Intended Use: Shreddin, thrashin, rippin, tearin, all mountainin’, standin’, walkin’
Rider: 5’9”, 160lbs, likes zooming, currently has moustache
Test Location: Lake Tahoe area, Northstar, Sol Vista, Mammoth, Whistler bike parks
Test Bike: 2011 Turner DHR, 2011 Turner 5 spot, on Time ATAC Z and Time ATAC carbons.
Duration of test: 4 months
Shimano has been making SPD shoes about as long as they’ve been making SPD pedals. The moniker, ‘SPD’ is even a Shimano invention. (I think it stands for Superclicky Pedal Dealio, or something.) Either way, it means “clipped in.” It also means comedy for your friends when you first try the system….
I’ve ripped apart a bunch of DH shoes over the years. From yanking the soles out of some Adidas Hematomas (not uncommon—watch closely this year’s Crankworx slalom), to the more usual method of destruction, wearing a hole in the outside of my rear shoe from brushes with rocks. I’m regular footed (left foot forward) because it’s the superior stance, meaning I’ve often retired shoes based soley on having holes on the outside of my right foot. This was the case with my last pair of DH casualties, some hoarded old Oakley Radars that I’d bought three pairs of a few years ago when they went out of production.
A friend of mine who builds trails at Sol Vista bike park recommended some of the AM45 predecessors, the DX, to me. He has a trail named after him on the mountain, so, obviously, he must be right. He also rides gripshifts, which I do as well, so considering we’re both basically neanderthals in a metro world full of aviators and dudes wearing their sisters’ pants, we have to stick together.
At first sight, the AM45s look like they belong in Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you send in the UPC codes from three pairs, Shimano will send you a free pair of parachute pants. (If you don’t know what parachute pants or sending in UPC codes means, get off my lawn and bring me my Metamucil, kid.)
Turns out that the, uh…’smooth’ styling of the lace covers serves a purpose. It provides a pretty legitimate cover from mud, and in my case, keeps the laces from filling with dust and dry rotting. Where I ride, this does happen, and the cover is working well. My laces have stayed pretty supple and haven’t ripped out in my hand in the parking while tying them. Speaking with a friend who rides the similarly styled flat pedal version in the Pacific Northwest, he too is pretty happy with the mud seal component.
Most important in my mind is that the AM45s are an appropriately stiff shoe. There’s nothing worse than standing on clipless pedals in what amounts to a skate shoe with holes for cleats. Clipless pedals are odd shaped little things, typically narrower and offering less surface area to stand on than a flat pedal. A stiff sole still provides a platform for your foot, eliminating pressure points. These shoes work extremely well in this regard. This also adds efficiency in pedaling as your foot will tend to spend less effort bending into weird shapes and recovering with each cycle.
I went and looked at my shoes before writing this review to check for wear on the magical destruction spot on the outside of the foot. I’ll be honest: they still look new. There’s a beefed up extension of the sole right on this wear zone and it’s doing its job wonderfully. Seriously, I can’t even tell I’ve nailed any rocks. My DH bike is slightly lower than normal and I’ve been riding everything from the trenches of Northstar, the rowdy speed trails at Sol Vista, the pumice of Mammoth, and anything and everything at Whistler. Not even a scrape shows up on that beefed up rubber section.
It’s also worth noting that the rubber used on this section isn’t overly grippy. I’ve had my foot wrenched into an angle breaking position from a pair of 5.10 impacts catching a rock with a similar ‘guard’ on the shoe but made of from their stealth rubber. I know I’ve hit this section on the AM45s but I don’t even recall anything close to similar to that experience.
A common complaint heard from many people switching to clips is that their calf muscles start to feel worked from having the cleat mounted in a position farther forward from where they’d be standing on flat pedals. This has everything to do with how rearward the cleat can be mounted. The closer the cleat can be positioned to the arch of the foot, the less leverage is required to maintain a neutral stance. Since I knew these would primarily be used for DH riding with all its crappy flat landings, hard hits, and general pounding, I mounted the cleats as far back as they could go on the sole. Granted, I ride clips a good bit (both DH and trail riding) but I haven’t ever felt that I needed the cleats to be mounted any more rearward. I’ve had some pretty crushing impacts and never once were my feet leveraged into any sort of overextension. This trait alone quite honestly has me pretty enthralled with these shoes. I can stand on a part of my foot that leaves my ankles pretty well supported. I’ve had probably half a dozen ankle fractures and far more sprains, and I have zero complaints with where you can place your cleat with these shoes.
The timing was pretty prime with my purchase of these shoes. My four-year-old Sidis that I’d been using for trailriding were pretty much toast. Rather than curb my whiskey and crack rock purchases to replace them, I started using the AM45s for some climbing duties as well. They’re no Sidi ballet slippers as far as weight, but when it comes time to stick a foot out drifting a turn, or just walk up a scenic rock outcropping to check out a view, they’re also no Sidi ballet slippers. I’ve often had to ride my DH clipless shoes on a trail ride due to forgetting the slippers, and my biggest complaint with the ones I’ve owned in the past is that there’s a noticeable loss of efficiency. Even the Hematomas (which are sort of a beefed up XC shoes) never had the pinned to the pedals feel of my Sidis. The Oakleys weren’t even close. Everyone’s feet are different, but these shoes fit my feet incredibly well and have no slop when slugging out multi-hour climbs.
Every other shoe I’ve owned for DH riding fell short and felt loose after an hour on the pedals. These do not. In fact, right now I’ve got no plans to buy any trail-specific shoe. I’m really happy climbing in these shoes. They have ‘AM’ in the name (which I assume is the indication that they’re to be used on the same trails that have been ridden on hardtails for years, just now with a more expensive bike), so they were obviously designed with some climbing in mind. They work surprisingly well. I’ve even owned other Shimano XC shoes that felt less efficient and sloppy (and, yes, they fit).
About my only gripe with these shoes is that I occasionally had a bit of an issue clipping back in, by trying to slide my foot forward from the rear of the pedal. It felt like the lip before the cleat recess was hanging up. With as far back as I’ve got the cleats, there’s plenty of ‘approach’ space there, so that shouldn’t have been happening. Looking at the sole, there’s no wear on this lip, so I’ve written it off as the plastic on the exposed sole being somewhat sticky when new…possibly exaggerated by riding Time pedals. The problem has since ceased, either due to properly breaking them in or adjusting the way I slide my foot forward. I honestly don’t know, but it doesn’t bug me anymore.
While talking footwear with a friend of mine who rides in a lot more mud and roots than I do, who owns the flat version (The AM41) we’ve both been pretty stoked with the construction, fit, and general performance. He mentioned the sole on his version as a sticky rubber, but not as grippy as 5.10 stealth rubber. This, to me, is a big plus. I know I’m in the minority, but I find stealth rubber far too sticky, especially on the impact models.
I rode flats long before Sam Hill and stealth rubber bike shoes, and the super sticky stealth rubber prevents me from moving my feet around as much as I’d like. In fact, I’ve got much more range of motion clipped into Time pedals than I have riding 5.10s. Based on how well my AM45 shoes fit, and the fact that it sounds like the rubber used on the AM41s falls somewhere between old Vans and stealth rubber, I’m planning on buying a pair soon for those days when I do ride flats. That’s how much I like the version I’ve been riding.
Plus, they go with my sweet backspin wardrobe.