Splurging on a top-of-the-line widget is wise once in a blue moon, but for the most part, it's the middle-of-the-road, XT or SLX-level stuff that'll stretch your dollar the furthest. It's gear at this level that privateer racers rely on when they aren't cobbling together a kit with loaners or factory-team refuse. Without sponsorship, but still needing the same level of performance enjoyed by the fully supported racers they line up next to, the privateer constantly seeks a utilitarian balance.
Giro has struck that balance of performance and price with its revamped Privateer R shoes. You won't find an uber-stiff carbon outsole here, but only the most powerful and sensitive of pedal smashers are going to be wanting for stiffness. The nylon outsole is co-molded to a lugged-rubber platform, which lends plenty of traction on hike-a-bikes. One time, I hesitated at the apex of a steep roll-in, stalled out and unclipped one foot. It was too late to stop and put a foot down, so I had no choice but to roll in with my foot placed precariously on top of my pedal. The rubber section under the Privateer's arch gripped faithfully, and I rolled away in a fit of adrenaline-fueled laughter.
Scuff guards shore up the heel and midfoot, while a rubber toe cap protects your piggies from wayward rocks. The ratcheting buckle and Velcro straps make for reliable adjustability, and the upper is fairly breathable and very comfortable.
As with every Giro shoe I've worn, the Privateers run a half-size small, so make sure you adjust your order accordingly, or, better yet–try them on first. Width-wise, the Privateers are average or maybe a bit on the narrow side. Check out the high-volume option–the Privateer R HV–if your feet are wide enough to pass for a Chernobyl mutation. The grey-and-orange shoes I tested have grown on me, but there's also a classy black version with a gum outsole if you prefer a more subdued look.