Shimano and Sidi are big players in the XC shoe world, so when they both released new models for 2017 I saw a great opportunity for a head to head test.
The shoes both sit at the absolute top of their respective ranges and come with a price tag to match. As such, I’ve put in some serious hours of racing and training before giving a final verdict.
Read on to see which came out on top.
Having tested Sidi’s previous top-tier shoe the Drako, it’s clear that the Tiger is a refinement rather than a full reworking of that design; although that’s no bad thing.
The sole and fit remain virtually unchanged, meaning full unyielding carbon with a fairly narrow toe box and no arch support built into the foot bed. There is a decent sculpt/contour in the carbon sole, so even without arch support, the Tigers don’t feel like flat plimsolls.
The upper is where things change, with Sidi moving its wire retention system from the sides to the tongue of the shoe. In theory this allows for a more even fit and crucially protects the buckles from a crash.
Having crashed and scraped the buckles on the superseded Sidi Drakos, I can attest to this being a welcome addition.
Finally, they’re also marginally lighter, coming in at 409g for a size 45 with Shimano cleats.
Out on the trails the Tigers perform as expected for their premium price tag. The heel cup is totally secure and the shoe feels plenty comfortable, albeit fairly narrow when compared to the competition.
The rubber tread on the sole is fairly minimal, so I wouldn’t recommend them for cyclocross racers because it could be easy to roll your ankle when running. I’d also like to see some rubber protection on the carbon sole to provide grip when an inevitable pedal slip occurs.
The new buckles make them slightly harder to get into, but once they’re on and cranked up, there’s a more even spread of pressure across the foot when compared to the previous Drako model.
As always with Sidis, they get a huge thumbs up for making virtually everything on the shoe replaceable. This means they should last you for years to come and hopefully justify the eye watering price tag.
Shimano SH-XC9 S-Phyre
Shimano’s striking but terribly named SH-XC9 S-Phyre is a brand new top-tier model for 2017, which comes with an equally striking price tag.
They’ve made the welcome move from straps and buckles to a Boa dial and the whole shoe is a tiny bit lighter than the Sidis, coming in at 401g in a size 45 with cleats.
The fit on the Shimanos is more refined than the Sidis and has a roomier toe box. There’s some added arch support in the sole and this can be adjusted with rubber inserts. To prevent heel slippage you also get cat tongue style fabric around the inside of the heel cup.
Just like the Sidis, the sole is made from carbon and is as stiff as you’ll ever need. Shimano has teamed up with tyre giant Michelin to provide a soft low profile rubber tread for the sole, which makes the shoes great for any running or hiking sections.
There’s also plenty of protection around the mid sole, in case you slip a pedal.
Once out and riding, the Shimanos impressed with their comfort and fit. There’s a touch more padding on the inside of the shoe when compared to the Sidis and the slightly roomier toe box suited my feet well.
The outside of the heel cup is chunkier than the Sidis, so I did experience some crank rub, but not enough to be a deal breaker.
The stack height felt lower than the Sidis, giving a more connected feel to the pedals, but on the whole the shoe didn’t feel quite as secure around the heel cup.
Although I'm really nitpicking here, and suspect the minor difference wouldn’t have any effect on performance.
So, so far so good, but unfortunately the S-Phyres were let down by their low profile tread around the heel cup.
It’s easy to see from the pictures how low this tread is and it only took a few weeks before I started to see wear on the plastic around the heel.
I feel this is a structural part of the shoe and shouldn’t be victim to wear and tear so early on. When you consider how much these shoes cost, you’d want them to last a long time and this wear around the heel cup could shorten that time significantly.
So Shimano, these are amazing shoes, but you need to MAKE THAT HEEL TREAD BIGGER!!!!
We have ourselves a winner (just)
Before I go any further, let's get one thing straight, if you buy either of these shoes (so long as they fit well) you won’t be disappointed. They’re brilliant performers, with a comfortable, albeit subtly different fit. Plus they have the added bling factor you’d want from top-tier footwear.
But which would I choose if I were spending my own money or recommending to a friend?
It would be the Sidis by a whisker. No matter how light/refined/bling the Shimanos are, the low profile tread on the heel and subsequent wearing of the plastic heel cup is a problem.
If you’re paying this much for shoes, you want them to last you a decent chunk of time, and with replaceable parts the Sidis will go the distance.
If Shimano made a more durable sole it could swing the other way, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.