With many in the Tour de France peloton wearing shoes with dial closures this summer, do ratchet straps mark Shimano’s R171 shoes as things of antiquity?
Pros: Very stiff, very comfortable, good heel protection, great cleat alignment range
Cons: Ratchet isn’t as accurate as a dial; not the airiest on the market
The R171 shoes are extremely similar in looks to the Japanese brand’s top-end R321 offerings, and sit under these in Shimano’s price scale – Ultegra to the R321’s Dura-Ace. Despite being half the price of the pro-level shoes, the R171 gets just about all the same features except for custom moulding.
The Surround perforated upper is made from ultra-light Teijin Avail 100 synthetic material, which is designed to improve fit and increase support under power. The white section wraps from the outside of the foot almost to the inside arch, incorporating a padded tongue. The black section then covers this and is secured via two Velcro straps and one ratchet, which has two mounting points via a 2.5mm hex bolt for a more custom fit. It’s a pretty smooth setup that looks a bit like you’re wearing half an aero shoe cover.
The inner section of the surround upper almost closes on the inside arch: the inner section of the surround upper almost closes on the inside arch
The Surround upper encases the whole foot, reducing hotspots and keeping the foot secure under power
The full carbon sole incorporates Shimano’s Dynalast technology and is designed to be very stiff but with a bit of toe spring, which the company says offers smoother, more efficient pedalling with less energy loss. The shoes retain the longer fore-aft cleat adjustment slots of the R170s, which give around 1cm of extra movement beyond what your cleats offer.
There are also heel and toe bumpers to avoid damage to the carbon when walking. The heel protector is a chunky number that seems to have done its bit in protecting the sole, with only a few small scuffs and scratches in about 300 miles of riding despite this tester’s gravel driveway.
There are the odd to-be-expected scuffs, but the heel bumpers seem to do their jobs well: there are the odd to-be-expected scuffs, but the heel bumpers seem to do their jobs well
The shoes have fared quite well against gravel and gritty roads
The insole is made from dual density foam and is shaped to help cup the heel, which is also supported by a fairly stiff, padded heel cup.
Ventilation-wise, there are hundreds of perforations on the upper along with a mesh vent over the top of the toebox. There’s also one vent on the sole under the toes. The R171s aren’t quite as cool as shoes with more mesh, such as Pearl Izumi’s Elite RD IVs, but there was certainly no overheating in warm, sunny conditions.
Out on the bike, it’s clear what a stiff base this is, with no noticeable flex whether sprinting or grinding up climbs. The Surround upper really adds to this feeling, keeping you totally locked in but without discomfort.
There’s never the sense that you’re just pulling against the straps – feet feel planted to the insole and securely hugged, perfecting the interface between foot and pedal. The ratchet strap doesn’t seem to have quite as many engagement clicks as a dial, and depending on sock thickness, a little more control would’ve been nice. It’s probably not something you’ll dwell on while riding, but the competition is starting to pull away from Shimano in this department.
It’s worth noting that the R171s seemed to come up a little larger than other older Shimano shoes I’ve used. At 296g per shoe (592g for the pair) in size 45, they’re certainly on a par with other shoes in this price bracket.
Overall, Shimano’s R171s are top performing road shoes that are undoubtedly stiff, and comfortable enough to render the lack of custom shaping irrelevant. The ratchet strap might not be the ultimate closure system, but it’s not dead yet.
Check out the gallery above for more images of the R171 shoes.