Sold as a bike shoe for “transition seasons,” cyclocross, and cold-weather commuting, the Japanther is a niche product I have stretched beyond its limit this winter.
Made by 45NRTH, the ankle-high footwear is rated for temps between 25° and 45°F. But in my review, including more than 500 collective miles ridden throughout winter, the shoe-boot is valid in air much colder (see more below).
The Japanthers, for me, are a nearly perfect winter shoe. They have a wind- and weather-resistant upper (note: not 100% waterproof), clipless-pedal compatibility, a high cuff and tight fit around the ankle, and a roomy toe area that increases warmth.
They came to market late last year as a new addition to the 45NRTH line. The price is $225 for the high-end, niche biking boots.
Review: 45NRTH Japanther Winter Biking Shoes
Despite a prescribed 25-degree lower limit, I rode straight through a Minnesota winter in the Japanthers, including days where the mercury dipped below 10 degrees F.
Granted, I was bike-commuting in the city and only on the bike for 30 minutes on the coldest days. But pedaling hard on the bike my feet stayed warm enough, though the cold would seep in if my pace slowed.
I never upgraded to my more burly Wölvhammer boots for the commute. Those boots have a waterproof-breathable membrane and Primaloft insulation for keeping feet toasty on the dankest days and on long adventures involving fat bikes and snow.
Winter Biking: Shoe Test
Riding on pavement or winter paths, the fit of the Japanther is “performance oriented,” meaning they feel much like normal summer bike shoes.
45NRTH touts the shoe’s last was “designed for rigorous training and competition positions on the foot for optimal energy transfer but with a roomy forefoot.” I found this to be true.
But with the extra material comes a weight penalty. They are heavier by a margin than almost any summer shoe, weighing in at 20.5 ounces per shoe on my scale (Euro size 44). This is twice as heavy as my best summer-weight bike shoes.
The upper is a complex design made with a rubberized textile and breathable poly fabric. An angled zipper seals it shut.
A caveat: Be careful with the zipper, as pressure from the upper fabric causes force you can see in the zipper teeth; I was afraid at times the zipper would “explode” when zipping these on, which has happened to me with other similar shoes.
Inside, the Japanthers offer a “waffled foam” insole with reflective aluminum and wool felt for warmth. The shoe cinches onto the foot with a speed-lace, and the ankle area is secured by two overlapping Velcro cuffs.
Outsole Is ‘Anti-Slip’
Anti-slip “micro-glass filament” lugs are on the rubber outsole, which along with the tread give the shoe better purchase when off the bike and pushing over snow or ice.
Overall, I like the Japanthers and recommend the shoes to serious winter riders. I cannot see wearing these in temps near 45 degrees as the company recommends; at that point I’d switch to normal bike shoes, perhaps with covers if the ride was long.
How cold should you go? Years of biking abuse has somewhat deadened the nerves in my feet, so maybe I am a bad litmus. But as noted in the review I see this mid-weight footwear being wearable on most winter days, perhaps comfortable down to 20 or even 15 degrees, depending on your level of tolerance for chill.
Either way, despite the zipper design, I have been happy with the Japanther shoes. They got me through a season of winter biking, comfortable and warm enough without being too bulky or adding a ton of weight. I’ll wear them happily again next year.