Shoemakers will sell you on all sorts of features, but for me it’s all about comfort and, sadly, aesthetics. Yeah, lightness and stiffness are nice, but at the end of the day all I want is to never think about my feet, and hopefully look a little less dorky.
The snappily named R241’s I got from 2011’s Shimano press junket were light and incredibly comfortable, but they were black and blue and whenever I saw them out of the corner of my eye I felt like a grownup in dress shoes (this is very disturbing to me). I didn't know how good I had it. I should've stuck with them but my vanity made me go searching for something better.
I snatched up some Bont’s on closeout, and they fit well, looked good, and were very light and stiff. Unfortunately they were so stiff that I got excruciating hot foot after two hours on the bike. Then I tried Scott’s GreenEdge shoes, which looked great, weren’t so light, and were only mildly uncomfortable.
I would’ve stuck with the R241‘s or the Scott’s but Shimano rolled back into town and bestowed this year’s R320’s on me, and what a godsend they have proven to be. The primary feature of Shimano’s top end shoes is their heat moldability – the uppers have inserts that conform to your feet. Last year’s shoes were molded on the spot, but this year the plan was to ride them as is for a few weeks, then have them molded so I could get a sense of the benefits of custom fitting.
Out of the box the shoes fit well enough, slightly tight across the widest part of my foot but totally acceptable. If they were any other shoes I’d consider it a good fit and live with it. They were super light at 591 grams, and while they didn’t feel as stiff as the Bont’s or Scott’s, they certainly weren’t flexy either. Best of all, they achieved ‘invisibility’: I went ride after ride without thinking about my feet.
Three weeks later I visited Will Alvarado of Toga Bikes for my custom fit.
First the insole is warmed and fitted. There are two inserts to choose from. (While we're here check out the black carbon reinforced heel cup on the shoe. More on that later.)
Next the shoes are baked and vacuum bagged. This is a shot from last year's fitting (and cankles! WTF?). The vacuum bagging is so painful that it ought to be in a murder mystery about a bike mechanic who offs the nasty shop owner by bagging his head and sucking the life out of him. Sorry, Dexter, no blood spatter evidence.
The first pedal strokes after the fitting were positively giddy – pressure was so evenly spread throughout that they felt like bunny slippers. The sensation went away as I got used to the fit, and now they're just shoes I don't think about. The only discomfort I've felt since was during long indoor rides, but to be fair, everything's uncomfortable after a couple of hours indoors.
Silicone dots in the lining, along with the aforementioned heel cup, keep your heel in place. Shoes without a grabby heel make me strap myself in more tightly, sometimes to the point where I feel like my metatarsals are being rearranged. Not so with these babies. Just pushing the strap into the ratchet gives me enough tension, I rarely have to crank the ratchet any more.
Nitpicks? As you can see in the shots, the white synthetic leather is discolored after 3 months of nasty winter riding. While the velcro/ratchet system works fine, I still prefer Boa lacing. And the exposed velcro really chews up the insides of my winter booties. They're pricey at $380 but not Sidi pricey. The R-241's, also heat moldable, are a smokin' deal for $200, and they come in white (yay!) as well as last year's black and blue scheme.