Let’s start off answering the first question that anyone will ask about the shoe’s performance: No, they are not as stiff as more traditional road-bike-style shoes. Some extremely scientific ‘bendiness’ testing performed by me at the local bike shop confirmed this in a hurry. If you are looking for a zero compromise, super stiff bike shoe, these aren’t them.
Having said that, I haven’t really noticed a big difference. Granted, I don’t race, and I don’t really set out on social rides to rip people’s legs off, but the difference between these and some high-end Louis Garneaus I was using all last season wasn’t really noticeable. I do tend to pedal hard as opposed to spin smoothly in a lower gear, and the riding in Vermont generally lends itself to the occasional short, hard power stroke, so it’s not as if I’m not pushing them pretty hard.
If I had to rate the Alpine XL’s pedaling efficiency on a scale of 1 to 10, with a pair of carbon-soled wonder shoes at 10, and a pair of entry-level clipless shoes at 0, I would put the Alpine XLs at a solid 7 (for my foot and for how I ride).
That said, I haven’t done a bunch of repeated stiffness testing, I just flexed my carbon-soled wonder shoes, and they don’t flex at all in the sole. The Alpine XLs do flex, like a stiff hiking shoe would. But when pedaling, the additional contact of the shoe with the pedal seems to stiffen them sufficiently to earn them a 7 out of 10 for pedaling efficiency.
Even single speeding in them—where standing to pedal is the norm—didn’t seem to make a difference in pedalling efficiency, though I will note that on the single speed I was riding, I had installed some Shimano SPD DX pedals, which feature a beefy polycarbonate cage around the clipless pedal. I think this helped the performance of the shoe considerably.
How do they walk? Perfectly normal. Wearing the Alpine XL is like wearing a skate shoe. I drive in them, and that’s something I’ve never done in any pair of mountain bike shoes before. Compared to my Sidis and Louis Garneaus, these are by far the most comfortable, best walking bike shoes I’ve ever worn.
If a typical mountain bike specific, flat-soled (non-spd compatible) shoe with some sort of grippy, sticky rubber is a 10 on the walkability scale, and carbon-soled wonder shoes are a 0, I’d give these an 8. The cleat will, in certain situations, mess with walking. But I’ve rarely ever noticed it. I typically walk around in either 5.10 casual skate shoes or Salomon trail runners, and the Alpine XLs walk nearly as comfortably as either of those shoes.
The cleats are fully recessed, so even when walking on hard surfaces (floors, etc), I never get that ‘skittery’ feeling in them. Awesome.
Especially with the large rubber lugs around the cleats, I was initially worried about clipping in to the DXs and to my usual XT pedals – would the cleat and pedal line up properly and easily? But I have actually found these shoes to be easier to clip in with. And if I don’t hit the clip the first time and I’m trying to get the bike started uphill, I have a lot of real estate on the outer sole to push down on the pedal with until I can try again.
I would have thought that the construction of these shoes, with a lot of leather and fabric, would lead to a heavy shoe. But these are listed as weighing 410 grams per shoe (U.S. size 9), while the similar Shimano SH-AM45 is listed as 401 grams per shoe in a U.S. size 7.5 and the more gravity-specific 5.10 Minaar is listed at 592 grams per shoe in a U.S. size 9. Even the Specialized Rime, with its minimalist profile and Vibram sole, comes in at 425 grams per shoe in U.S. size 9.
The Mavic Alpine XL is not the lightest, stiffest, most performance-enhancing bike shoe on the market. Instead, these shoes pedal extremely well for their stiffness, fit comfortably for both biking and walking, and will allow you to get off the bike and walk around without feeling like a debutante in her first pair of high heels.
If you want a pair of bike shoes made for exploring, bush-whacking, extended hike-a-bikes, trail work, or commuting, you ought to seriously consider the Mavic Alpine XL.