Buying winter cycling shoes is always a bit of a challenge. For starters, the sizing doesn’t always match a brands standard road or mountain bike shoes, meaning you often need to size up one or two notches. And if you order something through your shop and it doesn’t fit right, by the time winter’s rolled in, many brands have already sold through their stock for the season and you’re stuck rockin’ your regular shoes with thick socks and shoe covers. Again.
Reviewing winter shoes is also a bit different. By the time we have them in, we need to hurry up and get a review up so it’s not spring by the time we have enough miles in. With that in mind, I only have a few rides in Shimano’s new 2012 MW81 winter boots. Part of the delay was indeed a sizing issue. I ordered them in a 47, my typical size, which usually translates to about a US13. Not so with these. Not by a long shot…
My second pair was a 48. These translated to a 12.3US. The original 47’s were listed as 11.8US…definitely way too small for my size 13 foot. Fortunately, these 48’s fit well even with moderately thick socks. So, for Shimano winter shoes, I’d recommend ordering based on European sizing, then going up one size.
Changes from the MW80 are a new, more aggressive outsole with pedal rest, a nice fuzzy fleece insole and something called Design DNA. We haven’t actually been told what Design DNA is, and Shimano’s website still shows the MW80. By the way, if you’re looking for mountain bike shoes on their website, click “Shoes” in the menu, then look up on the top right of the page for tiny, almost hidden links for Womens, Tri and MTB. Otherwise, all you’ll see are the road models.
Visually, the new model is a bit sleeker than the old one, with a smoother toe protection area and overall smoother outer surface. The reflective silver strip breaks up the otherwise all black colorway. Yes, I said color way. The upper toe strap is also reflective to provide 360º visibility.
The straps are offset, presumably to allow for good fit without being over tight on any part of your foot. Winter shoes that put any pressure on the top of your foot can slow circulation and make your feet cold prematurely. I’m happy to report that these shoes don’t do that.
The MW81 has a larger volume than their normal shoes. That extra room is nice with thick socks on. My toes never felt cramped. Another feature I like about Shimano’s shoes is the straight inside edge. Unlike some shoes that come to a central point at the toe, Shimano’s last seems to better follow the natural shape of my foot, which means they’re generally more comfortable for longer rides.
The tread is aggressive enough for run ups if you’re looking for a good cyclocross shoe, too. Toe spike mounts are included. The yellow bit is their tread rest area for light pedaling if you’re trying to knock some gunk off the bottom before clipping in.
The shoes have minimal vent holes on the exterior, just enough to let whatever moisture vapor escapes the Gore Tex liner make it’s way to the chilly outside air. The Gore Tex liner runs throughout the entire shoe to provide insulation and make them water resistant.
The insole has a very soft, fuzzy fleece lining, which provides additional insulation.
Under the tongue, which wraps over the top of the shoe, is a full height gusset with the Gore Tex liner. Small vent holes are under the top and bottom straps. The ankle gaiter is neoprene with Velcro closure and fits snugly.
Weight for the size 48 is 529g per shoe without cleats.
So far, I really like these shoes. They’re comfortable, warm, fit well and are easy to pedal and walk in. My coldest ride in them was about 2.5 hours in 32º to 34º F weather and only at the very, very end of the ride were my toes starting to feel a bit cold.
Shimano admits these are a niche product, so there’s only one color and model available per year. That means these are their only winter cycling shoes, pulling double duty for road and mountain bikes. Given the weight and aggressive tread, we’re thinking road shoes with thick covers and wool socks might be the better option for pavement, but if you routinely ride or commute in foul winter weather, these might be just the ticket.
Retail is $230.