Wil Reviews The Shimano AM702 Shoes
When it comes to clip-in mountain bike shoes, riders are typically presented with two options. The traditional approach is to go for an XC-style shoe, which is basically a road shoe with some tread thrown on. For racing, where weight and stiffness are the primary concerns, that’s a good shout. But for everyday trail riding? Not so much. For that kind of riding, you want something burlier. Something that offers more protection and greater traction for off-the-bike excursions, while providing smooth engagement with broad platform clip-in pedals. Oh and most importantly, it also needs to blend in discreetly at the pub.
Over the past summer, I’ve been using a pair of Shimano’s newly redesigned AM7 shoes to see whether they fit the bill, or not.
2020 Shimano Footwear Updates
Having invented the SPD pedal and shoe combination some 30 years ago, Shimano has an enormous range of footwear. Its off-road line includes classic XC shoes, winter-specific options, touring footwear, and of course the iconic SPD sandal.
For more gravity-oriented mountain biking, Shimano has numerous options. The Japanese brand splits its burliest off-road shoes into two distinct categories; the GR series (flat pedals) and the AM series (clip-in pedals). For 2020, both lines have been updated with improved protection, new uppers, and grippier rubber soles.
Within the AM range, there are three different options – the AM5 ($149.95), AM7 ($189.95) and AM9 ($239.95). All three models utilise exactly the same rubber outsole, but get unique uppers with different retention systems and varying levels of protection. On test here is the mid-level option in the range, the AM7 (or SH-AM702 as Shimano refers to it).
Sizing & Fit
Compared to Shimano’s XC shoes, the AM series features the ‘Volume Tour Last’, which basically means they’re wider at the ball of the foot to provide more freedom for your feet to spread out. Being a size 45 EU in other Shimano shoes, I requested the same for these. However, the extra volume meant my feet were floating around a little more than I would have liked. I ended up then trying a pair of 44s, which have fitted perfectly. If you already own a pair of Shimano shoes, this sizing differential is worth considering, as you may need to go down a size with the new AM shoes.
Despite the higher volume, it’s worth noting that these aren’t super wide. They’re noticeably narrower than a pair of Five Ten Hellcats for example, which are what I’d usually recommend for those with freakishly wide feet. They’re more middle-of-the-road in terms of width, and overall I’d say the sizing of the new AM7 is quite similar to the Giro Chamber II, Bontrager Rally, and Specialized 2FO Clip 2.0 shoes.
Whereas the AM9 gets the funky storm-flap and speedlace system, the AM7 kicks it old school with laces. Having used both, I actually prefer the laces, since it allows you to adjust the upper’s tension more evenly over the length of your feet. I also dig the elastic ‘lace guard’, which keeps the flappy bits from, well, flapping. For increased security, there’s a Velcro retention strap at the top, along with a moulded heel cap to better lock your foot in place. Also nice to see is the addition of a sturdy loop at the back for pulling the shoes on.
Internal padding is kept to a minimum – only the inside of the heel and the underside of the tongue are padded. The upper is otherwise quite thin around the rest of the foot, giving a snug and close-fitting feel when the laces and Velcro strap are tightened down. Compared to the previous AM7, the new model gets a sleeker and tidier upper that is basically seam-free, helping to keep the external profile nice and lean. Despite being aimed at ‘gravity’ riding, it’s certainly less bulky than its competitors.
Platform Pedal Friendly
Shimano states that the AM shoes have been designed specifically around the latest Saint M820 SPD pedal. This is to say that the underside of the shoe is profiled to increase surface contact with the broader platform of the Saint pedal.
Since I don’t own Saint SPD pedals, I’ve been using the AM7 shoes with Shimano’s XT Trail pedals instead. These have fitted without issue, and there’s still excellent support between the rubber sole and the broad pedal platform. This is aided by the additional flexibility through the AM7 midsole, which gets a stiffness rating of 6 (for reference, a Shimano XC9 shoe is an 11). This flexibility makes it a good match for a big platform pedal – think Crank Brothers Mallet, Nukeproof Horizon CS & CL, HT Components T1 & X2, DMR V-Twin etc.
However, it is less ideal with a traditional lollypop pedal shape. I’ve also used the AM7s with a pair of XT Race pedals, and while engagement and release are fine, there’s more lateral wobble. And on longer rides, you’re more likely to develop a hot-spot in the ball of your foot, since there’s insufficient stiffness through the shoe’s midsole to distribute that pressure. That’s to be expected though – these aren’t carbon race shoes after all. It just highlights that you’re much better off pairing these shoes with a broad platform pedal, which is what they’re designed for.
New-School Cleat Setup
For its gravity-oriented shoes, Shimano has employed an extra long cleat channel to help ease entry. If you look closer, you’ll notice that the profile of the channel is designed to mirror the engagement ‘wings’ of a Shimano SPD pedal. The idea is that you can partially rest your shoes on top of the pedal without actually clipping in. On the trail, it does work, but it isn’t something you’d actively rely on – it just gives you a little extra security if you’ve accidentally unclipped and you need to rest a foot for a brief moment.
The vertical cleat slots themselves are positioned a little further back to facilitate a new-school riding position. I run them as far back as possible, which puts the ball of my feet further over the pedal axle. This means I can more comfortably drop my ankles without blowing out my achilles and calf muscles on really long descents. Of note is that the cleat slots actually get longer on the bigger shoe sizes, which provide a greater range of adjustment for bigger feet.
Hike That Bike!
The biggest change to the AM7s outsole however, is in its tread design. Shimano has worked in a softer rubber compound, and it’s also built in proper tread lugs not unlike what you’d see on a hiking boot. This differs to the previous AM7, and many other ‘gravity’ riding shoes, which feature significantly lower profile tread – not unlike a skate shoe.
The result is vastly superior traction, with far more grip on scrabbly dust and loose rocks – something I’ve discovered after many a mid-climb bailout. It’s also been great for traipsing around in the bush on a photoshoot, or for scaling up boulders to scout out a sweet view mid-ride. I’ve done the same thing with fancy XC race shoes, but as well as being way sketchier, it’s also a sure-fire way to tear them up fast. These AM7s on the other hand, are holding up mighty fine.
Also nice is the neoprene ankle gaiter, which is unique to the AM7 (and it’s flat pedal sister, the GR7). This stretchy little skirt is surprisingly effective at keeping out seeds and tiny pebbles, and on the few occasions that it has rained in the past four months and I’ve been blasting through muddy puddles, it’s also prevented my shoes from filling with dehydrated mud.
If you’re chasing wet weather protection though, I’d recommend the more expensive AM9 with its full-coverage storm-flap. As well as having less mesh, the AM9 also provides more protection thanks to its raised asymmetrical ankle collar, making it a bit more suited to full-throttle DH and enduro racing.
The AM7 still gets a reinforced toe cap though, and the flip-side to its more traditional upper is far greater ventilation over the AM9. Even on hot summer afternoons in the high-30s, I didn’t feel like my feet were buried in a prison of fire. For that reason, I’d suggest these are the better option for Aussie riders.
Thanks to their new grippy rubber soles, sleek low-profile uppers and adjustable lace-up design, the Shimano AM7 has become my go-to riding shoe for everything bar XC racing. They’re comfortable, versatile, easy to walk around in, and they provide a sturdy fit with broad platform-style pedals. Along with Shimano’s reputation for building durable footwear, these are no doubt some of the best mountain bike shoes currently on the market.
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