The reinforced glass-fibre sole features a Michelin rubber outsole and treads, the synthetic material upper has mesh-backed perforations for breathability and the fastening is a Boa plus toe strap combination.
Against my expectations of being a narrow-ish standard 46, the fit of this shoe is snug for length without being too small – though Shimano also makes this in a wider-fitting version.
Shimano describes the shoe as having a “surround wrapping upper construction”, which means that there is no separate tongue. Instead, the two edges of the upper form an overlap that wraps around your foot, fastening asymmetrically on the outside. It provides an extremely comfortable fit without any extra layers to move around or rub as you ride or walk.
As with Fizik’s Terra X5s, the wide spacing of the sole’s lug pattern is effective at shedding mud quickly, but in combination with the relatively narrow outsole platform, these don’t grip as well or feel as secure as Lake’s MX176s when you’re pushing over the rock-hard, torn-up tank tracks that are a feature of my local Salisbury Plain routes.
At the toe, the lug is in the centre and I suspect that in soft conditions, I’d be tempted to add the studs for better balance, something I don’t usually bother with unless I’m racing.
The racier XC performance pedigree really shows when you’re riding. The power transfer is immediate and the pedalling platform solid, though as you might expect, this stiffness has a definite downside when you have to get off and push.
There’s very little flex in the forefoot and this is not a shoe I’d like to wear tackling significant walking sections, and the XC501 feels even less stable on uneven terrain.
However, despite the stiffness, the fit of the XC501 is so snug that there is no heel slip. So, if your regular rides only include shorter walking sections or your primary focus is pedalling efficiency, the extra power transfer of Shimano’s XC501s is likely to be a happy compromise.
How we tested
The best gravel bikes shoes need to balance stiffness and efficient power transfer, comfort for longer rides and walkability for rugged terrain or off-the-bike use.
Throw into the mix the special individuality of fit and it is easy to see why there is unlikely to be one perfect solution so the best place, as with everything bike, is to start by considering your own skills, fitness and preferred riding in order to understand whether you might want to trade off some walking ease for stiffness or if comfort is everything.
So, to help you choose what’s best for you, we’ve mixed up country lanes with dirt tracks, bridleways and forest roads on day-long routes. Nothing too extreme technically but all calling for dismounts to push up steep climbs, open gates and to hit the coffee queue.
Also on test:
- Bontrager GR2
- Fizik Terra X5
- Giro Sector
- Lake MX176
- Mavic Allroad Pro
- Northwave Rockster
- Rapha Explore
- Scott MTB Comp Mid
- Specialized Recon 3.0