Road Gear

Shimano S-Phyre road shoes: What I love; what bugs me

I've long been a fan of Shimano's shoes, but one particular type of change Shimano made bugs me.

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Shimano is now only in its second iteration of its top-shelf S-Phyre, but the Japanese giant has been making excellent quality road shoes for years. On the whole, I love Shimano shoes — my closet largely contains a mix of Shimano and Specialized road and mountain kicks — and most of the small model-to-model changes I see as improvements or inconsequential. But one type of change Shimano sometimes makes is annoying.

What I love: What’s the saying again? If the shoes fits? We can debate the merits of various closure mechanisms, upper construction, sole design, cleat placement or aesthetic variations, but obviously, the key thing is that a shoe fits well and comfortably. For me, Shimano shoes have long fit this bill, offering a secure, stiff platform without pinching, chafing, or causing hot spots. Ride all day and never think about your feet? That’s the mark of a great shoe.

Shimano eliminated the tongue in favor of a wrap-around upper design, which works very well for a uniform thickness over the top of the foot. Photo: Ben Delaney

For reference, my feet are pretty normal volume, with standard arches and perhaps a bit on the wide side.

I’ve tested dozens of shoes over the years, and most I have given away or auctioned off for charity via The Pro’s Closet. I hold onto Shimano shoes. I have two pairs of R321s, for instance, that are at least six years old at this point, and seem like they could easily last another six. Like their components, Shimano’s shoes are built to last.

These RC-902 S-Phyre shoes a similar upper construction to those R321, with a traditional tongue abandoned in favor of a two-piece upper that wraps over the top of the foot. I have Specialized S-Works shoes where the tongue will gradually work its way to one side over a long ride, effectively changing the fit. No such possibility here.

The heel cup is ultra-secure without pinching or riding up too high towards the ankle.

The BOA dials are easy to adjust in both directions, and they are particularly good for fine adjustments. The initial securing takes maybe a second longer than a Velcro strap, as you have to wind the dial a few times. First world problems!

I also dig how the things look.

(L to R) The Shimano S-Phyre RC-902, RC-901, and R321. Photo: Ben Delaney

What bugs me: Most changes to a shoe are honestly inconsequential. For instance, Sidi for years would regularly change the configuration of its closure mechanisms. One year it was a dial and two Velcro straps; the next year was a dial, a ratchet, and a Velcro strap. But the overall fit and shape of the shoe did not change.

Shimano, recently, has been making slight tweaks to the shape of the shoe, making it notably tighter in the forefoot. The original S-Phyre, the RC-901 went narrow. This RC-902 is a bit wider than the RC-901, but I still needed to go to a “wide” version to get that foot bliss that I love so much from the R321 fit.

Ideally, I would like my favorite shoes to be like my favorite bands — I can buy the latest and greatest with complete faith that it’s going to be good.

You could draw a parallel to component compatibility; once you know what works for your bike, you can buy with confidence. With shoes, sure, you can try them on in a store, but you can’t really get a good feeling for compatibility with your feet until you’ve done a good few rides in them.

My request to Shimano humbly is: Please don’t monkey with the last! Change whatever cosmetic bits you like, but keep the fit the same.

Now I know that I need a ”wide” fit for the latest Shimano design, so I’m good. Please don’t change it, Shimano!

This size 45 weighs 266 grams. And it looks sharp, right? Photo: Ben Delaney