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Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

An ultra-high-performance XC race shoe that offers incredible power transfer and all-day comfort
Shimano S-Phyre XC9
Photo: Shimano
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Price:  $425 List | $294.95 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Very lightweight, stiff carbon soles, Boa closures, well-ventilated
Cons:  Expensive, not good for walking, minimal foot protection
Manufacturer:   Shimano
By Jeremy Benson ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 27, 2019
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80
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 19
  • Power Transfer - 20% 10
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Traction Walkability - 25% 5
  • Weight - 15% 10
  • Durability - 15% 8

Our Verdict

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 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 crossover gravel or road rider interested in laying down raw power, then look no further.

Product Updates

Shimano made a few upgrades to this shoe since we tested it. Learn about the differences below.

February 2019

Compare to Similar Products

 
Shimano S-Phyre XC9
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $294.95 at Competitive Cyclist
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$180.00 at Competitive Cyclist$200.00 at Competitive Cyclist
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Very lightweight, stiff carbon soles, Boa closures, well-ventilatedLightweight, comfortable, versatile, Boa closures, styling, reasonable pricecomfortable, versatile, great traction while hiking, boa closures, good styleLugged //Vibram// sole, versatile fit, stiff but walkableVersatile, robust construction, easy adjustment, casual style
Cons Expensive, not good for walking, minimal foot protectionRoomy toe-box, slip-not rubber could be more grippySometimes too grippy for a clipless focused shoe, heavyLimited on-the-go adjustmentsSingle boa closure, limited traction in wet conditions
Bottom Line Shimano's top of the line XC race shoe with an impressively stiff sole and surprising comfortThis uniquely styled shoe is packed with features and performance and is one of the best in the testStiff, comfortable, and protective, this shoe is a great choice for the demands of enduro-style ridingA lightweight and sturdy shoe to take on the backcountryComfortable fit, casual style, and great on-trail performance make this a versatile option for trail riders
Rating Categories Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Specialized 2FO Cliplite Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa Specialized Rime 2.0 Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD
Power Transfer (20%)
10
8
8
7
8
Comfort (25%)
8
9
9
8
9
Traction Walkability (25%)
5
8
9
10
8
Weight (15%)
10
8
6
8
7
Durability (15%)
8
9
9
8
9
Specs Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Specialized 2FO... Five Ten Kestrel... Specialized Rime 2.0 Pearl Izumi X-Alp...
Closure Dual Boa IP1 2 Boa S2-Snap dials, velcro strap over the forefoot Boa dial plus velcro at toe box L6 Boa and Laces L6 Boa
Measured Weight 359 grams 426 grams 511 grams 419 grams 436 grams
Width Options Regular, Wide Regular Regular Regular Regular
Upper Material Teijin synthetic leather Thermobonded upper Synthetic XPEL Hydrophobic Mesh Recycled Cordura fabric
Footbed Shimano Pedaling Dynamics with customizeable arch support Specialized Body Geometry OrthoLite Specialized Body Geometry Pearl Izumi Insole
Sole Dynalast carbon fiber Lollipop Nylon Composite Carbon-infused nylon shank Lollipop Nylon Composite Composite shank
Outsole Dual-density Michelin rubber SlipNot rubber sole Steatlh C4 rubber Vibram Vibra, ECOSTEP
Size Tested 43.5 43.5 10.5 44.5 45

Our Analysis and Test Results

Updates to the S-Phyre XC9


For 2019, Shimano has equipped the XC9 with some extra perforation for ventilation, as well as additional toe reinforcement. The BOA dial has been upgraded with extra-range micro adjusters for a precise fit. The foot mold and fit of the shoe remain the same. Compare the new version (left) to the version we tested (right).

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Since we haven't tested the updated model yet, the review from here on tells of our account of last year's shoe.

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.

Performance Comparison


The S-Phyre XC9 shoes have incredible power transfer to crush at the...
The S-Phyre XC9 shoes have incredible power transfer to crush at the races or just get you to the top of the climb faster and more efficiently.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Power Transfer


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.

You want to best you own times or beat your friends at the races...
You want to best you own times or beat your friends at the races? The S-Phyre XC9 can help you do it.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Comfort


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 in the other high-end shoes we tested like the Giro Empire VR90 and help to provide a very personalized fit.

The customizable arch supports of the Shimano Pedaling Dynamics...
The customizable arch supports of the Shimano Pedaling Dynamics insoles.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

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.

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.

Supple uppers, ventilation, Boa closures, the S-Phyre XC9 shoes are...
Supple uppers, ventilation, Boa closures, the S-Phyre XC9 shoes are quite comfortable.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

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.

Traction Walkability


These boots aren't made for walking. The incredibly stiff carbon soles that give these shoes such fantastic 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 hike a bike, or you just want a shoe that you can kind of 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.

These shoes are not made for walking. You can walk in them of...
These shoes are not made for walking. You can walk in them of course, but the stiff carbon soles don't have much give.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Weight


The S-Phyre XC9 tips the scales at a svelte 359g per shoe in the size 43.5 pair we tested, only 1g heavier per shoe than the Giro Cylinder. They also weigh in almost 50g less than our Best Buy Award winner, the Scott MTB Team Boa.


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.

And in this corner, weighing in at 359g per shoe for the size 43.5...
And in this corner, weighing in at 359g per shoe for the size 43.5 tested...
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Durability


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.

These shoes have seen quite a few miles, other than some scratches...
These shoes have seen quite a few miles, other than some scratches on the exposed carbon of the soles they appear to be holding up very well.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

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 good 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.

Value


These shoes are only a good value to people who can justify dropping a pretty penny on a pair of mountain bike shoes. Most people would scoff at the high price tag, 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 a racer or just interested in the ultimate in pedaling...
If you're a racer or just interested in the ultimate in pedaling efficiency, the S-Phyre XC9 is super stiff for power transfer, yet comfortable for any length ride.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Conclusion


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