The clipless diaries, part 7: Shimano MT5 mountain touring shoes

I’ve had my Shimano RT33 road touring shoes for a while now, and they’ve held up very well in all sorts of riding – from the turbo trainer, to the commute, to long rides, and even a 200-kilometer audax. They’ve seen better days, though, and walking around in them has worn down the outsole, leading to increasingly frequent cases of the cleats clicking and cracking on hard floors and tiles.

My wife and I saw the revamped Shimano road touring line when we visited Y’s Road in Shinjuku, but were put off by the price. The lace-up RT4 and Velcro-strapped RT5 shoes, as spiffy as they are, each cost more than double my RT33s, so there went my plan of trading like for like.

Shimano RT4 (SH-RT400) road touring shoe

Shimano RT5 (SH-RT500) road touring shoe

While the RT4 and RT5 don’t seem to have made it to our shores, the locally available MT5 (SH-MT500) caught my eye. I picked these up for PhP4550 at Bike Town Cyclery along Chino Roces Ave. Extension in Makati.

A surprise lurked within the box. Shimano throws in a pair of ankle-high white socks for free…and they’re really nice socks. The only complaint I have with them is the shouty Shimano embroidery on the front of the ankle cuff.

The shoes come either in this deep orange-tinted red, or in an all-black colorway with tiny blue accents. Normally I avoid the color, but that red really does it for me; it comes close to the orange Giro used on its nice but pricey Terraduro.

Too many mountain bike shoes look like they escaped from a skate park. It’s not a look I’m a fan of, which is why I gravitated towards the lithe road shoe looks of the RT33s in the first place. The MT5s look more like a normal sneaker, with just enough “chunk” – much like the Terraduro I mentioned.

The MT5’s upper smacks of intelligent design all around. Closure is by a single Velcro strap at the top, with elastic “speed laces” tightened by a drawstring closure at the middle. Putting them on and off my feet is a quick and easy affair, while retaining the fine fit adjustment available with lace-up sneakers.

The slider for tightening the laces has a hook at the end, which is intended to catch on the bottom run of laces. This secures them against getting tangled in your chain and chainrings. Neat.

That “X” on the Velcro strap and the ankle loop at the back are gray for a reason: they’re reflective. Really neat.

While the MT5 is part of a revamped Shimano shoe lineup, its knobbly lugged rubber outsole is actually carried over from older models, such as the MT34 and MT44.

Shimano SH-MT34 mountain touring shoe. The MT5 carries over its lugged outsole.

Walking around in it reveals why. Compared to the RT33 and its stiff outsoles, which you rocked back to front to walk, these MT5s are very comfortable to walk in. They move with your foot, with flexible feel and mechanical grip almost as good as a decent hiking or running shoe. Coupled with a roomy toe box, I feel I can really live in these kicks. (They’re still clumsy to drive a car with, at best.)

Shimano does rate them lower for stiffness. They come up to a 4 on their 12-point scale compared to the RT33’s rating of 5, so that may become an issue on an audax-distance ride.

RT33 vs MT5, front view

RT33 vs MT5, side view

At size 44, the MT5s are larger and bulkier overall than my same-size RT33s. Cleats fitted, I had to push them outward slightly to avoid them bashing into the crank arms while pedaling. They also have double the RT33’s stack height from the thicker outsole.

MT5s on my feet, along with the bundled ankle-high socks.

The MT5s look like a pretty normal shoe.

Despite the slightly lower stiffness, the MT5s behaved well while I was doing high-intensity intervals on the turbo trainer – quite similar to the RT33s when clipped in. The tight heel cup, in particular, is palpable; I can feel it positively surrounding my heels as I walk around or pedal.

So far, color me impressed.

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Review: B’Twin 500-series men’s cycling bib shorts

With the opening of Decathlon Philippines, Filipinos now have access to the French sporting goods warehouse store and its cycling-related house brand, B’Twin. Renowned in other countries for good yet affordable gear, I thought it would be interesting to put some of its products to the test.

When I visited Decathlon’s Singapore branch in Bedok, I made mention of just how surprisingly cheap their 500-series bib shorts are. For just a couple extra Singapore dollars over their waist shorts, the significant onus that usually comes with bib shorts is waived. This registered in my head as the bargain of the entire B’Twin lineup – one practically begging to be put to the test. I’m pleased to announce that the pricing has carried over to our shores too. Having had Pearl Izumi’s US- and Japan-/Philippine-market waist shorts, how do these items fare?

How good are these, really?

FEATURES

  • Designed for rides around two hours long
  • Offered in sizes S-XXL; XL size tested
  • Mesh bib straps
  • Double layer construction on thighs
  • Large ventilated pad, preformed, with antibacterial treatment

IMPRESSIONS

On the left is a fresh pair with black thigh cuff. On the right with the blue thigh cuff is the same model of shorts I’ve had since December 2016. Note the B’Twin logo almost totally peeled off on the older pair.

These are pretty simple shorts, mainly made up of black except for the white B’Twin logo and a thigh cuff of your choice of color: blue, orange, red, or the same black of the rest of the shorts. This simplicity means easy pairing with almost any jersey. The thigh cuff does away with any elastic or silicone to help combat it hiking up your leg, but it stays in place nicely even so.

The “yoke” of the bibs that suspends them over your shoulders is a sheer white polyester mesh, with straps that are middling in width. Thicker straps tend to sit flatter for longer, but these have enough weight to them to do so without digging uncomfortably into your shoulders. They’re also set low enough on the waist to enable relatively quick nature breaks…at least for men. Sorry ladies, none of the halter-back-style straps, quick-release buckles, or thoughtful zippers that will help you drop and pee on these shorts.

These stiff, large label tags can be a little obnoxious.

One thing that sticks out like a sore thumb almost immediately is just how huge these label tags are. If you ride around without a base layer, these can potentially chafe on your skin. It’s also a faff trying to keep them inside the bib straps. Cutting them off will help.

Arguably, the main function of any cycling short (aside from keeping you in as civil a state as possible while remaining skin-tight) is to locate the chamois pad correctly against your bum, so that it helps absorb road vibration. In this respect, B’Twin does quite well. I’ve ridden many, many kilometers on the first pair I’ve had, and the pad has never shifted away from its location, which is pretty good to begin with. It’s not too far up on your butt crack, nor is it too far forward of your groin or genital area. This is in contrast to one pair of my Pearl Izumi waist shorts, where the pad effectively folded in under itself in a bizarre fashion inside its top covering.

A look at the chamois pad B’Twin used on these shorts. Again, fresh pair on the left, older pair on the right. It’s subtle, but there’s a difference in the thickness.

B’Twin’s “preformed” pad itself, though…takes a bit of getting used to.

When I first wore my first pair of these shorts, I distinctly remember the pad feeling a little bulky between the legs, somewhat like wearing a diaper while riding. Very little interference in pedaling motion, but I was always aware that it was there. Initial wearings had me persuading the pad to fit better between my legs and crotch before setting off. After buying my subsequent pairs, I noticed the same thing too. Upon further inspection, it’s down to the pad’s sheer thickness.

Lowering the angle shows the thickness difference better between fresh and broken-in. Personally, the older pair is more comfortable to ride in; this pad tends to bunch up a little when new.

The good news is, the chamois pad does compress under your weight, breaking in after a few rides. Once it does, it conforms better to your buttock and perineal area, and it “disappears” from under you as you ride – which is how shorts and saddles should be. It stays that way for quite a long time, too. Decathlon and B’Twin are conservative with the two-hour rating; it can stay comfy for quite a bit more riding. My recommendation, then, is to break in fresh pairs of these B’Twin bib shorts on the turbo trainer for a few sessions to improve their comfort, before taking them out on a significantly long ride.

Pearl Izumi’s US- (left) and Japan-/Philippine-market (right) shorts both have chamois pads that work better straight out of the box.

Aside from the pad needing some work, there are a couple other areas where the shorts feel their price somewhat. That white B’Twin logo on the thigh is reflective, but it peels off a little too quickly, negating the benefit. That “double layer” construction of the shorts may also need some getting used to, as the top layer tends to snag on my saddles’ noses when getting in and out of the saddle. This can be adjusted to, but seeing as I had no such problems with Pearl Izumi’s single-layered shorts, I wonder if there’s actual benefit to the two-layer fabric.

VERDICT

So B’Twin’s 500-series bib shorts aren’t perfect. At that PhP1,100 price though, the relatively minor flaws are forgivable, and can be overcome by wearing them in.

The inside of the cuff reveals no elastic or silicone used to keep them in place on your thighs – it’s just the same spandex of the shorts. The material is such that you don’t really need it.

In my opinion, they get most of the important things right, and they make for quite a decent “graduation” from waist shorts to bib shorts. They don’t offer the best comfort out of the box (break them in for best results), nor are they the best in absolute comfort, so the price premium of big-name brands such as Pearl Izumi, Castelli, or Rapha still has justification. If you’re looking to expand your cycling wardrobe quickly and on the cheap, though, B’Twin has something good here…provided Decathlon actually has them in stock.

Rain protection inside a hot pandesal bun?

One of those things we just have to accept as cyclists is that the weather will not always be on our side. In the Philippines, the onset of rainfall can catch many unaware, especially those that aren’t prepared for it. For a pedestrian commuter, preparation usually consists of an umbrella of some sort. For cyclists, it’s a waterproof outer layer – usually a rain jacket.

Indeed, a rain jacket is a near-permanent fixture on my center jersey pocket on long rides. My particular jacket, though, a Sugoi Zap from 2014, is a bulky item. Rolled up into a cylindrical bundle, it hogs all the center pocket’s space, leaving no room for other items to carry in that location.

As far as waterproofs go, Sugoi’s first hyper-reflective rain jacket was decent. The Pixel fabric incorporated very tiny glass beads for the reflectivity, while taped seams took care of the battle against water ingress, and a mesh inner lining provided insulation. It even has a dropped tail hem to protect your ass from mud if you ride with no fenders.

It has its shortcomings. Breathability is decent, but the only choice you have for venting out your steamed-up sweat is the main zipper. The fit is a little baggy, which is great for riding with street clothes, but adds a bit of drag. I’ve seen the glass beads rub off the fabric, too, after years of living in my center jersey pocket…where its bulk makes its presence felt and seen, as mentioned.

Then I saw Carmela Pearson of Audax Randonneurs Philippines organize a group-buy for the Sportful Hot Pack 5 rain jacket sometime in late 2016. She had had a good experience with it, even riding with it to the Gran Fondo Marmotte in July of that year. I passed on it then, but chanced upon it again a little later, when it went on clearance sale at a discounted price.

FEATURES

  • Advertised weight: 79 grams
  • Made of Schoeller Nanosphere, a windproof, water-resistant polyamide/rayon fabric
  • Reflective accents on the lower back
  • Vented at the back and underarms
  • Packable; comes with its own integrated stuff sack with drawstring

IMPRESSIONS

According to Sportful, this particular jacket is the base model – the “5” refers to the fifth generation of the Hot Pack since it debuted in 2001. Next up the hierarchy is the Ultralight version, which weighs even less at 50 grams, but offers the same benefits. Finally, there is the Hot Pack NoRain Stretch, which keeps the same shape and fit, but adds stretch panels in the back and taped seams for better water resistance – and heaviest of the line at 105 grams. Most of the Hot Pack line is offered in gilet (vest) form, too.

The first thing that struck me with the blue jacket I ordered is just how light and thin it is. It feels around one or two steps removed from flimsy…but remember that this is meant to be an ultra-packable rain jacket, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. The blurb about the Schoeller Nanosphere material is that it’s made up of very fine yarns that are woven very densely, hence the water resistance.

There’s got to be more to it than this initial impression, then.

Putting it on…it’s pretty snug. Mine is an XL sized item, same as the Zap, but the two cannot be more different in practice. Where the Sugoi was baggy, the Hot Pack 5 can almost be called “tailored” to the fit of a rider in a cycling jersey, such is the closeness of its fit to the torso. Naturally it will accentuate any bulges you already have, so getting the sizing right is critical. The material does have a bit of stretch and give, but much less than a typical cycling jersey.

The Hot Pack 5 advertises itself as a windproof, and one useful touch to aid this is found on the ends of the sleeves. They are elasticated and come with thumb loops, to ensure that the sleeves stay in place and do not hike up your arms while riding your road bike. Very neat.

Around the ribcage area below the underarms are overlapping slats cut into the black fabric. These, along with the vents on the back panel, are the Hot Pack 5’s concession to venting the heat and sweat buildup you will inevitably pick up when riding hard in the rain. There’s even a small center pocket, flanked each side by four pieces of reflective material along the lower back. These are placed well for road cyclists’ visibility, as they tend to be bent over the bike.

The real party trick of the Hot Pack 5, though, lies somewhere within the center pocket. Inside is a stuff sack with a drawstring. You can basically roll up the jacket inside this tiny stuff sack…

…and end up with a package as big as a typical “pandesal putok” bun. As it is, mine is just slightly larger than my fist. Rain protection in a package a quarter of the size of the rolled-up Sugoi Zap? Now that is awesome.

I’ve ridden around in this jacket a few times, and it does an admirable job keeping the wind chill out while giving relatively good water resistance. It can actually be rather sweat-inducing if ridden somewhere with no wind. As with many other rain jackets, it’s the arms that tend to wet out first in the rain, but considering that this has no taped seams, it’s quite effective. Your back and torso will stay quite warm and dry even if your forearms have dampened.

VERDICT

Given how light and packable this is, the Hot Pack 5 leaves you absolutely no excuse to not bring a rain jacket and prepare for sudden changes in weather. Again, though, it’s not perfect. Even though Schoeller touts Nanosphere is abrasion-resistant, I do worry about tearing the very thin material in a crash. It’s also not ideal for riding with bulkier street clothes; I think it will accommodate a base layer, a jersey, and arm wamers underneath – at most. It also leaves out some ultimate water resistance on the table by reserving taped seams for the more expensive NoRain version.