The Defender 20 threads the needle between cross country and downhill for intended use and provides features that riders in both camps can appreciate. They are stiff enough to feel efficient and responsive yet provide tons of off the bike traction for hike a bike sections and overall walkability. The upper is form fitting and molds to the foot nicely, a feature that’s even more noticeable with the easy-to-use, single-buckle wire closure. Just a quick spin of this “buckle” dial cinches the shoes closed with no noticeable binding in the wire. The tongue stays in place reasonably well, although after several rides the material develops bunches slightly on the sides where the wires bite in. However, thanks to the molded heel cup, you don’t need to run the closure system overly tight to keep the heel in place and can easily keep the tongue in place without deforming it. The insole is thin and firm, because Sidi relies on the excellent contours inside the shoe to cradle your foot, not simply put a cushy sponge under it for comfort. The outsole is aggressive enough to provide off the bike traction as well as any other shoe we’ve tried on rough terrain, even compared to flat pedal shoes with sticky rubber. The Defender has an airy ventilation system that makes it a solid choice for summer heat but makes it less than water resistant.
Our pair of test shoes lasted a few weeks and well over a hundred miles of trail before they began to show the slightest wear. Unfortunately for us, at roughly the 150-mile mark, the toe of the sole began to separate from the upper on one shoe. When contacted about the issue, Sidi mentioned that it would not be covered under a warranty and was likely the result us catching a toe under a rock. Fair enough. A week later we took them for a ride that nearly turned into a search and rescue mission and involved extensive amounts of bushwhacking over and under fallen trees. While the Defender stepped up and delivered tons of traction on that excursion, we found that at some point during that excursion we punched a hole in the side of the upper. That one we can probably chalk up to our own negligence and lack of ability to read a map, but it’s always a bummer to find damage on your gear, even after a hard ride.
At $225, the Defender certainly isn’t a bargain shoe, unless you consider that we’ve seen other Sidis in our collection last the better part of a decade. After months of testing we can say that the Defender held up reasonably well to our flogging. But they might not be able to go a full decade before they need to be replaced. That said, the performance Defender 20s left us feeling we didn’t compromise a thing in efficiency on the climbs, nor control on the descents. They use a smart blend of features and solid construction to make a shoe that’s as comfortable cruising easy trail miles as it is shredding an aggressive big-mountain descent. It gives plenty of confidence both on and off the bike and is welcome in our test fleet for as long as they hold up.
Weight: 996 grams (Size 45 w/ cleats)
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