Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Product Review: Shimano TR70 Cycling Shoes

My old cycling shoes have been bugging my feet a bit lately. I get off the bike, and the outside of my foot is sore/numb and I can barely walk for a few minutes after dismounting. I account for this, I believe, due to the shoe having stretched over nearly 5 1/2 years of steady service and thousands of miles of riding. I figured it was time to invest in a new pair of cycling shoes.

I headed out to Gear West to pick up my racing bike, which had just been shipped back from wintering in Texas. There I met with Drew Frakes and we started to look at shoe possibilities. I finally settled on the Shimano TR70's.

In the triathlon market, this shoe was used by Craig Alexander on his way to his 2008 victory in Kona.

However, it was not as easy as simply selecting my size and then whipping out the credit card. Oh, no. For these are heat moldable shoes. Some of the key features include:

•Heat-moldable, Custom-Fit technology: a Shimano innovation

•Ultra-light uni-directional carbon sole for the perfect balance of strength, rigidity and maximum power transfer

•Structural, vented synthetic micro-fiber leather adds upper support

•Composite temperature control honey comb mesh

•Reinforced heel cup and outsole pads for added protection

•Addtional top-strap closure for added support and stability

•Oversize entry target strap design for fast transitions

•Seamless, quick-dry interior for comfort without socks

Shimano actually calls their technology "Heat Moldable Custom Fit" and makes it available in several high end shoes. By fully moldable I mean that the upper of the shoe as well as the insole is moldable. Moldable insoles (or foot beds) have been around for quite some time with reasonable success. I personally find that custom orthotics, moldable insoles (made for cycling) or even some standard aftermarket insoles can significantly improve rider comfort, by providing additional arch contour to mostly flat soles. Nevertheless, Shimano's molding of the upper part of the shoe is an industry first, and this is done at the retail environment with minimum wait.

The process is simple and from start to finish takes about 30 minutes. After determining the correct size, the insole is removed and "baked" in a Shimano specific oven for a couple of minutes. Then, it is inserted back in the shoes and worn by the customer for a few minutes to allow the mold to settle. The same process is done for the other foot. Next, it's time for the shoes themselves to be "baked" for 2-3 minutes each. Once removed from the oven, the customer puts the shoe on (with the insole inside) and foot and shoe are fitted into a boot- shaped plastic bag.

A hose is then inserted in the bag and the plastic boot is sealed at the calf with a tight Velcro strap. A machine then sucks all the air out of the bag, creating a vacuum and ensuring a really snug fit. It helps to smooth out air pockets in the process and to use the hands to completely mold the shoe to the foot. After a minute or two, the machine is turned off, the strap is released and the bag is removed. The result is custom, uniform, snug fit. The process is then repeated with the other shoe. Note that the shoe can be molded up to three times in the life of the shoe, which should be enough to get the desired fit.

Gimmick or good process? I think if it was just heating up the insole I would classify as gimmick. But with the vacuum process, you could feel the shoe adapting to your foot. And the shoe felt instantly comfortable like a old pair of jeans.

If you want to see what this process looks like, here is a video:

I have had a few rides in the shoes and they feel great. Stiff and responsive. The only bitch I would have is that one of the straps kept hitting a crank and coming undone. What I have done for now is add an extra layer of Velcro to make sure the strap stays in place. This is discussed in the early minutes of the following video. This person actually cut one of the tabs from his strap.

Price - $349.95. A bit high, but then bike shoes last for a long, long time. So, a good overall investment.

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