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Shimano AM7 Review
Cons: Not as attractive as other shoes, poor pedal grip when wet
Bottom line: A light downhill and enduro flat shoe that climbs well.
Narrow or Wide Fit?: Narrow
Upper Materials: Synthetic Leather
Even though the Five Ten Freerider Contact edged out the Shimano AM7 for the Editors' Choice Award, it was a close battle. Shimano's AM7 is designed as a flat pedal driver for all mountain and downhill riders who need a capable do-it-all shoe. In terms of functionality the AM7 is similar to the Five Ten Freerider Contact, but does have some notable differences, including ankle protection, lace cover, velcro strap, and an upper more suited to wetter and colder climates.
The shoe has good dry weather pedal grip and solid power transfer through a Vibram sole and shank plate while still retaining flexibility for walking and running. Not quite as heavy duty as the Five Ten Impact VXi, the AM7 is still a high-level downhill performer that is more than capable for general riding and lengthy climbs. Shimano has done an excellent job in designing a shoe for all mountain and enduro riders who choose not to clip in.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Shimano chose to outfit the AM7 with an exclusive Vibram sole designed for positive pedal engagement. The sole pattern is a relatively fine pattern tread that grips pedal pins well, particularly pins with smaller diameter. The finer rubber pattern is similar to that of the Freerider Contact in the ability to fine tune foot position more easily than other tested shoes like the Five Ten Impact VXi and Five Ten Freerider.
The sole provides a secure pedal connection during all types of riding, from easy rolling to substantial climbing and technical downhill, enabling a natural pedal stroke. Like the Freerider Contact, the AM7 creates the feeling of riding a clipless pedal without actually being clipped in. When we were in the air, the AM7 provided a stable connection to flat pedals that rivals Five Ten's rubber, although with less grip than the Mi6 rubber on wet pedals. Similar to the Freerider Contact, the AM7s provide good traction while walking, but lose grip when the going gets wet or snowy.
Right out of the box with the stock insole, the AM7s had a good comfortable feel with a synthetic upper and EVA padding. The fit is narrower than Five Ten's shoes, especially in the forefoot and with a lower volume toe box. The AM7s kept our feet comfortable on multi-hour rides and substantial climbs and the EVA padding and a Vibram outsole cushion the shoe nicely and take the edge off chattery bumps and rock gardens. Like the Freerider Contacts, a protective midsole contributes to a comfortable ride.
The asymmetric ankle collar kept our ankles happy and protected but did occasionally rub and catch on crank arms. When conditions got wet and snowy, the AM7 provides more protection than the other shoes in our lineup. The Five Ten Impact VXi was close in ranking, but with the armored lace shield, the AM7 provides better moisture protection, shedding snow and water easily. When walking, the shoes were quite comfortable with good protection and abrasion resistance from sharp rocks and other trail obstacles.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
An important factor in pedaling efficiency is in the stiffness, or lack thereof, in the shoe's sole. A shoe with the stickiest rubber ever but lacking rigidity would completely lack performance in spite of the ultra grippy rubber. On the other hand, try hiking up a rock garden in your road bike shoes not so good. Like the Freerider Contact, the AM7 strikes a great balance between rigidity and flexibility. One of our local test pieces requires a climb of several miles and approximately 2700 vertical feet of elevation gain — it's trails like this that really made the AM7 stand out.
The shoes helped us clock times on par with past rides on clipless shoes and pedals, which attests to the positive pedal connection and riding efficiency of the AM7s. A portion of the climbing involves rocky hike-a-bike sections that demonstrate the all-around balance in the shoe's abilities. A tradeoff lies in the overall walking ability of the shoe — the AM7 wouldn't be our first choice for walking around town after a ride. The shoes are not the most attractive for casual use with their "These are riding shoes!" style. Shoes like the Giro Jacket or the Five Ten Freerider would be the go-to option for mixed riding and casual use. The bottom line in this category is that the AM7 gave the Five Ten Freerider Contact a run (or ride) for its money.
Shoe weights didn't vary much in our test and this contender was right in the middle of the weight range, coming in only 0.25oz heavier (per shoe, men's size 9) than the Freerider Contact. After riding both shoes on the same trails and clocking almost identical times with both, we honestly couldn't tell a difference. With such similarity across all of our tested models, only the most vigilant ounce shavers need to consider the difference.
At first glance, the AM7 looks like it may be intended for wet and cold conditions, which it is, but it had a surprising amount of breathability in spite of appearances. By surprising, we mean a good strong average. While it was not the best in our test, it performed better than the Five Ten Impact VXi. On the climb we mentioned above, the Freerider Contact did show greater breathability, but the AM7 kept our feet comfortable in all but the sunniest sections. The solid black uppers soaked up the sun, which is both a plus and minus, depending on temperatures.
After just a few rides, sole durability was obviously better than that on our Editors' Choice. Though pedal grip is less with the AM7, the sole showed significantly less wear than the Freerider Contact, which highlights the performance versus durability decision. While the Impact VXi scored higher marks on durability overall, the AM7 uppers exhibited above-average abrasion resistance, especially with the armored lace shield's protective layer. On a side note, the lace shield kept fine dust particles to a minimum, keeping our feet cleaner than with the other five shoes in our test. Overall, the AM7 seems to have the design and construction for a long life, whether riding cross country, enduro, or lift-served downhill.
A competent climber and confident downhiller with above average abrasion and moisture resistance, this shoe is a standout no matter what the terrain and conditions. Like the Editors' Choice, the Shimano AM7 is at home on long technical rides in all conditions and terrain. The shoe shares a lot of similarities in performance with the Freerider Contact and the Impact VXi, perhaps combining the best of both shoes. Keep in mind that the uppers' above average water resistance was offset by the sole's loss of traction when things got wet.
The Shimano AM7 is a great pick for riders who are looking for a top performing shoe no matter what terrain they're riding, especially those who find Five Ten's shoes a little too boxy in the forefoot. While designed in conjunction with world champion downhiller Gee Atherton, the AM7s are competent climbers while riding XC, enduro or downhill. Although not a waterproof winter option, the shoes were the best at shedding water and snow while sacrificing some breathability and off-the-bike style.
— Jason Cronk
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