Style is a tricky thing to comment on as everyone has different tastes. Like it or not though the new Shimano design is flashy. It's also available in bright, vibrant, colors. If any of that speaks to you the Shimano S-Phyre SC902 is a good choice. They are also a good choice if you like the adjustability of dual BOA adjusters and a wide toe box.
Protection for the finish
Vibrant colors available
New, low profile, BOA adjusters
Difficult to get the wrapped upper in the right place
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When it comes to top-of-the-line road cycling shoes there are plenty of choices out there. Shimano distinguishes itself by leveraging the insight it has as a leader in cycling hardware and an expert in bike fit.
The S-Phyre range is the top shelf lineup of soft goods that Shimano offers. It's designed to be a pinnacle of efficiency, aerodynamics, and low weight. To that end, Shimano analyzed data from the Shimano owned bikefitting.com pedal analyzer to make data driven design decisions. The result is a shoe that's stiffer in some locations but more flexible in others. It also comes with a slightly different last shape.
Road cycling shoes in general are often associated with a narrow design typical of Italian dress shoes, but Shimano does not adhere to this trend. My advice has always been that if you are looking for a wide toe box take a look at what Shimano has. With this in mind I was particularly interested in testing what had changed with the new Shimano S-Phyre SH-RC902.
When it comes to construction Shimano is bucking the current trends a bit. There's no knit upper here and instead it's a more traditional look. The Shimano S-Phyre SH-RC902 upper uses a Microfiber Synthetic Leather for the entire upper design.
Wrapping past the knuckle on either side of the foot, and covering the toes, is a reinforced layer that should shrug off any marks from touching the tire. In the most likely toe overlap spot, on the inside front of each shoe, there's even more protection in the form of a piece of hard plastic.
Since the initial release of the Shimano S-Phyre shoes, closure has always been thanks to a double BOA system. This model represents not just an update from Shimano but is also one of the first shoes to feature the new Li2 dial platform from BOA.
BOA calls the Li2 smaller, more durable, and more sustainable. Looking at the two dials next to each other, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference unless you really knew what to look for. Circumference and height at the edge of the dial looks to be identical. However, instead of a domed shape, the new dial is concave which saves a tiny bit of height at the center of the dial. Mostly the design ups the durability and makes adjustments slightly more precise.
It's not a huge update but BOA dials already represents a fast way to get out of a shoe at the end of a ride, precise adjustment, and a lifetime warranty. I've never felt a need for an improvement so anything offered is welcome.
It seems like every shoe company rates its carbon soles with numbers that don't have much meaning. The top-of-the-line Bontrager shoe is a 14 out of 14 stiffness while the Fizik competition is a 10 out of 10. Shimano meanwhile calls the RC9 carbon sole a "rigid and responsive level-12." None of the ratings correspond to anything other than to let you know they are the stiffest the company offers, rated on its own proprietary scale.
The real challenge is a stiff sole that's not uncomfortable and that's what Shimano delivers. Climbing or sprinting the stiffness always feels like it is enough without excessive clatter the rest of the time.
A good cycling shoe makes you feel locked in while not feeling constricted. It's here that the Shimano S-Phyre SH-RC902 shines. The heel cup is narrow at the back of the ankle with rubbery anti-slip pads on either side of the ankle. As you move forward the wrap around design, lacking a traditional tongue, keeps the midfoot from moving without any sense of squeezing it. At the front of the foot the second BOA adjuster lets you dial exactly how tight you want the shoe to feel. As it tightens, the pressure comes from the edges, not over your toes.
With a compressive, not constrictive, fit and tons of ventilation I found these to be good companions for long rides. The toe box remains, like previous Shimano shoes, characteristically wide. There are different arch support options in the box and adjustability of the upper is exceptional. The only challenge was getting the inner edge of the wrapped upper to fall in the right spot on the inside of my foot. My advice is to tighten the lower BOA adjuster first.
The Shimano S-Phyre SC902 is a top-of-the-line shoe that carries a $425/£319.99 retail price. Take your pick of a competitive product from any of the brands selling a shoe at this level and the pricing is almost exactly the same. Giro, Fizik, Bontrager, Bont, etc... all have a top-level road cycling shoe right around this price point.
Without being able to point to a price difference value has to come down to something else. In this case one thing that will bring value to the Shimano S-Phyre SC902 is longevity. Whilst I've not had these on test for years, I have worn other Shimano shoes for seasons back-to-back and the design and build quality has held up well. All the places that take a beating in normal use have extra protection. Meanwhile, if the BOA adjusters fail, they carry a lifetime warranty.
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