This article originally appeared on BikeRadar
Built for general road riding and endurance events, the new Shimano RP range is a little different from Shimano's other road shoes – or most road shoes in general.
Previously, if you wanted a high-end shoe, it was assumed you wanted a race shoe. It seems those days may soon be a thing of the past, with Shimano recognising the mass majority of riders that appreciate high performance product, but have no intention of racing against the clock.
- Highs: Comfort, fatigue-reducing endurance focus, still a shoe built for performance in most situations
- Lows: Racers may miss the locked-in feel of other high-end shoes, ventilation could be a little better
- Buy if: You want a premium shoe with a difference for taking on big miles
For this, Shimano's new RP (Road Performance) range places greater emphasis on comfort for the long haul. Put simply, the fit and feel is more relaxed, but with plenty of high-end features, a stiff platform and lower weight. It's worth noting that Shimano is not alone in this space, with Specialized also recently making an entrance into premium, endurance focused road shoes with its Audax model.
It's a road shoe. What's the difference?
With a quick glance, the RP9 looks much like Shimano's top-tier race shoe, the R321. Many features such as the custom fit upper and inner-sole, ‘Surround' upper design, reversed buckle and length adjustable cleat mounts are found on both.
Stiffness in the carbon soles is not too different either – Shimano ranks the RP9's as a 11/12 in its stiffness ranking, with the R321s of course sitting at an unbendable 12.
Take a closer look inside though and the differences start to appear. The fit is more relaxed, most notably at the heel. The Velcro-like heel gripping material of the 321s is replaced by padding with a subtly rubberized coating. The inside of the upper is soft and padded too. And a more pronounced heel and toe gripper is provided for easier walking.
While Shimano would probably hate for us to categorize it in such a way, consider the RP9 an Ultegra shoe in Shimano's range and the endurance answer to the race-focused R171, which sits one below the R321.
Looking to the upper and Shimano has brought across its one-piece ‘Surround' technology, which sees the top wrap from the inside of the foot and over the top of the foot.
Beneath this, the foot's outside gets a padded upper that doubles as the tongue. Cleverly, this is attached to an elastic band inside the shoe which ensures it's always quick and easy to get the shoe on.
Retention wise, Shimano offsets the top ratchet buckle and two lower Velcro straps toward the outside of the foot, which helps to pull that ‘Surround' upper across.
Taking it a step further, the buckle switches position and is joined directly to the one-piece upper. It's exactly reverse of just about all buckle equipped cycling shoes and does take some time to get used to. However, the result is less chance of the buckle pressing into the foot as it effectively now free floats over a bunch of padded material beneath.
The buckle connects to a ratchet strap that is fixed to the outside of the shoe. This strap offers two mounting positions, which helps to dictate the shape and fit of the upper.
Looking to the three-bolt cleat mounts in the carbon sole and Shimano has employed its adjustable system. With this, fore and aft positioning of the cleat is widely expanded, although it does require removal of the cleat and a change to the mount hole position.
Sitting top and tail of the sole are rubber traction pads. In the name of simplicity, these are not replaceable but are instead made of a harder and more durable rubber that still offers confident traction on a variety of surfaces.
The custom-mould foot bed is the same as in Shimano's R321. Here, the anti-bacterial innersole with mint aroma offers suitable padding and easily interchangeable arch support wedges.
Weight wise, our scales measured a size 43 sample pair at 575g, and a size 45 pair at 638g. To give that some context, a pair of EU43 Specialized S-Works 6 shoes are about as light as full featured road shoes get and they weigh 440g and a pair of Giro Empires are closer to 500g. Shimano shoes have never been outright winners on weight, but the RP9s are competitive for purpose.
Custom moulding, don't demand it
The RP9's are equipped with Shimano's long-standing custom-mould technology. Performed by a qualified dealer, the shoe and inner sole are separately heated up in an oven. The inner soles are then stood on and conform to your foot shape. A step further, the shoe's upper is given some compaction treatment which sees your whole foot and shoe go into a plastic bag and effectively vacuum packed.
For this tester's fairly standard feet, the custom moulding doesn't offer a whole lot of change. Frankly, the fit straight out of the box is more than okay in my case.
There are both standard and wide fits available, with half sizes available in most common sizes that should provide a comfortable for most. But if that's not enough, then don't expect the custom moulding to magically fix significant fit issues.
The width of our standard fit EU43s feels familiar, and we were as comfortable in these as we are in Giro and Specialized shoes. The wide fit version offers more room again, but is not considered massively wide for those walking around in Jumbo Brooks or Asics shoes.
The custom mould technology is more there for people with stranger foot shapes – perhaps you have a bunion or a protruding toe box – and here it should offer relief.
Either way, our suggestion is to first ride the shoes without the custom moulding process. If you're comfortable, great, keep riding. For those with a minor ache or complaint, then consider some oven time in the store.
How does it feel?
Slipping on the RP9 for the first time is not going to be a totally different experience to that of a race shoe. It's still a road shoe and its stiff carbon sole still makes it awkward to walk in.
However, the most notable difference is perhaps how it hugs your foot, or more like, doesn't. Top race shoes often force your heel into a deep cup, with the upper tightly hugging your foot. The RP9 is far more relaxed and put simply, fits closer to that of a entry-level shoe than it does of race shoes at a comparable price.
It's this relaxed fit that took sometime to get used to, but we honestly never experienced any complaints for it. It keeps your foot in a position that's ready to apply power, but with enough freedom to let your muscles and joints do more of what they want – not too dissimilar to what pedal float achieves.
Those used to a tight fitting race shoe may miss the locked in feel here. For us, out of the saddle sprints resulted in a little more heel lift than we're used to coming off of pro-level race shoes, but less aggressive and less race-focused riding never presented such issues.
Ventilation of the RP9s is good, but not stellar. The reinforced toecap gives 15 thin vents, and a large port exists in front of the cleat do the lion's share of work on hot days. Aiding just a little, there's a small mesh panel over the small toe and subtle perforations across the one piece upper. But beyond this, it's mostly a closed shoe and the additional padding holds heat a little more than some other shoes of this price. Regardless, you'll never complain of having ‘hot feet' in these and they fight off foot funk nicely.
For long rides, Shimano has achieved exactly what it set out to and the RP9 is undoubtedly comfortable. The padded heel and tongue do great to reduce fatigue while the shoe is still built upon an efficient and performance-focused platform.