Shimano’s top-of-the-range S-Phyre XC9 off-road Boa shoes are comfortable and stiff with good power transfer to the pedal. There are lots of size variants, but they are prone to heel lift and the spike mount surrounds are fragile if you don’t use the studs.
Lots of size options
Prone to heel lift unless worn tight
Spike surrounds are fragile
Dimples are hard to clean
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Alongside its new Boa-dialled road shoes, Shimano has recently launched equivalent off-road versions.
The XC9s have the same upper as the RC9 road version, closed by two Boas. They are perforated along the front sides for ventilation and have a mesh insert over the toes too. There’s more than adequate airflow for cold, wet winter cyclocross races.
On the bottom, there is a stiff full carbon sole, which Shimano rates at 11 on its stiffness scale as against the 12 of the road-going RC9s.
There’s the standard two-bolt cleat mount with plenty of fore and aft adjustment. The outer sole is Michelin rubber with aggressive lugs and a central cross-hatched area between the cleat and the heel which can be used to pedal unclipped if required.
I found that these gave good grip when off the bike in muddier conditions. They can be augmented by two screw-in toe spikes for extra grip, which are supplied with the shoes.
I found that I needed to dial the uppers down tight to suppress heel lift when running up banks. The heel cup is fine for a road shoe but a bit shallow to retain the heel well for cross: some alternative makes have a deeper one.
But fortunately the XC9s are very comfortable and the insole is well shaped to support the foot. The two Boa dials mean that you can tighten up without discomfort or hot spots. Accompanied by the stiff soles they give efficient power transfer to the pedals.
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There are lots of sizes and two width variants between 36 and 48 including many half sizes available too, so it should be possible to find a pair which fits well.
The shoes are available in yellow and black as well as Shimano’s trademark sapphire blue. The blue surface wipes clean easily and hasn’t scuffed, although the dimpled vents accumulate muck and will need a more thorough clean if you want the S-Phyres to remain pristine.
I did break and lose two of the four blue plastic rings surrounding the toe spike mounts, suggesting that these are not robust enough to handle abuse.
The mounting screw blanks and the shoe bases have begun to show wear as a result. After a few more months’ use I suspect the screw heads might be too worn down to remove easily.
The studs are easy to install and more robust though. They replace the blue mount surrounds and are better able to handle wear and tear. They aren’t so aggressive that they hamper walking around on hard surfaces either.
But the XC9s are definitely at the top end of the price range for cyclocross shoes and an expensive acquisition for the amateur.
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Paul started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2015, covering cycling tech, new bikes and product testing. Since then, he’s reviewed hundreds of bikes and thousands of other pieces of cycling equipment for the magazine and the Cycling Weekly website.
He’s been cycling for a lot longer than that though and his travels by bike have taken him all around Europe and to California. He’s been riding gravel since before gravel bikes existed too, riding a cyclocross bike through the Chilterns and along the South Downs.