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Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre Review

A pro peloton reimagining of one of the most popular shoes on the road
Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre
Photo: Shimano
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $425 List | $278.54 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Super low weight, very stable, unbeatable power transfer, great adjustability
Cons:  Less comfort than earlier versions, upper material susceptible to wear, can feel too rigid
Manufacturer:   Shimano
By Ryan Baham ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 23, 2021
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85
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 10
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Weight - 15% 10
  • Power Transfer - 25% 10
  • Adjustability - 20% 7
  • Durability - 15% 7

Our Verdict

The updated Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre remains a serious favorite at the high-end of the market. It remains near the top of our ratings and reaffirms its place as our Top Pick Award for a Lightweight Racing Shoe. That said, we fell in love with the shoe for its pairing of unmatched comfort with excellent race performance. The updated version is slightly more aggressive, sacrificing a bit in comfort for a tighter, more compliant race shoe that belongs in the pro peloton. We'll spend the remainder of the review looking at its performance and discussing where it can improve and what it does right.

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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $278.54 at Amazon
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$425 List
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$499.99 at Backcountry
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Star Rating
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Pros Super low weight, very stable, unbeatable power transfer, great adjustabilityStylish, breathable, great adjustability, great power transfer, fits like a gloveVery comfortable, stable, ergonomic, fast, lightVentilated, unbeatable power-transfer, lots of replaceable parts, durable, stableLightweight, stiff, affordable, simple
Cons Less comfort than earlier versions, upper material susceptible to wear, can feel too rigidPricey, sole scuffs, may be narrow for some feetPremium price, last shape not universal, heel cup might rubCostly, high-weight, can be too stiff, fasteners can be a pain on the flyLimited comfort, one fastener, mid-range power transfer
Bottom Line A pro peloton reimagining of one of the most popular shoes on the roadA sleek, stylish, refined road shoe ready to lay down the wattsA brilliant union of comfort and speed to create a high-performance pro shoeThe classic Sidi design you’d expect to see peppered throughout the pro pelotonSturdy and simple, this is the right shoe for serious road riders on a budget
Rating Categories Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre Fizik R1 Infinito Specialized S-Works... Sidi Wire 2 Air Ven... Fizik Tempo Overcur...
Comfort (25%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Weight (15%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
8.0
Power Transfer (25%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
10.0
6.0
Adjustability (20%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
Durability (15%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
9.0
6.0
Specs Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre Fizik R1 Infinito Specialized S-Works... Sidi Wire 2 Air Ven... Fizik Tempo Overcur...
Measured Weight (Pair) 18.8 oz 20.0 oz 19.2 oz 22.9 oz 20.8 oz
Size Tested 45 44 45 45 45
Outsole Carbon fiber Carbon FACT Powerline (stiffness index 15) Vent Carbon Carbon reinforced nylon
Upper Material Synthetic Laser-perforated 1.2mm microtex Synthetic leather, Dyneema, TPU Highly-perforated Microfiber Techpro PU laminate, mesh
Closure Dual Boa Li2 dials BOA BOA Li2 Fit System Soft Instep Closure Strap, Tecno-3 Push Dials BOA and hook and loop strap
Width Options Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular

Our Analysis and Test Results

We were initially skeptical of these shoes 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. They are easily one of the best shoes we have 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 for Lightweight Racing, 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.

Performance Comparison


The SH-RC9s are lighter and stiffer than their predecessors, making...
The SH-RC9s are lighter and stiffer than their predecessors, making them an even better choice for racing and serious riding.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Comfort


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. The newer version retains all of these qualities, but its upper is just a bit more hydrophobic to reduce moisture retention, which at the last will reduce the long-term build up of odors, but should also help the feet air out on hot or damp rides.


The S-Phyre offers a uniform tightening and narrower collar rim that grasps heel and top of the foot to make a stable, comfortable stroke. It's also worth noting that it's just a smidge narrower than before, so it might sacrifice a little in the way of comfort to deliver a cleaner, harder-hitting shoe.

The sleek Teijin Avail upper is stiff and responsive, but forgiving...
The sleek Teijin Avail upper is stiff and responsive, but forgiving enough to limit hotspots.
Photo: Ryan Baham

As previously mentioned, part of what makes the S-Phyre so great is the tongue or wrap design. Shimano's more malleable and forgiving upper allows the foot to easily slide in and out and to adjust tightness enough for the fit you want instead of the single-size, stiff fit you get with a lot of competing models.

This model tops it off with a super smooth sock liner and ergonomic rubber strips along the heel that are smooth on the way in, but grip the heel on the way out to hold the foot in place and reduce 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.

The newer model (closer) now uses a rubber strip and narrower neck...
The newer model (closer) now uses a rubber strip and narrower neck for a better fit.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Weight


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 18.8 ounces a pair in Men's size 45 (Euro sizing). That's a marginal decrease from the previous version, but among the lightest you're going to find on the open market.

A lot of lean-thinking is needed to get a bike shoe down to 18.8...
A lot of lean-thinking is needed to get a bike shoe down to 18.8 ounces in a men's 45.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Power Transfer


When it comes to power transfer, it's important to have both sole rigidity and a stiff upper that minimizes excess movement (read: lost power). 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 in shoes with lots of extra low-function structures stuffed into the shoe or needless stack or platform height between your foot and the pedal.


To get to their superior level of power transfer they use a snug burrito wrap and a single-piece Teijin Avail microfiber synthetic leather that offers a secure, close-fit. It's what Shimano calls a 360º surround wrap, which includes an integrated, seamless midsole and upper. In this design, their super stiff (12 on their scale) carbon sole works with the other stability components as a single unit to bring stability to the ride. After hours and hours on the road, we agree that it's a design that works really well.

Don't be fooled by the aesthetic shroud covering most of the carbon...
Don't be fooled by the aesthetic shroud covering most of the carbon sole - it's there and it's super stiff.
Photo: Ryan Baham

The earlier iteration of the heel cup slipped a bit, so the inner lining used a sharktooth-type fabric to catch or grip your sock (or skin) and limit the slipping. That's been replaced by two small rubber strips on either side of the ankle in the new version. It also uses a deeper heel cup with a ridge to catch the back of your heel. The result is a lot more stability, but it's not quite as comfortable. On net, it's a wash between comfort and efficiency

Adjustability


This latest version of the S-Phyre is an improvement to an already tops system. It features a dual micro-adjustment lacing system provided by two independent, bi-directional, pop-release BOA 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. Whereas the earlier version used IP1 dials, this latest model uses Li2 dials, which allow even finer two-way adjustment. Marginal, sure, but oh so sweet.


One of the unique features of their fastening system can be found in the lower eyelets where an optional anchor allows the PowerZone 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.

The cable in the older S-Phyres (left) sometimes had trouble hooking...
The cable in the older S-Phyres (left) sometimes had trouble hooking back in and staying there. That design was fixed in the new version (right).
Photo: Ryan Baham

Durability


These road shoes should last quite a while with minimal degradation. They use a strong synthetic leather, Teijin Avail, for their upper, and 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 replaceable. The wear it endures will be permanent, not to mention the lack of raised pad leaves the toe of the upper vulnerable to degradation. To their credit, Shimano recognized this problem and added just a bit of buttressing to the high-impact spots.


While the pads on the outsole weren't replaceable, the BOA dials are. For anyone who's had to replace an entire pair of high-end carbon shoes for a busted dial, buckle, ratchet, or other fastener, this design will be immediately appealing.

It's true that water is vital for life, but it's also true that it can ruin your cycling gear. Shimano gave that some thought and added hydrophobic materials to the newest version of the S-Phyre. At the least, it should reduce the odor-causing bacteria from setting up shop - or at least partially mitigate that problem.

Nothing breaks in a pair of fancy new bike shoes like riding in wet...
Nothing breaks in a pair of fancy new bike shoes like riding in wet weather and giving them that nice, lifelong scent of bike shoes left out in the rain. Happily, the hydrophobic materials used in the S-Phyre help cut down on that.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Value


Hardcore roadies won't flinch at the price for the S-Phyre. Lower-intensity riders looking for a more comfortable all-purpose shoe might get more out of a shoe a few tiers down. This wasn't our recommendation in the earlier version, which was almost unmatched in comfort, but the new, more efficient, aggressive racing shoe just doesn't offer the same ride to the casual cyclist. Anyone who races or chases marginal gains will have a hard time finding a better road bike shoe.

We'd be silly not to at least mention that to most of us, the...
We'd be silly not to at least mention that to most of us, the S-Phyres are just beautiful, striking shoes. Nevermind that they're among the best-performing shoes on the market.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Conclusion


While we're sad to lose the excellent comfort from the previous version of the RC9, it's hard to deny that the updated version is anything but a pro racing shoe, which is why you see it spread throughout the pro peloton. Its compliance, stability, support, and transfer are hard to match. It might not be as forgiving to the weekend rider looking to get in some slow miles, but serious roadies chasing KOMs and gains can be sure that they'll get an assist from the updated S-Phyre.

The SH-RC9s are scattered throughout the pro pelotons for a reason...
The SH-RC9s are scattered throughout the pro pelotons for a reason. They're really stiff, adherent, comfortable shoes that let you kick out the power without ever having to think about your shoes.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Ryan Baham