The clipless diaries, part 9: Shimano XC5 SPD shoes

Shimano MT5s: Not the best footwear for knocking out 93 km non-stop.

While simulating the effort I would have pushed on a 200 km audax, I felt pain in my feet while pedaling away with the Shimano MT5 shoes. After a sustained 93 km with no breaks, the more pliable sole intended for walking and hike-a-bikes was working against me. The MT5s still are excellent shoes, especially for commuting, but on this ride I was definitely not using them as intended.

Unfortunately, as life circumstances dictate I commute by bike less, rides like these are my bread and butter these days. I went back to the RT33 shoes, which did the job better due to slightly more rated stiffness, but were long in the tooth and looking worse for wear.

My Shimano RT33 shoes definitely don’t look this fresh any more.

I decided to invest in a pair with a stiffer sole.

Shimano XC7 (SH-XC701). Note the dual Boa dials.

Before Built Cycles closed its ParaƱaque store recently, it offered good discount deals on its merchandise. I had been looking into the Shimano XC7 (SH-XC701) shoes for a while, but they had only the older model (SH-XC700) and in a smaller size, so that was a no-go.

Shimano XC7 (SH-XC700). This older model has the single Boa dial and a Velcro strap at the toe. Photo credit:

I ended up with the XC5 (SH-XC500) instead.

Shimano nomenclature would indicate that the XC5 is a cross-country shoe of sorts. It’s marketed toward the gravel riding crowd as a multi-surface shoe.

The XC5 in an alternate colorway. Not the one I got.

In reality, it’s best described as a mash-up improvement of both my present pairs of SPD shoes. The burlier touring/commuter styling cues, like the toe bumper and tread lugs, are a development from the MT5, while the general shape and sole stiffness are a progression from the RT33.

Since the Giro Empire road cycling shoe came out a few years ago, lace-up closures have become popular. For the XC5, Shimano implemented a “mini power strap” midway up the tongue, which allows relocation of a pair of lace eyelets, redistributes the tension of the laces, and helps the upper around the most rounded portion of the foot. Alternatively, the strap also divides the tongue into two zones of tension, one for your toes and another for your ankle. Because of their nature, laces offer very fine control over the snugness of the fit of the shoe upper. There’s also an elastic lace garage to prevent loose shoelace from snagging on your drivetrain and causing a crash.

If you’re not crazy about the orange laces shown, the XC5 also comes with a second set of laces in gray.

On my feet and straight out of the box, the XC5s fit a little narrow in my size EUR 44 (roughly a US 9.7), although the toe box on them offers about 3 cm more length for your toes for expansion when tired or swolen. I tweak the toe fit towards the loose side, while cinching down on the ankle to avoid heel lift. Thick socks were too much for my toes. I’ve read the synthetic leather upper does break in after a while, and it did so nicely on my pair.

Where the MT5 was rated a 4 on Shimano’s 12-point sole stiffness scale, and the RT33 a 5, the XC5 is rated a 7. This fulfills the original remit of a stiffer shoe on paper, although the racier, higher-end XC7 would have been rated a 9.

The improved stiffness is supposedly due to a carbon reinforcement plate. This stops just short of the entire midsole in a couple places, in a bid to retain enough flex for walking around.

As far as that particular activity goes, the XC5s are a much improved version of the RT33s. Your foot still just rocks back and forth on the tread lugs with each forward step, even more so now because the sole is stiffer and more unyielding. However, the Michelin-branded rubber compound used on the tread blocks (and shared with the XC7) has much better grip on pavement and smooth tiled surfaces compared to the smooth outsole of the RT33. The fancy rubber even covers the middle of the shoe, which is great for moments when you can’t clip in, but have to pedal anyway. Shimano also provides threaded mounting points for 16 mm toe spikes for especially muddy terrain.

If walking as naturally as possible is the priority, neither shoe is a patch on the MT5, which is basically a hiking shoe with a cleat on the bottom. That said, things have certainly advanced since the days of hard, slippery plastic lugs on cross-country MTB shoes.

With pedaling loads and stresses going through them, the XC5 is a welcome, if incremental, improvement over the RT33. There’s less of the shoe yielding to your pedaling motion; it’s a more direct transfer of your leg power to the cranks. It worked well on the turbo trainer, and after putting in some outdoor miles, the XC5 was no slouch either. On very long rides, such as a 200 or 300 km audax, the added stiffness will help resist the painful feeling of your feet contorting around the cleat and SPD mechanism.

It loses to the older shoe though, in outright ventilation. My feet breathed better in the RT33’s mesh toe box. On the XC5 you should expect a tendency toward clammy feet on hot days, although this isn’t so bad as to be a deal-breaker for me.

No flash.
With flash.

One area the XC5s are better than any version of the XC7s are for commuting. The entire heel panel of the XC5 is reflective, lighting up very starkly when hit by light. As it’s on a part that’s continuously moving, it’s bound to catch the eye of other road users more easily.

Shimano RT4 – the lace-up successor to the RT33 and RT82 road touring shoes.

I remember hankering after the RT4 shoes during my trip to Japan in 2017, especially since the shoe was never made available for retail sale in the Philippines. While it’s unfortunate that the RT4 — and its Velcro sibling the RT5 — are still forbidden fruit to this day, for the kind of riding I do, I think the XC5 outdoes them both. In many ways, the XC5 is the next step up if you’ve already cut your teeth on the Shimano Road Touring footwear line: a stiffer pedaling platform wrapped in a grippier outsole.


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