My Sole Mate: An Ode to the Shimano XC5 Shoe (in Review)
Gravel bike equipment is as widely varied as the riding cyclists actually do with the bikes. Many still stick with road shoes and pedals for glass-smooth dirt and gravel, but most find that a cross-country mountain bike shoe offers the right amount of stiffness and pedaling platform. However, as the gravel bike scene has grown, so too have the number of options tailored specifically to the needs of those riding gravel bikes. The Shimano XC5 shoe might be geared toward gravel riding in specific, but could they be used for a wider range of activities? We took in a pair of the XC5 shoes for test in a myriad of settings, from gravel, road, and even downpour at the bike park. Tech Every conversation about the Shimano XC5 shoe starts with the laces. Personally, shoes with laces (mostly from Giro) have never worked with my wide, high-arched feet, and for as much as I yearned to have something that looked good off the bike, I could never make them fit like Shimano shoes usually do. The laces themselves flow evenly from the center of your toes to the top of the shoe's last. This itself starts a bit lower than a typical Giro lace-up, and it makes for a more adjustable fit. Around the middle of the lacing, eyelets are two short loops on either side that connect to the shoe's upper. These loops, which Shimano calls their "Mini Power Strap", separate the laces into two areas. Get the tension you want near the toes, and the loops keep that tension in place even when you're not wearing the shoe. Unlike a traditional MTB shoe, there isn't much in the way of ventilation. The closed-toe, perforated synthetic leather upper, and lack of ventilation in the sole mean the shoe doesn't breathe as well as something like the Shimano XC7 MTB shoe. However, if you've ridden with other lace-up shoes, the experience is roughly the same. The carbon-reinforced nylon sole rates a 7/12 on Shimano's stiffness scale and is covered by Michelin rubber (with a Michelin man lovingly placed around the arch). The shoe is available in whole sizes only, from 38 to 50, with women's specific options in size 36-44. A women's specific shoe is available in a grey/magenta colorway, while the other shoes are available in black/orange, grey, orange, or a special edition blue and yellow splatter that looks fantastic. Fit in or Flexin'? There are many times where my body betrays my mind, and shoes are one such example. Because I have a wider foot, shoes like the Giro Empire don't usually work with my feet as they are too narrow in the toe box and sometimes too loose in the heel. Shimano is my go-to for a wider than the average shoe, and in that regard the XC5 is perfect. It's a very-accommodating shoe (unless you have narrow or low-volume feet) with plenty of wiggle room. Why's that? According to Shimano, they wanted to give riders a bit more room to allow feet to swell over the course of a long day in the saddle, as well as provide an option to wear a thicker sock for comfort. Relaxing. What else is relaxing is how unpretentious the XC5 is. The laces give the shoe a casual look and feel, especially compared to the techy shoes cyclists might otherwise consider. In fact, the laces didn't end up being any less convenient than standard BOA lacing; put the shoe on, tension the top laces, and get to riding. From the trail to the coffee shop, I never felt like I was wearing something that looked out of place. The upper is a durable synthetic leather that has maintained its color, shape, and form with regular use. Admittedly, it's not as breathable as a knit upper from Giro, but it doesn't need to be. Fit is perfect for my wider foot, but many other people with the shoe enjoy the space. Shimano is known to be accommodating, but this is more accommodating than my Shimano RC7 road shoe in it's standard-width. Despite the additional width, I didn't feel any amount of looseness that would prevent me from putting down some megawatts. Many call this shoe a gravel-specific shoe, and details like the stiff but walkable sole and reflective heel cup make it perfect for gravel events. Even still, it felt great on the mountain bike, with plenty of grip from the Michelin rubber for any amount of hike-a-bike. On and off-road, there wasn't ever a moment where I wished I had a different shoe, and in this case, I consider that to be very telling. If there is any downside to the Shimano XC5, it the size range. While the XC5 comes in a substantial fifteen sizes (36-50), I feel like my ideal size is a half-size Shimano doesn't offer. However, with a retail price of $149, the Shimano XC5 shoe is an unmistakable value. They fit well, look good, and are seemingly the right shoe to wear for everything outside of the most aggressive road, cyclocross, or mountain bike riding. Honestly, it's refreshing to be able to say that I would pick these shoes over many others that cost quite a bit more. If that's not a vote of confidence toward this shoe, I don't know what is. They're definitely a good match for my foot (perhaps a sole mate?), and one I intend to have for a long time. Want to try on a pair for yourself? Come by our shops in Salt Lake City and Park City, we'll have them here for you to try on. For any other questions, feel free to call us during shop hours, or send us an email any time to email@example.com.