Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Review: Shimano SH-XM9 gore-tex touring cycling shoe

 Just a short 11 years ago, I reviewed the Lake winter cycling shoes. The Lakes are warm boots that were best at very cold and dry conditions. Anything else (i.e. rain/wet) and they're not so great. Their Boa lacing system is one that either you love or hate -- I still think they're solving a problem in bike shoes that don't need to be solved as they do with ski boots. So there. Oh yeah, and the Lake boots don't pass the "may look nerdy, but not bike nerdy" test. 

Enter the Shimano SH-XM9 winter cycling shoe. I got this pair last year and I've given them a sound beating. I'm ready to share my thoughts...


I love em. In all the ways I was disappointed by the Lake shoes, I've been impressed and delighted by the Shimano boots. (They're labeled "shoes" -- by what metric do these meet that definition?)

Let's start with basics: they have laces. That is the correct, proper, and a well-understood way to fasten your boots tightly. Centuries of shoe-tyers can't be wrong! Laces work! Laces Out!

The boots have a webbing strap at the ankle that hold the laces -- coupled with open lace hooks above the ankle and magically strong laces, suffering through the ancient task of manually tying the boots is mercifully efficient. And of course there's a stretchy lace-keeper where you can stuff your tied laces.

As for the "blend in effect" -- they do ok. One thing I always like to find are clothes and shoes that are pretty normal looking and will wear fine in most casual contexts. Although I no longer commute, I still appreciate being able to wear bike-useful clothes as a default mode. This approach makes hopping on the bike for a spin much less of a ritualized event.

I especially don't want to be bikey guy with weird shoes that can barely walk or that looks like Flash Gordon. So while these are some generically damn nerdy looking boots, they're not bike-specifically damn nerdy, and that tiny sliver of difference is all it takes!

Cold? check. Wet? check. Even warm and summer? works -- a bit steamy, but passable. I'm not gonna carry on about the magic that is Gore-tex, because I bowed down long ago. There's a lot of snake-oil charleton bullshit claims of "breathable AND warm when wet" that are just bunk. Gore-tex -- especially in footwear, puts out. 

I wear two layers of thin wool dress socks with these suckers and I'm always warm. Pic above is buddy Joe at about 25F on top of Beacon Hill. This is proof that I've been outside with these boots when it was cold. 

For rain -- I learned in a misery fest ride in early fall on a rainy-assed climb on the Kettle Crest Trail that I need to make sure the upper cuff is tented with pants or god-forbid gaiters.

See -- that's a normal nerd look. Not a bike-specific nerd look. Boom. They look good after a year's worth of service. And while I don't wear them a lot, when I do, the conditions are either cold or sucky or both. So these guys mostly get hard use. They're wearing well. As they should. They retail for like $200. But looks like you can find them for around $150. Very worth it.

Of course they're SPD (and other lesser cleats) compatible. That's an obvious requirement. 

But guess what else: they actually wear like a normal boot. If you could get over the extra crunching and screeching brought on by hiking over rocks with an SPD cleat installed, you could do actual, real hiking in these. 

Of course, I make this claim as one who is no fan of walking and disdains hiking. Especially up hill: what's the bloody point? you can't even coast down. Nevertheless, a guy could use these to hike, they're comfy and provide manly support.

The summary: good stuff these boots.