Shimano’s RX6 Gravel shoes are a good choice if you want a shoe to do a variety of riding; stiff enough for racing while being soft enough for all-day adventures and a bit of walking. They have an easily adjustable heavily perforated wrap-around upper with a Boa and hook and loop fastener and their rubberised sole has large well-spaced lugs for walking and pushing. They are a little on the slim side though but a definite consideration among the highly competitive best gravel bike shoe space.
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Shimano RX6 gravel shoes - Technical details
The RX6 is designed with a little more comfort in mind than its race-bred RX8 siblings. The difference on paper is not obvious but they are much less stiff with the heel offering a greater degree of flex than the RX8s. Shimano quotes a stiffness factor of 8 for the RX6 and 10 for the RX8s out of a total score of 12 on the company's stiffness index.
The RX6s come in two colours, this rather strong green colour, which I like and black. The green matches perfectly with lush green grass or fresh cowpats and is subtly printed with a camo design. There is a reflective heal strip on both shoes which is a good safety design. They feature a gum-coloured blocky sole (black on the black version) which does without the option of toe studs and there is a gnarled plastic inset between the two gum sections to protect the sole in case you have to get off and do a lot of walking.
The shoe does up via a forefoot hook-and-loop strap and a dial for the main tightening duties on both the middle and the upper straps. Shimano has chosen to use a Boa system here and the L6K dial offers small micro-adjustments for tightening by twisting and easy release by pulling the dial away from the shoe body which releases the nylon cord. In the unlikely case that you damage the dial or the cord, Boa can supply replacements which are handy as accidents do happen.
The outer of the shoe is made of synthetic leather and has plenty of ventilation via perforations in all areas except the heel. This shoe certainly wants your feet to stay cool and dry fast if they get wet. To help in this approach the sole is also vented both in front of the cleat box and in the centre of the heel. It’s an unusual idea. Where a lot of gravel shoes are making their shoes watertight, Shimano has gone for the opposite approach perhaps accepting that, at some point, you will get wet so let’s get rid of the water and keep your feet cool.
Shimano RX6’s overall shape is long and fairly slim and while the outer material is very supple and the three-strap fastening means that it is simple to get a good tight fit there is not a lot of room in that toe box for wider feet, so wider footed riders might need to look elsewhere.
Shimano RX6 gravel shoes - Performance
On the bike, the shoes deliver a solid performance from the carbon-reinforced nylon sole. The sole does an admirable job of quashing feedback from the rutted gravel surfaces and helps stave off hot spots and aching arches after long rides. The heel cup does a fantastic job of locking your heel down in the shoe and the wrap-around closure completely does away with pressure points created by misaligned tongues.
It’s fair to say that hot rides in these shoes have been a rare treat during my test period but it’s clear that there is a cooling effect in action from those under-sole vents and, of course, the large number of perforations in the upper. So much so, that they actually felt pretty chilly and spent the coldest rides wrapped in overshoes. A positive of the fastening system here is that you can still adjust the shoe under the overshoe as the Boa remains fully functional.
They strike a good balance between a race shoe which delivers that magic stomp and shoot-forward urgency and a more casual commuting/mountain bike shoe which robs you of that urgency but is supremely comfortable. Shimano lists them as having a stiffness factor of 8 out of 12 so they are definitely nearer the race end of that line while maintaining a comfortable standing experience for your feet. You’d not choose them for a planned hike-a-bike trip but if you expect to ride 90 per cent of a route, these will work fine for you.
In general, the fit of the RX6 is on the slimmer side, especially around the toe box and, while wearing normal three-season socks, the fit is pretty snug across the toe box. Wearing Merino socks to stay warm over the colder months reduced this space even further and resulted in the occasional sore spots on the outside edge of my feet. It was easily dealt with by releasing the front strap on shorter rides but if you have wider feet or intend on wearing thicker socks a lot of the time make sure you try a few sizes before you commit. Shimano does not offer wider versions in the UK, which is a shame.
The insole of the RX6 is not one of Shimano’s fancy adjustable ones, it’s a basic foam affair with no arch lift or support. Under the insole, the footbed has many holes, including two drain/air holes in the sole. It’s definitely a different approach but when they have been absolutely drenched in the evening they have been ready to go again the following morning with only newspaper to help them dry out.
The RX6’s grip is plenty good enough for most of the time for standing around with friends, fixing bikes or drinking coffee and they are perfectly happy walking to the pub from the campsite as long as it’s not too far.
However, when it gets wet and muddy there is not as much grip as Shimano’s XC shoes, especially at the toe should you need to climb out of that ditch or up a muddy slope. Add to that the large inline blocks surrounding the cleat box and they can be quite slippery in that rare get-me-out-of-here moment. It’s a ‘gravel’ shoe but we live in the UK and our gravel is actually better described as greasy mud and grass depending on your route and time of year.
The RX6s are certainly not alone in this gravel grip issue, it appears that gravel shoe designers believe that when offering a more comfortable shoe you automatically need to remove the toe studs or reduce the front grip depth.
Shimano RX6 gravel shoes - Verdict
At only 688g (pair) including Time cleats (44g) in size 45, the £160 Shimano RX6 gravel shoes are definitely at the lighter end of the gravel market. They are up against shoes such asthe 694g Bont's Riot MTB+ as long as you don’t intend to walk much. The Udog Distanza shoes have a roomy toe box and are definitely worth a look if you need extra space there. The Udog’s came in at 772g in 45 and they are also lighter than the 744g Quoc Gran Tourers (now £170) which have better grip than the RX6 but are lace-up and lack micro adjustment and drain holes.
The Shimano RX6 gravel shoes are a heavily vented lightweight comfortable pair of off-road shoes that dry quickly. You can really put the hammer down in them and feel rewarded, yet still get off your bike and walk around without discomfort after a full day's adventure. They lack absolute grip in the mud and their slim profile might cause fit issues so try before you buy. Recommended gravel shoes in Camo Green or Black.