Burly Boots: Shimano XM9 Shoe Review

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

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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 for tackling those inevitable hike-a-bikes.

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Being a clipless shoe, the cleats are recessed within a deep, grippy tread. As with any clipless shoe I’ve tried, you’re still going to feel them catch underfoot, particularly when hiking over rocky terrain or walking across cobbles. There’s the option of leaving the plastic, screw in plates in place and treating the XM9 as a ‘normal’ boot. But that would kind of defeats the whole point in investing in them. 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 and a grippy approach shoe. So it’s a proof 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, there’s no doubt the Goretex liners have done their job, 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 more, 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.

Certainly, the MT91s have excellent references. The Dammer Brothers, whose bikepacking exploits in Ecuador are about as hard on gear as I can imagine, swear by theirs – especially for traversing 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. Clean off dirt regularly, for a start. In the absence of commercial treatment products, the brothers regularly fed the leather with bacon fat, collected from the pigs on their farm… But for nubuck leather, silicone based liquids or sprays are recommended.

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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 consider the MT91s as a bargain – after all, $250 is a chunk of money. But at least it’s money spent towards an extremely well-made boot. By way of pricing comparison, Giro’s synthetic leather, insulated Alpineduras are $200.

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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 and mountainous long distance touring and bikepacking. They’re warm, waterproof, and there’s a reasurring stoutness to their construction. I have to say that I sometimes still prefer 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 – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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

Buy at your local bike shop, or online at Amazon

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