If you're running on a self-sponsored cyclist's budget but still need shoes that can take a beating on the trails or ferry you across sandpits and run-ups in your next 'cross race, we'd consider the Diadora X Vortex-Racer II Shoes. Far from an entry-level shoe, the X Vortex-Racer II features much of the same technology as its pro-level sibling, the X Vortex-Pro, striking a desirable middle ground that makes it possible not to sacrifice quality for the sake of a budget.
Diadora's Suprell-Air Mesh uppers provide a slim, race-ready fit around the top of the foot in the X Vortex-Racer II. The synthetic material features ample perforations as well as strategically-placed mesh paneling to help encourage airflow whether you're riding deep in the trees or along a moonscape of breezy, exposed rock gardens. Like Diadora's other top-end shoes, the X Vortex-Racer II is built on Diadora's contoured Race Last, a fit that is further complemented by a Boa dial and hook-and-loop strap, which allow for minute adjustments across the sensitive areas along the instep.
The key difference between the X Vortex-Racer II and its pricier siblings is, of course, the former's composite-reinforced soles. These outsoles won't have the unmatched rigidity of full carbon, but at 6.0 out of 12.0 on the stiffness index, they'll dutifully transfer power from your feet to the pedals without feeling like they're going to give out. With a claimed weight of just 320g per shoe, you can rest assured that the lack of carbon doesn't detract from the X Vortex-Racer II's race-ready quickness.