The clipless diaries, part 3: Shimano SH-RT33L road touring shoes

Previously, I went over Shimano’s Deore XT T780 pedal set, which combines SPD retention mechanism and flat pedal in one unit. I also discussed how they performed underfoot on normal sneakers.

To use these pedals to the fullest, I needed proper shoes. I found a lot of them underwhelming, though.

Cross-country MTB shoe: Shimano SH-XC31

Despite the promise of easier walking, many MTB shoes deliver on that premise only on muddy ground and off-road conditions. Most cross-country MTB shoes do just this, equipped with hard, unyielding plastic tread blocks. If your walking happens mostly on floors, asphalt and pavement, this isn’t what you want.

Mountain touring shoe: Shimano SH-MT34

More walkable MTB shoe options do exist, but they also give you a tall stack height (measured by the thickness of the sole from insole to outsole) – not what I wanted, either.

Then I saw Shimano’s road touring shoe line.

Road touring shoe: Shimano SH-RT82

These look like road bike shoes, but throw out the three-bolt cleat mounting. Instead, they get a two-bolt SPD cleat mount with a full-length rubber sole. Interesting.

I ended up getting Shimano’s SH-RT33L shoes. The company logo aside, I like how simple and understated these look. You could get away with using them for work…just about.

I’ve heard horror stories of the company’s shoe sizing running on the small side, but these EUR 44-size shoes fit me well with just enough give at the toe box.

One level down from the RT82, the category flagship model, these jettison the third ratchet-buckle strap and offset strap arrangement, relying on two normal hook-and-loop straps instead. They still get the same sole, though, and have a few nice touches. Dense mesh at the toebox provides foot venting, but doesn’t let the odd splash of water through immediately. There’s also a bit of reflective material on the ends of the straps and on the heel cup.

The RT33s may be more walkable than your typical road bike shoe, but they’re still rather stiff in the sole. The outsole has a strange profile, with a pronounced “tiptoe rocking” as you roll forward from the ball of your foot to your toes, since the area of the sole where the cleat recess lives is thicker. On most surfaces walking with them is fine, although depending on how your cleat is set up, you might still hear its metal scraping and clicking on the pavement.

Driving with them isn’t the best of ideas. The stack height on the ball of the foot is still kind of high, so it forces my left knee to go unsupported while manipulating the clutch, and brake pedal feel is diminished. On longer drives, I’d advise a change of footwear.

With this shoe, as with some other models, Shimano provide you a “cleat nut” with four threaded holes, as well as a rectangular waterproof sticker. To mount the cleat and fine-tune the position, you remove the insole (or “sockliner”), then put the cleat nut face down into the long thin holes. Take the cleat, foreplate and two mounting bolts, place them on the outsole, and loosely thread them into the cleat nut while you fine-tune the position of the cleat. Once satisfied with the cleat position, prep the cleat bolts with grease or thread locker, and torque them down to 5 Nm. Teeth on the back edge of the cleat will dig into the outsole and leave divots to secure its position. You then cover up the cleat nut from the inside with the waterproof sticker and return the insole.

So, how do I get along with them on the bike? That’s a topic for next time.

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