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Shimano's S-Phyre RC902 shoes are stiff, comfortable and hold the foot securely during big power efforts. There are changes over the previous model, the RC9, but the basics stay the same. This is a comfortable, well-thought-out pair of race shoes.
Just like saddles, shoes are highly individual pieces of kit. What works for me might not work for you and when you find your Cinderella glass shoe, you're likely to stick with the design. That's why I was a little miffed when I read that Shimano was set to alter the fit on its flagship road race shoe. I'd become rather comfortable in the first generation of the S-Phyre RC9 shoe.
I won't spend too much time on things like stiffness and the Boa dials. Both were good before and both are still exactly what you want from a race shoe. Shimano gives the S-Phyre RC902 sole a rating of 12 out of 12, suggesting that it's a fan of WeRateDogs, but the rating is well earned. These are very stiff soles that are easily a match for my biggest sprints.
It is also a very thin sole and that results in a low stack height for better connection to the pedal.
On longer days, an overly rigid sole can cause foot pain from the constant vibrations being transferred to the foot. Thankfully, just as my original RC9s were comfortable all day, the new sole is still great at isolating the foot from that horrible road buzz and I had no issues with discomfort.
Boa's Li2 dials are new and they do what Boa dials have done for years now. The tension adjustment is great, and once set they hold that tension perfectly. The micro-adjustability goes both ways, allowing you to crank the dials down tight for town sign sprints and then release them a bit once you've beaten your mates.
The upper dial pulls on a wide strap which I found to spread pressure very well. While the lower dial relies on a criss-cross pattern to spread the retention pressure, I found it perfectly comfortable, even when over-tightened for those all-important sprints.
Okay, that's the basics, but what about the things that deviate from the old design? We've got a new heel cup that gives a tighter fit. There is a less-aggressive taper at the toe box, and the midfoot area feels a lot more snug. While the shoes might look similar to the old models, the fit has changed and it is really noticeable if you head out in one of the new shoes and one of the old...
First up, the 'improved' heel cup. As a keen have-a-go bike racer, I think the move from a cat's tongue material to two rubberised pads sitting on either side of the Achilles tendon is a brilliant one. This system absolutely clamps the heel in place. I don't know if this actually improves power transfer, but psychologically, knowing that my foot isn't slipping one bit is great when riding hard or doing sprints. In fact, I like this heel cup design so much that I'm really hoping that Shimano transfers it over to the mountain bike version of this shoe.
I'm also a fan of the new toe box design, and while I didn't have any toe discomfort when using the old shoes, there is a bit more wiggleability in the new toe box.
It's when we get to the redesigned midfoot area that I think Shimano will either gain or lose your business. The fit is noticeably more snug on my foot, which did feel weird at first. I went out in one of my old shoes and one of the new shoes and the difference is definitely noticeable. After a few rides in the new model, the shoes feel perfectly comfortable, but if you loved the old ones for the fit around the midfoot then you might not like the new design so much.
Thankfully, those of you with wider feet still have Shimano's wide-fit shoes to turn to. The key takeaway from the changes will be that it's really important to try these shoes on before you commit to buying them – or check the returns policy if buying online.
In terms of price, this is a high-end race shoe and you are paying about the going rate for what you're getting. In fact, these aren't awfully expensive in comparison to the competition. The S-Works Ares shoes are £375, Sidi's Shot 2s are £375, and Lake's CX403 CFCs are £425, though the Lakes are custom mouldable at home.
So, there are changes to the Shimano S-Phyre RC902 that will mean they might not fit fans of the older S-Phyre RC9 shoes. But for a race shoe, they deliver on the stiffness front and the heel retention is brilliant. Comfort is good for long rides and I have to say that I'm still a big fan of the S-Phyres.
Comfy and stiff with great heel retention – what more could you ask of a flashy set of race shoes?
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Shimano S-Phyre RC9 (RC902) SPD-SL Shoes
Size tested: 42
Tell us what the product is for
Shimano says, 'Light, stiff, supportive and comfortable, the latest generation of S-Phyres, Shimano's flagship road cycling shoes, have been updated once again. The reinforced upper, constructed from microfibre leather and mesh with perforations for enhanced breathability, utilises a 360° surround wrapping that stabilises the foot and is secured using dual BOA® Li2 dials for micro-adjustment and quick release.
'The toe box has undergone refinement to comfortably accommodate more foot shapes and the anti-twist heel cup increases pedalling efficiency and reduces movement within the shoe. Application of a Silvadur treatment prevents the build-up of bacteria over time, keeping your shoes feeling and smelling fresh ride after ride.
'The Dynalast™ carbon outsole is Shimano's stiffest to date, so no watts are lost when you're putting down the power. It's compatible with three-bolt cleats, and the expanded range of adjustment makes it easier to dial in an optimised position. A replaceable heel pad means you'll be able to preserve your carbon sole and take advantage of the benefits of these shoes to your performance season after season.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
360° surround upper provides enhanced instep rigidity and achieves a true glove-like fit
Brand new dual BOA® Li2 dials featuring a lower profile and two way micro-adjustability for aerodynamic tuning
Refined Dynalast™ to expand fit and comfort
Toe box shape refinement to accommodate a wider range of foot shapes
FUNCTION SPECIFIC ZONES
Combination of non-stretch Kuraray Rovenica, Teijin Nanofront and PU laminated mesh ensures optimal foot stabilisation to minimise energy loss
OPTIMAL POWER TRANSFER
Anti-twist heel cup construction optimises efficiency by enhancing heel torsional rigidity, coupled with glass-fibre reinforced heel stabiliser designed to handle high intensity riding
Deeper cup-shaped carbon mid-sole provides closer pedal feel and riding efficiency
Weight: 235g (size 42)
Stiffness rating: 12
The volume has been reduced around the midfoot, but then it feels like there is more space in the toe box.
Come up a little smaller than in the past.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
They're white, so get the wet wipes ready, but with fewer mesh sections, they're easy to keep looking fresh.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Perfectly. These are stiff for those big efforts, but they're also comfortable for training and general riding.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The heel retention is a tangible improvement over the old design. It really locks you into the shoe.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I'm yet to find something.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
High, yes, but decent compared to the competition.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
These are excellent road race shoes – as stiff and comfortable as the previous model, but with better heel retention. They're even relatively well priced compared with the competition.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cannondale Supersix Di2 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, club rides, general fitness riding, I specialise in the Cafe Ride!
Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.