Premium XC Shoes – Should You Buy Them?

Premium XC Shoes – Should You Buy Them?

Photo by Specialized

I recently bought a pair of S-Works Recon, premium XC shoes with a premium price tag. They retail for $425 but can be found on sale for around $340. Lining up my mountain biking shoes over the last decade, these carbon fiber slippers would stand out starkly as extreme outliers.

My typical shoes are heavy skate-inspired shoes with fully rubber soles for hiking. The Recons aren’t that at all. Instead, they’re light, sleek, and oh so stiff. They’re not made for walking or blending in at the bar. They’re premium XC shoes made for throwing down as much power as possible for as long as you can while breathing out of your eyes. People will expect you to order wheat-grass juice and water when walking into a bar wearing the S-Works Recons. I no longer really fit that archetype, so why would I buy premium XC shoes? Why would you?

The other shoes in my rotation are Shimano AM-901’s, heavy lace-up DH/Enduro shoes complete with a lace cover. They hike well, with a grippy rubber sole, and protect my feet when I accidentally punt rocks. The Recons could not be more different. They’re too stiff to hike comfortably. Even if they flexed naturally, they have so little rubber on the sole that it feels like wearing roller skates while hike-a-biking over rocks.

Where I live, many of the best trails require some hiking. Hiking is the “pound of flesh” extracted for riding such sublime jank, and it’s a heavy price to pay when you’re exhausted and hungry. The last thing you want to do is hoist the bike up some heinous incline of Volkswagen-sized boulders.

Tarry a little, there is something else. This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood; The words expressly are "a pound of flesh."

Portia, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare

So why would someone with a proclivity for awkward and steep trails that require hiking buy featherweight XC shoes that are terrible at hiking?

Well, like many others, my riding is becoming extremely bifurcated. I either do rides that involve hike-a-biking and technical descents, or I go for long pedaling missions where I’m trying to cover ground quickly, often on mixed surfaces. For the latter, the S-Works Recon is near perfect. Securing holding my foot with a gentle hug and efficiently applying every ounce of power I have to the bike. If I’m confident on a particular route that I’ll remain on my bike, I’ll take the Recons.

There’s a lot of marketing trying to convince you these are great mountain bike shoes. They aren’t (at least for my narrowly defined and preferred kind of mountain biking). They are, however, excellent off-road cycling shoes.

Do you want to do a gravel ride involving a little singletrack, an XC race, or the local cyclocross series?

These shoes are incredible. They’re light and comfortable, and efficient. But, of course, the fit is highly individual, so your experience may vary. But if your riding is as bifurcated as mine, I highly recommend having a pair of shoes to match each purpose.

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Avatar for Peter Haile
Peter Haile

Whether pushing his limits on technical trails, seeing what’s around the next corner, or tinkering in his shop; Peter enjoys life to the full. In addition to bikes, he enjoys frame building, graphic design, and math. He lives in Asheville, NC with his wife and son.

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