I appreciate a well made shoe. Trainers are a particular weak spot but my favourite pair of shoes are a pair of Barker leather brogues. I love the craftsmanship, the detail and the quality of the leather. They exude a humble class. Sure you might be able to pick up a similar looking shoe from your favourite discount footwear emporium but there’s something about the Barkers that means you can tell they are a bit special. What I like most though is how they make me feel – with them on my feet I know that if it came to shoe top trumps I’d win. Hands down. I have a similar level of love for the Shimano M163s for a lot of the same reasons.
Shimano introduced their Shimano Pedalling Dynamics system 25 years ago and these limited edition grey and yellow M163s are a tip of the hat to the M100s, Shimano’s first SPD shoe. At first glance they look like an XC disco slipper but Shimano are keen to emphasise that these are very much designed with trail and enduro riding in mind. It’s not all talk either, there are some very neat details that make the M163s one of the best trail shoes to have ever graced my feet.
The synthetic leather upper is subtly armoured on the side of the toe box, helping protect your little toe from trailside impacts, while the upper of the uppers is meshed to keep your feet cool. There’s enough padding around the heel to provide cushioning but not so much that they feel like they’ve been filled with concrete if they get wet. They feel well put together without being over the top – everything you need, nothing you don’t, enough flair to look special but without appearing too flashy.
The M163s use two offset velcro straps and a ratchet to keep things snug on your foot. The offset helping reduce pressure on the top of the foot, meaning it’s possible to get a very snug fit without any pressure points. The ratchet works with typical Shimano efficiency and the mechanism is protected by a small plastic lip to avoid those awkward situations where you’ve smashed the mechanism on a rock and can’t get your foot out.
The clever bits aren’t all external though. TORBAL is Shimano’s attempt to build the right kind of flex into a stiff sole. Stiffness means efficiency which is fine if you’re just sat in one position and spinning away, but mountain biking is a dynamic activity – you’re nearly constantly altering your position on the bike and moving your feet within the shoe. TORBAL keeps the front of the shoe stiff while allowing a degree of flex towards the rear – it’s the mullet of the cycling shoe world, business up front, party at the back. This flex allows your heels to move and giving greater control and comfort.
Shimano has also introduced longer cleat tracks on the sole allowing cleats to be positioned much further towards the centre of the shoe. Coming from a flat pedal background this is something I really appreciate. I hate being perched on the balls on my feet, so having the ability to position the pedal towards the middle of my foot makes for a much more pleasant clipping-in experience.
The combination of flex in the sole and the ability to run a rearward cleat position mean that the M163s feel more confidence inspiring in downhill and technical trail situations than even a lot of more DH orientated skate style shoes. Shimano pedals typically run a small amount of float (side to side movement), great for unclipping quickly but not so good if you like to wiggle your foot around a bit on the pedal. TORBAL allows you to have a bit of the float feel but still have that quick to unclip ability.
You’re not going to be clipped in all the time and the black outer tread is grippy enough that you don’t have to worry about a bit of hike-a-bike, but the yellow sections are made of a much harder rubber. Shimano say this is to increase durability in areas where the pedal might come into contact with the shoe but it does make things a little terrifying when you clamber over a rounded rock or tree trunk. Think Bambi on ice.
Like most Shimano shoes the M163s come up quite narrow and there’s no wider option, you’ll need to look to the cheaper M089 or the more expensive M200 to get TORBAL with a wider fit.
Even for technical trail duties I’d take these over a set of more DH orientated shoes, including Shimano’s own classic AM45s. TORBAL works and allows you to have more control over the bike without losing all-day pedaling efficiency. Combined with the longer cleat tracks Shimano have made a shoe that addresses the needs of many riders who are looking to mix pedaling efficiency and technical control. The fact that the M163s are supremely comfortable, well made and understated just adds to their appeal, much like my Barkers.
As of the 1st September, Shimano has dropped the price of the M163 Ltd edition to £129.99 WITH a pair of Ltd edition M530 pedals included. The regular M163 also dropped to £99.99. (Regular M530 pedals cost £34.99.)
|Price:||£129.99 (WITH M530 Pedals) - £99 Standard|
|Tested:||by Sim for Three Months|