Review: Shimano SH-XC90 Mountain Bike Shoe

Shimano’s SH-XC90 shoe is their top-of-the-line cross country racing shoe. But even if you don’t race at all, you can still love these shoes to death! Read on about my raceless experiences in these racing shoes.

Photos: Jeff
Photo: Jeff

Specs

The Shimano SH-XC90 mountain bike shoes weigh in at a ridiculously-light reported weight of 627 grams (size 40) for the pair, or 314 grams per shoe, without cleats. However, unlike some uber-lightweight shoes that sacrifice features in search of absolute low weight, the XC90s still sport a dependable ratchet buckle, toe cleats, and a reasonable amount of sole lugs.

The big news on the XC90 is the heat moldable custom-fit technology. While this is common place in the ski industry, heat molding and customized fit hasn’t really caught on in the bike world… perhaps, not until now. It might be a little tricky to find a place to mold these shoes for you, however: Shimano recommends their certified shoe fitters, but I’ve heard reports that most any ski shop should be able to mold these shoes for you.

The shoe uppers consist of “Rovenica ultra-fine fiber synthetic leather,” which is “supple, lightweight, comfortable with excellent elasticity” and features “superior durability and high abrasion resistance,” according to Shimano.

In addition to the ratchet closure, which I again have to mention is fantastic at this weight, the XC90s have a “Cross X Strap” design, which essentially means the direction of the middle strap is opposite of the ratchet and lowest strap, which is rather unusual. Shimano claims that this design “is optimized for relieving tension on top of [the] foot during push off motion.”

Cross X Strap Design
Cross X Strap Design. Photo: Jeff.

The last of the shoe is Shimano’s carbon Dynalast XC, which of course they claim is ergonomically designed, and ideal for a “more efficient up-stroke.”

The sole of the shoe is an ultra-stiff XC sole, featuring an “ultra-stiff carbon fiber midsole shank and outsole plate.”

Out on the Trail

Full disclosure: while the big news with these mountain bike shoes is the heat molding properties, I didn’t actually get them heat molded. For starters, the closest certified Shimano fitter was about 3 hours away, and when I got these shoes in September at Interbike, my closest fitter didn’t even have the machine to heat and mold these shoes yet. Of course, I could have tried a ski shop, but after dialing in the adjustable insole inserts for my foot type, these shoes were incredibly comfortable even without heat molding. As the process of looking for a place to get these shoes molded dragged on, I realized that I’d already been riding them for over a month with no heat molding, and I had no issues. So I just decided to drop that idea.

Trail: Captain Ahab, Moab, Utah.
Trail: Captain Ahab, Moab, Utah. Self Portrait.

I’ve been riding these shoes since September, and in that time I have logged quite literally thousands of miles with these on my feet. I’ve pedaled after work mountain bike rides, road rides, epic 4+ hour mountain bike loops, and everything in between in these shoes. Simply put, they are some of the best shoes I’ve ever worn.

In the past, I’ve reviewed an uber-lightweight XC mountain biking shoe that wasn’t comfortable and didn’t feature the security of a ratchet strap. With the XC90, I have neither of those issues: these shoes boast the security of a ratchet strap, the stiffness and utter speed that only a flyweight carbon shoe can provide, but as I mentioned above, they’re still extremely comfortable!

Trail: Uncle Nazty, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Ryan Knobbe.
Trail: Uncle Nazty, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Ryan Knobbe.

I’ve done quite a few hike-a-bike climbs in these shoes, and while they are most definitely not intended for that application, the low profile toe spikes and the minimal, but present, lugs have made the task quite doable. Additionally, I’ve been extremely impressed with the longevity and durability of these shoes. I’ve had issues in the past with shoes delaminating after serious use, which is one of the reasons I’ve held off on this review for so long, but as of this moment the XC90s are still in superb condition. Yes, there are some scuffs here and there and a few signs of wear and tear, but considering the amount of torture I’ve put these through, I think they look pristine for their age.

Bottom Line

Are you looking for an extremely comfortable, secure, long-lasting pair of ultra-lightweight carbon XC mountain bike shoes? The Shimano SH-XC90s fit that bill perfectly!

These shoes do carry an MSRP of $370, which is more than some people are willing to pay for an entire bike. However, if you want to get most of these same features and performance at a lower cost, be sure to check out the rest of Shimano’s incredible shoe line! Simply stepping down one notch to the XC70 saves $100, and the rest of the shoes are even more affordable.

Many thanks to Shimano for providing the SH-XC90 shoes for review.

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