The S-Phyre RC902 is Shimano’s latest flagship road cycling shoe.
Now in its third generation, Shimano has taken the bold step of making changes to the fit, with a narrower forefoot area and a new ‘360-degree Surround Wrapping’ upper.
In the hand and on the foot, the materials and construction used lend a high-quality feel, and with four available colours (white, black, red and blue), the S-Phyre RC902 shoe certainly has the bling factor to match its premium price tag.
Has Shimano messed with a winning formula, or does this latest model improve on the much-admired S-Phyre RC901 shoe? In almost every respect, it’s the latter, but whether or not the new fit marks an improvement will likely come down to personal preference.
This one goes to 12
Many cycling shoe brands love an arbitrary stiffness scale and Shimano is no different, having a 12-point scale.
For what it’s worth, the S-Phyre RC902 shoe scores full marks at 12/12, making it nominally the stiffest road cycling shoe in Shimano’s catalogue.
As a point of comparison, Shimano’s cheaper RC5 shoe scores 8/12 (incidentally, our tester said those “feel stiff and efficient”, though I also have a pair and think the opposite, which really just shows how much is down to perception and available reference points), while it’s lowest-priced road cycling shoe, the RC1, scores 6/12.
What does it all mean in practice? Well, the S-Phyre RC902 shoe is certainly very stiff where it matters (at the sole), and is clearly efficient enough to satisfy WorldTour powerhouses such as Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.
It doesn’t have Bont levels of stiffness, and even a thoroughly average, 64kg cyclist like me can detect the difference. But, feel aside, it’s debatable whether increasing cycling shoe stiffness beyond a certain point is advantageous anyway.
The sole has adjustable cleat bolt holes for a wide range of cleat positional adjustment, which is handy if you like to run your cleat position particularly far forward or back.
Ventilation is also more than adequate for summer in the UK, thanks to a generously sized vent in the sole and perforations in the upper around the toe box. You might need this hack to stop your feet getting cold through winter (or to look for a pair of winter cycling shoes).
At 538g for my pair of size EU45s, the S-Phyre RC902 shoes are competitive on the scales too, if not record-breaking.
In comparison, Specialized’s similarly specced S-Works 7 road shoes weigh a little less at 517g (size EU45), for example, while Bont’s Vaypor S Hologram shoes are slightly lighter again at 485g (size EU45).
If the shoe fits
The most controversial change to the new S-Phyre RC902 shoe is to the fit.
With shoes in particular, fit is highly personal. What works for one person may not work so well for another. I have low-volume feet, but I also like a roomy toe box, for example.
In terms of sizing, Shimano offers the standard-fit version in sizes EU36-48, with half sizes from EU37-47.
I personally found the fit of the S-Phyre RC902 to be slightly mixed.
On the positive side, the wraparound uppers and dual Boa Li2 dials do make for a fantastically tuneable fit around the midfoot area.
The inclusion of high-quality insoles, with variable arch support inserts, is very welcome too. Swapping between the two arch support options didn’t yield a noticeable difference, but I didn’t have any issues with the available arch support either.
Heel retention is also very good. There are perforated silicone grippers bonded to the inside of the heel box, which keeps your foot planted firmly in the shoe during the upstroke phase of pedalling.
However, I wanted a touch more room around the forefoot area, as the fit there is very snug on the standard-width version I tested. Not enough to cause me any pain or discomfort, but noticeable nevertheless.
It’s worth noting there is a wide-fit version of this shoe, though, which Shimano also offers in sizes EU36-48, with half sizes from EU37-47.
According to Shimano, the wide-fit version is five per cent larger in the toe box, six per cent larger around the forefoot and six per cent larger around the midfoot.
In theory, this should go someway to alleviating any issues stemming from a too-tight fit, though I wasn’t able to try a wide-fit version myself.
As always with shoes, it’s worth trying a new pair on for size and fit before you part with your cash. Official Shimano dealers should also be able to offer precise sizing guidance based on measuring your foot with a Brannock device.
Lastly, while I’m a big fan of lace-up cycling shoes for aerodynamic reasons (Specialized claimed its lace-up Sub 6 shoe was 35 seconds faster over 40km versus its Boa dial-equipped S-Works 6 shoe), there’s no denying they lack the on-the-fly, fine-adjustment capabilities Boa dials offer.
If you’re the kind of cyclist who likes to tighten up their shoes before a sprint or back off the tension slightly on hot days, then that’s easily done here.
Despite the change in fit, the S-Phyre RC902 shoe doesn’t represent a wholesale departure from the design philosophy of the outgoing model. As is often the case with Shimano (take the new Dura-Ace R9200 groupset, for example), it’s evolution not revolution.
That’s no bad thing in this instance, though, as the RC901 was already one of the best cycling shoes available for roadies.
Building on that platform, the S-Phyre RC902 shoe delivers practically everything you could ask for in a top-level cycling shoe.
It has a stiff and efficient carbon sole, excellent heel retention, great levels of adjustability for fit and cleat placement, and good ventilation.
The large range of sizes, with two width options, also means most are likely to be able to find something that fits.
Such fantastic performance doesn’t come cheap, of course, but when has it ever?