Although Shimano's top-end SH-XC90 shoes seem to draw all of the marketing attention, it's the second-tier XC70 model that have really attracted our eyes, packing most of the performance of the flagship model but at a significantly lower cost. Unless your feet absolutely need the custom mouldability of the XC90s, these should be all the shoe any cross-country (or cyclocross) rider will ever need.
It's generally wise not to use relatively untested gear in a mountain bike race – in particular, one that's 111km (69mi) long with more than 2,100m (7,000ft) of climbing. And there are few pieces of gear to which that rule is more applicable than shoes… and yet that's just what we did. While we had all sorts of aches and pains after crossing the finishing line, our feet were impressively cosy and have stayed that way for every ride since.
Even without the heat mouldable uppers of their more expensive SH-XC90 cousin, Shimano's SH-XC70 shoes proved to be wonderfully comfortable
We didn't really notice the reduction in foot fatigue that Shimano claims with the new, flatter Dynalast shape, but the roomier toe box left ample room for our little piggies to wiggle around. Further back, though, the well-shaped synthetic leather uppers wrap tightly with their cleverly reversed middle straps (something Alberto Contador used to have done on his custom Sidis), ratcheting main buckles, and deep heel cups.
Despite the very secure hold, the feel was very evenly and pleasantly snug, with no pressure points to pinch or rough interior seams to irritate. Should you need them, Shimano makes the XC70s in a wide fit, too.
The XC70 shoes are built with abbreviated carbon fibre reinforcing plates in the midsoles rather than the full-length plates in the XC90. Whatever difference in stiffness that results is slight at best, as we still found the XC70s to be plenty stout. Moreover, there's essentially no weight penalty. Shimano's own specs put the XC70 just 5g behind per pair. We weighed our size 43s at a good – though not fantastic – 730g including the heat mouldable insoles.
Real carbon fibre is only used under the cleat area but the shoes are still amply stiff for everyday cross-country riding
Shimano graces the XC70s with a more generous tread than the XC90 although, as with any stiff-soled mountain bike shoe, walking is best left to short stints – and the shorter, the better. The cat's-tongue lining in the heel cup also keeps the backs of your feet from pulling out of the shoe when trudging uphill (without wearing holes in your socks or creating blisters) but the tread blocks themselves are still awfully hard. Grip is pretty good on softer surfaces but scrambling on rocks and roots can be a little treacherous.
We've noticed slightly faster-than-expected wear on the tread (which is non-replaceable) but the uppers have been holding up quite well otherwise, particularly with the light armouring built around the toe box. Past experience has demonstrated excellent overall durability with Shimano footwear, too.
There's light armouring around the toe box to protect your feet from minor impacts. The vent in the front of the shoe is legitimately functional
All that said, the XC70 shoes are clearly intended primarily for pedalling, not walking, and in that context there's little to complain about. Though perhaps a bit pricey, they're very comfortable, they're well built, and unless you're planning on spending a lot of time on foot in rocky conditions, should last for several seasons.