27 April 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Shimano SH-M225 shoes

Shoes are hard. They're a complicated product that sees a huge amount of abuse, especially on the mountain bike. They have to fit and support the second strangest part of the human body (the foot) while transmitting massive amounts of weight and power through a cleat not much larger than a quarter. They have to be stiff enough to ride in all day while comfortable enough to walk in when you've broken a stem or used your last tube. The lugs have to be grippy, durable and shed mud without interfering with the pedal or weighing anything. They should be adjustable while riding and well ventilated but protect the foot from rocks, stumps and cacti. They should probably look good and be reasonably priced, too.

Almost three years ago, I picked up this rather flashy pair of Shimano SH-M225. Well, they were flashy at the time, but after 140 weeks of 4-6 rides per week they're looking rather broken in. I was attracted to the stiff (but light) carbon fiber sole plate, the easily-operated ratchet and (of course) the fit. Compared to other mid-range ($150-225) shoes I tried on, they seemed like a great value at $180. Two (carbon fiber-look) Velcro straps snug the forefoot and a wide, slightly padded strap is secured with an easy to grasp ratchet (shared with several other Shimano models). While I have my suspicions about just how much carbon fiber extends beyond the cleat window, the rest of the sole is made of a hard, stiff plastic, over which is co-molded a softer translucent tread material. The perimeter of the shoes is made of a tough rubberized textile and there is a very stiff (and somewhat deep) molded heel cup at the rear. There is a fair amount of mesh over the forefoot and between the straps, but there are certainly better-ventilated shoes out there.
I have normal-width size 9 1/2 feet, but they're oddly small in cross section. As a result, I have trouble finding a shoe that can fit well over the top of my foot. Most companies' ratchets bottom out before becoming snug. Sensing my frustration, Shimano saw fit to provide threaded inserts in two positions for mounting the ratchet itself to the shoe. The upper would probably work well for both folks and the lower works well for me and some women I've noticed wearing these.

While (at about 800g for the pair) these aren't the lightest shoes around, I have to think that the M225s are some of the sturdiest. I use these shoes off road for epics and single speed racing, for my daily commute and for 50+ mile road rides, all with Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals. All together, I have between 7,500 and 10,000 miles in these shoes and have very few complaints. The shape of the shoes happens to work well for me. While I couldn't compare them to a glove, the deep heel cup and secure straps do a good job of holding my feet in place without hot spots. The shoes do tend to loosen up after a couple of stream crossings, but that's why the ratchet is there- it's easy enough to reach down and snug them up without stopping, even off road. While waking on hard New Mexico sandstone has worn the front lugs down to the harder plastic inside, overall the treads are holding up very well. The rubberized textile and synthetic leather, while scuffed, has yet to be punctured and I couldn't find a seam that's come loose. Riding in New Mexico, where hard rock is far more common than mud, I haven't been using the hard toe studs but wouldn't mind another (grippy) lug under the toe for short scrambles but don't know that I've fallen for the lack of one.

Unfortunately, nothing is perfect and I do have a couple of complaints. First of all, I don't like the supplied Shimano insoles one bit. I had forgotten how bad they were until I wore out my inexpensive aftermarket insoles and threw them back in before a 50mi road ride. Within 10 miles my feet were tingly and within 20 they were numb. That hadn't happened in ages, even during two 24-hour races. I took them back out and the problem immediately went away. Secondly, I've managed to wear out the fabric and blow all of the stuffing out of the heel cup. It's not uncomfortable (yet), but the rest of the shoes probably have another year in them, and it's a shame for one aspect to be so much worse off than the rest of the shoe. Several years ago, I had a pair of shoes with leather (or synthetic leather) inside the heel cup. I never noticed them allowing my feet to move around and that would be my number one request for the next version of these shoes. Over the past few years, I've munched a couple of ratchets. Given the miles that these have seen and the fact that I'm using the lower mounting position, I'd have expected them to have died earlier, to be honest. Happily, they gave plenty of warning and are shared between several Shimano models. Any bike shop worthy of the title should be able to order replacements for around $10. The stiffness of the sole means that the M225s are more riding than hiking oriented, so if your regular rides include a large amount of hike-a-bike, there may be better options. On the road, the soles (and pedal choice) will put some folks off, but they look Pro enough that folks may not even notice (until you win the post-ride sprint to the refreshments).

A quick note about pedal choice: Shimano are under no real obligation to make their shoes work with Crank Brothers' pedals, but I feel that these do. However, if you let your Eggbeater cleats go too long between replacements, they will wear and allow the pedals' bars to rub on the shoes themselves (something that Time's ATAC pedal bars are actually designed to do). This will wear little grooves into the shoe in front of and behind the cleat. So far, though, the carbon fiber seems to be taking it just fine (I've actually snapped other shoes' soles after wearing grooves into them with Times). Crank Brothers now make a $10 set of steel shoe protectors that sit between the cleat and shoe to prevent this, which I'll be reporting back on when I go to new shoes.

All in all, the SH-M225s are a great shoe. If they fit, I can't think of any reason not to recommend them. They're stiff, comfortable and pretty darn bombproof. The SH-M182s are very similar, but seem only to save about $20 and forego the carbon fiber shoe. The company does make a near-$300 heat-moldable shoe, but it's quite different and looks to be more race-oriented.



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