Shimano's new R320 shoe had their first public outing in the Olympic road race last summer and I've been testing this pair since September, when I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pre-production sample so I could get the miles in. And getting the miles in I have. In the nearly five months I've been using them, they've proved to be incredibly stiff while still being comfortable for mile after mile. No surprise that they're my new favourite shoes.
The R320 replaced the R315 shoes, which we found to be 'comfortable custom-fit shoes with a supple upper and a rigid carbon sole.' The changes to this latest model are incremental, they've retained most of the key features that made the R315 a top shoe, but focused on making them lighter and stiffer.
A key change is the Dynalast, Shimano's whizzy name for a number of changes including a redesigned stiffer last, with particular emphasis on the toe section, and a redesigned heel cup. They wanted to increase the shoe's efficiency, translating more of your energy into propelling you forward and not allowing it to be lost flexing the shoe. As well as flex, a lot of power can also be lost through your heel slipping in the shoe, here the heel cup wraps around the heel with such a good grasp that there's no slippage. None at all. They're by far the stiffest shoes I've used, far stiffer than the Specialized S-Works I was riding before and stiffer also than the R-315s. Objective completed then.
The sole is brand new as well, with a lower profile than the R315 to decrease the stack height - the measurement from the pedal axle to the ball of the foot. Lower is generally considered better when it comes to stack height. Like their predecessors, the R320s have a full unidirectional carbon fibre sole the difference is that the R320 has a new Hollow Channel design - twin foam-filled channels run along its length - which contribute to the low weight and increased stiffness.
Carried over from the R315 is the Rovenica ultra-fine synthetic leather upper, but it's very different in style to the previous shoe. It is, to my eyes, the best looking shoe Shimano have yet developed. Shimano shoes have always shunned superfluous style, preferring pure function leading aesthetics. While that's still the approach these manage to look good too.
Twin asymmetric Velcro straps with an offset design spread load across the top of the foot comfortably, and a micro-adjust ratcheting buckle is easy to use with a fine range of adjustment to get the fit just right.
There's also more mesh panels on the new shoe, which may be fine in warmer climes, but at the time of writing, they've not seen the rays of sunshine, spending the entire test wrapped up in overshoes.
When it comes to fitting cleats to the sole, Shimano has vastly increased the range of available fore-and-aft adjustment. It's an increase of 11mm which maybe doesn't sounds all that much but if you prefer to fit your cleats at the range of adjustment, the these shoes give you much more scope for getting the cleats in the exact position you require. As bike fit becomes an ever more important part of buying a road bike and performance demands, it's fantastic to see Shimano placing great emphasis on the cleat adjustment. This is perhaps the R320s most appealing feature.
A couple of years ago Shimano bought clothing and shoe brand Pearl Izumi. The first step in the two brands collaborating is in the adjustable soles Shimano has borrowed from Pearl. They allow different height arch support wedges to be place inside the sole. This is an extra level of customisation not previously available with Shimano shoes. Three levels of arch support are available.
A key feature of Shimano's top-end shoes is the Custom-Fit. A thermoplastic material in the upper, heel and insole, which through a short process involving an oven and vacuum pack, are moulded to your foot. Custom-Fit is a free service and any decent bike shop with the right equipment will be only too happy to oblige. It takes about 20-30 minutes all in, which isn't a long time at all to spend on ensuring your new shoes are properly fitted.
The process starts by placing the shoe inside a warm oven and heating it for a few minutes. The shoe is then placed on your foot – and this is where the really clever stuff happens. A plastic bumper is fitted to the toe box, a hose from a small vacuum pump affixed underneath one of the Velcro straps and then a large plastic bag placed over the lot and sealed with a Velcro strap. The vacuum sucks all the air out and the pressure, along with some massaging by the fitter, moulds the shoe to your foot. As the shoe cools, the thermoplastic material hardens to retain its new shape.
And the result of this custom fitting process? An extremely comfortable shoe that literally moulds around the shape of your foot. And because they fit so well, I found I didn't need to apply much tension with the Velcro straps and ratchet to ensure they fit securely to my feet, even during hard bouts of pedalling.
I've been riding them for nearly five months, getting plenty of hard miles on them, and I've not had one single issue throughout the test period. They've continued to be astoundedly comfortable throughout. And they're proper stiff but without giving you sore feet or hot spots. And they look fantastic too.
The R320s will be available in both a normal fit and with an extra wide last, and cost £299.99. Weight for the size 45s in the photo is 589g on our scales. £300 is clearly a load of money, but you can easily spend a lot more. They're also very light for the money too. As an example, the Bont Zero shoes are 87g lighter but £90 pricier. Fizik's classy R3s are £80 cheaper, but 87g heavier.
Light, incredibly stiff and oh so comfortable
road.cc test report
Make and model: Shimano R320 shoes
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Developed in conjunction with pro riders including Edvald Boasson-Hagen, it was first used at the Olympics. The new shoe has a wider cleat adjustment range than before and a new pedalling platform called Dynalast that Shimano reckon saves energy.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
UPPER - Heat moldable Custom-fit Technology
Rovenica® ultra-fine fiber synthetic leather
Supple, lightweight and comfortable
Excellent Elasticity with high memory
Superior durability and high-abrasion resistance
Open mesh for optimal breathability
Anti-slip heel lining, silicon-bonded
Carbon fiber reinforced ergonomic heel cap increases stability Carbon fiber reinforced ergonomic heel cap increases stability and heel holding ability for efficient riding
Custom-fit insole with adjustable arch wedge provides support of rider foot arch to optimize the heel born stabilization
LAST - Shimano Dynalast secures the foot into the ideal ergonomic position for a more efficient up stroke
SOLE - Shimano Dynalast technology sole
Light weight hollow channel, ultra-rigid, weaved carbon fiber composite sole with adjustable cleat mount
Available in half sizes and wide type
Best matched with Dura-Ace PD-9000
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They're fantastically comfortable and stiff, a perfect combination that makes them the ideal shoe for the performance cyclist
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The fit and the comfort
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
There's nothing I really dislike about them. They even look good, which is a surprise
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
A brilliant top-end race shoe
About the tester
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.