An indoor-specific cycling shoe for all your social distancing needs (and the spin studio once the world gets back to normal)
breathable sock-like upper; no-slip tread; micro-adjustable fit
a little heavy; relatively flexible sole
Necessary? Probably not, but if you’re doing regular trainer riders around an hour in length or at a spin studio, the SPD-compatible Shimano IC5 shoes are a cooler option than your more traditional cycling shoe. These stripped-down shoes are designed to be comfortable when you’re working up a sweat and to safely walk across slick gym floors, but it could use some improvements in the pedaling efficiency department.
Did I expect to be testing indoor cycling gear in March? Nope, but I bet most of us didn’t expect to be spending so much time on Zwift in March either. So it’s fortuitous that, while Shimano’s IC5 shoes look similar a traditional road shoe, they’re not intended for outdoor riding at all. They do seem to pull quite a bit of inspiration from triathlon-specific cycling shoes, though.
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A quick Google search for “spin class shoes” brings up two different styles of shoe: either entry-level road shoes with velcro closures and no tread, or what look sneakers modified for an SPD cleat. The vast majority of indoor cycling bikes use an SPD-compatible pedal. Put an SPD cleat on a traditional road-style shoe, and you have a very precarious walking-on-hard-floors situation. If that floor is wet at all, I wish you the best of luck. The more casual sneaker-style shoe is certainly more confidence-inspiring while walking around a gym, but comes with a lot of bulk and flex when pedaling. Shimano mostly solves all those problems with the IC5.
Staying cool when things heat up
Whether you’re in an indoor cycling class or at home on your trainer, riding indoors is a very hot and sweaty endeavor, which is one of the key issues Shimano set out to address with the IC5 shoes. They appear to have borrowed heavily from triathlon shoes to do it.
Given that you start the bike leg of a triathlon after the swim, you’re typically a bit damp and tri shoes have been designed with wet feet in mind. The IC5 shoes are similar in that the upper is made from a highly breathable, and quick-drying mesh. Again, like tri shoes, these shoes can comfortably be worn without socks. And while it feels a little off to wear cycling shoes without socks, I found it made a small difference in how hot my feet felt, while on the trainer. Point a fan at your feet and you’ll notice the shoes’ ventilation.
And, because they’re designed to be worn without socks, they have a sock-like design of their own. Using the pull tabs on the top and heal, you’ll slide these shoes on, just like a pair of socks. The soft upper has some stretch and give, making them comfortable for bare feet.
A single BOA L6 dial lets you easily adjust the fit, but rather than BOA’s usual nylon or steel cabling, the IC5 shoes use a textile lace that has a fair bit of elasticity. While that likely helps significantly with the price point, I do wonder about the longevity and durability of that material choice, and if constant tightening will decrease the life or durability of the lace.
Walk with confidence
In order to improve walkability, Shimano provided a recessed cleat channel and added a grippy rubber layer to the entire length of the sole. Admittedly, I haven’t been to any gyms recently, and most of my house is carpeted, but walking around my kitchen, the rubber sole feels grippier than many of the materials I’ve experienced on mountain bike shoe treads. The cleat recess is adequate, preventing you from walking directly on the cleat, skating across hard surfaces, and scratching up the flooring. And, just like your mountain bike shoes, the recess in the sole easily allows the cleat to interface with your pedal.
In addition to a tacky rubber sole, the shoes also have a fair amount of flex that makes them more comfortable for walking around. Of course, this is an off-the-bike benefit while also an on-the-bike drawback. Shimano rates the IC5 stiffness as 5 out of 12; this is their own internal rating system, but it shows that even they aren’t trying to sell it as a particularly stiff, high-performance shoe. The midsole has a glass fiber reinforced nylon plate for power transfer which I found to be noticeably flexy while pedaling. I don’t produce power, but during hard efforts I could feel the midsole give slightly around my SPD pedal. For hour-long efforts, this wasn’t a big deal, but after an hour-and-half, I started to notice hot spots developing. It’s possible playing with cleat placement a bit would alleviate some of that, but I think some of this is just inherent with a less-stiff sole.
This shoe is focused on a very specific audience. It uses Shimano’s women’s specific Dynalast platform, and comes in sizes 36 – 44. Notably, Shimano doesn’t currently offer a men’s version. The IC5 shoes seem to be the company’s attempt at dipping its toe into the indoor cycling scene by focusing on women attending spin classes. While reaching out to new customers is a great thing, offering a shoe with relatively low pedaling performance in only a women’s version seems poorly thought out, and harkens back to a time in cycling’s not-so-distant past where it was standard practice to give women second-tier products.
I see a practical argument for this decision: indoor cycling has a high percentage of female participants, many of whom do not ride outside. These shoes serve as a bridge to that (potential) customer. However, it ignores the growing popularity of virtual riding spaces at all levels of cycling, which seems like a missed opportunity. The IC5 shoes are unquestionably a performance improvement from pedaling in sneakers, and are certainly more breathable than your average cycling shoe. Let’s hope Shimano has both a wider size range planned, and also a more performance-oriented shoe coming down the pike.