Our Top Pick for XC Racing, the Shimano S-Phyre XC9 is the most expensive mountain bike shoe in our test and offers the performance to match. There's a reason that professional cross-country mountain bike racers wear these shoes, and that's because of the incredible stiffness of the soles and pure power transfer they deliver. They are also impressively comfortable, with customizable able arch supports, supple ventilated uppers, and Boa closures that wrap snugly around your feet. They are not fun to walk in, although the carbon soles do have some Michelin rubber lugs for off-the-bike traction. Versatility isn't their strong suit, but if you're an XC racer or a crossover gravel or road rider interested in laying down raw power, then look no further.
Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Very lightweight, stiff carbon soles, Boa closures, well ventilated
Cons: Expensive, not good for walking, minimal foot protection
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The S-Phyre XC9 is Shimano's top of the line cross country mountain bike racing shoe. Yes, they are expensive, and yes, these shoes have an uncompromisingly stiff sole that offers the most direct and efficient power transfer of all the models we tested. It doesn't stop there, this lightweight shoe is also quite comfortable, with customizable arch support insoles, a supple one-piece upper, Boa closures, and proper ventilation making these great for any length ride.
Due to the unrivaled stiffness of the carbon soles, it suffers in the traction and walkability department, although a lugged Michelin rubber sole does help a little, and optional toe spikes can be mounted for muddy race days. The high-end price tag, limited walkability, and focused purpose of these shoes won't appeal to everybody, but if you're a competitive cyclist interested in taking your racing to the next level, these shoes can help.
For as stiff as these shoes are, Shimano has done a fine job of still making them very comfortable. Like most high-end cross-country shoes, it's made of a synthetic one-piece upper which feels like rubberized synthetic leather. The uppers are perforated with hundreds of small holes that aid in ventilation, as well as a mesh panel above the toes, these shoes are well ventilated.
Shimano has included a footbed with customizable arch support in the S-Phyre XC9, and it comes with Medium and High shims that attach to the bottom of the footbed with velcro. These insoles are similar to those found the other high-end shoes we tested like the Giro Empire VR90 and the Pearl Izumi X-Project PRO, and help to provide a very personalized fit.
The shoes have 2 Boa dials, an upper one that tightens a wide band across the top of the instep, and a lower dial with a crisscrossing cable that tightens over the midfoot and down to the toes. The shoes have a wrap style tongue, and when you tighten the Boas, it feels a little bit like the shoes are giving your feet a tight hug. On the fly adjustments are quick and easy by simply reaching down and turning the dials a click or two. This closure system is well executed and we feel that it provides a more secure and comfortable fit than the Boa system used on the Pearl Izumi X-Project PRO.
The ankle cuff of the S-Phyre XC9 has a low cut, similar to that found on the Giro Empire VR90, and we found this to be very comfortable. This design prevents the shoes from rubbing around your ankles or Achilles during extended pedaling sessions. It might seem like ankle movement might be an issue in a shoe with this low cut ankle cuff, but the Shimano has used a grippy fabric, the silver material, inside the heel pocket that does a great job of further securing your foot in place.
Shimano has also added a little foot protection to this lightweight shoe in the form of a molded plastic heel cup that extends down into the sole of the shoe, as well as a rubber rand and a lightly reinforced toe box.
The S-Phyre XC9 tips the scales at a svelte 359g per shoe in the size 43.5 pair we tested, only 21g heavier than our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Giro Empire VR90. They also weigh in 27g lighter than than our Best Buy Award winner, the Giro Privateer R, and 60g lighter than our previous Editor's Choice Award winner, the Pearl Izumi X-Project PRO.
Much like the Giro Empire VR90, this shoe's low weight also comes with the best and most efficient power transfer in our test selection. This weight reduction reduces foot protection. Riders seeking a beefier upper would be better off looking at heavier shoes like the Five Ten Hellcat Pro or the Specialized 2FO Cliplite.
The S-Phyre XC9 shoes have an extremely rigid carbon sole that falls at an 11 on Shimano's stiffness scale of 1-12. These shoes are seriously as stiff as they come with little to no perceptible flex in the sole on the pedals or while walking. This uncompromisingly stiff sole delivers the ultimate in pedaling efficiency and power transfer, you can't overpower these shoes.
The Giro Empire VR90 has a similarly stiff sole, but features a little flex through the toe to facilitate walking, but it doesn't compromise on power transfer for walkability. Instead, they are all business, delivering the most impressive and direct input of your effort into the pedals. Sure, there are plenty of people out there who value the ability to get off the bike and walk somewhat normally in their bike shoes, but for anyone who wants to cross the finish line as fast as they possibly can Shimano made the S-Phyre XC9.
These boots aren't made for walking. The incredibly stiff carbon soles that give these shoes such amazing power transfer is a real detriment to their off the bike walking performance.
Shimano has put a proprietary Michelin rubber lugged outsole on the S-Phyre XC9, which does give them decent traction on dirt, rocks, logs, etc. But the lack of flex in the sole makes the act of walking quite awkward. That said, it scored higher in this metric for their use of the Michelin rubber on the sole as opposed to the Sidi Cape which uses a harder material that offers much less grip on hard surfaces. If your daily rides involve hiking a bike, or you just want a shoe that you can kinda feel normal walking around in, then we'd suggest checking out some of the more walk-friendly models like the Specialized 2FO Cliplite or the Shimano ME7.
We've been riding in the S-Phyre XC9 shoes off and on since the end of last summer which has given us the chance to assess their long-term durability.
The most notable wear on the shoes is the exposed carbon fiber of the sole in front of the cleat mount area. It's a bit scratched up from walking on rocks and gravel but isn't compromised. Otherwise, the Michelin rubber on the soles is still in fine shape, but to be fair, we do avoid walking in these shoes.
The uppers are in good shape save for a few scuffs around the toes at the edge of the soles. The Boa dials and cables are all still in fine working order. It is worth mentioning that Boa systems can be damaged if used carelessly, and we have taken great care to keep them in good working order. The placement of the Boa dials on the outside of the shoe does make them susceptible to damage from trailside obstacles, but we haven't had any issues striking ours on rocks, logs, or anything that might cause them harm. Assuming you don't walk on rocky surfaces in these shoes often we think they will stand up to years of heavy use.
These shoes are best suited for cross-country mountain bike racing and people who want the absolute best in pedaling efficiency. As a mountain bike shoe they aren't incredibly versatile, and despite having some rubber on the soles for traction, they aren't great for walking. That said, these shoes are excellent for use as a cross over shoe that is suitable for road biking, gravel grinding, and cross country mountain biking.
With a retail price of $400, these shoes are only a good value to people who can justify dropping that kind of money on a pair of mountain bike shoes. Most people would scoff at that price, and we can't blame you, but if you're willing and able to spend this much for a pair of super high-performance mountain bike shoes, we don't think you'll be disappointed.
If you're looking for a high-performance cross-country race shoe, it doesn't get much better than the Shimano S-Phyre XC9. This shoe is lightweight, ultra stiff, and very comfortable to boot. The price is high, but we feel that if you're seeking the high-end performance these shoes have to offer it is worth it. These shoes are also a great option for anyone who also mixes up their cross-country mountain biking with some road or gravel riding, as this shoe is well suited to any type of cycling where pedaling efficiency and comfort are the top priorities.
Other Versions and Accessories
The S-Phyre XC9 shoe is available in Black (tested), Blue, and Yellow in sizes 38-48, with half sizes between 40-48. A wide fit version is available in Black only, sizes 40-48.
The XC7 is a pared down version of the XC9 with a slightly less stiff carbon sole, Michelin rubber outsole, and Boa/velcro closures.
The XC5 is a lightweight shoe with a carbon reinforced mid-sole. The XC5 is less stiff than either the XC9 or the XC7 and features a lace-up closure system.
Shimano also makes a full line of road and mountain bike shoes to suit every need or preference.
— Jeremy Benson