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Hands-on Gear Review
Shimano S-Phyre RC9 Review
Cons: May scuff and show wear, fastening can be a hassle, vents are very cold in winter
Bottom line: A super stylish premium road shoe that offers fantastic performance at a great price.
The preeminent Japanese component and accessory maker has outdone itself with this new premium offering, the Shimano S-Phyre RC9, competing directly with the common dominators of this segment, like Giro, Specialized, Bontrager, Louis Garneau, and Sidi. Their crazy lightness, fantastic comfort, stiff carbon sole, unique upper design, and easy fastening - all at a significant discount to other premium competitors - made it easy for us to give them our Top Pick Award. We're confident that they will please any rider looking for a pro level shoe; the price will leave some money left over for socks, bottles, and road nutrition. By the way, they come with sweet socks tailored to fit the shoe.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Road Bike Shoes of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
We were initially skeptical of these because their design seemed gimmicky and we were especially concerned that the wide, low topline would allow the heel to slip as in other models with wide openings. That was allayed once we cranked the top dial down a bit and found a good seal, aided by the cat-tongue wire material lining the inner heel. They were easily one of the best shoes we had ever worn, and they kept that exceptional performance across the miles. You will be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable, stiff, lightweight shoe at their price and that is what earned them the Top Pick Award, though they still come at a slight premium. They outperformed in most of our measures and very much deserve their place in the pro peloton, but of course, they're not perfect. Read on to see how they do next to the rest of our lineup to see if they're the right fit for you.
The S-Phyres dominated much of the field, always near the top of the ranks. It's no wonder they won our Top Pick Award.
Shimano has hit the sweet spot with this incredible shoe. One of the toughest things to do with a high-end racing shoe is to prevent hot spots and rubbing without compromising lightness, rigidity, and power transfer. To achieve that, they used a single-piece Teijin Avail microfiber synthetic leather upper with the burrito tongue design that firmly wraps the foot in padding.
These kicks round out the top of the measure next to the Fi'zi:k R5B Uomo Boas, which won our Best Buy Award. Both of them include thick collar padding, smooth sock liners, and malleable uppers that allow for a flexible, but firm embracing fit. What separates these two is flex and hug in the upper. The Fi'zi:ks are just as comfortable, but it comes in the form of a more natural, sculpted footbed, with a high-riding, supportive heel cup that ensures a stability throughout the stroke. The S-Phyres offer a uniform tightening and narrower rim that grasps heel and top of the foot to make a stable, comfortable stroke. If you prefer a stiff ride, the Shimanos would be the better choice, but if you like a little bit a flex and aren't ready to move into the premium realm, give the Fi'zi:ks a serious look.
As previously mentioned, part of what makes the Shimanos so great is their tongue design. The only other model to use the burrito tongue design was the Mavic Cosmic Ultimate II, which also had a stiff carbon upper that made the shoe a little more challenging to put on and take off and created more hot spots. Shimano's more malleable and forgiving upper allows the foot to more easily slide in and out and to adjust tightness enough for the fit you want instead of the single fit provided by the rigid carbon shell of the Cosmics.
This model tops it off with a super smooth sock liner and a cat-tongue heel that's smooth on the way in, but grips the heel on the way out to hold the foot in place and prevent slippage. So many good shoes lose it on the heel where constant slip causes rub blisters and discomfort, but they developed a clever solution here.
As with most things in cycling, as the price and prestige of an item increase, weight typically decreases. Or to put it more accurately, you will pay more for lighter gear, and you can blame the weight weenies.That being said, these kicks come in at an incredible 19 ounces a pair in men's 45. To put that in perspective, each shoe weighs about as much as a hampster (okay, so it was a pretty specious perspective).
Topping the chart is the Giro Empire ACC, coming in at just 18.8 ounces in a men's 44. All of the shoes we tested were in 44 except the Shimanos, which we ordered a size larger to avoid concerns about the model running small after finding reports to that effect. A 44 would have certainly put them up at the top of the list. Next, on the list are the Pearl Izumi Race Road IV, which barely edged out the other competitors using spartan materials and design. When it comes to weight, you don't have to be a weight weenie to see the value in the RC9s over the others listed here.
When it comes to power transfer, it's important to have both sole rigidity and a stiff upper that minimizes excess movement (read: lost energy). To achieve sole rigidity, they use a slimmed down carbon fiber outsole that skips the lasting board, bringing the foot closer to the pedal and reducing the destabilization that can occur with taller stacks. To achieve upper responsiveness they use a snug burrito wrap and a single-piece Teijan Avail microfiber synthetic leather that offers a secure, close-fit, amplified by the superb dual IP1 Boa dial system that brings a uniform lock across the foot. They also use a rigid external heel cup to reduce instability.
These come in right near the top of our ranking but are just slightly outdone by the Sidis, which offer unmatchable rigidity and upper stiffness. Furthermore, their heel closure system and narrow opening help reduce heel movement to a higher degree than their competitors. Any roadie looking for an immovable ride should be looking for the top shoe here. For those who are looking for a little more comfort and a little lower of a price will be happy with the Shimanos. For those looking for a less costly show, take a look at the Fi'zi:ks, whose carbon-reinforced nylon composite sole and well-designed upper push it into the top ranks, but does so at a steep discount to the others.
These kicks use a dual micro-adjustment lacing system provided by two independent, bi-directional, pop-release Boa IP1 dials and eyelets staggered across the upper to limit torsion, making adjustment more effective - it's no good if you can tighten a shoe down until your foot bleeds, but it doesn't improve performance. One of the unique features of their fastening system can be found in the lower eyelets where an optional anchor allows the fastening cable to be strung across the toes to give a tighter fit and does increase the range of tightness and on-the-fly adjustment.
This is another measure where the Sidis just barely beat them out for the top spot, primarily based on their adjustable heel retention system, which presents a significant advantage over of the RC9s, which still experience a degree of heel slippage. The Sidis are slightly more challenging to get a handle on mid-ride, but they can be dialed in a little more. Next down are the award-winning Fi'zi:ks, which feature an upper that responds well to tightening and loosening and a bi-directional, pop-release Boa dial along the upper portion of the shoe and a toe strap.
Riders looking for the most locked-in feel possible will find solace in the premium Sidis, but it would be shocking if they didn't get what they needed from the Shimanos.
These shoes should last quite a while with minimal degradation. They use a strong synthetic leather, Teijin Avail, for their upper, and also use a tough plastic to cover the outsole and heel. Their carbon outsole increases their durability over many of the lower-tier composite soles. They also have a replaceable heel pad, but on that note, we were concerned about their toe pad, which is not a replacement. The wear it endures will be permanent, not to mention the lack of raised pad leaves the toe of the upper vulnerable to degradation.
Coming in a little ahead of them are the Lake CX237 and Mavic Cosmic Ultimate II, both of which use tougher, longer-lasting, but less comfortable uppers. The Lakes use a high-quality full grain leather, often considered to be the most durable form of leather. However, that toughness comes with the drawback of being boxy and a little coarse on foot. Likewise, the Mavics use carbon fiber in their upper for a super sturdy shoe, but it also feels like putting your foot into a hard box, as one might expect.
Topping this measure is the Sidi, which also use a full carbon sole. They balance toughness and comfort in the upper using a synthetic microfiber called TECHPRO, that provides longevity and doesn't have the hard boxy feel of the full-grain leather or carbon fiber. It also has replaceable pads for both the heel and toe, increasing the longevity of the sole and upper. When it comes to durability and overall performance, we think riders ought to look at the Sidis - they're the Editor's Choice for a reason. However, we think that even with their lower durability, the Shimanos deliver enough performance in other areas to outshine the Lake and Mavic.
These come with three holes for SPD-SL, LOOK, and TIME cleats, but Shimano also sells adapter plates to easily convert to SPEEDPLAY. These are best suited to endurance road riding and are found in the major pro pelotons.
We awarded these the Top Pick for Lightweight because we felt that they deliver as much as any rider could want and they do it at $400, easily 20% lower than premium pro shoes.
Hands down, these are among the best shoes we've ever worn. They deliver optimum style, adjustability, longevity, power transfer, and they are incredibly comfortable. They are obviously on the upper end of fiscal accessibility, but for all they offer, we think they're a great deal. Any rider could put these on and rightly feel like a pro, though the pro training is up to them once they're riding these.
— Ryan Baham
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