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REVIEW

Shimano GR5 Flat Pedal Shoes Reviewed

Words Cam McRae
Photos Deniz Merdano (unless noted)
Date Nov 5, 2020
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I started mountain biking in the pre-SPD era. And I’ve still got most of my own teeth and some of my own hair. Back then you could ride flat pedals, if you were brave, but those inaccurately named ‘Bear traps’ wouldn’t trap a mouse, let alone a skate shoe. It wasn’t long before I realized the limitations of this setup and jumped ship. At the urging of my MTB mentors, I got some more conventional looking pedals and bolted on some toe clips. This probably sounds terrifying if you’ve never ridden on the original ‘clips’ but it wasn’t bad at all. Generally the straps weren’t done up very tight and when things went haywire it only took a slight pull back and you were out. Over time, as the riding became more challenging, the straps got tighter, but I don’t recall ever having a big problem getting out, like I did when I began riding the other kind of ‘clipped in.’

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In the early days of mountain biking, these were your best flat pedal option. And they were awful. Photos from the web.

When I began riding on flat pedals in earnest, around the turn of the century after years of riding Shimano SPDs, shoes specifically made for the application were not available. Or if they were, I was unaware of them. Which meant Vans were the best option I could track down. The grip wasn’t great, either from the pedals or the shoes, so compensation was needed. For me that involved shoes with a relatively flexible sole. The idea was that draping the sole of your shoe over the pedal improved traction to some degree.

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The GR5 has a new rubber compound which Shimano calls G3 High Grip, and the bite when paired with a good pair of flat pedals is more than adequate - without being too gummy. The tread pattern is very good as well, with narrow channels that don't line up front to back. Photo - Cam McRae

Eventually FiveTen shoes came along and changed everything, and pedal manufacturers started to pay more attention to flats, making those floppy shoes obsolete. Stiffer soles provided more support, power and protection, and a better ride overall. My tastes have moved further in that direction and the shoes I prefer now bear little resemblance to those that I was drawn to in the early days.

My preferences may not align with yours, and I’m sure many riders prefer soles with more flex, and it turns out you’re in luck. Shimano’s new entry level flat pedal shoes, the GR5, may meet your specifications.

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The styling is typical Shimano; utilitarian with a touch of norm core.

Shimano shoes have always fit me well. They aren’t terribly wide but the forefoot is nice and roomy and all the contours seem to have been drawn with my feet in mind. These were instantly comfortable when I slipped them on and I was optimistic about the design of the sole. Many shoes are designed with lugs that align front to back which means the pins of your pedal can slide through those channels when they encounter an impact. Shimano thoughtfully offset the lugs so there are no grooves that align these forces, which should prevent premature wear and slippage. Further, the channels are very narrow so pedal pins dig in even when they align with the spaces between lugs.

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Protection for your heels and toes is adequate and the quality of materials seems decent. The construction however appears to be excellent, with seams that match well and appear very well bonded together.

As I have mentioned before, when FiveTen shoes became available I became addicted to grip. In fact only FiveTen’s Impact models had enough stick for me. These days I’m quite happy on shoes with lower friction, partially because pedals have improved and also because I’m lost if I can’t move my feet into the proper position while descending.

Grip-wise these shoes do just fine. They aren’t exceptional and are at the lower end of my comfortable range, but I didn’t have any problems with unexpected slipping. Recomposing my foot position is easy as is finding the sweet spot.

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Almost all the riding I did in these shoes was in nasty weather, but the grip suffered very little in the wet and goopy conditions. Photo - Cam McRae

With all that in the plus column, it feels like a shame to move to the other side, but these shoes have a couple of flaws that for me were fatal. The most significant is the flexy sole I mentioned earlier. A shoe’s sole can be flexible while still providing protection for the bottom of your foot, often in concert with a robust insole. Unfortunately that isn’t the case here. The sole is both flexible and thin and the feedback from the pedal and the ground is excessive, to the point that I worry I’ll be injured from a large impact, on the bike or off. To be clear, I realize that some of you are going to be be just fine with the thin flexible sole.

If you are looking for lots of pedal and ground feedback, The GR5 might be just the model you are looking for, but there’s a second issue here. Aside from the heel and toe, which are well protected as mentioned, the upper doesn’t provide much protection at all. The synthetic leather material seems very good, although it feels a little too much like plastic, but it’s quite thin without any significant lining material to make it feel robust. I recently banged my foot against a rock. It wasn’t a hard hit and I was surprised when I felt a sharp pain at the impact site. These sorts of bangs are inevitable riding aggressive trails and they happen on virtually every ride, but normally I hardly notice them because of the protection most shoes provide.

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These come in either black or olive. Photos - Shimano

One issue with the bottom of the shoe is the ultra thin and almost flimsy insole. It has almost no shape and seems hardly more than a millimetre thick. If you like the GR5's stark aesthetic you could slide in a more robust insole and move the needle toward adequate protection, but good insoles aren’t cheap, and it might make sense to have a look at another pair of shoes that already come equipped with a nicely contoured structural cradle for your foot..

Back in the positive column, these are nice light shoes at only 400 grams, they breathe well enough while keeping much of the wet weather out, which means if you like feeling all of your pedal and don’t mind a little less protection under foot, these could be a nice choice for you. For everyone else who rides aggressive trails and subjects their feet to peril on every ride, I would point you in another direction, despite the reasonable 110 USD price these carry.

More on the Shimano GR5 Shoes.

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Comments

rigidjunkie
+1 Cam McRae
Allen Lloyd  - Nov. 6, 2020, 7:25 a.m.

Every time Shimano comes out with a shoe for flats I get really excited.  Their shoes fit my feet like a glove, no other shoe is as comfortable for me.  BUT, so far their flat shoes have been garbage.  Their clip in shoes to me are the best out there.  I really hope at some point they figure out flats.  The strange thing to me is what I like about their clip in pedals is they have that forgiveness part figured out.  The fact that they get that wrong on flats is frustrating.

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skyler
+1 Cam McRae
Skyler  - Nov. 6, 2020, 12:25 p.m.

I keep buying the GR7s because they're so comfortable. They're much stiffer than the GR5s and feel really great. But, the rubber outsole is thin and isn't glued to the midsole, so it folds and tears where it meets pedal pins after just a few months. I bought mine latest set in May and had holes in the bottom by August. Come on, Shimano, you're so close to the perfect shoe!

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Nov. 9, 2020, 11:23 a.m.

You could say the same about their flat pedals. Obviously their SPDs are very good and the company has manufacturing capabilities that rival anyone, but they have never put any energy into making a world beating flat pedal. They are solid, and well made, but grip, width, and shape are years off the back imho. I'd love to see them put some energy into a platform project.

Reply

OLDF150
+1 Cam McRae
Kerry Williams  - Nov. 6, 2020, 7:46 a.m.

I was lucky enough this past spring to pick up a pair of GR9's at half price. They've had the good grip and fit that you talk about with the GR5 with the added bonus of a great footbed that isn't too flexy.  I've done some of my biggest rides ever this year wearing these shoes and finished the rides with no foot pain at all.  When I was looking at Shimano shoes, one sales person advised exactly what you've said Cam, that the soles on the GR5 are very flexible and so not suitable for longer rides. Shimano makes great shoes and so it's a matter of whether or not they're the right shoes for your feet. Great insight sir.

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bobbydarkside
0
bobbydarkside  - Nov. 6, 2020, 7:59 a.m.

Cam, can you tell me about those pants you are wearing in the photos?

Reply

delusional
+1 bobbydarkside
delusional  - Nov. 6, 2020, 8:44 a.m.

Oh, are those the new Patagonia pants in the picture? I'm really interested in these. Any early feedback?

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+1 delusional
Cam McRae  - Nov. 9, 2020, 11:20 a.m.

Patagonia - yes. Buy them. I need a real downpour ride to evaluate the water proofing over a couple of hours but my results on very wet days, with my ass getting pounded by water off the trail, have been impressive. Fit is great with the best waist cinch I've used, they have some nice flex, good usable pockets, zippers at the ankles to pull them on and off or adjust/put on your pads. They seem to be going fast as well. No stock on Patagonia.ca in medium or large. Mediums are perfect for me, and the legs are even long enough. I've also got some time on the 7mesh Thunder pants and they have the best waterproofing of any pants I've worn, but they aren't as comfortable or practical as the Patagonias, which you could wear to do almost anything.

Reply

delusional
+1 Cam McRae
delusional  - Nov. 9, 2020, 12:26 p.m.

Thanks!

Reply

andrewbikeguide
0
AndrewR  - Nov. 6, 2020, 9:30 a.m.

GR5 suffers from hitting a price point and as such the provided insole is so thin that it is unsupportive and uncomfortable. But being so thin the shoes lacks the volume to allow one to swap in a proper insole. They are okay for kicking around in for a trip to the shops or a quick pump track session but otherwise they live in my van as emergency camp shoes.

The GR7, on the other hand, have been my go to daily kicks and flat pedal ride shoes for the past three years. Current pair are going strong after been worn almost every day for two years.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Nov. 9, 2020, 11:08 a.m.

Good feedback Andrew. 

As an option to the GR5 I'd point riders to Ride Concepts' Livewire. Retail is 100 USD, grip is solid, construction and durability are excellent and they even have good insoles, a very useful lace tuck,  excellent protection with D3O inserts strategically placed.

Reply

4Runner1
+1 Cam McRae
4Runner1  - Nov. 6, 2020, 11:45 a.m.

Agree with your comments. I gave mine away. Sole isn’t near stiff enough and causes fatigue in ones feet and legs. 

As soon as I switched over to Freerider Pros, all the fatigue, lower leg and foot pain disappeared.

Reply

mudrunner
+1 Cam McRae
mudrunner  - Nov. 7, 2020, 10:52 a.m.

Sounds like we are of the same lineage....bear traps to cages (metal and then short plastics) to SPDs (which I used for years) to flats with Vans and eventually proper shoes. I tried the combo pedals, but went back to freeing the feet.

I've been a 5.10 fan for a few years...and yes the insoles are flimsy, but most shoes have crappy insoles. I'd rather have a proper fitting pair of shoes and and upgrade the insole than to switch to a lesser shoe with a better insole. I bought a pair of "Sole" for my trail runners (same issue...crappy insoles are rampant) and it was a massive improvement, so I use them in all my shoes now. No need to buy new insoles for each pair of shoes. I have 2 sets of Soles that I move around between trail runners and cycling shoes. Happy feet, happy trails.

As they say...."If the shoe fits, wear it".

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cam@nsmb.com
+1 mudrunner
Cam McRae  - Nov. 9, 2020, 11:12 a.m.

It's official! We're both old. LOL. I had a blast riding in those days but I couldn't call them the good old days, particularly when you think of pedals and shoes, wheels and tires and the minor detail of suspension!

Insole upgrades can be be an excellent way to improve shoe performance and comfort, but it's even better when you don't need to spend that money because the manufacturer has paid attention to that important detail.

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velocipedestrian
0
Velocipedestrian  - Nov. 10, 2020, 10:28 p.m.

"Over time, as the riding became more challenging, the straps got tighter, but I don’t recall ever having a big problem getting out."

I have a very strong memory from 1995 or so, of lying head down a bank, twisting myself in painful knots trying to reach up to the the strap release so I could free myself from my traitorous bicycle. Good Times.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Nov. 10, 2020, 11:20 p.m.

LOL. That sounds nasty. Glad I dodged that bullet.

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