BikeRadar's Colorado office just took delivery of a box of new Shimano shoes and pedals for 2012. While we're as excited as anyone to lay our hands on top-end kit, it's good to see that once-premium technologies have now trickled down in price to more mid-range gear that a wider percentage of riders can readily enjoy.
Ultegra PD-6700-C SPD-SL road pedals – svelte carbon bodies with big platforms
Hot off the heels of Shimano's excellent Dura-Ace carbon-bodied road pedals come the new Ultegra 6700-C variants, which are just barely heavier at 260g per pair (plus 75g for cleats and hardware) but US$50 cheaper at $299, offering better bang for the buck.
Other performance differences seem similarly slight. Like the flagship models, the new Ultegra pedals use extra-wide carbon bodies, but with lower-cost short-fiber molded construction instead of Dura-Ace's longer-fiber build. This should make the Dura-Ace pedals stronger and stiffer but it's highly unlikely any rider will ever notice (we don't expect to).
Replaceable stainless steel plates are bolted to the tops of the bodies for durability and to reduce friction on the included cleats, and the chromoly axles are again cartridge-style for easy maintenance but with a slightly less complex bearing arrangement to keep the costs more reasonable.
The Shimano Ultegra carbon pedal bodies are a near perfect copy of the Dura-Ace version but with shorter carbon fibers strands to bring the cost down
Mesh-free SH-XC50N shoes – perfect for muddy 'cross races
Shimano don't explicitly label their new SH-XC50N shoes as cyclo-cross-specific but they pretty much are with their mesh-free uppers and reinforced nylon soles. As compared to the standard synthetic leather-and-mesh XC50 model, this 'N' variant should be far less apt to suck in sand and mud during a race and we expect them to feel slightly warmer in chilly conditions, too.
That reinforced nylon midsole is impressively rigid but still flexible enough for run-ups and barriers, while a bit of extra rubber on the outsole provides extra security if you miss a pedal during a remount. Optional toe spikes lend even more traction when the ground is especially loose.
Otherwise, the upper construction reflects Shimano's common design features at the moment, including offset forefoot straps and a ratcheting main strap with a two-position buckle anchor instead of an adjustable strap. The heel cup does without any external add-ons or a one-way 'cat's tongue' liner but heel hold seems to be pretty good at this point regardless. Actual weight of our size 44 testers (the XC50N is only offered in whole sizes) is a reasonable 771g for the pair and retail price is $159.
The Shimano SH-XC50N shoes might be a little warm during the summer months but their mesh-free uppers should retain a bit more warmth in the fall and winter
BMX-inspired SH-AM45 shoes and PD-M530 trail pedals
BikeRadar's UK testing team have already delivered their verdict on Shimano's chunky SH-AM45 shoes and PD-M530 trail pedals, but it'll be interesting to see how they perform under the different riding conditions found here in the US.
The shoes aim to combine the flexibility of flat-soled shoes with the added security of being clipped in. The 100 percent synthetic outer and heavily armored outsole are clearly designed with protection in mind, with big molded rubber bumpers guarding the outer edge of the foot from rock strikes while the raised inner side cushions inadvertent crankarm contact.
Shimano build the AM45 with their roomier 'Volume+' last so there's more room to wiggle in dicey situations if needed. The stout midsole plate is still surprisingly rigid to maintain good pedaling efficiency. Full laces provide a tunable fit and the Velcro lace cover keeps them from getting tangled up in your drivetrain.
All that protection and the grippy full-rubber outsole add up to a lot of weight, though, with our pair of size 44 testers coming in at a hefty 1,181g and while the full 36-48 size range is fairly accommodating, Shimano only offer the AM45s in whole sizes. Pricing is at least very reasonable at just US$99/£39.99.
Shimano's AM45 shoes are designed for BMX/gravity use but they make great all-around aggressive trail riding kicks, too
Shimano's XTR M985 and XT M785 trail pedals have impressed us with their just-right medium-sized alloy platforms and proven SPD interface but they're too expensive for many riders. Shimano have remedied that for 2012 with the new M530 model costing just $65 – just $10 more than the ultra-popular (and durable) M520.
Weight climbs about 75g to 456g per pair (claimed, without cleats) but the bonus is a much larger and wider platform that should provide more support for your feet, especially when using semi-rigid trail shoes. Those front and rear alloy loops should lend a bit of extra protection to the cleat mechanisms in technical terrain, too.
Shimano fit these entry-level trail pedals with their basic cartridge-style axle but even that still uses a mix of cartridge and adjustable cup-and-cone bearings in a simple and well-sealed layout that's proven to be highly durable in years past. We're not sure how well it will hold up under real world use but if the basic black color option doesn't suit you, Shimano are offering the PD-M530s in white, too.
Shimano's new PD-M530 pedals provide the same shoe stability as the XT and XTR trail pedals but at a much, much lower price