By Vernon Felton
Let's start with the aesthetics….
Shimano's AM41's cut a distinctive swath in the world of shoes. Or to put a sharper point on it, you either love or hate the way these things look. I received a lot of compliments when I was riding in these things over in Italy and France, which probably says it all. Not a big fan of the basketball high-top meets Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars styling? I wasn't (initially) either, but these things, I have to admit, have grown on me.
Of course, how a shoe looks is fairly meaningless. Performance is the only thing that matters and the AM41s fare pretty well by that measure.
Let's start with grip. The AM41s do a nice job of hugging your pedals. As sticky as a set of 510s or Tevas? Nope, but not too far off the mark. I rarely slip a pedal. The tread (sort of a maze of elongated octagons) meshes nicely with traction pins in any configuration.
Some shoes feel like you've got a set of big, clumsy bricks strapped to your feet—the AM41s, however, have fairly thin soles that lend the shoes a very tactile sense—you always feel where you are on the pedals—yet the sole isn't so flexy that you lack power transfer. The shoes also have a decidedly "light" feel to them, which is a plus on death-march slogs. Quick, unexpected dismounts in rocky terrain, on the other hand, are not the most comfortable. Yes, the soles are Vibram, but, no, they don't offer much in the way of shock absorption.
The soles on my shoes wore fairly quickly as well. As you can see in the photo below, I've actually shredded the rubber a fair bit and have begun to open a gash in the sole. By contrast, I have a pair of 510 Stealths that have withstood three seasons without showing nearly this much wear and tear to the rubber side of things. Lame.
The AM41's synthetic uppers, on the flip side, have fared extraordinarily well. I'm a huge fan of the lace covers, which may look goofy, but have kept my laces in virgin condition despite a year of riding in Pacific Northwest slop. I have had mud foul the Velcro closures on other shoes, but the Velcro'd lace covers on these AM41s have proven watertight. On wet rides, these things rule.
The AM41s also feature a nice bit of ankle padding, which prevent your inner ankle have smacking the crap out of your crankarm. In essence, you get the protection of a high top in a svelte low-top shoe. It's a smart design.
So, to recap: the soles are grippy enough, but could be beefed up. I was definitely expecting a bit more from them in the durability department. The disco-fied lace covers might not be everyone's cup of tea, but they do a great job of keeping muck from infiltrating your socks and also prevent your drivetrain from consuming your laces. Fit and feel are excellent.