Shimano S-Phyre RC903 Shoes

Tempered features help to improve the latest S-Phyre


Words Sam Challis  Photography Lizzie Crabb

We’re up to version four of Shimano’s S-Phyre shoes, but ever since the initial change at the top of Shimano’s road shoe range from R321 to S-Phyre RC9 in 2016, it has been a case of evolution as opposed to revolution.

In this instance, there has even been a case of devolution, with the RC903’s shape said to be returning to the wider fit offered by the RC901s, as a change in the RC902s made them much narrower and more tapered at the toe box.

This was not well received by fans of Shimano shoes, which are generally known to offer a fit at the wider end of the spectrum.

Largely, though, the new design has taken incremental steps forward and nothing drastic has altered. For example, the general construction of the shoe has remained similar.

The upper closes in what Shimano calls a ‘360° surround wrapping’ fashion, which is a grandiose way of saying the instep side wraps over the outside half of the shoe, as opposed to two equal halves closing over a central tongue.

This isn’t uncommon in top-end shoes, but an area where the S-Phyres differentiate themselves is that the upper is bonded directly to the sole, which lets Shimano eliminate the lasting board that is traditionally used to sandwich the upper down onto the sole.

This cuts a little weight, but more usefully reduces stack height, so the rider’s connection to the pedals is more direct.

The unidirectional carbon sole is the same as the last generation’s too, rated 12/12 on Shimano’s stiffness scale.

However stiff that is, it is evidently sufficient for even the most powerful riders, as S-Phyres are a common sight in the WorldTour peloton.

More pertinent for amateur riders is the generous amount of cleat mounting adjustability available.

Combined with the detailed positioning matrix printed on the sole, getting set up is easy.

Steps forward

These similarities notwithstanding, there have been enough updates in the RC903 to justify it as a bona fide successor to the RC902.

Not least is the fit, which has been relaxed at the toe box to bring the S-Phyre model back in line with how Shimano shoes are generally expected to fit.

This is facilitated by a more forgiving synthetic leather upper compared to the non-stretch combination of materials used before, which is in turn more heavily perforated.


To counteract any unwanted movement, the stiff sole is supported by a new anti-twist heel cup that is heavily shaped to anchor the back of the foot.

Visually, the shoes are pleasing to the eye.

A central patch of mesh returns over the toes to minimise any unsightly crumpling of the upper for those with narrower feet, while running over that is probably the most visually obvious update on the RC903s: the lower Boa cable is now anchored with fabric as opposed to plastic guides.

The shoes are offered in a generous size range. Regular sizes get options from 38 to 48 with wide variants available from 42 to 48, and half sizes stretch from 40.5 to 46.5.

There are four tasteful colour options too, though not all sizes are available in all colours, with white offering the widest choice.

It is great to see the S-Phyres offered with decent insoles as standard. Two arch height inserts are included to help tune the shoe’s fit.

They’re not as refined a solution as specialist insole designs but provide enough variation off the peg to be sufficient for the vast majority of riders, and they are considerably better than the insoles included in some rival shoes.

The pro’s choice

I’m no racer, but it doesn’t take much experience with the competitive side of the sport to get the sense that Shimano’s S-Phyres cater perfectly for aggressive riding.

Their low stack height, stiff sole  and new heel cup create a really stable and secure platform from which to push the pedals that is most evident in a sprint – my feet went absolutely  nowhere regardless of the effort I was putting into the bike.

That said, the RC903’s more forgiving upper and fit at the toe box complements the shoe’s racier characteristics nicely, adding a little versatility that the RC902 lacked.

The more supple synthetic leather conformed to my feet more readily, and the extra perforations improve breathability in hot conditions at the expense of a little protection in the winter.

I would have liked to see Shimano go further with the shape modifications.

I have a reasonably wide forefoot that tapers to a narrow heel, but while the RC903s accommodate my foot shape better than their predecessors, their design feels like a halfway house between those and the truly wide RC901s.

Those who like the traditional fit of Shimano shoes may be better suited to the wide version of these latest S-Phyres, as I was.

The dual Boa closure combined with the wraparound upper means the shoes maintain a fabulously tuneable fit, with the change from plastic to fabric cable guides being a good one.

Despite the smaller anchor points, there was no increase in localised pressure on top of the toes, and the fabric loops are neater.

They are a little more prone to discolouration though, so wearers have to be more conscious of road conditions than they needed to before, so as to prevent their new shoes from staining in small areas.

And one last niggle related to looks – the rubber toe bumper could extend higher on the upper at the front of the shoe, as rubber is easier to remove scuff marks from than the upper material that now extends all the way to the sole.

Superficial snags aside, the S-Phyre RC903s are a benchmark design for high-end cycling shoes.



Model Shimano S-Phyre RC903
Weight 496g (size 43)
Price $599.95
Sizes 38-48
Colours White, black, red, blue

Cyclist Australia/NZ