like this one. You take a seat and the baby-blue shoe oven is wheeled out like a golf bag beside you. The salesman preheats the oven and places the first shoe inside for a few minutes so that it becomes soft and pliable. Then the shoe goes on your foot and a plastic bag is fastened to your leg with a rubberband. Then a vacuum tube attachment sucks all the air out of the shoe bringing it as close to your foot as possible. This is how the custom process works.
Then after it’s all done and the shoes are cooled off. You’re ready to ride. No overnight waiting, they’re ready to go.
Hockey skates these are not; there is less ankle support than I expected, and it wasn’t until after my first ride how much I appreciate a little ankle protection from my mountain bike shoes. After my first few rides my ankles were bruised and cut-up from impacts with brush, rocks and my own chainstays.
For some reason I had a really hard time getting into my pedals with these shoes. I can’t say why exactly but it may have been one too many beers the night before, or it’s the lack of rugged cleat knobs on the bottom. I never could really tell where my toe was, or where the ball of my foot was from ground to pedal. It was and remains the oddest experience with these shoes. I think Shimano really strived to make keep the shoe’s weight to a minimum and in doing so they cut out a lot of the traction on the bottom of the sole.
However once in the pedals, the shoes were stiff and agile. They gave me great connection to my bike and rode marvelously.
The lack of cleats on the bottom made these shoes an unforgiving ride anywhere except Southern California. My rides elsewhere where there were rocky, muddy, or steep conditions suffered. It was annoying getting dropped by my buddies in the Midwest even though I was wearing some pretty fancy shoes.
These problems with the shoes mean one thing. They are meant for racing. Their ultralight heft is ideal for the weight weenie racers. But even in races it’s not unheard of to find yourself bouldering or frequently shouldering your bike, and these shoes are awkward to run in and the carbon portions of their soles are slick.
After less than ten rides I noticed that the customization process had caused some seams and seals on the toe were coming apart. This was probably from the suction process receding the shoe towards my foot. It made the shoe look cheap and undesirable.
All of these aspects put together make my experience with these shoes quite disappointing. It will be a long time before I bring myself to this specific of technology again. There are better shoes out there, especially at $300.
Even though I’ve barely used my SH-M300 shoes I’m more likely to grab any of my older pairs of Shimanos and leave these on the shelf.
I recommend you do the same.