Take a road bike shoe and give it a two-bolt cleat interface and the traction to walk in the dirt, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect in the Shimano RX8. You get the stiffness necessary to race or ride hard off-road for a day without sore feet or unnecessary weight. A perfect bridge between road and mountain bike shoes.
- - Well vented
- - Stiff sole
- - Easy to clean exterior
- - You can feel the inside layer of the one piece upper
- - Not enough toe protection to handle toe overlap rubs
For too long gravel riders have had lots of choices when it came to footwear, but none of them were quite right. Gravel-specific shoes are often offered with a design catered to casual riding with soft soles. Choosing road shoes gets you the stiffness necessary for hard riding and racing but without the ability to walk, or run, when necessary. Mountain bike shoes have all the features needed, but they are often heavier than necessary and with a wider profile that can rub the crank arms.
The Shimano RX8 finds the sweet spot between the two. You get the features you need without the weight you don't. It's for this reason that they've landed on our list of the best gravel bike shoes. Keep reading to see where they fit into the larger landscape of available options.
Design and aesthetics
There's a lot of shared DNA between the Shimano S-Phyre RC902 road shoe and the RX8 gravel shoe. That means there's a similar shape to the shoe with a toe that's on the narrow side and heel cup that keeps the rider completely locked in. The most noticeable similarity from the outside though is the wrap-around construction. Although the two shoes secure in an entirely different way, the burrito-like design is familiar to anyone who knows Shimano road shoes.
Instead of splitting the shoes up the middle, Shimano wraps the top around from the inside and overlaps the outside. The split happens roughly at the base of the toes with the seam heading towards the inner arch. There are two flaps tasked with holding the foot secure.
The lower flap uses a hook and loop closure while the upper employs a Boa dial with two attachment points. Most of the work of both adjusting and securing the foot happens in the upper portion of the shoe. Visually it appears as two pieces but it's a single, wide piece that does an excellent job of spreading pressure across the top of the foot. As usual, the Boa dial provides precise adjustment. At the front of the shoe, where the lower closure sits, there's almost no ability to change the fit. The combination of a stiff outer material and the close proximity to the solid toe covering means there's little space for movement.
While the lower closure is primarily for show, the upper closure wraps the foot and you can tighten the Boa dial as far as you want without concern for hot spots. There's robust stitching that's unlikely to tear in each spot that the cable from the Boa travels through, and on the underside of the upper closure, the inside flap ends with a seam along the inside of the foot. The only drawback to this arrangement is that the seam is sometimes noticeably sandwiched between the outer surface and the foot.
At the top of the shoe, the entire section around your ankle is well padded. The thickest section is in the heel cup and despite almost no padding just before the top of the foot, there's nowhere that feels underpadded. This can be an issue when walking with a sole that doesn't bend, but Shimano does a good job.
At the bottom of the RX8 you won't find any lugs. This isn't a shoe designed for the rigours of cyclocross or sprinting up muddy trails. Instead, there is a large, blocky, rubberised tread pattern. It's meant for riding but there's enough traction when you need to walk.
Shimano specifically designed the RX8 for ultra-endurance gravel racing events and it shows. Stay clipped in and pedalling and it's hard to tell them apart from a pair of quality road shoes. The narrow profile and stiff sole will feel familiar to a road cyclist. Although they aren't the stiffest available from Shimano, they are plenty stiff for me. I've even taken to using them when I need the stiffest sole, racing in Zwift.
A gravel-specific shoe isn't about Zwift performance though, and as soon as you put your foot down, the shoes' gravel focus becomes clear. The bulky lugs have plenty of traction for dry gravel as well as mud, and Shimano has kept the cleat recessed enough that it doesn't contact the ground, so if you walk on a paved surface, you won't wear down your cleats, nor slide about.
That same thoughtfulness carries through to the upper design. Gravel shoes get very dirty and Shimano has planned for that. The synthetic upper is easy to wipe clean. If you get the shoes wet there's almost nothing to hold water. The inside of the shoe feels synthetic and even the padded sections can't hold water.
For fit, I wear a size nine and a half in an American street shoe size. The RX8 fits perfectly in a 44. It's a narrow toe box but comfortable, though I do find it a little bit of a challenge to get them just the right tightness so the inner edge of the upper doesn't bother me and they don't feel loose. The IP1 Boa dial is helpful with precise adjustment even while riding.
If you are a road cyclist who also rides off-road, the Shimano RX8 is an excellent option. If you need to walk up a steep gravel climb, they have the traction you need, and if you walk into a store for mid-ride supplies, they aren't slippery. They are narrow enough that you won't rub the crank arm, and stiff enough to sprint in. They are well ventilated for hot days and easy to clean when it's muddy.
Tech Specs: Shimano RX8 gravel shoes
- Colour: Bronze, Silver, Black
- Closure: 1 Boa (IP1), 1-strap
- Upper Material: Synthetic leather
- Outsole Material: Carbon fibre composite + TPU
- Weight: 265g Men’s size 44
- Size availability: Standard: 38-50 Wide: 38-48
- Price: £219 / $260 / €229.99
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