We’ve just been introduced to Shimano’s latest wheeze – custom-fitted shoes. The technology, found on the company’s top-of-the-range R300 (road) and M300 (MTB) shoes, is vaguely similar to the heat-and-fit boot liners commonplace in snowboard and skiing boots, but goes somewhat further in that the entire shoe is shaped to fit.
Allow us to elaborate. The shoe and footbed are made from a cunning thermosetting material that can be reshaped when hot and retains that shape when it cools. Out of the box, the shoes feel just like any other Shimano shoe – the first step (so to speak) is to get the right size. Once that’s sorted, the magic can happen.
Inside the box are some stick-on
arch support wedges that you can attach underneath the footbeds if you wish. Once that’s done, the insoles come out and the rest of the shoe goes into an oven (130°C for 2-2½ minutes, for the chefs among you). The freshly-warmed shoe then has the footbed replaced and your foot put in it. This is, as you would expect, an agreeably cosy sensation – if Shimano could arrange for the shoes to be this warm all the time they’d really be on to something.
Then comes the clever bit. A plastic bumper clips on to the toe box so that you maintain a bit of wiggle room, the hose of a vacuum pump is tucked into the middle Velcro strap and the whole ensemble, foot and all, goes inside a plastic bag, sealed at the ankle. The pump goes on and atmospheric pressure squishes the softened shoe on to your foot, with it taking on the shape of said appendage as it does so. At this stage you have the slightly odd sensation of one warm foot with an ever-decreasing amount of circulation in it and the other foot getting ever chillier on account of being in the line of fire of the pump exhaust.
The process is repeated for the other shoe, and then the footbeds are moulded by a similar process – heat, place inside shoes, put shoes on, stand in a slightly bent-legged stance with weight on the balls of your feet for a little while, and the job’s done.
And very comfy the result is too (if potentially odd-looking if you have strangely-shaped feet). We haven’t had a chance to ride in them yet, but most of the people we spoke to who’d had a fitting had high hopes, especially those who have trouble finding shoes that don’t suffer from heel lift. We’ll let you know how they perform soon.
At the moment there’s only a small number of UK shops set up to fit the custom shoes (although those that are are also well-equipped to knock up a quick tuna melt between fittings), but we fully expect this technology to trickle down through Shimano’s shoe range and become more widespread in shops. If you want to do the early-adopter thing you’ll need to find £180 for a pair of R300 or M300 shoes. Don’t worry about messing the fitting up first time, though – the shoes are guaranteed to be able to be remoulded three times.