Specialized Expert XC Mountain Bike Shoes
  • Total score
4

Summary

The Specialized Expert XC shoes are a fantastic value, with many features found in top-level shoes costing hundreds of dollars more.

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Pros

  • A very stiff and comfortable XC shoe
  • Much improved styling from Specialized
  • Durable and versatile for use in multiple riding disciplines, whether for XC racing, gravel cycling or trail riding

Cons

  • They look slightly bulky
  • Sizing runs large
  • Heavier than their direct competition
  • Fit could be further improved with a second Boa dial (which is the case in the new Recon 3.0 shoes)
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If you have read my review of the excellent Shimano XC7 mountain bike shoes you might already be aware that I am a fan of bright red cycling shoes. Here is a review for another fantastic pair of XC shoes in my favorite color!

All joking aside, I am a self-confessed cycling shoe addict. Being a multi-discipline rider who rides road and off-road in nearly equal measure, I’ve come to acknowledge that there is no holy grail of cycling shoes because of the wonderful diversity in riding surfaces and scenarios.

A weekend club ride is different from a full-steam XC race from a long-distance gravel ride.  Still, I do have a personal preference for shoes that lean towards the lighter and stiffer end of the spectrum.

Specialized is known for making some of the most innovative bicycles in the world, but they also have a line of apparel and components (most notably, saddles and shoes) that use what they call BodyGeometry technology.

Beyond all the marketing speak, many BodyGeometry products I have tried seem to indeed be optimized for better ergonomics in line with Specialiazed’s claims. The Expert XC shoes are an example of this in terms of fit and comfort on the bike.

Who is it for?

Judging by the name alone, you’d be correct to assume that the Expert XC would are aimed at keen XC riders. An upper mid-tier shoe designed for the demands of XC riding happens to also have features that appeal to cyclocross, gravel and road riders who’d rather use a shoe with a more pronounced sole tread than the anemic soles of classic road shoes.

The Expert XC is one level down on Specialized’s mountain bike shoes line-up from the top of the line, uber-expensive S-Works XC Shoe. While the price difference between the Expert XC and its more premium sibling is not insignificant, there are many features that trickle down from the S-Works shoe that make the Expert XC a great value pair of XC racing shoes.

It is worth noting that while you can still buy the Expert XC from many stockists, Specialized’s current mountain bike shoe line-up has changed the model range nomenclature to the to use the Recon label. The current equivalent to the Expert XC is the Recon 3.0, and the S-Works XC is now the S-Works Recon.

Features and styling

When it comes to looks, I personally think that Italian shoes from the likes of Sidi, Gaerne and Fizik have the best designs. Specialized’s recent crop of mid-tier to high-end shoes seems to be somewhat inspired by Italian styling, which is a good thing.

The Expert XC has a more svelte profile than previous Specialized shoes I have owned. The Expert XC comes in three other colors: black, charcoal/ion and desert camo.

The shoe’s upper is liberally perforated for breathability and has minimal branding on the toe and heel without garish graphics (unless you opt for the desert camo colorway, which isn’t my cup of tea!). The color of the heel cup matches the sole and trim around the ankle collar. The shoe still looks slightly bulkier than comparable shoes from Shimano (XC7) Sidi (Eagle 10) and Gaerne (Kobra), but not obnoxiously so.

Like the Shimano XC7, there is a single Boa IP1 dial on the outside of the shoe upper, combined with a single Velcro strap that seems to serve little more than aesthetic purposes beyond the initial fit adjustment.

On the trail with the Specialized Expert XC

The Specialized Expert XC has been in my regular cycling shoe rotation since March 2020, and, aside from some minor niggles, they’ve been some of my favorite shoes of all time.

In terms of stiffness, they’re just right for this category of shoe. The carbon fiber plate in the outsole provided a stiff pedaling platform while not feeling overly stiff on endurance rides or off the bike. With some very non-scientific judgement, they feel as stiff as my Shimano XC7 but not as stiff as my DMT M2 (which is a good thing, as I think the DMT M2 is a bit too stiff).

The Expert XCs are admirably durable. I’ve ridden in them over some harsh and abrasive terrains and they have held up beautifully. Sure, they have some battle scars to show, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from a distance. The familiar Boa IP1 dials have performed as expected, and while they did get a bit stiff due to exposure to dirt and mid, it’s nothing a quick clean didn’t fix.

I opted for size 45 going by my sizing previous Specialized shoes I have owned. If you fit well in Shimano and Sidi size EUR 45, the Expert XC are going to feel a little on the larger size. I would have returned them and gone with 44.5 but it was out of stock at the time I purchased them.

With the Boa dials tightened down adequately, there wasn’t any noticeable heel slip during vigorous pedaling. If I were to race CX in them (which I did’t), maybe my opinion would change because when you run in stiff cycling shoes that don’t perfectly fit heel slip might be more pronounced. That being said, I don’t mind the slightly larger fit because they allow me to wear thicker socks in cooler temperatures.

In terms of weight, they’re average. My size 45 pair weighed in at 850g, 74g than the Shimano XC7 in the same size.

Specialized uses a rubber compound that they call SlipKnot in the outsole, which they claim provides good traction and durability in all conditions. I found the outsole to be grippy enough and the tread lugs are much more pronounced than comparable shoes, which made for good traction in loose terrain. There are bolt holes for toe spikes, if you need them.

Final thoughts

The Specialized Expert XC shoes are one of my favorite pairs of cycling shoes among those I have bought in the last couple of years. They’re a fantastic value, with many features found in top-level shoes costing hundreds of dollars more.

They’re not the lightest nor the best looking, but they are durable, stiff and comfortable and relatively affordable, which is pretty much everything you’d want in a do-everything shoe for multi-discipline riding.

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