Cross country slippers with carbon soles are about as comical to walk in as road cycling shoes. Firm, pointy cleats are designed to sharply bite the dirt, while they typically do the opposite when pressed against stones or barroom floors. The rubber on the soles of the Giant Charge Pro XC shoes is far grippier than any of the competition I have tested. The rigid, carbon-fiber sole is outfitted with a softer rubber that affords them confident off-the-bike traction, making the Charge Pro an ideal pair for riders who want lightweight, immediate power transfer and forest exploration capabilities in the same shoe.
The added grip also means you’ll be able to keep a foot on the pedal and leave the start line if you happen to miss the initial pedal engagement. It’s always better to clip in after a few crank rotations than to miss the holeshot altogether because your carbon sole slid all the way off the pedal platform.
With a set of Shimano SPD cleats installed, the EU size 43.5 pair I tested weighs 715g. While they are not the lightest XC shoes on the market, that added traction is well worth the small weight penalty. Charge Pro shoes (tested) come in half size increments from 41-48 in an electric blue color or solid black, and retail for $385 / €289. At one step down the Giant shoe rung, the Charge Elite shoes come in olive green or black, and retail for $275 / €209.
Charge Pro models tighten with a pair of BOA dials and a lone velcro strap just before the toe box, so dialing in fit with these shoes is easily sorted on the fly. The upper BOA lace runs through two sets of holes to tighten the majority of the shoe, while the lower dial only adjusts the mid-foot tautness. The upper dial would be sufficient on its own, and as such the lower acts as more of a fine tuning wheel. The velcro strap across the widest point of the foot is potentially the most important one, as toes are a common spot for pain and discomfort in stiff XC racing shoes. I have been able to cinch all three fasteners plenty tight around my narrow feet with minimal discomfort. If you’re switching to the Charge Pro from a more pliable set of gravity shoes they will take some time to adjust to and break in properly. I found them abrasively stiff at first, and now they fit like a rigid, power-transferring glove.
Having pedaled long dirt road rides and trail adventures alike in these shoes, I can confirm that the stiff sole feels efficient. There is very little flex in the platform, and you can not feel the pedal whatsoever, making hot spots nonexistent. The shoes feel well connected and unwaveringly supportive when it’s time to stand up and sprint over short climbs. I’m not racing XC or cyclocross these days, but if I were I would be happy to do it with these well-designed kicks strapped to my feet.
Heel support is another key ingredient in good XC shoes, and the “shark skin” lining that Giant adds to the inner heal works well to keep your heel planted while pulling on the pedal or sprinting. My heel does move a bit while walking uphill in the Charge Pro, but less so than with some other ultra-stiff shoes. All of that leverage and energy has to go someplace, and if Giant made these shoes as great for hiking as they are sprinting they would quickly become a heavy gravity pair.
The toe is protected by a sliver of tougher material to deflect sticks and stones on their way to your toes, and it does so fairly well. Toe traction can be enhanced by replacing the front two cleats with a set of metal spikes or bolts for cyclocross racing or muddy mountain bike slogs.
These shoes fall somewhere in the middle of the breathability scale. The “water resistant” PU synthetic upper is full of laser-cut holes to provide ventilation, and while it does provide some airflow this is definitely an area where the shoes could be improved. My feet aren’t necessarily soaked in sweat after a hot summer ride, so it’s not a glaring issue by any means, but they do feel hotter than some other XC shoes while pedaling.
Lastly, cleat engagement with the Charge Pro kicks uses a tighter tolerance than any other mountain bike shoe I have worn. With a Shimano cleat mounted directly against the sole I had a load of trouble getting clipped in or out, no matter how loose I set the pedal tension. The cleat sinks below the rubber tread more than with my other shoes, and the soft rubber was contacting the pedal before the cleat could engage. After adding the little metal spacer that Shimano provides with a package of cleats I was able to clip in without issue, though the engagement is notably tighter than with any of my other XC or gravity shoes. I like a tight engagement, but this may bother some riders who need their foot to float around on the pedal as they ride.
Folks who are searching for an efficient XC or cyclocross shoe with good grip and clean looks will likely be happy with the Charge Pro. The tight pedal interface and stiff sole make these a great pair of race kicks, and they feel sturdy enough to last a few seasons.
We would like to thank Giant for sending the Charge Pro shoes for testing and review.