Have a look at the start grid of a World Cup 'cross or cross-country race. You'll notice a sea of high-viz yellow and electric blue Shimano SH-XC9 Bicycle Shoes eagerly waiting to clip in and make the mad dash to the front of the field. We're pretty sure there are some black ones in their too on the feet of some racers who tend to not be so flashy with their footwear choices, but those are harder to notice. Why so many competitive off-road cyclists use these shoes are obvious as soon as you get a set in your hands or on your feet. These shoes are designed for maximum performance. Recently Shimano launched its S-Phyre concept as part of its top-of-the-line road and mountain shoes sharing similar construction features. The XC9's are designed for off-road racing at the highest level and as such, features and technologies are included in the design with the focus on maximum power transmission, superb fit, and excellent comfort.
Shimano constructs the XC9 with a one-piece upper using Teijin synthetic material that handles water resistance, while the large and numerous vent holes allow the feet to breathe. Dialing in the fit comes courtesy from the dual Boa IP1 dials offering independent and micro-adjustable tension across the top of the foot. Shimano believes that the fit is so refined that it didn't bestow the XC9 with the Custom Fit heat and vacuum system we have come to expect on its high-end shoes in the past decade. We'd have to agree that indeed the Boa and the soft upper simple melds the shoe around our foot and we're not sure if a better or more comfortable fit is achievable.
On the rear of the shoe, Shimano uses an external cup that covers the carbon sole and up the back of the heel. This design supports the heel preventing twisting and rolling, stabilizing it for more efficiency. Inside the shoe at the heel, a cat tongue like gripping fabric further bolsters the foothold, providing a solid foundation for dishing out the big watts at the race start and on the pedaling upstroke while trying to maintain traction on a slippery surface. Shimano reached out to the French rubber wizards at Michelin to create a rubber compound on the lugs and the surrounding cleat mounting area. The rubber provides excellent grip on terra firma when off the bike and if you botch the clip in on the remount, the middle of the sole offers a bit of grippy traction so your foot doesn't fly off the pedal. The ability to run toe spikes come in handy when scrambling up steep and slippery terrain.
The XC9 might not be the lightest shoe on the mountain bike market but Shimano is never known to skimp on performance to meet a certain weight and let's be honest, at 330g per shoe in a size 42, these shoes are still plenty light. Focusing again on fit, power transfer, comfort, and durability, the pros that count on these shoes aren't getting slowed down by a few grams here or there. The stiff Dynalast carbon fiber sole harnesses pedal power while putting less stress on the metatarsal zone. It is also super thin and it helps lower the overall stack height of the sole and hits an impressive 11 out of 12 on the brand's sole stiffness scale. Paired with an XTR pedal, you'll get a setup that is damn close to being as efficient and light as a road setup with the versatility to use it on any surface.
- Shimano's premiere cyclocross and XC race shoe
- Stiff, efficient carbon-reinforced sole for power transfer
- Dynalast construction increases pedaling efficiency
- Dual-density Michelin rubber outsole blends grip and durability
- Dual BOA IP1 dial buckle provides a customizable fit
- Finished with reinforced toe spike mounts
- Item #SHI00HV
- Q & A
These are the best shoes you can buy.
- Familiarity: I've used it several times
- Fit: True to size
You can ride a really light bike. You can have really fast wheels. You can have electronic shifting, and a powermeter, and carbon pedals, and a whole host of other fancy-schmancy gear to make you that little bit faster, but none of it matters if you aren't comfortable.
Close your eyes and think about your favorite shoes. Maybe they're your house slippers, or an old pair of Vans, or even some wooden clogs from your trip to Holland. It doesn't really matter. They fit perfectly, support your foot, and (usually) look super fly. The S-Phyres are my favorite shoes.
Now, if the answer to my question was "my cycling shoes," stop reading. You've already found the answer, and unless they're starting to decompose, you'll probably be happiest sticking with what you've got. I'll bet though, that most of you reading are in various states of what I like to call "content discomfort." You wear the shoes that you wear because they were a sweet deal, or they match your kit, or (insert professional rider here) wears them. They probably feel fine, maybe even good. Without realizing it though, you adjust them 7 or 8 times every ride, a toe or two will go numb after an hour or two, and you probably breathe an unconscious sigh of relief when you take them off in the garage. I myself floated in a state of "content discomfort" for years. I've worn Sidi, Lake, Giro, etc, and while all of them were really stellar shoes, the fit was never quite spot on.
Shimano has been making shoes longer than I've been around, and they've always been pretty good. The typical reaction to Shimano shoes has always been that they're dependable, pretty standard, and somewhat forgettable. But then a couple of years ago, the Japanese giant decided to get serious and throw its considerable R&D weight into the world of shoes. When the first pictures of the S-Phyre came out there was an audible "wow" throughout the cycling world. The design was memorable, but not gaudy. Bright, but not garish. I waited eagerly to try a pair, and I was blown away when I did. Out of the box, they feel broken in. The materials are incredible. It feels like you're wearing a rock solid slipper. The boa cables follow an unusual pattern that lends itself to lace-up levels of pressure distribution, and it really shows on the bike. The sole is insanely stiff, but it isn't undermined by poor fit. (A completely rigid carbon sole won't do you any good if your foot isn't held in snug.)
As far as fit goes, my foot falls between the designations of "normal" and "wide". Working here at Competitive Cyclist, I've observed that at least half of the customers I work with have a wide foot, but that most shoe brands hold tight to a Euro-centric, fairly narrow fit. Shimano seems to have realized this and sized the S-Phyre line accordingly. For reference, I wear a "mega fit" Sidi, and an HV Giro, but a normal Lake. My fairly wide, square-ish feet felt most at home in the non-wide S-Phyre, and based on that, I would say that the wide series would be great for those of you with a particularly wide foot. I can't attest to the long-term durability just yet, but my initial impressions have been very positive.
I can't tell you whicht shoe is going to help your foot reach podiatric nirvana, but if you're not quite there yet, you're gonna have to give these a shot. If you want to speak in more detail, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk!
- Familiarity: I've used it several times
Shimano shoes are my perennial favorites. Great construction, super durable, refined fit, oh and they look great too. The sole is super stiff and transmits power like nobody's business. Boa dials make for easy adjustment on the fly and the insole comes with two arch support wedges to dial in the fit. I seriously couldn't be happier with these shoes.