Blue suede shoes are classics that only The King can wear (or sing about). But, Shimano has done us all a favor by making blue (non-suede) mtb/cx/gravel shoes that have knocked it out of the park this year. The Shimano S-Phyre XC9’s are stiff, responsive and great for all things dirt at breakneck speeds.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Features:

  • Asymmetric, one-piece upper for superb fit
  • Stiff, carbon composite midsole (11 Stiffness)
  • Perforated upper for ventilation
  • Dual BOA IP1 fit system
  • Low stack height for improved pedal feel
  • Grippy Michelin outsole
  • Optional, 18mm climbing spikes
  • External heel cup for rock solid foot security
  • Toebox protection
  • 2-bolt SPD compatible
  • Available in half sizes
  • Colors: black, silver, blue (tested) or green
  • Weight: 395 grams (each, size 45)
  • MSRP: $425
Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

The XC9’s are built to deliver at the highest levels of dirt racing.

Dirt shoes to rule them all (for a price)

While Shimano S-Phyre XC9 is a full-gas cross-country race shoe, it would be a shame to pigeon-hole it into that single discipline. With the surge of gravel riding and a renewed interest in cyclocross, the XC9’s should be able to find a home on any bike that likes to ride dirt, fast. That’s exactly what I have done over the entire season. In time, I’ve changed every test gravel and mountain bike to SPD pedals, just so I could ride with the XC9’s. That’s not to say that I couldn’t have changed the cleats to TIME or Crank Brothers (I certainly could have), but I didn’t want to. I just wanted to ride, and pedal swapping on occasion is much easier than cleat swapping. With that, I primarily used LOOK’s X-Track Race Carbon Ti pedals with much success. I had plenty of cleat clearance and the treads never interfered with entry, exit or natural float.

Without any break-in, I went for a 20+ mile mixed mountain bike ride aboard the Trek Supercaliber 9.8. This ride included tons of technical singletrack, a little road and a bunch of gravel roads in-between. Mid-ride, I was in love — and I don’t just mean the blue color — I was floored at the pedal feel and precision the XC9’s offered.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Shoes Review

Done and dusted. I pushed the XC9’s as hard as I could.

In years past, when barefoot and minimalist shoes were all the rage, I loved the feel they provided, but couldn’t live long-term with their lack of cushioning or support. With cycling shoes, cushioning is largely unnecessary, but support is an absolute must have and that’s something the XC9’s deliver in spades. And, the low stack height provides the cherry on top that yields an on-bike feel like no other shoe. You feel at one with the pedals and can power through anything with precise movements and power transfer.

No question, the XC9’s are a thoroughbred race shoe, but I have loved them for long gravel and road rides aboard the BMC URS 01 and Open UPPER. Likewise, I’ve loved hammering aboard the Trek Supercaliber — one of the finest pure XC racers on the market. Each bike feels like an extension of my legs with the XC9’s providing the connective tissue.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review - Mountain Biking

Fast and responsive on the most demanding XC terrain.

Something unique about the XC9 is the fit of the uppers. Most of the time, a “race” shoe is narrow and restrictive. Shimano has gone away from that and the fit is refreshingly wide and anatomic. It’s noticeably wider than the Shimano RX8 gravel shoe, for example, and allows my feet to spread out in perfect comfort. But, that width is mated to a one-piece, form-fitting upper that’s easily cinched down with the BOA fit system. The upper’s burrito wrap design cradles my feet with perfect, even snugness, thus making these shoes the benchmark in fit and power transfer.

With the BOA IP1, it’s easy to make mid-ride adjustments on-the-fly. Each of the fore and aft dials provide pinpoint fit settings to best cradle your feet. I love BOA dials and find them so intuitive to adjust while in the saddle. A single twist in either direction yields noticeable changes and a simple pop upwards allows for a quick exit. Uniquely, Shimano has chosen to wrap the front cable through a dizzying array of loops — all in an effort to distribute the pressure as evenly as possible. It works fantastically, with both dials delivering even and smooth pressure.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review - Gravel Riding

Gravel for days in the XC9’s.

On long climbs, the added stiffness can be felt. As you sprint, all power goes to the pedals. And, on flat or rolling terrain, the XC9’s offer up a rock-solid feel. With all that, your drivetrain receives every ounce of effort you put in. I have noticed that all that stiffness does induce some foot fatigue on long, rough descents. Again, shoes are highly personal, but my feet did tend to hurt after descending for awhile.

The heel cup is worth mentioning. With the external cup (as opposed to a sandwiched design), the uppers remain supple and comfortable and the heel is retained with lockdown precision using one-way fabric that resists upward movement.

Ventilation is excellent. All those bazillion air holes really aid in breathability. My feet have never felt overly hot, but on cold mornings I do feel a slight chill.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review - Road Approaches

The XC9’s are ultra-efficient on extended road routes as well.

Walkability is good and the Michelin outsoles help in that matter. I can walk on my wood floors without damaging them and I can walk, hike or run on the trails quite well. No, these are not going to replace my Hoka One One Torrent 2’s, but hauling my butt through a rough cyclocross course will be a breeze.

The Good

  • Good overall width for added comfort
  • The uppers snug down with wonderful precision
  • BOA IP1 dials are winners
  • Low-profile design brings your feet closer to the pedals
  • Ventilation is great on hot days
  • Power transfer galore!

The Bad

  • I experienced foot fatigue on long, extended descents
  • That price though

The Bottom Line: Shimano S-Phyre XC9

Many years ago, I recommended that a friend upgrade their road shoes to ones with stiff, carbon soles. After that upgrade, he gave me crap for not letting him in on that little secret earlier. So, for starters, carbon-soled shoes for road, gravel and mountain biking are worth every penny. Now, with the Shimano S-Phyre XC9, that’s a whole lot of pennies, but you won’t find a more capable pair of race shoes

Buy Now: Available at CompetitiveCyclist.com

About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.

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