When choosing a new set of cycling shoes, women typically face a lot more difficulties than your average guy. Shops don’t sell as many women’s shoes, so they don’t stock as many.
For the same reason, most brands typically don’t make as many women’s shoes as they do men’s or ‘unisex’ models, particularly at the high end. For way too long, a large number of women have had to special order their size from a compromised selection, cross their toes and hope they fit.
Available in sizes EU36-44, the WR84 is the top women’s road shoe from Shimano and is the equivalent of the men’s R171, which ranges from sizes 38-50 and is the second from the top in the men’s range. We’ve reviewed the R171 before and this women’s offering incorporates all the same features, delivered with a women’s fit and black/blue colour scheme.
The WR84 is a welcome addition to the Shimano range. While the name doesn’t roll off the tongue, the shoe itself is light to hold, bling to look at, and feels luxurious to wear. It extends the women’s specific selection to riders with racing aspirations, without being so over-the-top that you’ll be frightened to wear it on training or social rides.
Shimano's 'Surround Upper' helps to wrap the shoe over the foot for greater support
The stiff carbon composite sole is a real highlight and allows you to deliver power straight to the pedals. The upper has a synthetic outer, and a soft lining on the inside. Its wraparound construction provides a light, glove-like sensation aided by the placement of three straps on top. The lower strap has two points of adjustment and rotates at its attachment point, meaning you can get the placement of this strap just right.
The women’s fit translates to narrower toe area, lower overall volume and narrower heel cup. Having used some of Shimano’s very first women’s road and mountain bike shoes about ten years ago, I found the fit of these much improved. There was no more heal slip, no hot spots, and the front of the shoe was still roomy enough for my broad Australian feet. In fact, the stability provided by the last and the wraparound upper meant my feet didn’t move around in the shoes, even with the straps fairly relaxed.
Supplied insoles offer a set arch support. It would be nice for Shimano to supply its more adaptive alternative
The insoles appear to be a women’s version of Shimano’s dual-density cup insole. This design uses a denser foam under the heal and arch to increase support, longevity and comfort.
The custom-fit, heat-malleable insoles, included in the top of the line men’s R321 shoe ($300 / £TBC / AU$459), are available separately for about $45 / £TBC / AU$45 and add to the pro factor. These would be a valuable addition and would make the WR84s feel more like a top-of-the-line option while the market catches up. Specialized’s similarly priced insoles (which I’ve used in a previous shoe test) also fitted nicely and reduced the impacts of my high arch on pedalling and comfort. I was pleased to find that the shoe was still roomy enough with this added material.
Move those red inserts for greater fore-aft cleat adjustment range
One of the biggest difficulties with buying a new pair of road shoes is the set-up factor in relation to the related accessories you may need to purchase with them. It’s up to the user to figure out that the red material in the cleat holes in the WR84s can be moved to increase the forward-back range of cleat positions and that alternate insoles exist in appropriate sizes (right down to 35).
The Shimano SPD pedals I bought to test with these shoes were also bereft of any set-up advice. Given the importance and difficulty of setting up road cleats correctly, some more informative instructions from Shimano to consumers would be a helpful value-add. And given the large number of users buying these products online, or not wanting to pay extra cash for a bike fit at a shop, it would not only improve the experiences of customers, but stop the company losing long-term riders to other brands due to incorrect set up rather than a shortcoming of the product itself.
Having said this, by the time I got these related factors sorted, and isolated variables such as cleat set-up, pedal system and body particularities from the equation, the resulting ride experience confirmed the WR84s to be the most comfortable road shoes I’ve had the pleasure of using.
The WR84's are only available in black
Given the fit and comfort provided by the women’s last, it would take a lot of convincing to return to a unisex model. The design appears quite durable given the cost, aided by the robust sole material under the heal and toe, and the black colour is a winner with any cyclist who would rather spend more time pedalling than cleaning their kit.
They’ll do the job very well indeed, but – as shown by competitors' more instructive fit systems and other models in the men’s range – there is still room for improvement for this top-level offering. Despite a bumpy introduction, the functionality of the design has certainly won me over in the long term.