We got to check out Shimano's lightest shoe
Words and Images - James Raison
Shimano’s new RP9 could be considered the “Ultegra” to the S-Phyre’s “Dura-Ace”. But that doesn’t tell the full story because the RP9 is both cheaper and lighter than the S-Phyres. It’s the lightest shoe Shimano makes. Plus, the RP9s give you a little more room to move than the locked-down-race-obsessed-top-tier sibling. So, should you consider the RP9s? Let’s dive in!
The new RP9 is a substantially different shoe to its ratchet and velcroed predecessor. There’s a delicious BOA IP1 dial that handles the adjustment at the top and a single velcro strap towards the forefoot. Shimano have opted for an external heel cup, and rubber stoppers under the heel and toe to help you walk and protect the shoe from the nasty ground.
Its upper is microfiber synthetic leather with perforated venting all over. It’s rather thin, and has enough suppleness to move with your feet rather than fight against them. It’s all built atop a carbon outsole that’s rated 10/12 on Shimano’s stiffness scale. The S-Phyres dial the stiffness all the way up to 12 by comparison. There’s a decent vent under the toe box to channel some cooling air into your underfoot.
All-up the result is a waifish shoe, tipping the scales at 224g in size 42, compared to the S-Phyre’s 243g in the same size. It's darn light.
FIT AND FEEL
Before launching into the RP9 fit, I want to explain my own struggles with finding shoes so the rest of the review makes sense. I have a weird foot. It’s flat, with a very slender heel, but short and wide toes. So I have struggled for years with finding shoes for that combination of shapes. Usually shoes are too loose in the heel, too narrow and tapered in the toe, and with too high arches.
That said, the RP9s fit me well. The padded internal heel with the highly placed BOA dial completely immobilises my heel. The tension from the BOA dial locks my hindfoot in very nicely. There’s 3 options for arch support; mid/high velcro-attachable inserts that stick to the inner sole, or just remove the inserts completely for no arch support which is what I did. Finally, there’s a generously roomy toe box which gives me room to stretch out and wiggle my toes.
What this all means is the RP9s are a good option for people who like a more relaxed fit, or need a generous toe box. I’m not so convinced that they will suit a slender, high-arched foot though. As always, be sure to try on any shoe before you buy.
It took me some time to adjust to the RP9s. My main road shoes are Bont Blitz’s that keep your foot in a carbon tub with raised sides. The RP9s allow more movement in the forefoot, which meant I had to consciously put pedal pressure on my metatarsals or I’d fall into my bad habit of collapsing my foot outwards. It’s not the shoe’s fault, rather a factor of my pedalling action. I liked having some more toe room but the lack of forefoot tension could be a problem for some. Those who like to wriggle around in the toe box will be happy with the RP9s.
Comfort was a bit uneven for me. I had my cleats positioned by the same fitter whose done all of my shoes to date but I still found mild toe numbness creeping in during climbing efforts with constant pressure on the pedals. My feet don't like the way the RP9s transfer pressure onto the balls of my feet. While the RP9s suit my foot in many ways, it seems they're not quite perfect. That's just the way it is with some shoes. I've had the same problem with shoes from different brands before.
BOA’s developed into a fantastic retention system. I’ve owned shoes with early generation BOA’s and they weren’t tall enough, didn’t turn very smoothly, and had sizable gaps between clicks so it was easy to over-tighten on the fly. All of those problems have been addressed. Adjustment is ultra-smooth and BOA claim that adjustment can be specific to individual millimeters. Tension can be wound on quickly and your ideal tightness can be found easily. To release tension, just unwind to make small adjustments or pull upwards to completely disengage.
On-bike adjustments are much easier owing to the taller dial. I would like a second dial further towards the forefoot though. I have the velcro strap as tight as I’m willing to go before I start forcing the upper to overlap. A second dial would pull it in more effectively and keep my forefoot more secure.
The 10/12 sole stiffness is more than enough for my purposes. I couldn’t find a hint of flex, but I’m no Kittel-esque powerhouse on the pedals. I had all the stiffness I needed to drop the hammer and having more would have made it less comfortable to ride the bikes that transfer vibration through the bottom bracket into your foot.
Cooling is exceptional. Actually, a little too good for my Winter test period. The perforated outsole douses your feet it cool air and the sole vent fills the toe box. It cools so effectively, I’ve struggled with cold feet on mornings below 5°C. I’m looking forward to busting them out in the blazing hot Adelaide Summer when I’ll be loving that ventilation.
The RP9 is a cheaper, lighter, and more chilled out version of the S-Phyre. It’s a good shoe for those who want a wider toe box and lower arch support. The BOA system is brilliant, but the velcro on the forefoot is less so. A second dial would have been nice but double-BOA is S-Phyre territory so I understand that spec decision.
Stiffness is plenty for me, and likely plenty for most. You’d have to be a pedal-stompin’ beast to need a stiffer sole than the 10/12 carbon platform they’ve given you.
I did have some numbness with the RP9s. It's not the first pair of shoes that's caused it, and probably won't be the last. Shoes can be a difficult item to review because of how differen't everyone's feet are. So while it was a problem for me, I won't say it'll be a problem for you. You never know until you're on the bike.
I suspect these will be hot weather superstars when hot weather rolls back around to my corner of the world. For me, they’ll probably sit in the cupboard until it warms up. I haven’t felt my toes in a couple of weeks… Keep that in mind if you live in a cold climate.
Disclosure statemennt: These shoes were sent for review by Shimano Australia