Shimano S-Phyre RC9 (RC902) Review : 2021 SPD-SL, Shimano SH-RC902 vs RP9

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Shimano RC9 side view Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison
Shimano RC9 Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison

This Shimano S-Phyre RC9 Review discusses and compares the experience of an upgrade from my existing RP901 road shoes, is the extra cost of the upgrade from the Performance model to the Competition model worth it? A: Yes but…it’s complicated.

Shimano RC9 Review
92%

Summary

Verdict: The Shimano S-Phyre RC9 road competition shoe approaches perfection. A beautifully made shoe offering precision adjustment and ultimate stiffness.

Pros

  • Maximum stiffness
  • Fine adjustments with dual Boa Li2
  • Precise cleat attachment
  • Snug fit with good heel lock
  • Sufficient ventilation

Cons

  • Price

Shimano RC9 inside side view Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison

It seems right for me to spend £100/$130 on a pair of running shoes, yet in a moment of performance-hunting madness, I spent twice that on some Nike ZoomX VaporFly Next% 2 for a special race. Those running shoes are quantifiable and undoubtedly faster but stiffer and better fitting bike shoes might also make me a little bit faster. That said, bike shoes will undoubtedly last very much longer than running shoes and also be worn for longer periods of time per workout. So it feels right to pay 50% more for bike shoes and thus maybe £300/$400 is about the right level for the creme-de-la-creme of bikedom foot adornment.

Handily, the Shimano S-Phyre RC902 on review here today come in at just that level with the following RRPs: £319, 339 €, $425. As at the time of publishing, Wiggle gives 12% off that.

Let’s get serious for a moment.

The real, technical reasons for a bike shoe purchase for me are the fit and apparent performance. For out-and-out road cycling shoes then I’m not especially bothered by aeroness, weight (so long as it’s sensible) nor design. Although ease-of-use is a peripheral factor.

Fit

These shoes can be put on and taken off with ease. The BOA dial and shoe design open up the footwell a lot. With other shoes I have, it can be a slight pain wriggling my feet in and with my other Shimano road shoes, the heel cup makes removing the shoes trickier than it needs to be. None of that is an issue with the RC902s.

My Shimano TR-901 triathlon shoes have a loop on the outside of the heel to help put the shoe on and to fasten an elastic band to. My first thought was that the RP-902 would benefit from a loop when putting the shoe on but, no, it’s not needed.

I like the BOA dial as a method of closing road shoes. It’s great for those fine, in-ride adjustments.

These shoes have the BOA Li2 closure mechanism – the twisty knob on the outer side of the shoe. There are two of them and they really do give an extra level of fine-tuning the comfort when compared to cheaper pairs that usually only have one BOA or velcro.

When I first used BOA dials I was concerned about the longevity of the dial and of the cord it tightens. Velcro just seemed a more sensible option. But velcro will eventually twist and lose stickiness as it picks up all kinds of dirt. I’ve never broken one of the BOA cords but I did once break one of the dials which my local Shimano stockist fixed for free (Sigma Sports, Hampton Wick)

 

Shimano RC9 boa Li2 dial Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison

 

The Shimano RC9s definitely feel comfier. But that’s almost certainly because they just happen to be better suited to my feet and obviously your feet are different to mine, so you are always best advised to try on several pairs from several brands. There is plenty of room at the toe end of the shoe. My feet are relatively wide and there is, if anything, more room than I need.

 

Shimano RC9 top bottom and cleat view Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison

A notable feature of Shimano road shoes is the ‘heel cup‘. This keeps your heel in place when you pedal, your feet and shoes work as one. The RC-902 model also has an interior friction lining for the heel. This really keeps your heel in place and this is a nice innovation! However, in essence, it’s just an internal friction pad…will it wear away over time? IDK.

 

Shimano RC9 heel cup Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison

Apparent Performance

The RP-902s have Shimano Grade 12 carbon plate…stiffer than the Grade 10 plate on the RC9. It probably makes me faster and is probably stiffer but I can’t tell the difference.

Shimano RC9 Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison

Cleat Setup

Cleat setup is a breeze if you are putting on new cleats by replicating the markings from the underside of another pair of Shimano shoes where you are happy with the setup. It took the best part of 5 minutes to whack some medium-float cleats on. I’m going to do some experimentation with the lateral position of my right foot in July after some races but I’ll stick with the position I have for now.

The great thing with the Shimano cleat setup is that you have a significant amount of positioning room to play with. There is 11mm of fore/aft movement for the cleat and a further 11mm of fore/aft positioning from the bolt hole position on the base of the shoe. The shoe doesn’t allow left/right positioning but the Shimano cleats DO and SPD cleats of course give you float (2-degrees with the blue ones, most people should get yellow which has 6-degrees of float)

 

Other – Heel Arch

I love this feature on Shimano bike shoes. Their insoles have an interchangeable foot arch support. The shoes are supplied with the yellow medium support and it takes 30 seconds to swap both over to the high arch support with the red attachment (below). They are removed and fastened by velcro…super easy.

Other – Ventilation, drainage, heat

I’ve only used the RC9s in warm and hot weather and they are great so far. In winter I’ll put some toe-thingies on the front which even keep my feet warm with super-ventilated tri shoes on when it’s near-freezing temperatures. So that WILL be fine for these shoes too. Interestingly I discovered that Shimano sells a toe thingy part#CW-FARW-SS14M which has the correct sized cutout for the BOA dial (image below).

There is plenty of ventilation at the toe box end of the shoes, with a gauze/mesh which stops finer dust particles from getting inside the shoe.

I’ve so far managed to avoid the worst of the rain. You can see from the images, above and below, that both the insole and footplate have drainage/ventilation holes at the heel and toe ends of the shoe.

 

You can also check out some additional ventilation holes on the top of the shoe near the enclosures. Other shoes do have more ventilation than these.

Shimano RC9 toe ventilation Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison

Other – general walking around

The wide rear pad seemed comfortable enough to walk on…these are bike shoes after all and not designed for walking too far.

The carbon sole has zero flex in it when walking! You knew that.

Shimano S-Phyre RC902 – What’s New

The shoe is generally referred to as the RC9. The 2021 model is the RC902 and this replaces the earlier RC901 from late 2018. Both shoe models are visually similar but with several notable differences.

  • Two BOA Li2 dials – these replace Boa IP1 dials on the previous model. The new dials are claimed to be more aero and durable. I have previously broken a BOA dial.
  • Heel hold – the new model has a superior heel hold which holds my heel well and is claimed to reduce twisting under power. I can tell the difference.
  • The new Dynalast shape and toe box is slightly rounder and this perhaps contributes to the shoe seeming to have a different ‘fit’

Shimano RC902 Review of the Competition

S-Works Ares (£375) and Sidi Shot 2 (£375) are the main competitors in my experience and they are both more expensive than the S-Phyre RC-902 at £319 (rrp).

At 470g/pair with no cleats, these are slightly heavier than the Ares at 440g/pair and Sidi 2 at 342g/pair.

The Sidi 2 do have an adjustable heel but lack the increasingly common Boa dials, which isn’t a massive problem per se.

They are each similarly stiff, with similar closure points and the fit characteristics will be personal to you.

Shimano SH-RP902 (white) vs. SH-RC902 (red)

The two current Shimano road shoes are different beasts, every detail of the RC902 is just that little bit better than the RP902. From the wraparound design to the number of dials to the improved heel. Even the rubber heel is just that little bit better and replaceable. The dials are upgraded and the ventilation is better, the sole is stiffer and shoes opens up better to get your feet in/out.

The RC902 is simply better.

Shimano RC9 Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison
SH-RP902 (white) vs. SH-RC902 (red)

 

Shimano RC902 SPECIFICATIONS

  • Upper Material – Reinforced microfibre leather and mesh,
  • Heel cup with anti-twist stabiliser
  • Toe-box shape to accommodate a wider range of foot shapes
  • 360° surround wrapping upper
  • Dynalast™ carbon fibre outsole with level 12 stiffness
  • Integrated seamless midsole and upper construction give good fit, stability and lightweight performance
  • Carbon fibre composite midsole
  • Closure type – Dual Boa Li2 Dials allow fast and precise micro-adjustments and quick-release
  • Powerzone lace guide
  • Outsole – TPU/Carbon
  • Replaceable heel pad
  • Cleat Compatibility – 3-Bolt, SPD-SL
  • Intended Use – Road, Road Race
  • Colour Options: Black, White, Blue Red

 

Shimano RC902 S-Phyre Road Cycling Shoes Sizing

Standard:36, 37 – 47 in half sizes, 48; Wide:36, 37 – 47 in half sizes, 48

Size (EU)Length (Cm)Length (Inches)
3622.58.8
37239
38249.4
3924.59.6
40259.8
412610.2
4226.510.4
432710.6
442811
4528.511.2
4629.511.6
473011.8
4830.512
493112.2
5031.512.4
5132.512.8

 

Techy Bits & Notes

  • Weight – at 235g/shoe (42) with no cleats these are sensibly light and appear to have a durable construction. You can get lighter shoes and you can easily get heavier shoes.
  • Energy Transference – sure, a good fit is important to this but Shimano’s DYNALAST technology claims to add support and reduces energy loss, targeted at longer rides. Energy loss in sprints is also claimed to be reduced by the heel technology.
  • Compatible with SPD cleats if you use the SM-SH41 adapter (not tested)
  • The earlier Shimano model had velcro-plus Boa ip1. Now there are 2x BOA Li2
  • RP is the top model for Road Performance whereas the mid-range Shimano model is the RC or Road Competition. There are other track- and tri-specific models.
  • Removable arch support is also included for each Shimano shoe in medium/high sizes

Take Out

I was surprised to find that I could tell a difference between these shoes and the mid-range RC9. That difference was apparent in every aspect of the shoe fit, grip, no twist, comfort, adjustments, quality of manufacture, ease of foot entry/removal, aesthetics, everything.

The shoes are certainly not cheap but they are only marginally more expensive than a pair of top-end running shoes which would last you less than a year…these Shimano bike shoes will be good for several years. If you can afford a top-end pair of shoes these are as good as any other.

Shimano RC902 Review – Price & Availability

The RC902 is widely available and has even found its way to Amazon as well as my partners – Wiggle (UK/EU/USA) and Competitive Cyclist (USA).

It seems like you can easily get at least 10% off the RRP at most stores which gives these top-end shoes a reasonable value rating in my opinion

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