In THE LAB, we present hot new products that we’ve put to the test. Some we test over a period of months, while others are submitted to short but intensive review. This time we put the Shimano RX8R gravel shoes through their paces. How do the gravel cycling boots and their integrated socks fare in the real world?

Shimano RX8R I 639 g (size 46/pair) I € 279.95 I Manufacturer’s website

If your shoes aren’t comfortable, gravel riding can quickly stop being fun. Whether that’s because they just don’t fit, or you’ve got a small stone caught inside. It doesn’t matter if this happens to you during a gravel race or on an extended bikepacking ride, painful feet are something you’ll want to avoid at all costs. The new Shimano RX8R gravel shoes aim to provide protection and comfort thanks to integrated sock-like cuffs that close firmly around your ankles to keep out any dirt or debris. Along with that, Shimano also prioritised performance with the help of carbon midsoles, as well as comfort and traction via the use of robust and hard-wearing TPU outsoles. Can cycling shoes offer both comfort and performance?

The dominant colours on the Shimano RX8R gravel shoes are gold, bronze and black.

Features, facts and finish of the Shimano RX8R gravel shoes

Looking at the facts of the RX8R, they seem like an excellently well-rounded pair of gravel cycling boots. The carbon midsoles should keep the weight down while providing optimal power transfer. The latter should indeed be the case considering the stiffness rating of 10 on Shimano’s scale (which goes up to 12). Our pair of size 46 test shoes tip the scale at 639 g. As befits gravel shoes, the Shimano RX8R are compatible with SPD type cleats. The outer design is dominated by the bronze-gold fade of the upper material, which is made from synthetic leather. Regarding their internal values, the gravel shoes are all about adjustability and adaptability. This is provided by the Heel Lock system – a soft bulge above the heels that should help keep the shoes securely in place – wraparound uppers with integrated sock cuffs, and two interchangeable insoles with different levels of arch support. The insoles are held in place with the help of Velcro, which is very convenient. Thanks to the rubberised and compact Boa Li2 ratchets, adjusting the fit of the uppers can be done with the flick of your hand. Premium gravel shoes wouldn’t be complete without some form of fancy technology, and the RX8R gravel shoes don’t want to disappoint, featuring Dynalast, anatomically formed lasts promising minimal toe height, UPPER for an optimised fit with reduced gaps between your feet and the shoes, and Silvadur to provide longer lasting freshness thanks to antibacterial silver ions.

You get interchangeable insoles with wedges for differing levels of arch support
However, Shimano only include two arch support wedges in the scope of delivery: HIGH and MID. Perhaps you get LOW by removing them entirely?

Fit and size of the Shimano RX8R gravel shoes

Shimano offer normal and wide variants of most of their shoes, as they do with the RX8R. That said, the standard RX8R model isn’t as narrow as we’re used to from other Shimano shoes, offering enough wiggle room for your toes. You shouldn’t have any issues with the Shimano RX8R gravel shoes if you usually wear regular widths. The arches of your feet are somewhat supported, and the shoes fit securely thanks to the Heel Lock feature, preventing your feet from sliding back and forth. Shimano seem to have made some adjustments regarding their sizing. Previously, we would have recommended going one or even two sizes up, the Shimano RX8R should fit just fine if you go half a size up from your regular sneakers.

The Shimano RX8R gravel shoes in review

The Shimano RX8R gravel shoes make quite the impression even before you put them on. The design looks sleek as well as off-road capable. Mud splatters and dust are hardly noticeable. However, due to the integrated cuffs, you’re somewhat limited in the colour of your socks. After countless tests and sock changes, we only found black socks to work with the black cuffs. Every other colour looks like a mismatch. The tight-fitting cuffs also make slipping into the shoes somewhat more difficult, though the tabs on the heels help mitigate this issue. Once you’ve got the shoes on, getting your socks straight requires some additional fiddling. With everything in place, you’ll notice how comfortable the shoes feel. Everything feels soft and seamless, there are no sharp or hard edges, and you feel a gentle, even pressure, making for a secure and pleasant fit. Tightening the laces couldn’t be easier and quicker thanks to the Boa ratchets. The Velcro straps on the front of the shoes seem to be more for looks than function because they don’t make a noticeable difference.

Before swinging your leg over your bike, you’ll have to walk to it, and with the Shimano RX8R gravel shoes, that’s very comfortable too. If it wasn’t for the super stiff midsole, you could almost mistake them for your trainers. They’re excellent on a hike-a-bike sections, especially in combination with the sturdy and grippy outsoles. Their light weight isn’t just noticeable when walking but also when riding. The shoes feel light on your feet and provide an efficient power transfer to the pedals. Subjectively, you can feel the advantages of the stiff carbon midsole. You shouldn’t have any issue on long rides with the Shimano RX8R gravel shoes. We had them in use for outings lasting 8 hours and more without any complaints. The added support offered by the Heel Lock feature is particularly noticeable at first, as you can clearly feel the pressure it puts on your Achilles tendon. However, the longer you use the gravel shoes, the more you get used to this and forget about it. It certainly seems to work, as we never found that our heels slipped.

Light synthetic leather on the uppers…
… paired with a stiff carbon midsole

Our conclusion on the Shimano RX8R gravel shoes

The Shimano RX8R gravel shoes deliver on their promise. The integrated sock cuffs make them very pleasant to wear, which is particularly noticeable on long rides, offering ample comfort. Together with SPD type pedals, they can be used as comfortable and versatile cycling shoes for bikepacking adventures, long-distance gravel races, and training rides, of course. The Heel Lock and interchangeable insoles provide support and stability. If only they weren’t so fiddly to put on.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of GRAN FONDO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality cycling journalism. Click here to learn more.

Words & Photos: Martin Staffa