Shimano's RC9 shoes have proven instantly comfortable, offering great power transfer and an easy-to-keep clean aesthetic - it's no surprise they're so well revered in the WorldTour
- Adjustable arch support
- Huge cleat position adjustability and guidelines
- Weight: 282g (EU46)
- That white outsole isn't staying white
- Cleat fitment can be a fiddly affair
Step into the paddocks of a WorldTour road race and look at the feet of the riders, and chances are you'll see some Shimano S-Phyre RC9 shoes. The S-Phyre RC9 shoes are Shimano's range-topping road offering, and are well-revered by pro and amateur riders the world over. They're one of the most clicked-on models in our guide to the best cycling shoes, and they're worn by Mathieu van der Poel, Michael Matthews, and the entire Jumbo Visma team.
That's exactly why we're looking at them today. We are putting them head-to-head – or toe-to-toe – with the competition, to get a true feel of what we consider to be the best cycling shoes.
We've been using the shoes for a month now, and in that time, we've gathered a number of early impressions, so read on to find out how the Shimano RC9 (aka RC901) shoes are faring.
The Shimano S-Phyre RC9 retail at £319.00 / $425.00, which isn't loose change by any means, but in this sector, Shimano's contender sits in the middle of the price spectrum, with Fizik, Sidi and Specialized all having more than one model at a higher RRP. Also, for your money, there are a couple of extras included in the box alongside the shoes: a Shimano S-Phyre branded shoe bag and two spare arch-support inserts.
Of course, the sale price is more important than RRP when making a buying decision, so check out the aforementioned guide to the best cycling shoes for up to date price comparison.
Sitting alongside the S-Phyre RC9 shoes within the Shimano range exists an updated version designed for track riders, called the RC9T, which features a single Boa dial and a reinforced upper for greater power transfer. There's also a women's-specific version, the RC9W, which features the same specifications but uses Shimano's women's last. However disappointingly, these were limited to a run of just 500 shoes, although many women use the standard version of Shimano's RC9 without issue.
Design and aesthetics
On the design brief, we wouldn't be surprised if the words 'less is more' featured somewhere. The S-Phyre RC9 shoes are incredibly simple in appearance, and, for us, it works. We won't dwell on aesthetics too much, as it's often subject to opinion, but the plain-white finish is complemented by the grey external heel cup, and the pearlescent finish does all the talking.
Unsurprisingly for a Shimano product, it looks as though the designers have thought of everything and executed it well. Yes, there are things missing, but it feels like they are more a calculated decision rather than an oversight. For example, the rubberised toe cannot be replaced, but it is a small, lightweight addition that blends the design well. In contrast, the rear heel pad can be replaced, but is removed with two small screws accessed from inside the shoe, which helps to retain the clean aesthetic.
Most shoes place the higher of the two Boa dials on the outstep of the shoe: Specialized, Fizik, Sidi, Bontrager, Gaerne, Giro... You name it, they've done it. But Shimano has taken a slightly different approach here. It has placed the Boa dial on the really-flappy wrap-over strap. The downside to this is that the strap itself twists when trying to turn the dial, meaning it takes a little longer to put them on before your ride, but there are two positives that result. Firstly, there is no solid Boa dial causing discomfort on your outer foot – not a complaint I personally suffer with, but many do. Secondly, the dial itself is in closer reach, making on-the-fly adjustments that little bit easier.
In contrast to Sidi's approach, Shimano keeps the weight down and avoids masses of adjustability. There are just two well-considered areas which we're impressed by: arch support and Boa cable-routing.
Arch support comes by way of three height options, thanks to Velcro inserts that can be added and removed as preferred. Having collapsing arches, good arch support is one consideration I find important with cycling shoe choice, and with Shimano, the various options are well received. However, one observation after a month's worth of use is that the support is positioned slightly rearward, putting a small amount of pressure which over longer rides has led to fatigue and arch cramp.
The Boa cable is adjustable by way of an additional hook, around which the cable can double-loop, thus decreasing the amount of tightening achieved per click. This can be used or ignored, depending on whether you prioritise finite adjustment or faster tightening.
There are five colours available, consisting of black, white (pictured), blue, aurora, or a green that's so bright that even the best cycling sunglasses might struggle. As a tangent, besides the inclusion of 'aurora', we quite appreciate that Shimano uses simple colour names and not longtail metaphors. There's no 'Gloss Tarmac Black' or 'Moon Shimmer White'.
As ever, when given a choice, we've opted for white – not because white is faster (although it is), but because we can test how easy they are to keep clean.
Road cyclists have an unwavering infatuation with white shoes (here in the UK at least, which is funny considering the weather), yet the white of the RC9 is slightly different to the majority of the competition. The colour has a pearlescence which, in the right light, shimmers into purple. In my entirely subjective opinion, they look great, but they may just be a little too bling for some.
The choice to use a white outsole is a bold one. We'll see how that fares in the long run, but the rubberised sections are already starting to discolour. However, after a month of use, the upper is still easily wiping clean. That said, our friends in the WorldTour suggest it doesn't stay brilliant-white for long.
The Shimano S-Phyre RC9 shoes weigh in at 282 grams (size EU46) per shoe, which is incredibly competitive given these aren't claimed to be a featherweight tissue-paper shoe. As a comparison, Fizik's Infinito R1 weigh 304g, Sidi's Wire 2 Carbon Air weigh 342g, and Gaerne's G.Chrono weigh 331g. It's not quite as feathery as Giro's Empire SLX shoes though, which weigh in at 256g.
The outsole – which is carbon, of course, with a plastic external heel cup – features an incredible amount of detail for cleat-position guidance. The cleat nuts sit in adjustable channels, and they come with more room for adjustment than most (11mm, in fact). As pictured, there are small red spacers that hold the cleat nut in place. Using a small Allen key (or toothpick, bobby pin, etc.) you can pry them out, slide the cleat nut back and forth, and refit the spacers to hold it in place. This sounds easy in theory, but it's incredibly fiddly in practice.
There's a sticker beneath the insole that keeps everything stuck down from the inside, but it's easy to 'lose' the cleat nut once the spacers are removed. Also, with the spacers in place, the cleat nut is pushed inward, making it slightly too far away for the cleat bolt to reach. Our solution was to do away with the red spacers altogether. You get a better connection with the cleat nut, and as long as the cleat itself is in the right place (which is easy, thanks to the myriad guide lines), it doesn't matter where the nut and bolt are exactly.
The outsole is given a stiffness rating of 12 by Shimano, the stiffest in the brand's range. This number doesn't translate over to other brands, but the layman's test of bending by hand results in zero flex whatsoever, putting it in a similar position to the Sidi Wire and Specialized S-Works 7.
The external heel cup claims to minimise foot twist and roll, stabilise the heel, and hold the foot firmly in place. Paired with the internal heel material, which is akin to the cat-tongue-like material also found in Bontrager shoes, the heel does a very good job at keeping your foot locked in place. It's not quite as vice-tight as S-Works shoes, but enough to keep you feeling secure.
The shoes come with three arch-support options, consisting of the insole itself, plus two Velcro inserts. The range of arch heights available should cover most riders' needs.
At first try, sizing is ever-so-slightly on the small side. The EU46 is converted as a US11.25. There's no UK size given, but my UK11 (usually EU46) feet do fit, although a couple of extra millimetres wouldn't go amiss. There's a centimetre measurement provided, too, which puts these shoes at 29.2cm. This is actually 5mm shy of the length quoted by Fizik for the same sized shoe, and 7mm longer than Sidi's Wire (although we feel Sidi's number is understated).
After the initial cleat setup headache, the Shimano S-Phyre RC9 shoes have excelled in nearly every aspect and cemented themselves as one of the best cycling shoes available.
The slightly rearward positioning of the arch support is a minor bugbear, but an entirely personal issue that won't affect everyone, and for those who do, the option to adjust the arch support should negate any discomfort.
Their biggest selling point is that they don't have a specialism; they are simply a master of all trades. At 282 grams, they don't aim to fight among the hyper lightweight shoes such as the Giro Empire SLX or the S-Works EXOS, but they are still incredibly competitive in this regard. They are also as stiff as anything I've tested and still manage offer comfort straight out of the box where others need time to bed in.
Hot-weather riding and training indoors on the turbo trainer has also led to an impressive lack of discomfort; thanks to the vent situated beneath the toes, foot temperature remained cool, and when dropping the heels on a descent, air is noticeably channelled into the shoe.
After a little more than month's worth of use - approximately 40 hours of cycling in all conditions, including a bit of accidental gravel - I've been wholly impressed by the performance of the Shimano S-Phyre RC9 shoes, and I'm starting to see why the shoes are the choice of such a large portion of the WorldTour.
Tech spec: Shimano S-Phyre RC9
- Price: £319.00 / $425.00
- Weight without cleats: 282g (actual, size EU46)
- Outsole: Carbon fibre
- Stiffness index: N/A
- Retention: Boa IP-1
- Colours: Black, white, blue, aurora, green
- Usage: 40 hours
- Usage type: Road, accidental gravel, indoors
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