In addition to their proven legacy as a manufacturer of race-winning drivetrains, pedals and wheels, Shimano has also been in the footwear business for decades. From high-performance road shoes to clipless-ready Birkenstock-like sandals, Shimano has always delivered an innovative and performance-driven product for all categories of cycling to complement their hard-parts catalog.
With that history in mind, it was a bit of a shock to hear that their newest shoe to hit the market was a gravel-inspired shoe given that as popular as the segment has become, Shimano has yet to formally address it with any specific drivetrain components.
Yes, the XC5 resembles a mountain bike shoe in name, but realizing that gravel riding was a growing market with unique needs that weren’t reflected in their current footwear lineup, Shimano says they began prototyping a gravel-friendly shoe over three years ago.
One of the first things you notice is the shoe uses laces, unlike most of the Shimano performance shoes. There is a unique mini power strap that is borrowed from the XM9 boot that, unlike most lace-secured shoes, allows users the ability to adjust the tension in two separate zones of the shoe. There is a Michelin full rubber outsole that is single density for great traction in the mud or dry conditions.
Under that rubber from the midsole forward is a carbon reinforcement for added stiffness but also much needed when the pedaling effort turns to walking. There are two spike mounts in the front for those more extreme conditions, but spikes are not included.
The upper is a synthetic leather that has perforations on both sides and the tongue. The rear heel cup features a very large reflective section to increase your visibility on those early-morning or late-afternoon rides.
When we first laced up the XC5, we noticed how roomy the toe box is. Not only did it feel spacious, but it was very easy to adjust the upper to many different foot shapes. The rear of the shoe slimmed up, but there is a lot of padding around the heel cup, letting it mold to the contour of the foot. The mini power strap needed some thought, but after thinking it through it allowed us to fine-tune our exact tension and separate the rear tension from the front.
Lace shoes have been making a big resurgence in the last few years, and one thing that has always been an issue is readjusting tension mid-ride as the laces slowly tend to loosen. The mini power strap minimizes this possibility and gives the rider a quick adjustment point without having to untie the shoe.
One thing that seems inevitable in every long gravel adventure is the inclusion of sections that force you to walk and push your bike, and the XC5 proved more than adept. Sure, bikes were meant to be ridden not pushed, but sometimes you can’t inhibit where a gravel bike goes, and the XC5 has a great spring to it, making those times less painful. The shoes have adequate ventilation, and paired with a good sock, it will keep most feet happy for those long days on the bike no matter the temperature.
At the end of the day this might not be your top-tier stiffest shoe, and being SPD (two-bolt)-dedicated means it won’t work with your road pedals, but at $150 and 323 grams per shoe, it’s hard to beat the value. What was missed is the fact that the insole didn’t fit many of our testers, but that is easily remedied with many custom insoles on the market.
A few of the testers with larger-volume feet were surprised at the adjustability and happy they didn’t need a special-order wide version like most other Shimano shoes, but the laces were too short for them and couldn’t be tucked into the loop meant to secure them. There is no wide option, and we don’t think it will be needed with the new wider toe-box last. The XC5 is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to gravel and multi-surface riding or racing.
- Priced for the masses
- Balanced comfort and performance for gravel riding
- Not road pedal compatible
Weight: 646 grams per set