Shimano RC9 Review – S-Phyre RC903, SH-RC903 vs RP9 [2023]

Shimano RC9 Review S-Phyre SH-RC903 hero
Shimano RC9 Review, SH-RC902, RP9 Comparison

This Shimano RC9 Review looks in detail at Shimano’s pro-level S-Phyre model that now also comes in a Women’s version.

The 2023 model is SH-RC903 (or SH-RC903w) and for comparison, I’ve used the 2021 RC902 model for two years. Is it really that much different? Well, no, it’s not; but it’s still one of the very best pairs of road race shoes out there.

Price when reviewed: rrp £350, $450, €360. Shopping around or using bike retailer loyalty schemes should get you at least £/$/€50 off if you shop around.

Shimano RC9 Review
4.7

Summary

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

Shimano RC9 Review S-Phyre SH-RC903 featured

It’s not worth upgrading from the 2021 model but you will notice a positive performance benefit, albeit small when upgrading from a mid-tier shoe.

The most noteworthy changes since 2021 are improved BOA-dial lacing; a larger, more ventilated toe box; less twist heel cup; and five colour options. The new women’s model is a narrower fit hence a smaller internal volume.

 

 

Pros

  • Maximum stiffness, hence max power transfer
  • Fine adjustments with dual Boa Li2
  • Precise cleat attachment
  • Snug fit with good heel lock
  • Decent ventilation

Cons

  • Price

 

I spend significant amounts of money on pairs of running shoes that are advertised to only last 500 miles. OK, they last longer in reality but a decent pair of bike shoes will last through several years of continuous hard use, yet I still hesitate when spending 50% more on bike shoes compared to running shoes. Why?

Clearly, Shimano’s bike shoes won’t give me quite the obvious power boost that I get from Nike Airfly running shoes. Those performance running shoes are focussed on delivering noticeably faster speeds but for cycling it’s different and longevity, comfort and other factors play a more significant role. Handily for Shimano, the RC9 scores highly on all those criteria by any reasonable scoring method.

 

Shoes to go faster? – Let’s get serious for a moment.

The primary factors for me in purchasing bike shoes are fit and apparent performance. I prioritize comfort over aerodynamics, weight, or design for road cycling shoes. Ease of use is an additional, secondary consideration.

 

Ease of use

The 2023 model has a slightly more flexible upper material, making it easier to put on and take off compared to previous models, but still not appropriate for a speedy transition in a triathlon.

I’ve found that I have to periodically readjust the Boa dials during my ride. I believe this could be due to my foot settling in the shoes and shifting slightly, which is easier to adjust with the Boa system compared to a velcro strap.

Setting up the cleats for the first time is also easy enough as are minor adjustments. There are an ample number of markings on the sole of the shoe to let you copy the setup from another shoe.

Fit

A good fit means to me that the shoe locks my heel in place, minimises wiggle-room over the midfoot and gives my toes room at the front. I need a bit of arch support as well. Shimano gives me that and its dual-Boa dials give just the right level of midfoot arch adjustment.

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 Review S-Phyre SH-RC903 sole plate and cleat adjustment

 

 

The Shimano RC9s definitely feel comfier than my other shoes. But that’s almost certainly because they 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 Review S-Phyre SH-RC903 outside view

 

 

Shimano road shoes feature a ‘heel cup’ for enhanced performance. The RC-903 model features improvements over the previous model with a more pronounced heel cup shape which gives a more secure fit, eliminating the need for a friction patch to grip the heel (as with the RC902).

 

Shimano RC9 Review S-Phyre SH-RC903 inside view

Trueness – I’ve tried on a few 10s of other pairs of Shimano shoes and all see true-to-size. I have tried other brands and found smaller stated sizes to be bigger than a supposedly larger size up. You have to doubt the quality control and tolerances of other brands, even some of the better-known ones.

 

Apparent Performance

The RP-903 road shoes feature Shimano’s stiffest Grade 12 carbon plate, which is superior to the Grade 10 plate found on the RC9 model. The extra stiffness provides improved power transfer and potentially increases speed, although the difference is not noticeable to most riders.

The heel cup and how you tighten the Boa shoes will also have a performance difference but I just can’t quantify that and it must be small.

Cleat Setup

Setting up cleats on Shimano road shoes is easy as the markings on the underside of the shoes are used to replicate your previously successful setup. The cleat attachment process took approximately 5 minutes.

The Shimano cleats provide ample room for positioning, with 11mm of fore/aft movement on the cleat and an additional 11mm from the bolt hole on the shoe base. The shoe does not allow left/right positioning, but the Shimano cleats offer 2 or 6 degrees of float for improved comfort and stability plus also allowing a few mm of lateral adjustment.

Other – Arch Support

I love this feature on Shimano bike shoes.

Shimano bike shoes feature an interchangeable foot arch support insole, providing customizable comfort. The shoes come with a yellow, medium support and can be easily swapped to a high arch support with the red attachment, secured by velcro. The process takes only 30 seconds, making it a convenient and practical feature.

 

Other – Ventilation, drainage, heat

I have used this model and the previous one in all temperatures above freezing. They are warm enough for me on cold days if I don some toe thingies (see image below, yes that’s what they are called!).

Whilst there is a drainage hole in the sole, it makes little difference on a rainy day.

Ventilation on hot days is pretty decent and slightly improved over the RC902 but other shoes have more ventilation. I’ll still sometimes get damp socks from sweat but that’s OK.

 

 

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. If the pad wears out it is replaceable which saves you buying a new pair of shoes.

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

 

Shimano RC9 Review S-Phyre SH-RC903 vs RC902

 

Other – aesthetics

The 903 and 902 look almost the same. I prefer the cleaner looks of the older 902.

The only noticeable differences are the lacing mechanism and lacing pattern. The older shoe has the lacing going through a single plastic loop rather than through 2 reinforced material loops on each side.

 

Shimano S-Phyre RC903 – What’s New

The shoe is generally referred to as the RC9. The 2023 model is the RC-903 (RC-903W for women), the 2021 model is the RC902 and this replaces the earlier RC901 from late 2018. RC903 and RC902 appear highly similar at first glance but there are differences, albeit unremarkable ones.

  • New lacing pattern #Shrug
  • More ventilated toe box #Shrug, marginal
  • Less twist heel cup #Shrug, might be a more durable solution but feels the same
  • Narrower fit women’s version
  • Extra colour option.

Shimano RC903 Review of the Competition

S-Works Torch (£385) and Sidi Shot 2 (£378) are the main competitors in my experience and they are both a tad more expensive than the S-Phyre RC-903.

Give or take a few 10s of grams these are all the same weight for practical purposes

The Sidi 2 has an adjustable heel but lacks 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 RC9 Review S-Phyre SH-RC903 opening view

Shimano RC903 SPECIFICATIONS & FEATURES

  • Lightweight and breathable microfiber leather upper provides optimal fit and superior comfort
  • Premium-finish heel cup with anti-twist stabilization secures optimal foot positioning for intense acceleration.
  • A sleek, low-profile crossover lacing pattern elegantly secures the forefoot.
  • 360º surround wrapping upper gives a universally good fit
  • Dual low-profile BOA Li2 dials allow quick and precise micro-adjustments.
  • Integrated seamless midsole and upper construction for fit, stability and lightweight performance.
  • Toe-box shape to accommodate a wider range of foot shapes
  • Dynalast carbon fibre outsole with level 12 stiffness
  • Carbon fibre composite midsole
  • Outsole – TPU/Carbon
  • Replaceable heel pad
  • Cleat Compatibility – 3-Bolt, SPD-SL
  • Intended Use – Road, Road Race
  • Colour Options: Black, White, Blue Red
  • Claimed weight (Mens, size 42): 225g

Shimano RC903 S-Phyre Road Cycling Shoes Sizing

  • Colours: Blue, Black, White, Red
  • Standard Fit: 36, 37 – 47 in half sizes, 48;
  • Wide Fit: 36, 37 – 47 in half sizes, 48
  • Narrow Fit (Women’s): 36-44 in full sizes.
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 225g/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 reduce energy loss, targeted at longer rides. Energy loss in sprints is also claimed to be reduced by heel technology.
  • Compatible with SPD cleats if you use the SM-SH41 adapter (not tested)
  • There are 2x BOA Li2 dials. Earlier and cheaper models might have only one dial or might use the earlier Boa ip1 model.
  • 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 made by Shimano
  • Removable arch support is also included for each Shimano shoe in medium/high sizes

Shimano RC9 Review S-Phyre SH-RC903 line up vs 902

Take Out

Even I can tell the difference between these shoes and mid-range shoes.

That difference was apparent in every aspect of the shoe fit, grip, no twist, comfort, adjustments, quality of manufacture, and ease of foot entry/removal…everything, except power loss.

Perhaps some of you would notice reduced power loss with top-end shoes like these, but that level of performance is above my pay grade!

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 and in that sense represent good value. If you can afford a top-end pair of shoes these are probably as good, or better, than any other.

(plus they look good!)

 

Shimano RC903 Review – Price & Availability

The RC903 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

Price when reviewed: rrp £350, $450, €360.

 

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