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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The clipless diaries, part 6: Shimano Deore PD-M530 SPD pedals

As I found myself using the turbo trainer more often, clipless pedals made more sense as they allow me to keep my feet planted while I spin high cadences during interval training. I quickly realized just how much I disliked the effort of swapping pedals between bikes, how many tools it required, and how much time it took…the added faff has the potential to discourage me from logging in my training.

I needed another set of SPD pedals. I got a good deal on a barely used pair of Shimano’s PD-M530s. Nominally part of the Deore groupset, this is perhaps the company’s most basic SPD pedal with an external cage.

Like the Saint PD-MX80 flat pedals, the M530s thread into cranks either with a 6 mm hex wrench, or a 15 mm pedal wrench. At 455 g they’re around the same weight, too; weight weenies need not apply. They’re plenty strong, though, as is typical with Shimano pedals.

I like the workmanlike, minimalist aesthetic. No groupset branding to shout, just the Shimano logotype on the outside vertical face. In silver, those would be even stealthier and hide scratches better. Seems there’s lots of room for any mud to fall off the pedal body, too – not that I’ll be testing this, as most of my riding is on asphalt.

The PD-M530 pedals look pretty good paired with the FC-R565 crank. Non-series? No problem.

Had I bought these brand-new, they would have come with the black SH51 single-release SPD cleats. Not a bad bundle for PhP1600 SRP. There are vastly more expensive versions of this basic design, but your added cash isn’t necessarily getting you a better-working pedal – you’re really just paying for exotic materials and weight savings.

Perhaps not the best option for beginners, though…

Compared to my existing Deore XT T780 pedals, the M530s have a much tighter hold built into their SPD mechanism. I think it’s down to a spring with stronger tension. Set to minimum, the cleat retention is as strong as the T780s set to half or even 70% of maximum. It took me a bit of getting used to, but it does eliminate any chance of unwanted release. In contrast, the SPD bindings of the T780s have relaxed over time; sometimes my cleats pop out of them when my pedaling motion isn’t as straight as it should be on the turbo trainer.

The stronger release tension does mean more foresight needed for unclipping in urban riding scenarios, though. In that respect, they’re a little less newbie-friendly, even paired with SH56 multi-release cleats. The T780 or something like Shimano’s Click’R line would be better for nervous newbies to learn on, the latter due to their SPD bindings having 60% less spring tension.

Clockwise from top left: Deore PD-M530 double-sided SPD; Deore XT PD-T780 SPD+platform; Saint PD-MX80 platform

With the M530s, I now have quite a spectrum of pedals – all of them below PhP3500. The Saint MX80s are my reliable platform pedals, further customizable with traction pins; these are going into storage, going back on when my wife feels like riding with me. The Deore XT T780s are my commuter pedals, sporting a platform side, an SPD binding side, and reflectors in the pedal cage. The Deore M530s, with SPD bindings on both sides, are for maximum foot retention for take-no-prisoners riding.

The clipless diaries, part 5: Before and after

So, pratfalls aside, how have clipless pedals changed my riding?

It took a while for me to get comfortable in them. I came from a flat pedal background, so when I tried driving my leg force through the pedal body, I found validity in some people’s claim of “hot spots” on the foot since the SPD mechanism effectively “shrinks” the pedal into a lump. Initially, my feet were curling up trying to apply the power to what they felt of the pedal body…which isn’t much. As hard as it is to believe, this might also be down to the RT33 shoes themselves not being the stiffest; Shimano rate them a 5 out of a possible 12 on their own stiffness scale.

Backing off, I relaxed and tried to just spin the pedals. This felt much better. With some more practice, I found the key was to drive the power through the shoes, not the pedals. With the shoe locked on the pedal, it effectively serves as an extension of the pedal body, so leg power can be delivered without applying as much force.

One thing clipless pedal advocates love to talk about is how the system lets you pull up on the pedals to make power – recruiting more muscles and effectively “doubling” your leg power. Hmmm, okay. While this is true, I doubt the force delivered by pulling up on the pedals is anywhere close to that of pushing down on them, or leg extension. Even with flat pedals, I could recruit my hamstrings and glutes by sliding rearward on the saddle, and even with clipless pedals, the act of pedaling is still primarily driven by the quadriceps muscle.

However, I felt that at higher cadences it’s easier to spin, and do so with more controlled power along slightly more of the pedal travel, than on flat pedals – resulting in more efficient pedaling and a higher average speed. Along BF Parañaque’s bumpy Concha Cruz Drive, on a tempo effort with flat pedals, my pace tends to drop from 20 km/h to around 16 at the exit gate. On the clipless setup, I could maintain 20 km/h the whole length, sometimes even breaking it. The benefits will only show up when I put in the effort, though.

The other situation where the clipless system comes into its own is when riding out of the saddle. Mashing away at lower cadence, or when sprinting hard, I no longer need to think about my foot positioning on the pedal or the feeling of my shins twisting from ankle over-pronation. I just drive each body-weighted pedal stroke to the ground.

So… As a friend asked me recently, am I now a clipless pedal advocate? I would have to say “it depends.”

If I were to ride mountain bike trails again, I wouldn’t be too keen on committing to clipless all the time. Let’s face it, there are unfamiliar features that can catch you out, requiring a dab of the foot off the pedals and on the ground. It’s here that the multi-release cleats are handy. If I’m on an initial reconnaissance run of the trails, I’d probably be on the T780 pedals’ platform side. That’s more due to my relative inexperience on trails.

On the road, the argument is much more straightforward. My particular setup gives most of the benefits of clipless pedals with very few of the drawbacks. Occasional cleat scraping and shouty logo on the top strap aside, the RT33 shoes even look like something you could take to the office, so it’s much easier to commit to the system more often.

Finally, on the days I can’t ride with “special cycling shoes” for whatever reason, the T780 pedals make it relatively easy to keep riding Hyro anyway. There also are other pedals with the same concept to choose from, such as Shimano’s light-action Click’R PD-T420, the classic PD-M324, and the sportier PD-A530.