Where angels fear to tread
Fearing my old shoes wouldn’t last the duration of the Atlas Mountain Race (see my ride-report HERE), I went looking for replacements. I had a list of criteria that I knew would be tricky to meet. Stiff enough for efficient pedalling, but also comfy for when the inevitable hike-a-bike reared its ugly head. I also wanted a grippy tread pattern and decent ventilation for the (hopefully!) warm weather. These simple requirements instantly ruled out a huge swathe of the options out there, neither stiff XC racing disco slippers nor bulky enduro skate shoes would be ideal.
What are the options?
Shimano’s MT (Mountain Touring) range looked like they might be the the third way. Shimano’s MT rage consists of the the MT3 (Lace up & perforated upper), MT5 (Speed-laces & mesh upper) and these MT7 with a mesh/TPU(Thermoplastic polyurethane) upper and boa system for retention. There is also an MT7-GTX with a Gore-Tex liner, but I’m not convinced at how effective that might be on a low-cut shoe.
Out of the box the first impressions are of a trail-running shoe that happens to have cleat slots. The sole has chunky aggressive tread, and to my delight, it’s made up of separate lugs. Quite a few shoes have lugs that are joined together which tends to reduce their effectiveness. The sole also has a grippy-rubber feel, totally different to the hard plastic tread of the DHB Dorica Shoes that are fine in mud but struggle on smooth or wet rock.
Regarding fit, the MT7 are the same size as my usual in Shimano shoes. Initially they did feel a touch tight but strangely as I tightened the BOA it actually seem to reduce tightness around my toes! Obviously, they feel stiffer than non-riding shoes but not so much that you’d begin to dread wearing them day in, day out, for a week. The cleats are installed in the same way as you would with any other SPD compatible shoe.
On the bike
Despite the wider running shoe style I didn’t find the sole rubbed the cranks or stays and the chunky tread didn’t interfere with clipping in. The MT7 have a sole-stiffness rating of 4 on Shimano’s scale. To put this in context, their top road racing shoe is a 12 and their flat-pedal mountain bike shoes are a 2. While they obviously lack that feeling of urgency that a carbon-soled race shoe, I didn’t feel like I was pottering along in a pair of deck shoes.
In the run up to the AMR the weather was ghastly so wearing mesh-upper shoes was a non-starter. Apart from a couple of dry rides to check the cleat position, I broke them in by simply wearing them as everyday shoes. Aside from the inevitable grit-crunching the MT7s were fine in this role. In the 25-30+° temperatures of Morocco the mesh kept my feet comfortable. When there was a stiff breeze I could even feel it through the shoes! After a week (1150km) of riding I had no complaints about the MT7s. There were no aches from pedalling, they gripped when hike-a-biking and my vague fear that the BOA might jam with dust proved unfounded. The initial feelings of tightness also went as the shoes developed a bit of give during this extended use.
My one real complaint about the Shimano MT-7s only became apparent on my return. With 170hrs of riding and bivi-ing in the same socks (sorry!) the MT7s smelled really bad! As I cleaned them for the after pictures (I know, ruining the dusty patina, but they were too awful to leave!) it became apparent that the sole had taken a battering. The uppers (that I saw every day!) have the odd scuff but otherwise have scrubbed up like new. The sole however has visibly worn down and several of the lugs are missing or soon to depart the shoe! This is a serious black mark against what are otherwise brilliant footwear.
This is where things get tricky. On one hand (foot?) the Shimano MT-7 are comfortable, grippy and all you might want in a bikepacking shoe. On the other, another week of rocky ITT riding could see considerably more of the tread falling off! Because of this, at their full RRP I might struggle to recommend the MT7s. Shop around and you can probably find a pair discounted that would make the sole’s short lifespan more bearable. The MT7 has been updated for 2020 but the changes seem restricted to the upper, the tread pattern (and the rubber compound?) remain unchanged.
Last modified: 24th March 2020