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review

Shimano XC5 (XC501) SPD Shoes

9
£139.99

VERDICT:

9
10
Really good shoes for the money, finding the sweet spot between pedalling efficiency and off-bike walkabilty
Comfort
Full sole tread
Tenacious heel cup
No ratchet micro release
Weight: 
606g

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The Shimano XC5 (XC501) SPD shoe is a mid-pack mountain bike design that is incredibly comfortable, easy to walk in, good for more than just cross-country riding and punches above its weight performance-wise.

The XC5 sits midway in the Shimano XC shoe range, and in appearance they share a lot of the same DNA. If you want to feel speedy and emulate the top-end XC9 disco slippers for a fraction of the price, they're available in a shiny electric blue as well as this subdued black, and there's also a darker steely blue women's version.

> Find your nearest dealer here

Closure is taken care of by a single Boa L6 ratchet dial which tightens a wire crossing in a figure of eight over two hooks across the top of the foot and a small Velcro strap towards the toe. The latter doesn't do too much, as is often the way with a strap in this position, so it's up to the Boa to perform the lion's share of securing the shoe to the foot and it's a job it does with aplomb.

2021 Shimano XC5 SPD Shoes - boa.jpg

I'm a habitual ratchet tightener and in most every other pair of shoes I own I'll tighten things up at least once a ride as the shoes settle in and stretch with use and effort, and then there's always the traditional last hill tightening click, but I've not had to do this once with the XC5s. While the synthetic upper is comfortable and pliable, it's also incredibly sturdy, so once cinched up it doesn't want to budge. This is a good thing.

Unfortunately the Boa dials don't have a micro-release click so there's no way of making them just a bit looser; a stout tug outwards on the dial will release all the tension in one pop, which is great for taking the shoes off at the end of the ride but a bit annoying if you want to perform any fine adjustments on the move. That said, I found there was little need to fiddle with the dial once they were tightened up initially.

Upper

The synthetic leather used for the upper feels supple yet sturdy enough for off-road scuffles. It's essentially one piece of material, with just an added reinforced section to secure the strap across the toe. The under and over wraparound design eschews the traditional two sides and separate tongue opening and it's incredibly comfortable as the shoe wraps over the entire foot with no pressure points or seams to rub.

The lower flap of the upper is held in place with a thin elastic strap to the sole of the shoe which can make putting the shoes on a bit of a wiggle and fiddle to get everything in the right place, but it's worth it.

Venting in the upper is supplied via a network of holes with a mesh liner rather than the larger open mesh areas common in other shoes. It doesn't necessarily make them a warm shoe as these were worn in temperatures in the mid 20s and they were fine when I was moving. Stop and they do get toasty; I found I had to loosen the Boa and Velcro strap to deal with foot heat expansion, although I've had this issue in plenty of other shoes when paused mid-ride in the sun.

2021 Shimano XC5 SPD Shoes - toe.jpg

The pattern of small holes does help with the shoe's ability to deal with chillier temperatures, and also water resistance, be that from precipitation or muddy puddles. It also makes them easy to clean after such excursions.

Sole

The XC5s have a glass fibre-reinforced nylon sole with a stiffness rating of 7. There's no universal scale across shoe brands for sole rigidity, but Shimano's own chart tops out at 12 so these would sit about halfway – so a bit stiff for riding and a bit flexy for any walking. And that's exactly how the shoes feel: a good compromise between on-bike rigidity and off-bike usability.

> How to choose the best cycling shoes for you

You can tell they're not the stiffest, most efficient power transfer shoes, but that's not their raison d'être, and that's just fine – and you could even say that helps towards their comfort. I wore these on day-long rides without any issues and with none of the discomfort that might come from a super-rigid race shoe, especially when having to deal with off-road vibrations through the pedal.

2021 Shimano XC5 SPD Shoes - instep.jpg

The flex designed into the sole makes any off-bike activities incredibly easy, be that scrambling up a hill on a rocky hike-a-bike section or plodding around a shop hunting mid-ride snacks. They're not as comfy and grippy as more casually styled mountain bike shoes, but are really rather good for a cross county themed cycling shoe.

The tread on the bottom of the shoe is supplied by Michelin in what Shimano says is an exclusive high-traction, mud-shedding tread pattern outsole, and it does its job very well. It's not the most aggressive mountain bike sole out there, but it's fit for the shoe's purpose where you'll be mostly pedalling but might need to get off once in a while to scrabble up or down a steep bank, do a section of hike-a-bike or walk into a trail centre cafe.

2021 Shimano XC5 SPD Shoes - sole heel.jpg

The tread covers the whole of the bottom of the shoe – unlike others, which might leave a gap of naked sole, the XC5 retains a layer of textured grip in the midsole. This is great if you fluff a pedal clip-in, as you won't scuff the bottom of the shoe (if this matters to you) and the shoe will want to hold onto the pedal instead of slipping off; it's also good if you want to ride without being clipped in and rest a foot on the pedal – maybe when riding across a tricky bit of trail you're tentative about and want an emergency dab option.

2021 Shimano XC5 SPD Shoes - sole toe.jpg

It also offers a level of grip and sole protection if you're off the bike and walking across uneven terrain. There are threaded reinforced holes in the toe for studs or spikes should you feel the need; these are not supplied.

Fit

Fit is an interesting one on the XC5s. As far as sizing goes they're normal – I opted for the size I usually choose and they were perfect – but they're almost a different shoe front to back, with the heel being incredibly snug and the forefoot being spacious, and it works incredibly well.

A standout feature is the grip the heel has on the foot and it's amazing for pedalling efficiency. The inside of the heel is very well padded and is combined with a sturdy enough heel cup and profile that really grips the back of the foot, almost pinching the Achilles tendon. This really helps with foot security and eliminates any heel lift.

2021 Shimano XC5 SPD Shoes - heels.jpg

In contrast to this tight rear, the front of the shoe is incredibly roomy, with a toe box that's cut square before tapering where your pinkies start. There's none of the foot squashing or toe squeezing you can get from svelter race shoes, making the XC5s a great all-day and bit-of-everything choice.

2021 Shimano XC5 SPD Shoes - side.jpg

I took the shoes out on singlespeed rides, which are a good test of everything, not just your knees; they'll give a pair of shoes a hard time with frequent and extended grunty pulling up on the pedals as your feet try to rip themselves from the shoe, and the shoe from the pedal, to grind a bike up hills. It's a very quick way of highlighting any shortcomings in sole stiffness, upper stretchiness, and fastenings efficacy – and getting off and pushing is a great way of assessing their walkability.

The Shimano XC5s passed everything with flying colours. I didn't even have to touch the dials to tighten everything up again after particularly gurning climbs, as is the norm with other shoes.

Value and conclusion

The Bontrager Forays look to be the closest in price (£129.99) and performance to the Shimano XC5s, but appear to be a little more on the casual side and less mountain bike orientated, and greener. The Specialized Recon 1.0s do a similar thing and are £40 cheaper than the XC5s, but suffer from poor-closing Velcro straps.

Opting for straps over a Boa dial as well are the Fizik Terra Powerstrap X4 shoes; they're £149.99 and gravel based, so may not be as rugged or as suited to mountain hikes as the XC5s.

> Beginner’s guide to mountain bike and gravel shoes

The Rapha Explore Powerweave Shoes essentially do the same job of being adept at both riding and walking about in, but are nearly double the price, though they do look a fair bit more fancy.

While I'm a great fan of the shiny, light, carbon-infused, bells and whistles, dainty race slipper, I have a soft spot for the blue collar mountain bike shoe – the everyday pair that just get on with the job without fuss and don't have any prima donna character traits that fancy shoes might exhibit after a couple of hours. The XC5s are comfortable and dependable shoes for pretty much any off-road or bike-related shenanigans you might want to get up to – you can ride cross country in them, or across a country, use them for mountain bike racing or cyclo-cross, go gravel riding in them, commute in them, or just ride in them.

For a mid-range SPD shoe that can be ridden hard and then be happy to be walked about in, they're great. I'd quite like the spangly blue ones.

Verdict

Really good shoes for the money, finding the sweet spot between pedalling efficiency and off-bike walkability

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Shimano XC5 (XC501) SPD Shoes

Size tested: 41

Tell us what the product is for

Shimano says this is a lightweight, high performance, mid-range, cross-country shoe but it's much more than that. It's good for any kind of riding that requires on-bike comfort and off-bike walkability.

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

Shimano lists:

Low stack height midsole helps stabilize foot, maximizes power transfer and efficiency.

Surround wrapping upper structure reduces overlap, provides Glove-like fit.

Mesh/TPU/Synthetic leather composite upper provides comfortable fit and better breathability.

BOA® L6 dial for quick and precise micro-adjustment.

Glass fiber reinforced midsole for power transfer.

Exclusive MICHELIN high-traction, mud-shedding tread pattern outsole.

Reinforced spike mount for extreme conditions, 18 mm spike option.

Available in wide width.

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
9/10

Well made, though nothing fancy.

Rate the product for performance:
 
8/10

For the money it's a great shoe for all sorts of off-road riding shenanigans.

Rate the product for durability:
 
9/10

These have been put through the usual scuffs, rocks, brambles and misuse of off-road riding and they're holding up really well.

Rate the product for fit:
 
9/10

Their snug-in-the-rear, roomy-in-the-front design really worked for me, doing a great job of ensuring on-bike efficiency and all-day comfort.

Rate the product for sizing:
 
8/10

I'd say the sizing was spot on. They really suited me, and I err towards a snug race slipper.

Rate the product for weight:
 
5/10

They're not light, they're not heavy, for the money they're about right.

Rate the product for comfort:
 
9/10

A wide toe box, wraparound tongue design and supple yet resistant synthetic leather made these one of the most comfortable pairs of shoes I've worn, great for all-day rides. Not impossible to clamber up a rocky hillside trail either.

Rate the product for value:
 
7/10

They're slightly pricier than similar shoes from the likes of Bontrager and Specialized, £10 cheaper than Fizik's Terra Powerstrap X4 shoes, and half the price of Rapha's Explore Powerweave shoes that do a similar job. I think they're a very very good shoe for the money, no real complaints on anything.

How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?

The one-piece wraparound upper and holes rather than mesh panels make them really easy to wipe down after muddy rides.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

Billed as a cross-country (XC) shoe, the XC5 can do a lot more if you want, be that riding or racing XC, gravel riding, commuting, touring or something more adventurous if you need to push your bike up a mountain.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

All-day comfort, fully treaded sole, grippy heel.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

No micro-adjust Boa, although to be fair it was hardly needed.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

The Bontrager Foray shoes look to be the closest in price (£129.99) and performance to the Shimano XC5s but appear to be a little more on the casual side and less mountain bike orientated, and greener. The Specialized Recon 1.0 shoes do a similar thing and are £40 cheaper than the XC5s but suffer from poor closing Velcro straps. Opting for straps over a Boa dial as well are the Fizik Terra Powerstrap X4 shoes; they're a tenner more and are gravel based so may not be as rugged or suited to mountain hikes as the XC5s.The Rapha Explore Powerweave Shoes essentially do the same job of being adept at both riding and walking about in but are nearly double the price.

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes

Would you consider buying the product? Yes, I'd go for the snazzy blue ones though because I'm a shoe tart.

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Definitely

Use this box to explain your overall score

For a mid-range shoe the XC5s do a lot very well, and their tough exterior and multi-task sole should see you up and down a lot of mountains. They're an excellent buy.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 50  Height: 180cm  Weight: 73kg

I usually ride: It varies as to the season.  My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Experienced

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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