Shimano's top-end road performance shoe, the RP9, has been updated for 2018. It's moved from Velcro straps and a ratchet to a single Boa IP1 dial and small accompanying Velcro strap arrangement, and the heat mouldable tech has gone in favour of a new synthetic leather upper. As changes go, it's a significant one with weight the major benefit, but importantly the shoes are still extremely comfortable and even easier to adjust on the fly.
- Pros: Very comfortable, spacious toe box, easy adjustment on the fly
- Cons: Some might find the toe box too large
Shimano's top-end road shoes are split between the RC9 (road competition) for the racers, and the RP9 (road performance) for sportive and non-racing cyclists who still crave a light and stiff carbon shoe but prefer a smidgen more comfort for longer rides.
Dave Atkinson tested the previous incarnation two years ago and summed them up as being nearly as good as Shimano's pro-level race shoes but at more than half the price. At £220 the price has crept up, but they're still a hundred notes less than the RC9s. So what do you get with these new shoes?
The key difference to the shoes Dave tested is an all-new closure system. It seems Boa dials are dominating the shoe market with more brands adopting the rotary dial system, and that's just fine by me. I find the single dial really easy to use, with micro adjustment to get the tension level just right. Pop the dial up and the tension is instantly released, so you can certainly get into and out of these shoes much quicker than the previous versions.
Shimano hasn't completely removed the Velcro: there's a small strap for adjusting toe box volume, but it's something you'll tend to set once then never touch again. Together, the Boa dial and Velcro strap work well; the dial pulls the wire evenly across the top of the foot and spreads the pressure, with no hotspots detectable.
That single Boa dial has a big task on its hands, effectively replacing two Velcro straps from the previous RP9 design. It mostly carries it off, and for steady riding all is fine. When you start laying down the watts, though, I reckon a secondary Boa dial would just improve the midfoot shoe retention, especially when compared to the excellent fit of the Specialized Torch 3.0s I tested last year.
I found the fit (size 45) really good and took to the shoes instantly with a very short settling-in period. That's a good thing because there's none of the thermoplastic heat mouldable tech of the previous shoes. Apparently not enough people were making use of this feature, and Shimano has instead opted for a lighter weight and extra supple upper material.
This microfibre synthetic leather material is supple yet supportive around the foot, and the heel locks firmly into place without it feeling like it's being pinched thanks to a new plastic external heel cup design. This works really well and contributes hugely to the good fit of the shoe.
Inside the shoes are removable insoles with interchangeable arch supports. You have a choice of two levels of arch support when first setting up the shoes. It's a nice idea and provides a useful, if limited, range of adjustment. I found the stock insole setup suited me just fine, but then I have no specific shoe or insole fit requirements.
The tongue is a thin piece of material without the padding of some shoes aimed at long-distance comfort, but in my view it's all the better for it.
The upper is well ventilated with lots of small perforations, but being winter at the time of writing, requiring thick merino socks and chunky overshoes to stay warm, I can't comment on how they cope in the high heat of summer.
One key aspect of these shoes is the more relaxed fit around the toes. It's a voluminous toe box compared to racier shoes. Top-end race shoes like the Specialized S-Works tend to have very compact toe boxes, and to be honest it can be a squeeze if you've got big toes, and longer ride comfort can be compromised.
That's where Shimano's approach works well. For longer rides where you're going at a steady pace rather than the cut-and-thrust of a crit race, these shoes are exceptionally comfortable. Initially, I thought the extra volume around the toes would be an issue, but on the bike all is good. You can adjust the volume to an extent with the Velcro strap, though the range of adjustment is rather limited, but once I set it I never touched it again.
Despite the slightly more relaxed fit, there's little compromise in performance. The carbon fibre sole is plenty stiff enough for maximising the transfer of your power output to the rear wheel, just in case things get a bit fruity in a sportive or long group ride, and that rigid heel cup keeps your feet locked in place.
The carbon sole is given a stiffness rating of 10, but to be honest that means very little because there's no standardised stiffness scale for shoes to be tested against. It's not as stiff as Shimano's top-end race shoes but you'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference. Numbers aside, on the bike it's clear they are stiff shoes with no hint of flex when doing more powerful intervals or grinding up steep hills at a low cadence.
The sole is drilled for three-bolt cleats with generous markings for lining up left and right cleats accurately. You can fit an adapter (SM-SH41) that allows the fitting of a two-bolt SPD cleat if you want to use mountain bike pedals, and could be a good option for commuting and adventure bikes, as it improves walkability.
There's a vent at the front but none in the mid-foot region, and rubber bumpers front and rear which help prevent scratches and make walking a little less awkward, but they're not replaceable like you find on some shoes.
To sum up, the new RP9 shoes are supportive without being restrictive and are ideally suited to longer, more relaxed rides where comfort takes priority over outright stiffness and weight. They are still plenty stiff and light enough for demanding cyclists who value such attributes, but you don't sacrifice comfort when you're not pretending you're Marcel Kittel.
Light and stiff shoes ideal for long-distance comfort
road.cc test report
Make and model: Shimano RP9 Shoes
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for
Shimano says, "Engineered with the endurance rider in mind, the Road Performance RP9 magically blends the advanced features and construction of our road competition footwear with the comfort and efficiency required for long days on the saddle. Supple materials surround our 3D Anatomic design to conform to the foot, transferring power seamlessly and effortlessly to the pedals.
ROAD PERFORMANCE AT EVERY LEVEL
Available Road Performance models include RP9, RP7W, RP5, RP3, RP2 and RP1 for all levels of cyclists seeking performance with comfort.
LONG DISTANCE COMFORT
All day comfort without sacrificing power transmission.
Sophisticated aesthetic and hidden hardware routing for a clean appearance.
Built on the Road Performance platform, the RP9 weighs just 224 grams (Size 42)."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Supple, microfiber synthetic leather with perforated venting for superior fit
Light carbon composite outsole for optimized long ride stiffness
Micro-adjustable Boa® IP1 dial with hidden wire routing
External curved heel cup secures the heel and foot
Durable, wide heel pads provide walking stability
Optimum linkage of air flow over upper, insole and outsole
Early days, but so far so good.
More generous around the toes than most race-focused shoes, making them ideal for less competitive cycling.
Come up true to size.
Comfort is exceptionally good, especially on the longer rides these are designed for.
There's a lot of tech packed into these shoes and they don't weigh much. Okay, £220 isn't to be sneezed at, but you can pay a lot more for this sort of performance.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Very easy to look after and keep clean.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Work well on the long rides the shoes are designed for.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Easy fit, low weight and good comfort.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The voluminous toe box won't be for everyone.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
They're very good shoes that provide excellent long-distance comfort with low weight and an easy fit, though I reckon they could do with a second Boa.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.