Last summer we got a look at the first of Shimano’s new crop of subdued, earth tone clothing and accessories in their road touring & commuting Explorer line-up. Amongst the merino, grays, and plaids (and before the cold weather Explorer kit) there were also a few new road touring shoe options that offered classic looks and walkability, at what promised to be affordable prices. From our European base, we do a good range of bike commuting to mixed-surface riding on road bikes, and especially through the winter & spring it really makes a lot more sense to keep mountain bike pedals on pretty much all the bikes. But while mountain bike shoes do the job, the traditional lace-up look of the RT4s offered a better transition from on the road to just tooling around the city…
What better place to take a new set of Road Touring shoes (that’s the RT in Shimano’s imaginative naming convention) than on a tour of the roads of northern France and into the velodrome of Roubaix? We wanted to see how the shoes fared on some proper road rides, even a finish line sprint, but also how they could handle bouncing around on the cobbles, then walking around on a mix of surfaces from loose dirt to city sidewalks.
From a details perspective the RT4 shoes are pretty simple, which to be fair is the reason we were drawn to them at first glance. Our version of the shoes are made of a synthetic leather upper that gets a few perforations on the lower sides and then on the entire tongue to allow for a bit of ventilation. On the outside of the toe they feature a bonded-on reflective stripe, reflective aglets on the tips of the laces, as well as the reflective upper segment of the heel cup for visibility from all sides. The toe also gets a tiny reinforced bumper, which I’m sure I’ll test more as I hold the doors open with my feet and kick the stairs as I walk up and down to my apartment with a bike on my shoulder.
At just $120/100€, the value-oriented shoes use a basic lace-up design and feature a standard SPD style cleat plate for use with two-bolt mountain style pedals. For shoe lace management there is an elastic loop between the second and third eyelets from the top to pull the tied laces through. It seemed at first like it might be nicer if it was a bit further down the tongue, but has kept the laces tidy and in place so far.
The shoes’ soles are made from a glass fiber reinforced plastic for a mid-level of stiffness, and get three medium sized grippy rubber tread blocks around the cleat, plus a larger heel block for walkability. The Shimano level 5 stiffness (out of 12) places them as the stiffest of their touring shoes, but at the same lower level where the vast majority of their mountain bike shoes and winter boots exist. The shoes come with a set of thin, but fairly cushy insoles that we swapped out after a few rides for more supportive heat molded Shimano Custom-Fit insoles pulled out of another pair of shoes for a bit firmer feel.
Before we laced them up, our first impression of the RT4 was that the soft insoles and soft synthetic of the upper combined to provide a fit that was comfortable but not overly supportive. But like many lace-up shoes, you quickly find that you have a surprising ability to tension them evenly and as tight as you want. That meant that whether with thin summery socks or something a bit thicker for cold mornings, I’ve been able to adjust them quite a bit to deliver a consistent & snug fit that never let my foot move around in the shoe. One nit I might pick is that the laces are quite thin at just about 3mm wide. That makes them glide through the eyelets of the shoes smoothly, but they also dig into my fingers a bit when I tug on them (much like I get annoyed with the same thing tightening my snowboard boots.)
The look of the simple artificial leather shoe has done well to blend in on and off the bike. With a nice pair of pants they look professional enough once I step away from the dirty bike. And now that Giro and a handful of pros have made it cool to race on and off road in lace up Empires, these shoes don’t even look out of place in our local group rides or while reconning the Paris-Roubaix pavé.
So far on the bike the shoes have done everything we could ask in a touring shoe. They are by no means as stiff as pretty much any high-end road or mountain shoe that we regularly ride with carbon soles, but that’s kind of what we like about them. The longest road rides we’ve put in them so far have been about 3 hours long, and the honeycombed construction of the sole at the pedal has distributed the load well enough that we’ve yet to feel any hot spots or discomfort, even with the small platform of Crankbrothers eggbeater pedals. (The reinforced composite of the sole is relatively soft, so if you use a pedal like the Crankbrothers or Time, we strongly suggest adding on a steel wear/protection plate under the cleat to ensure the shoes last.) That said I’ve also commuted to the office in the RT4s for more than a week and worn them on and off the bike straight for 9 hours at a time with no discomfort walking or pedaling.
For now they have become my go-to shoes for the ride to work when the weather is nice, and if I don’t have a ton of walking around to do there isn’t much need to swap to another shoe around the office. They also look to be a good choice for my casual before or after work road rides. My commuter is a nice disc brake steel road bike that gets a mix of components on it to test depending on the season, but always leans towards wide road tires and a desire to hunt for more dirt & gravel road secteurs near the city. I know it is totally an image thing, but I feel better cruising around these backroads with something that looks more like a road shoe, rather than flashy orange urban camo (I’m looking at you, my awesome Northwave Extreme XCs). And the roads I end up on wreak a toll on my poor road shoes and pedals (sorry to my originally glossy Suplest Edge3 Pros).
The simple walkable RT4 shoes seem like a pretty good compromise for me, and until I get the urge for racing (or maybe KOM hunting) I think a lot of my mixed-surface riding could be described as Road Touring.