Burly Boots: Shimano XM9 Shoe Review

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Planning a serious bikepacking expedition? Look no further than Shimano’s XM9s, built with the adventurous bikepacker in mind…

Yep, the XM9s certainly cut a purposeful profile. Uppers are made from nubuck leather (a cattle leather known for its resistance to wear), and soles are industry-standard Vibrams. In terms of details, there’s a reflective loop at the back, an impregnable toe box up front, and waterproof Gore Tex liners inside. Meanwhile, the high sides protects ankles from rocks, trail debris and deep puddles.

But as much as these XM9s resemble a standard hiking boot, they’re very much tailored with cycling in mind. On and off the bike, I found the shoes amply stiff for efficient pedaling, with just the right amount of flex to help tackle those inevitable hike-a-bikes.

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Being a clipless shoe, the cleats are recessed within a deep, grippy tread – of course, you’re still going to feel them underfoot, particularly when hiking over rocky terrain. There’s the option of leaving the plastic, screw in plates in place and treating the XM9 (or rather, the SH-XM900, to give it its full title) as a ‘normal’ boot – but that would kind of defeats the whole point in investing in them. And besides, why is that plastic plates on clipless shoes are always made from such a hard material, rather the softer, grippier one used on the soles?

In part because of this conumdrum, I’ve previously weaned myself off SPDs, touring instead with a set of downhill pedals – Shimano Saint MX80s – and a grippy approach shoe. So it’s a sign of how much the XM9s have impressed me that I’ve found myself tempted back into the clipless fold. For one, they just feel great to ride in. And as the temperatures have dropped here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and snow has begun to fall, there’s no doubt the Goretex liners have done their jobs, keeping frigid stream crossings at bay. Teamed with a midweight wool sock, I’ve yet to suffer from ice-block-toes, encouraging me to ride whatever the weather. And whilst I wouldn’t consider them a full-on, heart of Minnesotan-winter style boot, they’ll certainly tide you through everything but the more extremes of temperatures.

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Officially, this is a brand new boot. But from the looks of it, it’s an update on the highly regarded MT91 – a touring model popular in Europe that, for some reason, never made it over to the US. Of course, the true test of a shoe’s build quality will come several months down the line – and I’ll be updating the post after winter. But if it matches that of their predecessors – and so far, it certainly seems that way – I’m expecting sterling service.

In fact, the Dammer Brothers, whose bikepacking exploits in Ecuador are about as hard on gear as I can imagine, swear by their MT91s; especially when traversing their local, boggy páramo. When I rode with them last year, I watched enviably as their feet stayed warm and dry through torrential, high altitude rain. As with any leather boot, TLC is key to eeking out their life to the maximum. In the absence of commercial treatment products, the brothers regularly fed the leather with bacon fat, collected from the pigs on their farm…

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As to how the boots fit, a quick lace system all the way up the tongue lends them a welcome snugness, and a ‘lace tidy’ curbs unwanted flailing into drivetrains. On the subject of fit, I found them roomy enough for a warm sock to be worn underneath. As with most shoes, I’d always recommend trying a couple of sizes, at least until you’re familiar with the sizing of a particular brand. Shimano’s sizing often seems a little at odds with other companies – I often wear a 43 but with Shimano I have to size up. The size tested were a EU44, which Shimano calls a US 9.7; many other brands equate a 44 to a US10.5. In any case, it’s worth checking before you buy.

Price-wise, I wouldn’t categorize the MT91 as a bargain – after all, $250 is a chunk of money. This said, you’re paying for an extremely well made boot, and there’s the Goretex premium (by way of comparison, Giro’s synthetic leather, insulated Alpineduras are $200). This kind of cash certainly warrants a the shoe that will last – as someone prone to unexpected mega-hikes, I’d consider myself I’m hard on footware, so I’ll be sure to report back.

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Shimano XM7

Also worth mentioning is the XM7 ($200, 900g), little brother to the XM9. It shares the same chunky Vibram sole, Gore Tex inners and nubuck uppers, albeit in a more conventional, shoe-height cut, with velcro straps in addition to traditional laces. Build quality is also on a similar par, albeit with a softy toe box. In terms of fit, I noticed they felt a little closer than that of the XM9 – again, best to try a couple of pairs out, with the socks you’re likely to wear. At the risk of rehashing a press release, we’ll report more on these shoes when they’ve been put through the ringer. But so far, so good- – they’re a solid, general use bikepacking shoe.

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Wrap Up

The XM-9 is an impressive, clipless-specific boot; as good as I’ve tried for cold, mountainous, long distance touring and bikepacking. They’re warm and waterproof, and there’s a general sense of reasurring stoutness to their construction. I have to say that I still see the advantages of flat pedals and more conventional footware – after all, when it comes to both hiking and exploring towns, nothing beats a shoe that doesn’t feature a chunk of metal bolted into its sole. But if you’re wedded to SPDs, and love that feeling of connection and efficiency afforded by a clipless setup, you won’t be disappointed.

  • WEIGHT 1100g
  • SIZES AVAILABLE 41-48 in whole sizes
  • PRICE $250
  • PLACE OF MANUFACTURE China
  • CONTACT Shimano

As always, we value your longterm feedback. If you’re had a chance to put one of the products we’ve reviewed through several months of use or more, please share your thoughts below.

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  • Kristoffer NRJ

    As a fellow flat-peddeler (If that’s even a word?) What boot can you recommend that allows cycling specific foot movement while still having a GoreTex liner, and hike-a-bike capabillities? Anyone?

  • https://inbetweenspokes.wordpress.com/ Przemek

    Kris, you can’t go wrong with Salomon XA pro mid. I’m plenty happy with an older Keen model (siskiyou), although I find the sole too soft for extended hiking.

  • J.Wasrud

    I have a pair of well used MT91’s. Still going strong after lots of use and abuse. Perfectly fine as the only shoes for longer mountainous rides (add a pair of light gaiters, and you’re ready for whatever), as they are like a light hiking boot with vibram sole and a SPD cleat. Hikes really well (not quiet as my LaSportivas, but still really well). Perfect for year-round off road touring and bkepacking. A bit on the cold side during the really cold rides here in Norway (I’d say minus 10 to 15*C and below). For longer trips those days I’d say go for warm winter boots and flatties or some 45nrth winter boots.

    If this ones are as good as the old MT91 (should be…), it’s an easy choice.

  • Rich

    I wish they would have left the Gore Tex out of the 7.

  • http://nategines.com Nathan Gines

    Do you think the XM 7 would be better suited for hot weather? like say 90+?

  • Cass Gilbert

    I think you’ll be better off with a shoe with more mesh to it. These are basically a cold/wet weather Gore Tex shoe, which is overkill for hot temps!

  • Krus

    How have you gone for caring for and treating the nubuck of the XM9’s?
    Just got a pair for winter(Australia) bikepacking and also for the really crap days when I’m working on the bike.
    Wore them for the first time today in about 5 hours of torrential rain and found them to be good, wet through a little near the toebox leather where the laces start but didn’t get the slushy feeling that you would usually get on a normal MTB shoe. I was also wearing sealskinz socks so feet didn’t get wet or cold so I cant say exactly how the shoes dealt with the rain.
    Also, what is the reason for been able to separate the the tongue liner from the outer? Is this just for treating and letting dry properly?
    Cheers.

  • boomforeal

    hey cass, winter is coming – do you have your long term follow up thoughts/findings ready?

  • Cass Gilbert

    My friends in Ecuador swear by bacon fat to treat their MT-91s! But it sound sounds like to keep nubuck’s finish, it’s best not to use anything that clogs the pores. This seems to be a good guide:

    https://www.alfaoutdoor.com/service-center/care-instructions/nubuck-leather

  • Cass Gilbert

    My XM9s certainly held up well over the winter. No complaints at all – and I tend to be hard on shoes. I haven’t used them a great deal since then, as I ride and tour on flat pedals a lot of the time. They’ll be pressed back into service once it starts to get cooler and snowier again.

  • boomforeal

    thanks cass. i’m hard on shoes too and my last pair of winter riding boots started falling apart after only one off season. good to know that shimano seems to still be making durable stuff

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