Shimano S-Phyre XC9 review

Lightweight, stiff, and comfortable race ready MTB shoe

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

The carbon sole has a stiffness index of 11, one notch below Shimano’s top end road shoes.

What is it

Billed as its most advanced footwear to date, Shimano’s S-Phyre collection’s No. 1 design priority was to maximize power transfer, which obviously means these kicks are targeted at the racing crowd, both cross-country and cyclocross.

The XC9’s one-piece upper is made of Teijin Avail microfiber, a synthetic dimpled leather that helps enhance venting while also being supple enough to accommodate wider feet. Closure is handled by a pair of two-way Boa IP1 dials, while the stiff carbon-fiber sole is rated 11 on Shimano’s stiffness index, just one step below the top-of-the-line S-Phyre road shoe. The soles do not utilize a lasting board, which reduces stack height and overall shoe weight.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

The soles are showing plenty of wear, but all the key elements are still fully intact.

Mtbr’s test XC9’s weighed 361 grams per shoe (size 44). Available sizes include 38, 39, 40-47 in half size increments, and 48. They also come in wide sizes from 40-48. Color options include classic Shimano sapphire, bright yellow, and black. Price is $400.

An external heel cup is designed to control unwanted foot movement, and the inner heel is lined with a cat’s tongue-type material that helps alleviate heel lift. The S-Phyre XC9’s also feature a dual-compound lugged outsole that was designed in conjunction with Michelin. Small, triangle-shaped lugs are intended to improve off-bike walking traction and keep the shoe from slipping if you happen to come unclipped. The shoes come with lengthy 18mm spikes that can be swapped onto the sole’s front if you’re racing or riding in the slick mud.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

The stiff sole means power in equals propulsion out — especially when climbing. Photo by Jake Orness

Each pair of S-Phyre shoes also come with color-matched S-Phyre socks that are designed to integrate with the shoes for increased comfort. Shimano’s elevator pitch is that the socks have an asymmetrical weave that creates “guiderails for proper foot alignment through the entire 360-degree crank rotation.”

  • Stiff carbon sole
  • Dual-Boa closure allows for refined fit
  • IP1 Boa two-way dial micro-adjustable on the fly
  • Reinforced heel and toe avail rock strike protection
  • Dimpled upper provides good venting
  • Solid off-bike grip thanks to Michelin rubber lugs
  • Wide array of available sizes
  • Comfortable and customizable fit
  • Decent heel retention
  • Low stack height
  • Two arch support options included
  • Come with a pair of socks
  • Come with optional long toe spikes
  • Unfinished look around upper tongue
  • Some slight tearing on sides from rock scrapes
  • Occasional hot spotting on right foot
  • Dimples can be hard to keep clean
  • Expensive

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

The two-way Boa IP1 dial allows for easy on-the-fly tension adjustment in both directions.

Mtbr’s Take

Shimano has always had a reputation for nailing the details. Whether it’s drivetrains, brakes, or all manner of cycling apparel, the Japanese maker of all things two wheels rarely whiffs when it comes to making solid, functional product. The S-Phyre XC9 mountain bike shoes are no exception.

During several months of hard testing, these race ready kicks have ticked all the right boxes. They’re stiff yet comfortable, well vented but durable, and include all the features you expect in a modern MTB shoe, including two-way Boa dials, modular insoles, protection at the toe and heel, grippy soles, and decent heel retention.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

Modular arch support means you can choose medium or high lift.

Out of the box I was immediately able to dial in fit thanks to the supple synthetic microfiber upper, micro-adjustable Boa dials, and modular insoles that come with both a medium and high arch inserts. (I used the high option.) My only real complaint is I’d love to see Shimano clean up the construction of the cuff near the front of the ankle, which has a slightly unfinished look.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

A few rock scrapes have resulted in a small amount of incidental tearing.

I’ve also managed to cut a few small superficial holes in the sides of the upper thanks to a handful of rock strikes and scrapes. These small tears are not an issue yet. But it’s definitely worth mentioning that the upper material is on the soft side, so if you only ride in shoe-destroying locales such as Moab or Sedona, you might want to look for something slightly more robust.

Weight is on the low side. Our standard width size 44 pair test pair of S-Phyre XC9’s weighed 361 grams per shoe. For comparison sake, the same size Lake MX332’s are 394 grams, Specialized Recons are 388 grams, Sidi MTB Dragon 4 are 394 grams, and Pearl Izumi’s first generation X-Projects come in at 422 grams.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

The Shimano S-Phyre XC9’s are comfortable enough to be called on for less competitive trail rides, too. Photo by Otto Maddux

On the bike, the shoes performed admirably. The carbon sole is stiff enough that you feel like energy in equals propulsion out. But they’re not so stiff that occasional walking (or running) tortures your feet. Heel retention was also decent, thanks in part to the cat’s tongue-like fabric that envelopes and secures the heel. But it’s not quite as secure as some other shoes (the Lake MX332, for instance), which have heat moldable heel cup that allows for a truly custom and secure fit.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

The dimpled fabric is extremely supple, making these a very comfortable shoe.

But that’s unlikely to be an issue except for the full time cyclocross racer crowd, who may want something better suited for all-out off-the-bike sprinting. If you’re just walking around, heel hold is perfectly adequate and the Michelin rubber outsole provides secure grip — and has yet to show signs of tangible wear.

My personal favorite feature is use of two-way Boa IP1 dials, which allow for on-the-fly micro adjustment. I like to be able to easily back off tension for extended seated climbs, then crank tension back down when it’s descending time. And for those who worry about the dials getting smashed, I’ve personally never seen it happen. On one occasion I did snag and pop off a dial. But that was basically a failsafe, and it easily popped back into place. The dual dials also help evenly spread pressure across the top of your foot for a snug but comfortable fit.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

The toe box is beefed up, protecting your feet from getting smashed.

Bottom line, for the serious XC rider or racer, Shimano’s top-shelf S-Phyre XC9 shoes are a legitimate contender against the likes of Sidi, Lake, and Specialized, and I would certainly choose them over other high-end shoes that didn’t have two-way Boa dials or modular arch supports.

Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Review

This cat’s tongue-like material grabs hold of your socks, helping lessen heel lift.

Rating: 4 out of 5 4 Flamin' Chili Peppers
Price: $400

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About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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  • Marius Vosloo says:

    Had these shoes for only 3 weeks after it started to tear on the sides and the soles going loose. We did a 3 day stage race with 10 mates, we were 2 guys with these Shimano Shpyre Carbon shoes, both of us had to take the shoes back ( no one else had problems )… some of the other peoples shoes thats about 5 times cheaper than these had no problem at all. Really REALLY disappointed in these shoes, bad quality mtb shoe. Best of all, Shimano didnt want to take ownership, they said its our fault. Take note, we were all on the same terrain all the time, our shoes, the Shimano S-Phyre XC9 MTB were the only ones written off…

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