Comfy as slippers, safe to walk in and sharp looks too. Shimano's new RT81 shoes are a brilliant mix of proper road shoe and real world practicality. If you want a road shoe without the hassle of using road pedals, this is it: a road shoe for SPD pedals or indeed any other clipless pedal that with cleats designed along the lines of Shimano's mountain biking and commuter offerings.
To the casual observer these look like regular road shoes and damned handsome ones at that. In metallic bronze leather, highlighted with white flashes and with subtle, deepset reflective dots on the rear they look both sharp and purposeful. Flip them over and you get the true picture. Instead of a regular smooth carbon or plastic underside these have a thick layer of rubber, with massive bumpers either side of the cleat plate. This adds a little extra weight but makes them incredibly easy to walk in. My colleagues usually comment, with wearying regularity, about the clip-clop that heralds my arrival at work. Not so with these, I can sneak up in total silence and tickle them with a tyre lever if I want to. Polished floors no longer hold terror and stairs can be tackled without fear of finishing up head down and two floors lower than intended.
The rubber outer layer covers a fairly basic plastic sole which means that they are less rigid than a regular race shoe while offering more support than a soft leisure shoe. However, that translates into greater comfort both on and off the bike and if you're spending hours in the saddle either touring or on a long audax that extra comfort is easily going to pay back the small energy cost of not having a sole of iron and they really are amazingly comfortable. Shimano shoes usually come up thin and long but these accommodated my wide hobbit feet with no trouble. The velcro straps and ratchet buckle (which can be moved further down the shoe if you wish) offer easy adjustment and black micro-mesh panels on top take care of ventilation duties.
The sole plate is only drilled for two bolt cleats (the rubber bumpers preclude anything else) so you're limited to either SPDs or one of the other MTB style cleats which of course means you aren't limited to single-sided road pedals, but can also get the extrea benefits of ease of entry that double sided pedals offer, useful for commutes. I used these with Crank Bros cleats quite happily and there are plenty of pedal systems out there that these will work with. So if you've already got a set of MTB or commuting pedals you can have some road shoes without having to go to the expense of buying road pedals too. Shimano have taken things one stage further by producing a road pedal, the PDA600 SPD, aimed primarily at touers that uses their two bolt SPD cleat - so you can have the full road look and still have a shoe you can walk about in.
They might not appeal to hardcore roadies but tourists, audaxers, commuters and occasional sportive riders will absolutely love these shoes.
Fantastic shoes. For us non-racers these shoes are just about perfect.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Shimano RT81 shoes
Size tested: 43
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 40 Height: 5\' 8 Weight: er....86kg
I usually ride: GT Rave - singlespeed conversion My best bike is: Guess SC1 scandium
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed,