Alongside the recent S-Phyre RP9 road shoe comes the S-Phyre XC9, for cyclo-cross riders, though they’d be equally at home on gravel-grinding expeditions. The S-Phyres mark Shimano’s departure from Velcro straps and ratcheting buckles to rotary dials.
While a generally effective means of shoe fastening, Velcro can lose its grip when saturated, and ratcheting buckles don’t always offer sufficient fine adjustment. Boa IP1 dials allow rapid millimetric tension adjustment on-the-fly, have a low profile, instant release, and are serviceable. They’re more reliable in muddy conditions, but you should still clean them regularly.
The two-piece supple microfibre upper has a wrapover design without a conventional tongue, and extra-long laces that ensure quick shoe fitting and removal. There are six mounting points for the Boa dials and guides, but excellent positioning means there’s no feeling of localised pressure through the minimally padded upper.
The inner sole is fairly well sealed against water ingress, the sculpted footbeds have three interchangeable arch supports, and a cat’s tongue-effect padded inner heel reduces slippage. Two thirds of the upper has perforations backed by mesh, with additional ventilation from a single mesh panel on top of the forefoot. This is highly effective at cooling your feet, but doesn’t keep water out, so on cooler days you may get cold feet.
A smooth outer heel cup extends from the midsole, and the forefoot is rigid carbon, with reinforced fittings for the supplied 10mm steel-tipped studs, or for spikes up to 18mm.
Traction is provided by Michelin, with six triangular heel tread blocks and two at the toe, which extend over the rubber toe bumper. More triangular tread blocks and chunky pontoons allow mud-clearing space around the cleat, and a midsole rubber section provides pedalling purchase for when you don’t engage first time.
Our size 45s weigh just 744g (pair), and so far our observations are that the reducing height of the heel tread blocks, aimed at easing heel strike when running, leaves the heel cup’s rear corner open to abrasion when on foot.
Longer spikes are essential for running in soft conditions, but the shoes have proved durable and the uppers scrub up like new every time.
The XC9s fit like the proverbial glove, or sock, which is apt considering they come with matching socks that are claimed to promote efficient pedalling due to woven-in ankle supports.
They certainly feel good and look the part. Perfect volume adjustment, plenty of toe room, no slippage and more than enough rigidity, while still allowing the freedom and grip to run when needed make the XC9s brilliant for ’cross.
Of course they needn’t be confined to winter competition, as their ventilation makes them ideal shoes for adventurous summer expeditions.