If Shimano didn't make some really excellent mid-level racing shoes then I'd probably spend this whole review waxing lyrical about these RC9 S-Phyre racing shoes. After all, they're a great fit, they're super-stiff and they look the real deal. If you're racing at a fairly high level – or you just like to have the top-end stuff – then they're definitely one to stick on the list. For most of us the superb performance of the Shimano middle order will mean these are a little bit of a stretch.
"S-PHYRE has one goal: to maximize power transmission by delivering more performance per gram, minimizing aerodynamic drag and refining efficiencies between the bike, footwear and rider," says Shimano. Glossing over the fact that that's three goals, let's look at what Shimano's doing here.
The upper of the shoe is made from Teijin Avail microfiber synthetic leather, which is super-light, conforms well to your foot shape and doesn't stretch. There are perforations for ventilation, and a mesh section in the toe box and a vent in the sole to help with that. Shimano doesn't use a lasting board for this shoe (the bit between the carbon outer sole and the insole, that's normally stitched in), but instead bonds the upper directly to the sole and uses an external heel cup for added stiffness at the rear.
Stiff is one thing the S-Phyre shoes certainly are. Shimano rates its soles for stiffness on a scale of 1 to 12; I'm sure that's a psychological thing so that its stiffest sole, at 12, looks stiffer than others that might be a 10. Anyway, you'll not be surprised to know that the sole on this shoe is a 12, top of the pile. The sole and the heel cup really do give the shoe masses of stiffness, both longitudinally and torsionally. It's probably, along with the Bont Vaypor, the stiffest shoe I've used. The torsional rigidity is especially noticeable; the heel cup really helps keep things in one plane.
It's not uncomfortable, though. Shimano has moved away from making its shoes heat-mouldable but it doesn't seem to have done any harm in this case. The S-Phyres fitted me pretty much perfectly; like all Shimano shoes they size up on the small side, so I'm a 48 in these when in others I'm a 47. The upper is a close fit but comfortable, without any pressure points, and the dual Boa closure makes getting them tight easy, as well as making it simple to get them off again. There's an instep wedge under the insole, and Shimano supplies two heights to adjust the fit. Or you can take them out entirely.
I did have one comfort issue with the S-Phyre shoes: a bit of the stitching on one of the Boa lacing guides stuck out a bit, and it rubbed on my toe. I stuck a bit of fabric over it and it was fine then. Other than that, no issues at all.
They're a close fit without feeling restrictive, and your foot feels very secure; the cat's tongue material on the heel tab helps to stop your foot lifting out when you're working hard. The S-Phyres are available in sizes from 36 up to 48 (half sizes for most of the way) and there is a wide-fitting version too, so getting a pair that fits should be child's play.
The shoes come with socks. They're system socks. "What if a sock could make a shoe better? S-PHYRE believes it can," says Shimano. "By looking at the shoe/sock interface and applying our Linkage Effect approach, S-PHYRE socks combine thermoregulation, comfort, ankle roll stability, and heel slip-resistance with an extra-tall cuff that's guaranteed not to droop. Asymmetrical structural weaving of proprietary fabrics provides guide rails for proper foot alignment through the entire 360-degree crank rotation."
System socks? Come on.
They're nice socks, and they match the shoes too. So those are two wins, a third being they're free with the shoes, or at least built into the cost. Did I find myself thinking that they improved my foot alignment through their asymmetric structural weaving? No, I did not. I didn't feel my performance suffering when they were in the wash, either.
At 613g a pair for size 48s to fit my flipper feet, these are lightweight shoes, similar to other pro-level gear. They score very highly on weight, comfort (stitching issue notwithstanding), performance and sock inclusion. And value? Well, that's maybe a sticking point. Not because pro-level shoes don't cost this much and quite a lot more: they do. But rather because Shimano makes other shoes that are functionally almost indistinguishable for less. A lot less.
We've recently tested the RC7 shoe, the next shoe down in the range, and Jez, who tested them, has the same size feet as me. So we swapped for a while to see if we could discern the difference. These S-Phyre shoes are £320, and the RC7s are £170. They don't use the same construction method, and the sole stiffness is 'only' a 10. But I'd be hard pressed to tell you any meaningful way in which they're not as good.
Jez prefers the RC7s, having ridden both, and I'd have to say I found them marginally more comfortable too. They're not quite as light and they're not quite as torsionally stiff and they don't hold your foot quite as securely, but in terms of performance they're really not compromised.
At the level I race at (3rd cats, near the back) the S-Phyres are a jolly lovely pair of shoes to rock up with, but if it was my money the RC7s would be the ones in the basket. The higher you go, the more those tiny differences in performance – and they are tiny – will mean to you. Or if you just want some really nice road shoes and £320 doesn't seem like a stretch, knock yourself out: they're great.
Great pro-level shoe, but undermined a bit by Shimano's top-quality mid-range offerings
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Shimano SPD-SL RC9 S-Phyre shoes
Size tested: 48
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The result of extensive development and testing with elite road, cyclocross and mountain bike athletes, Shimano announces its new S-PHYRE line of elite performance cycling footwear. An ambitious concept aligned with Shimano's aim to create the most technologically advanced cycling solutions available, S-PHYRE has one goal: to maximize power transmission by delivering more performance per gram, minimizing aerodynamic drag and refining efficiencies between the bike, footwear and rider. New S-PHYRE performance cycling shoes also include complementary socks for road, cross-country and cyclocross racing.
New construction techniques and improved comfort
The one-piece outer on S-PHYRE footwear is made from supple, stretch-resistant and highly breathable Teijin Avail microfiber synthetic leather with perforated dimple vents, that are even more flexible, providing a glove-like fit. The surround wrap upper also better accommodates a wider range of foot shapes, now enabling up to E+ wide widths in a standard size. Accentuating the all-new upper design, two independent Boa IP1 dials with Powerzone wire lacing allow for quick and precise micro-adjustments.
New S-PHYRE footwear features a new outsole construction technique that eliminates the lasting board, reducing weight and the stack height, resulting in improved stability and increased power transfer. Additionally, an external heel cup suppresses foot twist and roll, allowing for maximized power output through the ultra-rigid carbon sole.
SHIMANO S-PHYRE RC9
The pinnacle of road race performance, every aspect of the RC9 was designed to maximize power transmission from rider to bicycle using a systematic approach. Taking into account physics and rider physiology alike, Shimano engineers aimed to deliver the ultimate in power transmission and rider comfort.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Weight: 232g (size 42)
Size: 36, 37-47 in Half Sizes; 48; Wide Type Size: 40-48
Colors: blue, white, yellow and limited edition black
Very well made and finished.
Stiff, high-performance shoes with simple closure and adjustment.
Good quality microfiber upper, carbon sole is quite well protected against scuffs.
Really good fit, feel very secure.
Shimano shoes tend to size up a bit small and this one is no exception.
Very light but not at the expense of build.
Generally very good, one issue with stitching inside.
A lot of money for a shoe that's functionally hard to tell apart from Shimano's (excellent) mid-range models.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
One comfort issue, price, sock nonsense.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No, I'd stick with RC7s or RP9s if I was buying Shimano shoes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? I'd probably steer friends towards those other shoes too, but it's their money...
Use this box to explain your score
Really good pro-level shoe. If you're fit enough for the marginal gains to be worth paying nearly double the price of the RC7/RP9 then they're worth a look. For most of us the cost/benefit won't stack up.
About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR, Kinesis Aithein
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.