Review: 2012 Shimano MW81 Winter Cycling Shoes

Shimano WM81 winter cycling shoes review for road and mountain bikes

Buying winter cycling shoes is always a bit of a challenge. For starters, the sizing doesn’t always match a brands standard road or mountain bike shoes, meaning you often need to size up one or two notches. And if you order something through your shop and it doesn’t fit right, by the time winter’s rolled in, many brands have already sold through their stock for the season and you’re stuck rockin’ your regular shoes with thick socks and shoe covers. Again.

Reviewing winter shoes is also a bit different. By the time we have them in, we need to hurry up and get a review up so it’s not spring by the time we have enough miles in. With that in mind, I only have a few rides in Shimano’s new 2012 MW81 winter boots. Part of the delay was indeed a sizing issue. I ordered them in a 47, my typical size, which usually translates to about a US13. Not so with these. Not by a long shot…

Shimano WM81 winter cycling shoes review for road and mountain bikes

My second pair was a 48. These translated to a 12.3US. The original 47′s were listed as 11.8US…definitely way too small for my size 13 foot. Fortunately, these 48′s fit well even with moderately thick socks. So, for Shimano winter shoes, I’d recommend ordering based on European sizing, then going up one size.

Shimano WM81 winter cycling shoes review for road and mountain bikes

Changes from the MW80 are a new, more aggressive outsole with pedal rest, a nice fuzzy fleece insole and something called Design DNA. We haven’t actually been told what Design DNA is, and Shimano’s website still shows the MW80. By the way, if you’re looking for mountain bike shoes on their website, click “Shoes” in the menu, then look up on the top right of the page for tiny, almost hidden links for Womens, Tri and MTB. Otherwise, all you’ll see are the road models.

Shimano WM81 winter cycling shoes review for road and mountain bikes

Visually, the new model is a bit sleeker than the old one, with a smoother toe protection area and overall smoother outer surface. The reflective silver strip breaks up the otherwise all black colorway. Yes, I said color way. The upper toe strap is also reflective to provide 360º visibility.

Shimano WM81 winter cycling shoes review for road and mountain bikes

The straps are offset, presumably to allow for good fit without being over tight on any part of your foot. Winter shoes that put any pressure on the top of your foot can slow circulation and make your feet cold prematurely. I’m happy to report that these shoes don’t do that.

The MW81 has a larger volume than their normal shoes. That extra room is nice with thick socks on. My toes never felt cramped. Another feature I like about Shimano’s shoes is the straight inside edge. Unlike some shoes that come to a central point at the toe, Shimano’s last seems to better follow the natural shape of my foot, which means they’re generally more comfortable for longer rides.

The tread is aggressive enough for run ups if you’re looking for a good cyclocross shoe, too. Toe spike mounts are included. The yellow bit is their tread rest area for light pedaling if you’re trying to knock some gunk off the bottom before clipping in.

Shimano WM81 winter cycling shoes review for road and mountain bikes

The shoes have minimal vent holes on the exterior, just enough to let whatever moisture vapor escapes the Gore Tex liner make it’s way to the chilly outside air. The Gore Tex liner runs throughout the entire shoe to provide insulation and make them water resistant.

Shimano WM81 winter cycling shoes review for road and mountain bikes

The insole has a very soft, fuzzy fleece lining, which provides additional insulation.

Shimano WM81 winter cycling shoes review for road and mountain bikes

Under the tongue, which wraps over the top of the shoe, is a full height gusset with the Gore Tex liner. Small vent holes are under the top and bottom straps. The ankle gaiter is neoprene with Velcro closure and fits snugly.

Shimano WM81 winter cycling shoes review for road and mountain bikes

Weight for the size 48 is 529g per shoe without cleats.

So far, I really like these shoes. They’re comfortable, warm, fit well and are easy to pedal and walk in. My coldest ride in them was about 2.5 hours in 32º to 34º F weather and only at the very, very end of the ride were my toes starting to feel a bit cold.

Shimano admits these are a niche product, so there’s only one color and model available per year. That means these are their only winter cycling shoes, pulling double duty for road and mountain bikes. Given the weight and aggressive tread, we’re thinking road shoes with thick covers and wool socks might be the better option for pavement, but if you routinely ride or commute in foul winter weather, these might be just the ticket.

Retail is $230.

Comments

plum - 01/05/12 - 10:26am

Hideous. I’d rather freeze.

Zap! - 01/05/12 - 10:34am

Hideous? What are you a roadie or something? There are times when function wins over form, and this would be one of those cases.

Perhaps you should wait until it warms up a bit to ride so your shoelaces match your jersey and your gloves etc.

Doug B - 01/05/12 - 10:59am

32-34 and your toes got cold, that’s not even winter temps! I’m not a hardened rider but still manage to commute in the low 20′s.

Tyler (Editor) - 01/05/12 - 11:06am

DougB – if it matters, probably 30 to 40 minutes of that ride were spent standing around taking photos of things, too, which doesn’t do much to keep the toes warm. Compared to other winter shoes I’ve tried and discussed with others, these seem to be pretty good. What shoes are you using?

Mike - 01/05/12 - 11:10am

I’ve been using these shoes for the last 4 weeks, and I am very happy with them. More toe box room by far that the Sidi winter MTB shoes (had those last year) and the neoprene cuff/ankle closure is tight enough to keep rocks out (sidi’s were horrible with this). I ride in Colorado and night rides get into the 20′s… I can get through most 2-3 hour night rides with slightly cold feet, no where near the numbing cold I used to have before getting winter shoes! One trick I have learned with these shimano’s, is that there is enough room in the toe box for using the adhesive tow warmers on the tops of your toes. If it dips in the the teens (temps) you are still good to go, and it doesn’t effect the fit of the shoe. Great work shimano!

Brian - 01/05/12 - 12:41pm

Yup, I’ve been running these for about 3 months in varied conditions in Maine. They’re pretty toasty and very good in dealing with the sloppy muddy wet half-frozen grossness that’s prevalent up here. My only gripe is that the outsole spacing around the cleat is a bit tight and I have to scrape trail debris outta there more often than I’d like. Planning to fix that with some exacto-blade customization.

Doug B - 01/05/12 - 12:44pm

Tyler – I currently just have a standard pair of Sidi Dominators and use neoprene booties, so down in the low 20′s I have some fairly cold toes after my 7 mile commute. Today was around 32 so no cold feet with my current combo, anything over freezing I consider a ‘warm’ winter ride. The dry Colorado cold is not as bad as that in other wetter areas.
Few stores carry much stock, so knowing whats worth trying is helpful when pre calling round. Cheers.

slow joe crow - 01/05/12 - 1:00pm

I bought a pair of these Black Friday in Bend and tried them out on a snowy trail that Saturday. I was tired of trying to use booties over Pearl Izumi X-Alp shoes and while pricey, these are well suited to Oregon’s conditions. I typically have more trouble with wet feet than cold feet and with toe spikes these will probably be my 2012 cyclocross shoes on muddy days.
According to the shop I got them from, the toe box is bigger than the old MW80 and sizing runs small. I have them in euro 47 while my PI shoes are 45 and my old Cannondale shoes are 46 so definitely try before you buy.

snakeboat - 01/05/12 - 1:22pm

I got these back in October and couldn’t be happier. With my Sidis, the cold always seeped in from the cleat area. Not issue with these. Bought ‘em a lil big so that Smartwools would fit and I’m sold. Above 45, they become too hot. Plus, the outsoles are on the soft side and they seem to not slip as much as the hard Sidi soles on icy walkways. Five of five.

Gsmith - 01/05/12 - 2:58pm

Confused about your sizing? You order a 47 (11.8) then a 48 (12.3) and it fits a size 13 foot. then you recommend going a size larger. Just looking at the math, you seem to be a size 11 or 12 foot????

MTB - 01/05/12 - 3:39pm

I got the Mavic winter shoes after reading about it at bikerumor. The best investment I ever made.

No more frozen toes. Previously, I tried using those winter shoe covers over my summer shoes + wool socks; my toes were still frozen.

just a guy - 01/05/12 - 5:15pm

i have used these down to -5 and they were good to about 5 degrees and felt not sufficient after that.

other than that they are very comfy and warm/dry. have used them in rain/snow/ice and the performed great.

Warren - 01/05/12 - 5:56pm

Standard shoes with duct tape on the vents and merino wool socks will have to do if you are getting cold in winter specific shoes.

Galen - 01/05/12 - 6:05pm

These are the same design as their older winter road shoes. I have a pair of the RW80 purchased on sale this summer, and all I can say is – why did i wait so long to get winter shoes?! They keep your feet dry in light rain, and are warm down into the 20′s with nice thick wool socks. Use rain covers for the worst days and the feet stay comfortable.

Steve - 01/05/12 - 11:47pm

I believe this article should be about the MW81…not the WM81. I found that out when I tried a search and came up with a bunch of womens’ shoes.

Speedy - 01/06/12 - 4:01am

Save your money, get the Mavic winter shoes. From the best I can tell they are near identical. Their is nothing that makes these worth so much more.

chuck - 01/06/12 - 8:43am

Mmmmmm, “chili outside air”.

MTB - 01/06/12 - 9:45am

Speedy,
Big difference in the bottom thread. That’s the main reason I picked the Mavic over the Shimano.
Mavic just seemed more suited for technical trails. Other than that, you’re right in that they look very similar (Gore tex, ankle strap, the three straps).

Tyler (Editor) - 01/06/12 - 9:59am

Chuck, chili outside air is delicious.

Steve, good catch, I fixed the article.

just a guy - 01/06/12 - 11:53am

warren,

ur advice is bad. i use neoprene or heavy wool socks in addition to these shoes. regular shoes(even with tape) will freeze ur feet off. big difference between regular shoes and these.

i have tried lining my feet with market plastic bags as well and no difference in warmth. that method does keep ur feet dry for a while in the rain, but ur own sweat(when climbing hills) then makes ur feet wet and does not vent or dry.

and yes there are warmer shoes out there. i got these cheap and liked them so far. easy to run cx in as well.

Triglav - 03/28/12 - 12:52am

I live in Western Washington and ride all winter, including at night. Booties SUCK! I purchased the Mavic Drift (44) from my favorite online store in NY. The Mavic fits your normal Euro size while allowing plenty of room for thick socks. The Mavic uses Contagrip rubber which is far superior and best for traction on wet anything and has a very aggressive lug pattern for mud. I wear one pair of medium/thick wool socks and stayed plenty warm after a snow storm and riding/hiking in 6″ at night in 20f for 2.5 hours. However, the Mavic is not waterproof if you splash through a lot of puddles and water. It is a design flaw where the cuff folds over but doesn’t seal properly because the tongue gusset is too short. My feet would be soaked at the end of a ride. So I had some Shimano’s sent to me as a possible replacement. However Shimano in the MW-81 is NOT true to size as this review states and so they were way too tight all around in same 44. To be warm you should be able to wiggle your toes for good circulation. (BTW, I have very normal feet). The Shimano does appear to have a superior system for sealing out water. However I feel the Mavic is a much sturdier shoe all around with hard toe cap and much stiffer heal cup. Also easier to get on/off. If water intrusion is not a factor, just warmth, the Mavic is better imo. In fact I think I have come up with a homemade solution to the water intrusion issue so will stick with the Mavic Drift anyway. I’m thinking of doing a video review since I currently have both shoes to compare side by side. Stand by….

Kelly Hobkirk - 10/07/12 - 12:43pm

Thank you for this review! I just bought one size up in the MW81, and they are a perfect fit. Now if I can just get Seattle drivers to not run me over, this will be a great winter of riding.

Canalligator - 10/13/12 - 11:08pm

One thing that reviewers usually omit is whether they, personally, have trouble keeping extremities warm. Some of us do – that would be people with very long limbs, a history of frostbite, or circulation problems such as being diabetic. So without that frame of reference, how do I know if these shoes will work? The other factor is how long you will be exposed, which most of the contributors did state.

Please – state at the outset whether you have a normal tolerance for cold, or you have difficulty keeping extremities warm.

Canalligator - 10/13/12 - 11:09pm

p.s. – you should also state what kind of bike you ride. On a recumbent, insulation on the bottom is more important.

CharlieGoodVibes - 10/14/12 - 3:53pm

Nothing beats the Lake MXZ302 when it comes to winter riding. Warm toes with medium weight socks even after 2hours of -15F windchills here in Minneapolis.

Av8or - 06/02/13 - 6:53am

Useful feedback everyone. I’m just about to buy my 3rd pair of this series of shoe. They are brilliant hard wearing and warm. To help the euro readers, (how do you guys deal with a temp system where freezing is’nt 0?) these are good to keep you warm well below 0 degrees C!

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