combo shoes

In our preparation for Interbike this year, we were informed of a Shimano press meeting to announce the release of their new, range topping Shimano SH-XC90 shoes which were to feature the Dynalast technology Shimano has been using in their road shoe line for a bit. We also received the more common Shimano SH-XC30 shoes: a three Velcro strap model you might see “Joe Average” wearing on a local trail ride.

Guitar Ted:

Custom insole supports for the XC-90's

Custom insole supports for the XC-90′s

Fit: The high end or low end Shimano shoes were generally off limits to me, since Shimano, in their earlier years of SPD shoe models, had a foot last that was too wide for my skinny little tootsies.  I have really odd feet for an American, and generally shoes like Sidi, Lake, and other more “Euro” fitting shoes were what I had to look toward for mountain biking.  Getting the news that we were going to test Shimano shoes was kind of interesting then. Would the new shoes be any different? Or- would I end up having to pass on these due to fit issues?

Fortunately, the answer is “no” to both questions for myself. Shimano has at some point really changed their fit from “roomy” and too wide for me to something that works for me. Surprisingly so, especially in the case of the SH-XC90’s, which were fitting me so well I couldn’t believe they were Shimano shoes!  The lower end SH-XC30’s were just average in fit, but by no means are they a bad fit. Both shoes felt great on the feet and only the “racier” fit of the 90’s was different here.

Ultra-stiff soles here!

Ultra-stiff soles here!

Ride Feel: After fitting Shimano cleats, (easy-peasy, as you would expect), I took both pair of shoes out for several trail rides and gravel road excursions. Both were used in hot to mid-range temperatures and on short rides and longer rides over three hours. Both were ridden in the rain and dust and dirt.

The Shimano SH-XC90, with the high tech Dynalast technology, felt really different. Of course, the full carbon sole meant that the shoe felt beyond efficient. That in combination with probably the best heel fit I have ever experienced in a shoe, the 90’s made me notice just how inefficient all other shoes I have worn really are. You can get into all the Dynalast technical gobbled-gook if you want to, but essentially Shimano is claiming that the SH-XC90 shoes are better not only putting the power down, but on your upstroke as well, claiming double digit percentage increase in pedaling efficiency. All I know is that you can definitely feel this. It is for real. I can only imagine that if I were to be looking for that last bit of an advantage as a racer, these shoes would make a lot of sense.  That’s before having them heat formed to your feet. (Yes, these are moldable via a special heat/vacuum process at select Shimano dealers.)

shimano SH-XC90shimano SH-XC90shimano SH-XC90

shimano SH-XC90shimano SH-XC90shimano SH-XC90

shimano SH-XC90shimano SH-XC90shimano SH-XC90

The SH-XC30’s, on the other hand, felt…….well, normal.  I had great rides in these with no complaints at all with regard to fit or function, but they certainly were not the “uber-stiff”, ultra-efficient feeling  shoes the 90’s were.  Again- these are great shoes, just not extraordinary, like the 90’s, but the price difference should tell you that much about them. What were some of the other outstanding differences to me?

shimano SH-XC30shimano SH-XC30shimano SH-XC30

Compare & Contrast: Here is where these two shoes really are different- Walkability. I saw a recent review that stated the SH-XC90’s were just peachy to walk in. Really?  Maybe if you are wont to walk with two boards strapped to your feet all the time, you don’t notice this, but to me, the 90’s were not the shoe I would want to be caught walking in more than a few tens of feet, if I could help it. Make no mistake- the SH-XC90’s were meant to be pedaled in, not walked on. While Shimano made some small concession to the foot bed shape and with cleat design to help with hike-a-bike sections, these shoes aren’t walker friendly like the 30’s are, which I could walk in all day, if I had to. Furthermore, after a particularly wet ride in the 90’s, I just about had my rear end introduced to the floor when I stepped into a coffee shop for an after ride pick-me-up. The 90’s are not smooth floors friendly! The 30’s? These are just fine in that regard.

The second big difference is in air flow over the foot. The SH-XC30 is a bit hot in warmer weather, and this is due to its minimal venting. On the other hand, you might swear a fan is blowing on your bare foot when wearing the 90’s. The venting on these shoes was the best I’d ever ridden in. Too cold at anything below 40°F for me!

Grannygear’s thoughts:

SH-XC30

shimano SH-XC30

UPPER

  • Tough, stretch-resistant synthetic leather and mesh
  • Low profile, triple off-set straps prevent uncomfortable pressure on foot and make the most rough terrain smooth pedaling

LAST

  • Volume performance last

SOLE

  • Polyurethane lugs optimally placed with arch pad for pedal stability
  • Glass fiber reinforced polyamid sole
  • Best matched with PD-M520

The SH-XC30′s were the first shoe of the pair that I tried on and I had not been in a set of shoes with only Velcro closures for some time.  They are a simple shoe, easy to deal with in that regard and have what you would say is a ‘normal’ overall look and function as an MTB shoe.  The sole is a hard material so I expect them to be a bit skate-y on rocks, etc.  There is rubber-like material in the mid-sole so if you step there you have some purchase.  There is no provision for toe cleats.  The insole is plain jane compared to the XC90 but there is some level of arch support in the shoe sole. However, you can get the super-sole that is in the XC90 and put it into the XC30.

Wearing the XC30 is a decent but unremarkable experience but at what a quick web search revealed as a $100.00 (or less than) retail, it is quite a decent shoe.  The two straps at the toe section and mid foot are offset to lessen pressure over the instep and the shoe looks rugged enough to last for your 100 bucks.  And really, this level of shoe is all about value and the SH-XC30 is poised to bring that to the trail.  Interestingly enough, Shimano suggests pairing it with a PD-M520 pedal, which fits into the same price point.

Did I miss the ultra adjustability of something like a Boa Lacing equipped shoe?  Yes, yes I did.  But I can live without it for the couple of hundred dollars you save here.  The shoe seemed stiff enough for me at 190lbs and walking or hike a bike was good too, but not anything like the Specialized Rime shoes were with that Vibram sole.  If I were a smart shopper, I might buy these XC30s and then opt for the nice customizable Shimano inserts like those in the XC90s, install them and up the support within the XC30 shoe to another level.

SH-XC90

shimano SH-XC90

UPPER

  • Heat moldable Custom-fit Technology
  • Rovenica® ultra-fine fiber synthetic leather
    Supple, lightweight, comfortable with excellent elasticity
    Superior durability and high abrasion resistance
  • Multi-layered moisture control mesh
  • Anti-slip heel lining
  • Low-profile micro-adjust buckles
  • Cross X Strap is optimized for relieving tension on top of foot during push off motion
  • Custom-Fit heat moldable insole with adjustable arch wedge provides support while optimizing heel stabilization

LAST

  • Shimano Dynalast XC secures the foot into the ideal ergonomic position for a more efficient up-stroke

SOLE

  • XC race specific outsole is lightweight, ultra-stiff and combined with a lower stack height provides superior energy transfer and efficiency
  • Ultra-stiff carbon fiber midsole shank and outsole plate
  • Mud-shedding polyurethane outsole lugs
  • Low-profile design spike plugs, with optional metal toe spikes for increased traction
  • Available in half sizes and wide last
  • Best matched with PD-M980, PD-M985

The XC90s are really quite impressive and at a suggested retail of $370.00, they should be.  With the same offset toe and mid-foot velcro straps as the XC30, but adding a ratcheting buckle to the top strap for finer tuning on-the-fly, they do not immediately come off as super high end shoe, what with no bright colors or Boa lacing.  Until you slip them on and ride.  Oh, that is what these shoes are all about.  They are quite possibly, well no, they are for sure the most supportive and comfortable cycling shoes I have ever worn.  The carbon sole is very, very stiff and that makes for a shoe that holds up well to hard efforts and long days pushing on an SPD pedal.  Walking in them, and certainly hike a biking in them, better be restricted to ‘really, really have to’ moments because they are so stiff that the heel will lift off the shoe insole with every step.  It is kind of like walking uphill in Dutch wooden shoes.  Blame the Stiffness Level of 11 for that.

But that aside, why are they so good when we are pedaling in them?  Too begin with they have a very supple, almost loafer like feel to the uppers.  I assume this is the ROVENICA® synthetic leather working here.  Then there is the effort that Shimano put into keeping your heel in place in the heel cup of the shoe, showing, as measured with a high tech machine they developed, that this is a key improvement in pedaling efficiency and power transfer.  The ‘Cat’s Tongue’ fabric in the heel cup that tends to hold the sock down and the shoes construction do make a difference here and although I sure cannot quantify this into a faster ride, it feels great.  The insole is adjustable with different instep varus wedges right out of the box (two included) and cradles the foot in a blissful place.  I also noticed, and this was for both shoes, that the outside of the foot was held a bit more ‘level’ when I pedaled like my foot was rolled slighty inboard toward the crank arm…subtle but I noticed it as I tend to overpronate.  To go further, Shimano offers, though authorized dealers, as Guitar Ted mentioned, Custom-Fit, a custom moldable process that really makes the XC90 into a true made-for-you fit.

I really like the XC90s as long as I do not intend to do much of any trail exploration or day hikes.  But for racing or long training rides, the XC90s are at the top of my list at the moment.

Note: Shimano provided the shoes for this test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being bribed nor paid for this review. We will strive to be honest with our thoughts and opinions throughout.