Trickle-down technology is the name of the game in today's cycling industry. From bikes to helmets and even shoes; technology and materials that commanded top dollar only a few years ago will eventually work their way down into more budget-friendly offerings and in this case, yesterday's best cycling shoes become today's brilliant bargain offerings.
The Shimano RC3 shoes are the prime example of precisely this concept, packaging quite a lot of Shimano's shoe know-how into a wallet-friendly package.
Design and aesthetics
First and foremost RC3 doesn't look like a budget shoe; with the offset BOA dial and wrap-around design, at first glance, these shoes look like they are quite a bit more expensive than they are at the register.
Placed one level up from the base model in Shimano's road shoes line up, the RC3s are built around the same Shimano Dynalast concept as the top-end S-Phyre shoes. Dynalast refers to the contouring of the sole itself and results in less toe spring (how much the front of the shoe curves upwards) than similar options from other brands like Specialized and Giro. Shimano says this takes some of the tension off your calves and hamstrings to create a more efficient pedal stroke, leaving you with more energy in your legs.
The sole is made from glass fibre-reinforced nylon and is rated a 6/12 on Shimano’s own stiffness scale. For context, the RC1 is also rated six, while the RC5 jumps up to an eight.
For the past few generations of shoes, Shimano has been telling us how it's reduced the stack height. One way the brand has achieved this is by doing away with the paper-lasting board that forms the foundation of the majority of shoes, cycling or otherwise, connected to either side of the upper before the sole is glued on to the bottom. The RC3, like the S-Phyre, sees the upper bonded directly to the sole, shaving off a few millimetres, bringing your foot closer to the pedal axle.
The heel and toe bumpers are moulded TPU, offering a stable platform for walking, and the shoes feature a sliding three-hole cleat mount, allowing for a rearward cleat position.
Shimano has brought the Surround upper design from its high-end S-Phyre road shoe down to the RC3 with some slight modifications. Instead of the traditional two sides and tongue in the middle, the upper wraps around your entire foot a bit like a shoe burrito. The inside section that forms the ‘tongue’ is anchored to the outside of the shoe, and the other side just below your arch. When the Single L6 BOA dial is tightened, it wraps the upper further around your foot, which adds stability to the shoe and provides even pressure.
Speaking of the BOA, the L6 dial is offset down the outside of your foot to prevent hotspots. It only spins one direction and allows for micro-adjustments when tightening, and a pop release to let out the cable.
The upper itself is made from synthetic leather and is almost entirely seamless. Perforations across the toe box provide a bit of airflow, as does a sizable vent in the sole, which also allows rainwater to drain from the bottom. The RC3s weigh 269g per shoe in size 45.
From the moment I slipped the Shimano RC3s onto my feet, I was impressed. Quite often, budget shoes offer a vastly less refined fit than their flagship counterparts. This is due to several factors; price is a big one, and intended use is another. The ultra-aggressive race cut and support of many race shoes doesn't suit quite as many feet, and is often too unforgiving for the beginner or leisure rider. Shimano has done well to relax certain aspects of the shoe without watering down the essential ingredients that define the fit.
The toe box and forefoot are roomier than some of Shimano's higher-end shoes, but not to the point it leaves your feet swimming inside. The midfoot tapers back into the heel cup, and did leave my arch wanting more support, but it will definitely suit those with lower insteps.
The microfiber upper is soft and supple conforming around your foot for a comparable fit as you reel in the BOA dial. Considering the price of these shoes, the material is head and shoulders above the synthetic materials used to form a lot of budget shoes. These materials are often overly stiff to provide structure for the shoe, or so soft it feels like you are riding with mashed potatoes strapped to your feet. The material Shimano has opted for is dynamic, matching the contours of your feet while also providing some degree of structure.
With the wrap-around upper, the shoe cut is relatively low, not quite as much as the brand’s more performance-oriented kicks, but set the limbo bar low enough that when you drop your heel, the upper doesn't push up against your ankle bone or restrict the range of motion.
One area in particular that entry-level shoes often leave something to be desired is in the heel cup, thankfully the RC3 bucks this trend. While it’s not externally supported by hard plastic, the design appears to be pulled from the RP9 endurance shoes which have since disappeared from the brand’s catalogue. When these were revamped in 2017, a Shimano representative at the time told me they had nicknamed it 'the suction cup' because of the hold on offer, a claim which it well and truly lived up to.
The heel cup on the RC3 isn’t quite as sculpted as those particular shoes, but the padding and finish of the fabric are quite similar and so is the heel hold. Even when reefing on the back grinding up a steep climb out of the saddle, my heel stayed firmly planted in the RC3.
Since the RC3 is rated 6/12 on Shimano's stiffness scale, it’s not a surprise the sole isn't as unyielding as its carbon counterparts. When you really punch the pedals, yes there is a tiny bit of flex, but these aren't race shoes and so they don’t need to have that same level of snap. As you’re pedalling along, or even trying to hang onto the back of a coffee ride the sole provides a stable pedalling platform free of hot spots. They also do well to dampen road vibrations, and don’t leave your feet feeling overly fatigued either.
My only real complaint is that they feel a bit short. I have worn a size EU45 in Shimano shoes for some time, however, I could just feel the end with my big toe. The size label says they are 28.5cm long, just as it does on all the other Shimano shoes I have on hand, so I can’t really explain it. Best to try them on before you buy.
Priced at $120.00 / £89.00 / AU$199.00, for the money I don't know that I’ve ridden in a better shoe. The relaxed fit will suit quite a lot of feet, but it’s not so relaxed that you have to crank down the BOA and still find yourself swimming in the shoe. I’m stoked to see Shimano opt for a more contoured heel cup than is found on many shoes at this price point as it provides the foundation for the rest of the shoe to build upon.
For riders just starting out, or those who may be looking for a commuter shoe, the RC3 won’t disappoint.
Tech specs: Shimano RC3
- Price: $120.00 / £89.00 / AU$199.00
- Weight without cleats: 538g (actual, size EU45)
- Outsole: Glass fibre-reinforced nylon
- Stiffness index: 6/12
- Retention: BOA
- Colours: Black, White, Red
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.