The “Rally Edition” of Shimano’s gravel race shoe line features a knitted ankle cuff to keep debris out and a lightweight chassis designed for race performance. The interface between the cuff and tongue of the shoe can cause issues, and the lack of women’s sizing means it won’t fit everyone.
Very good at keeping dust and debris out of your shoes
Great for keeping feet warm
Perhaps too warm for hot days
No women’s sizing
Single BOA design/cuff interface can cause discomfort
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Gravel is a big world these days. What exactly the word means seems to be a little different for everyone, but as each separate niche finds its footing, so to speak, we’re seeing more refined products that cater to specific sectors within the gravel sphere.
For fast riding and racing on non-technical unpaved terrain, road bikes and clothing may often be capable, but can be pushed beyond their limits. Mountain bike gear, however, is overkill—too bulky and overbuilt to fit quite the right blend of speed and capability.
What Shimano has designed in the RX8R (and its companion the cuff-less RX801) is a gravel race shoe. It’s made to go fast on the bike with no compromises. The RX8R fits like a high-end road shoe, yet is compatible with 2-bolt cleats and similarly pared down to keep weight to a minimum. But how does it compare to the best gravel bike shoes?
Shoes are an area where fit is the most critical element in the equation. While Shimano offers a standard and wide width, they did not release a comparable women’s shoe with smaller sizes and a narrower last. In addition to this, some may have issues with the fit of the cuff and how it works with the single BOA closure.
Shimano RX8R: construction
The most notable feature of these “Rally Edition” shoes is the knitted cuff. It is designed to come up around the ankle to keep rocks and other debris from getting into the shoe. There is a pull-tab on the back to help with getting the shoes on.
The sole is unchanged from the previous iteration of this shoe (the RX8) with narrow, angular lugs that provide traction without the bulk of proper mountain bike tread.
Looking at the sole in comparison to other Shimano off-road shoes, the RX8R is narrower in the midfoot and heel—more akin to a road shoe, and has more rocker in the toe, which translates to easier walkability albeit to the detriment of traction.
Like other Shimano shoes, the treads are not replaceable.
Some of the weight-saving features compared to the S-Phyre XC line include: a narrower carbon sole, lighter treads, no toe studs, less wrap around heel and toe protection, and a single-BOA design with a small velcro strap across the toe instead of a double BOA closure.
The sole is fully carbon and Shimano gives it a stiffness rating of 10 out of 12.
Fit is of course paramount, and Shimano offers the RX8R in EU 38-48 with half sizes available between 39-47. The wide version is also available from 38-48.
Shimano RX8R: the ride
I wore the RX8Rs in a variety of conditions ranging from early fall (dry and dusty) to late fall (mud, rain) and into winter (wet, cold, snow). They do many things well.
The knitted cuff is quite stiff and somewhat difficult to put on. Once on though, it hugs the ankle well, with a scalloped shape that follows the undulations of the ankle bones. The fact that it holds its shape well can be positive or negative depending on your specific anatomy.
I worry about the long term durability of this feature if each time you put them on is a wrestling match. It would help if the cuff were a softer material and I reckon it would be more useful at keeping out debris if it were slightly taller.
In addition to the ankle sleeve’s debris-defiance, it also adds warmth. For shoulder season and winter riding in colder climates, this can be a benefit. They hold heat well. For riders in warmer locales, or those who have perennially sweaty feet, this may be an issue.
Despite the lack of toe spikes, I tested the RX8R in several cyclocross races and was reasonably happy with how they performed. For a dry, grassy race without much mud they are an excellent choice—the low weight is noticeable and they run very well. They really come into their own while running and riding through sand, as the cuff helps immensely in keeping sand out of the shoes. Since these races are fairly similar to gravel ride conditions, this should be no surprise.
In sloppier conditions, the RX8R still did well at keeping debris out, but didn’t provide quite the same degree of traction off the bike.
One additional thing regarding the sole: by design, the whole shoe is narrower than something like Shimano’s S-Phyre XC line. Correspondingly, the treads located on either side of the cleat position are narrower by a few millimeters, which means that in particularly nasty conditions the cleats are more likely to get fouled up and the result of this is added difficulty clipping in. If you ride gravel with a lot of hike-a-bike sections, keep this in mind.
The weight is impressively light. They wear like a walkable road shoe and for many riders who are riding gravel bikes as their primary on and off road bike and using 2-bolt pedal systems all the time, the RX8R is a great option. I’ve slipped on enough coffee-shop floors in road shoes to seriously consider wearing lightweight off-road shoes like these for any application outside of road racing.
My primary issue with the RX8R is fit-related. With the addition of the cuff feature and the accompanying additional seam where it is attached, the single BOA closure places too much pressure on the top of your foot at the ankle. For me, this gets to be very uncomfortable on longer rides—it digs in right at the flexion point and creates a hot spot.
With the previous iteration of the shoe, the RX8, which also featured the same single-BOA, I didn’t have this issue, so it seems to be caused by how the cuff attaches. At any rate, I would strongly recommend trying them on before you buy (as with all shoes!) as you may want to size up or down even compared to other Shimano footwear.
In addition to this, it’s worth mentioning that there are no women’s specific sizes available and you need to drop down to Shimano’s third-tier shoe, the RX6, in order to find sizes smaller than EU 38 and a narrower last. The previous version of this shoe was offered in a women’s specific fit, so this seems like a step backwards. I would like to see Shimano offer its top race products for both men and women—hopefully this is in the works.
Shimano RX8R: value and conclusion
Race shoes are expensive these days. And it’s certainly a case of paying more for less—the lighter the shoe, the more it costs. In terms of how the $300.00 / £269.99 RX8R stacks up against the competition, Giro’s Sector has a similar design ethos, but uses a composite sole instead of full carbon which adds weight but makes them a bit less expensive. They retail for $240.00 / £229.99. Adidas makes a gravel specific shoe that also features a cuff which they call the Gravel Cycling Shoe. These are heavier, but cost only $180.00 / £170.00. Specialized’s S-Works Recon shoe is an XC MTB shoe, but comes close in weight at around 300 grams. Retail price is $425.00 / £370.00.
The RX8R does a great job blending light weight with performance and keeping your feet happy when things get messy. It won’t fit everyone, but if it fits you, it’s a shoe from which you can expect to extract maximum performance.
Shimano RX8R: spec
Weight: 280 grams per shoe, without cleats (size 41)
Colors: Metallic orange
Sizes: 38-48 standard, 38-48 wide
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