The Shimano S-Phyre RC9 (RC901) shoes are its top flight, pro-level race shoes and they deliver an excellent mix of comfort, stiffness and an amazing fit. You've got to pay for it mind: priced at £319.99, these are some of the most expensive shoes I've ever worn.
- Pros: Impressive fit, extremely light weight and stiff
- Cons: Super-expensive
The shoes you see here are the second generation of the RC9s (hence RC901) and they've had a few tweaks since we tested the originals.
First up, Shimano has continued the same Teijin Avail microfibre synthetic leather for the upper but has increased the size and number of holes used for venting to limit moisture and sweat retention.
The RC9s offer plenty of breathability – they've certainly been chilly to wear in the middle of winter without overshoes on – so I can't foresee any issues with damp feet in the heat of summer (I'll update here if there are). You get two vents on the sole as well to help things.
The upper is very soft and supple for a material that also feels to be quite robust, and with the shoe's wraparound design they fit absolutely brilliantly. There is no tongue as such, as it is part of the upper that covers the top of your foot, and then the strap with the top Boa attached wraps over the top. When tightened, it keeps the number of edges to a minimum, which means there is no irritation at all anywhere.
You get a second Boa a little lower down, where you'd find the bottom two straps if the shoes used Velcro.
Between the two dials you can get plenty of bite for foot retention without causing any pressure or hot spots.
When it comes to the shape of the shoe, Shimano has shunned a traditional last shape and gone for its own 'optimised shape' for the sole. It also created the whole main part of the shoe as one piece, which makes for a lighter product – just 542g for these 45s.
Shimano has a stiffness grading range of 1 to 12 for its soles, and these RC9s are right at the top end with a 12. They are easily as stiff as the Giant Surge Pro shoes I've recently tested, but the Shimanos deliver it in a much more comfortable way. They don't feel as unforgiving over long rides, although if the road surface is really rough you do get a bit of vibration and buzz through the sole of your feet.
The carbon fibre midsole has plenty of markings for cleat alignment, like many others, but it is also good to see some guides for angles too. Shimano has also incorporated plenty of front to back adjustment – 22mm in total.
Shimano fits a heel cup externally around the rear of the shoe, and it says that this tweaked design minimises foot twist and roll by stabilising the foot. I didn't really feel any difference to my pedalling stroke compared to wearing those Giants I mentioned above or any of the other top end carbon shoes I wear, but my foot did feel pretty secure.
All the little features on their own don't feel like they are making huge differences to the performance against other shoes I've worn, but they do come together to give a great all-round package.
The shape really suits me and I'd happily say that they are the most comfortable shoes I've had the pleasure of riding in.
When it comes to sizing, Shimano offers a decent range with both normal and wide fits starting at 36 and going up to 48, and for most of those there are half sizes too.
Cost-wise, they are right up there with some of the most expensive we've tested. Fizik's excellent Infinito R1 Knit shoes are even pricier at £349.99, plus they are a fair bit heavier too. Sidi's Wire 2 Carbon Matt shoes are more expensive too at £330, and 100g heavier than the RC9s.
One point that Dave made in his original review of the RC9s was that their performance over their cheaper RC7 siblings was marginal, for both himself and fellow tester Jez. Steve certainly reckoned the latest RC7s are still excellent.
The new RC9s are literally some of the best shoes I've worn, but there are a lot out there that are very similar for less money; you don't even get free socks with them anymore.
An awesome pair of race shoes when it comes to performance and comfort, but you have to pay for it
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Shimano S-Phyre RC9 (RC901)
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for
The RC9s are Shimano's top flight racing shoe, offering loads of stiffness but with comfort to match.
Shimano distributor Freewheel says, "The pinnacle of road competition footwear
"Super light. Incredibly fast. Close to the action. Ultimate power transmission with the new S-PHYRE road competition shoe. It connects your leg, foot, sock and shoe with a unique linkage effect that transfers every last watt while treating your toes to a comfortable fit. Because when you're suffering for glory, the last thing you want is a shoe that's not contributing to the effort."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Freewheel lists these features:
Supple, stretch-resistant and highly-breathable microfiber synthetic leather, optimised with dimple perforations of various sizes for a perfect and wrinkle free fit
External curved heel cup construction suppresses foot twist and roll, stabilises the heel and holds your foot firmly in place
Dual independent Boa IP1 dials with Powerzone wire guide lacing allow quick and precise micro-adjustment while maintaining stability
Asymmetric eye stay pattern prevents twisting of foot under high-power pedalling
One-piece surround upper design provides a glove-like fit
Ultra-rigid lightweight carbon sole maximises power transfer
Extra 11 mm of cleat adjustment range
Sole stiffness 12
Weight: 486g per pair(Size 42)
I wear a 44 in some brands of shoes and 45 in others; the 45s here fitted perfectly.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
The upper wiped clean easily, so they should stay looking good after wet rides.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Excellent stiffness for riding hard.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The comfortable fit.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The price is mental.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
There are a few other brands that are offering shoes for this money that the RC9s compares well to, although you can get pretty close for less money. Shimano's own RC7s are excellent at £170.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? I don't know if I could bring myself to pay the full price.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Some of the stiffest and most comfortable race shoes I've ever worn, but it's an eye-watering price.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!