Shimano XC5 Review: Do All Terrain

For the past six months, Joe has worn Shimano’s XC5s on everything from fast group road rides to gravel explorations to extended bikepacking trips. Can a single pair of shoes—especially one at such an attractive price point—rise to all of these challenges? Read on to find out…

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My last pair of Shimano footwear was the SH-M200 XC racing shoes back in 1996. They had orange and blue trim, and I remember them fondly as comfortable and willing to take a beating. There’s no specific reason why I drifted away from Shimano’s offerings, but mostly I’ve looked to Sidi and Giro for my clipless cycling shoes over the last 20 years. Returning to Shimano by way of these XC5s is a revelation. I’ve worn them on multi-week bikepacking trips and they’ve been my go-to shoe for rugged day rides back home, including the long mystery loop at the most recent edition of D2R2. They are the most comfortable, functional, and durable shoes that I’ve had in a long time.

  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes
  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes
  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

The XC5 has a perforated synthetic leather upper with a Michelin soft rubber, low-profile, sparsely lugged sole. The midsole is made of reinforced carbon fiber. There is a rubber bumper around the toe area, but the sole doesn’t wrap above the sides or back, yielding something that looks more like a street shoe than a hiking shoe. Each shoe has mounts for two front spikes in reinforced receivers. They come with grey and orange sets of laces and there is a lace keeper on the tongue to keep things tidy.

Obviously, given the intended application, my first priority for a shoe is fit and comfort. These succeed mightily. The XC5s are roomy for my high-volume foot, with plenty of space for an aftermarket insole (the ones they come with are pretty anemic, which is par for the genre). The sole flex makes it easy to walk normally around a market or to tackle extended hike-a-bike sections. Moreover, there is decent traction for off-bike time, owing to the lugs, which are adequate for moderate mud, and to the stickiness of the rubber. I can stride across wet rocks with confidence wearing these. The shoes feel notably light, but the upper and sole are thick enough that there’s no chance of beating up your delicate feet. Maybe these wouldn’t be my first choice in, say, the worst New England cyclocross conditions, since I’d be suspicious about traction in extreme conditions. But, for anything short of that they have been ideal.

Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes
  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes
  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes
  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes
  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

I’m a fan of laces, even on performance-oriented shoes. I’ve had best success achieving comfort through fine grain tension adjustment at each of the grommets. Lace tension can vary from day to day, and even within the same day, and I often change sock thickness or run waterproof socks. Velcro closures are a non-starter for me, as they get wetted and mudded out so don’t effectively stick anymore. I’ve had Boa shoes in the past and have no objection to them, but for field repair laced shoes are hard to beat. I also like the lower tech looks of shoes with laces.

Shimano highlights the Powerstrap on the XC5s. It is a small piece of webbing across the top of the shoe that is tensioned by the laces, since they pass through the ends of the strap instead of through normal grommets. Ostensibly this achieves a more adjustable and secure fit in that area. The strap is comfortable and may well contribute to the overall great feel I found, but I can’t say that I’m sure it makes a big difference.

Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

I wore these during an allroad tour in Japan in the Spring. This was the kind of trip where all the things that I hope for in a shoe are in play. We rode long steep winding tarmac climbs where I needed every advantage to give me a shot at keeping up with my road racer companions. There were also plenty of gravel roads and abandoned forest doubletrack, with the occasional scramble up a hillside when the trail petered out. In between, we walked around shrines, ate at noodle shops, and walked around city centers. As I usually do, I brought a light pair of shoes to change into, but by far most of the time I just wore the XC5s. They are close enough to normal shoes for everything ordinary that I asked of them, and they were equally effective pedaling an ambitious pace in whatever terrain we encountered. Shimano labels these as multi-surface. As a compound word it’s a bit turgid, but it’s hard to argue against the descriptive truth of it. I felt like the XC5s could work for any situation that I might encounter, an impression confirmed by a more recent trip in rugged on-road and offroad conditions in Wyoming and Montana.

Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes
  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

The aesthetics of the shoe have been subjects to some knocks, as I’ve seen them snarkily described as looking like corrective orthopedic footwear. I suppose what people are responding to is the wide toe box combined with the plain matte finish. (For the record, they are also available in light grey with orange trim and in an olive/blue/yellow “camo” limited edition only available at independent bike shops.) There are certainly flashier looking alternatives to the XC5, but I appreciate the understated impression they make. The irony of the criticism is that having more room for toes to wiggle and spread really does promote foot health and makes a shoe comfortable. For me, that deserves kudos, not derision.

Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

One final thing that legitimately stands out about the XC5s is the price. I’ve seen them on-line recently for under US$100. Compared to, say, the Giro VR90s—a shoe that I have a great deal of experience with—the Shimano’s have proven to be more durable and comfortable without any meaningful downside in terms of my perception of power to the pedals. I therefore don’t mind saying it plainly: in my judgment, the XC5’s are a better shoe for a lot less money for bikepacking in diverse conditions.

  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes
  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes
  • Shimano XC5 Review, Mixed Terrain Gravel Shoes

Pros

  • Great roomy fit, especially nice for higher volume feet
  • Excellent price
  • Grippy sole
  • Good compromise between flexibility for hike-a-bike and stiffness for pedaling
  • Durable
  • Laces
  • Reflective heel trim

Cons

  • Utilitarian looks
  • May not be the best tool for the job for very aggressive cyclocross racing with deep mud and steep runups.
  • Intended Use Allroad, gravel, cross-country riding (Shimano says ‘cross, too)
  • Weight 600 grams/1.3 lbs. for the pair, size 42
  • MSRP US$149.99 (widely available for less)
  • Place of Manufacture China
  • Manufacture Detail Shimano

Wrap Up

It’s easy to chafe against the implication that one needs special shoes for bikepacking or dirt and gravel riding. But it would be a mistake to discount the XC5’s simply because the sales niche is silly. These shoes are roomy and comfortable for all day riding in any conditions ranging from a pleasurable afternoon meander to weeks of hard off-road pedaling. They’ve proven themselves to be durable. Off the bike they’re walkable, the laces provide plenty of adjustment, and the soles stick on wet surfaces. The overall package offers sensible features at a very attractive price. I’m a big fan.

Shimano sent us a pair of XC5’s for review. Photos of the author by Bryan Banducci @bryanbanducci.

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