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In a world that seems to have an endless number of shoe choices, Shimano tends to get overlooked. Just because the Japanese company makes great groupsets and wheels and fishing gear doesn’t mean it can’t or doesn’t excel in footwear. Shimano’s shoe lineup is impressive, with options for everyone and every discipline whether on the road or in the dirt. Naturally, for gravel, you can go with the traditional mountain bike shoe, and people do, but now there are specific shoes for gravel. Call it what you will, a marketing ploy or just a straight-up opportunity to grab hold of a category that despite it being around for years (it has) is at the front of the line for an incredible number of daily riders like me.
In my opinion, there are three types of gravel shoes: the overbuilt, stiff, big-tread, studded, extremely walkable variety equivalent to a hiking shoe; and the somewhat minimal, semi-stiff, lightweight variety. The third? Well, it’s somewhere in between.
The Shimano RX8 fits perfectly in the minimal department. As someone with short and wide feet I have issues with most shoes. I size up for my width if the company in question doesn’t carry “wide” or I take my chances with my proper size (43) and hope the company’s sizing diagram is somewhat close. Every company has different U.S.-equivalent sizes these days: a size 44 can be anything from a 10 to a 10.75 and even 11. Not sure how they came up with this, but for the RX8 a size 43 is considered a size 8.9–so basically a 9.
At first glance the RX8 is a good-looking shoe. I love how it maintains a minimalist aesthetic but still manages to display some pizazz with color—in this case what they call “silver.” It’s actually different shades of silver mixed with what I would call “camo” accents. Overall, it’s a clean look that may not appeal to those wanting to make a statement, but for many who are taking the middle ground it’s just enough.
You ever wear a shoe that’s too stiff for your foot? Yeah, I have too. Hot foot is hell! The carbon-composite sole, while stiff, has just the right amount of rigidity to give you smooth-pedaling power, especially out of the saddle, all the while maintaining comfort on long rides. The treads are just big enough to whomp through muddy sections and provide ease in hiking or walking to grab your post-ride Ninkasi Prismatic Juicy IPA from Seamus the barkeep. They are just tall enough, too, to offer decent protection when trekking through a rock garden.
Keeping things sealed up on the RX8, the synthetic-leather-and-mesh upper surrounds your foot with an overlapping section that buttons everything up with the dual-micro-adjust BOA system as the predominant method of closure, along with a Velcro strap at the center, front. I prefer side closure for BOA as opposed to center as it puts less pressure on the middle of my foot. Our feet swell and while BOA allows ease of adjustment, constant adjustment is distracting and for me a sign that my feet aren’t loving the fit. As with the aesthetic, the upper feeds off the minimalist approach with no unnecessary seams or tabs or special ways to close up the shoe and gives it a one-piece molded look.
While it may seem boring, the toe-box is often under-appreciated, yet incredibly important. I’ve stuffed my wide foot in many shoes that are technically the right size, but with a toe-box that didn’t match. The RX8 is generous up there with the perfect amount of room and a nice half-round design. One of the strong suits of this shoe is in the heel cup. There’s no mush or collapsing here! At the base is the molded extension of the sole that extends three-quarters of the way up the back. The first inch of which is visible, while the remainder is hidden within the exterior material. It’s the perfect balance of stiffness for most of your heel while allowing plenty of padded comfort near the top. The U-shaped design cradles your heel in a pliable, padded way and maintains its shape regardless of how many times you’ve battered the shoe.
Having ridden these shoes in hot conditions, they breathe well because of the numerous ventilation holes on the upper that extend nearly the length of the shoe, save the last 3 inches at the rear. Also, I have used them in proper Portland drizzle and while you may think the holes allow for seepage, they don’t, because of an inner liner. By no means are these shoes waterproof, but it would take a hell of a lot of rain to soak your feet.
If you are the long-haul, bikepacking type or even a person who grinds out heavy rides in obscene conditions, the RX8 is not for you. If you’re like me and ride several days a week on mixed surfaces in moderate conditions, and desire a true daily shoe, then these are ideal. It’s a minimalist gravel design that’s light, well-built, thoughtfully proportioned, aesthetically pleasing and true to size. Having put hundreds of miles on them, the only nit-pick I have is that the Velcro strap could be a half-inch longer. To each his own!
$250; SPD; 38–50 (standard), 38–48 (wide); silver (shown), black, purple-green; 265g (size 42); comes with adaptive arch pads; bike.shimano.com