Performance shoes with a racing pedigree

As universally recognized as Shimano is for their drivetrains, for years the component giant has also been making strides in their ever-improving line of cycling shoes. And it was at last year’s World Championships when they unveiled the latest iteration of their high-end S-Phyre RC9 shoes. In addition to a new sleek and lighter design, Shimano also used the race to introduce a new women’s-specific model with its own model-specific white color.



The new S-Phyre RC903 shoe combines a lightweight construction with lots of ventilation, a very comfortable fit and just the right level of bling. Like many performance shoes at this level, Shimanos rely on the latest low-profile Li2 closure dials from Boa.

The shoe’s whole upper (forward of the arch) is ventilated, and this is most welcome when the going gets tough. The unventilated part is under the most stress from the Boas, and the extra stiffness there leads to better performance under the strain of adjustment. The dual Boa dials are high on the foot and have a low, sleek profile. The under-toe vent is large and has a nice mesh screen to keep road grime out. The toe has a reinforcement to protect the soft, leathery upper against wheel rub. We much prefer two Boas over the one Boa plus strap setup, as getting just the right fit is so much easier. The three-hole cleat slots allow ample fore-aft adjustment.

As for men’s sizes, the shoes are available in 40–48 (with half sizes available from 40–46.5 and wide sizes from 40–46). The women’s-specific shoe is available in a size run from 36–44 in full sizes. 

And while it may seem less significant than key performance details like the shoe’s weight and stiffness, Shimano deserves a round of applause for offering the 903 not only in the same ol’ black and white colorways, but also absolutely stunning versions in brilliant and bright blue and red. On our blue test models, the subtle S-Phyre graphic has purple tones when turned at an angle to the sun. Shimano also makes the shoes available with either a standard or wide last to better accommodate cyclists with wide feet.


When considering a performance-oriented road shoe, the main aim (especially for racers) is to have a shoe that puts all of our effort into the pedals, and that means it needs to be stiff. Most top brands provide their own stiffness scale for their shoes as an indication of what type of rider would benefit from any model’s design features. Shimano claims a stiffness level of 12, and as such the RC-903s do an excellent job of transferring all of the rider’s effort into the pedal stroke, but without feeling like you have a surfboard attached to your feet. We never encountered any hot spots nor discomfort, and at the end of the day the shoes just made us feel like we were seamlessly attached to the bike.

“This shoe does an excellent job of transferring all of the effort into the stroke, but without feeling like you have a surfboard attached to your feet.”

Another strong feature is the fit. While the two Boa controls are positioned close together (and at first glance seem to be too close to the tongue), the extra Boa line that runs down to the toe box allows virtually the whole upper to be tuned to one’s liking. Slipping the shoe on and turning the Boa dials felt like my foot was being wrapped in a soft burrito. Meanwhile, the higher-placed dials ended up being a feature and not a bother, because they ended up being easy enough to reach while riding. The heel cup is very form-fitting, but some riders would’ve preferred a harder material, as it scratched easily.

Including the RC903, Shimano’s road shoe catalog includes a total of 11 shoes (six for men, five for women) with prices that range from the $100 RC1 to the $240 RC7. As for the RC9, yes, $450 is a lot of money, but as with all things that cater to the high-end racing market, you get a lot of shoe for the price. They’re light, comfortable, stiff and efficient. The red and blue color options will make any rider stand out.

• Stiff and comfortable

• Brilliant color options

• Wide and standard widths

Price: $450
Weight: 510 grams (size 44)

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