Worlds apart in legacy, geography, design impetus and just about anything else you can think of, nonetheless, both Shimano’s and Fizik’s latest top-of-the-line shoes share similar characteristics, like updated carbon-sole designs, Boa’s new Li2 dial and a need for simpler names.
Shimano’s S-Phyre SH-RC902 and Fizik’s Vento Infinito Knit Carbon 2 are new iterations of WorldTour-tested footwear. For 2021 they’ve both improved upon their designs to enhance aerodynamics, breathability and
stiffness with focus on providing top-tier performance.
Both shoes use Boa’s all-new smaller-diameter Li2 dials, which also have a new low-profile design. Compared to the previous IP1, it’s hard to spot a difference until you use them. A new-concave shape slightly reduces the stack height of the Li2. This saves grams, and Boa claims it’s more aerodynamic. The Li2 maintains the same mechanics of most modern Boa dials; when pushed down, the dial is activated. Boa claims adjustments are slightly more precise than the IP1 due to finer micro-adjustments, and we noticed this on our first ride. It’s an unexpected but appreciated update from a brand that’s already known for creating one of the easiest ways to adjust a shoe mid-ride.
Although the Osaka-based company has only been producing shoes for about a third of their 100 years in business, their extensive experience in cycling has put them at the forefront of innovation across nearly every aspect of cycling gear. Shimano leaked the third iteration of their high-performance racing shoe in September, with riders from Jumbo Visma, Team Sunweb and Arkea-Samsic spotted using them during the late-season Tour de France. Dubbed the S-Phyre SH-RC902 (more simply referred to as the RC9), the S-Phyre category designates Shimano’s top-shelf performance apparel. Shimano offers the RC9s in four colorways: blue, white, red and black.
Built around an updated sole design, using data from their in-house pedaling analyzer at BikeFitting.com, Shimano developed the RC9’s upper microfiber material that wraps around the middle of the sole. Shimano designed this part of the sole to be slightly flexible, but improved the stiffness at the cleat interface. Shimano claims it’s the most efficient mix of sole rigidity and weight they have developed to date.
The now-narrower heel cup has been updated with a reinforced plastic shell and two strips of a non-slip material to secure both sides of the heel inside the shoes. Thanks to the pedaling analyzer and pro-rider feedback, Shimano determined the anti-twist heel design improves pedaling performance and decreases the risk of injury, like tendonitis, for riders.
The RC9’s upper material is a mix of a reinforced mesh. The wrap-around design of the upper eliminates the need for a tongue, which helps prevent stretching in the toe box and maintains the RC9’s shape when tightened. In addition to a protective coating around those areas most prone to toe overlap, the toe box is protected by a plastic guard that has helped maintain the upper’s sheen throughout our review.
Fizik was founded as an in-house boutique saddle brand in 1996 for parent company Selle Royal, who was one of Italy’s largest mainstream saddle makers. Headquartered at the base of the Dolomites, the Italian brand has always focused on the high-performance market, and they’ve maintained a successful role in the pro peloton since their inception.
Following their success as a saddle brand, like many other companies, Fizik decided to expand their product line, and in 2011 they introduced their shoes at the Eurobike show. The first-run shoes had many innovative features, like the use of sail cloth for straps, and have continued to evolve over time. Drawing from the latest in knit-shoe technology, Fizik created the Infinito Knit line.
As the name implies, the upper material combines a knit fabric with “advanced knitted construction technique” that blends a heat-fused TPU yarn in targeted knitted areas. The benefit of the design is the seamlessly integrated ventilation, which saves weight without compromising fit and performance. The Vento is highlighted by a new arch-strap design that wraps around the plantar arch to provide improved foot support. The tighter the Boa dial is applied, the more support the foot receives.
Alongside the improved upper is the latest R2 carbon sole. Fizik claims it is lighter and stiffer than the R1 that was previously used on their racing shoes. The sole has a vented channel between the cleat interface and the insole to improve airflow. Most important, Fizik adopted a wider range of cleat adjustability (nearly a centimeter) to account for the more aggressive, aerodynamic positions riders use on modern road bikes. Cleats can be positioned further aft on the sole to accommodate proper position for riders that prefer a further-forward position in the saddle.
The slight tweaks to the RC9’s shape created a noticeably different fit than we’ve grown accustomed to from Shimano. The narrower heel cup provides a secure fit, while there’s a bit more wiggle room around the big toe. In the past, we tended to size down on Shimano shoes due to their relatively wide fit, but the RC9s fit much more true to size.
Tightening the Boa dials mimics previous versions, but the micro-adjustments do allow for a more precise fit, although the dials do feel like they are flimsier. Thanks to their composite construction, Boa says they are now more resistant to scratches and the environment. If they were to break, they would be covered by Boa’s lifetime warranty on all of their dials.
Installing cleats was easy, thanks to the clearly marked fit guides on the sole. Following our first few rides, we were impressed by how little damage and dirt there was on the sole and upper. The toebox guard worked as it was intended and is worth the cost of a few extra grams for anyone who wants a performance shoe that will last longer than a single season.
The updated sole maintains Shimano’s highest arbitrary stiffness rating of 12. The incorporated flex in the middle of the foot is appreciated and didn’t noticeably take away from the power transfer at the cleat interface.
Paired with the wrap-around design of the upper, the shoe securely holds the foot with evenly distributed pressure all around. None of our test riders reported hot spots. Venting throughout the toe box and top of the shoe allowed for above-average breathability.
Opposite Shimano, the Vento Knits had a wider fit than we expected from the Italian brand. The heel cup uses a similar anti-slip design, while the toe box and middle of the shoe were roomy; our size 43.5 felt more like a 44. Unlike the more supportive, stiffer and thicker microfiber used on the RC9, the knit material of the Fizik is thin and slipper-like in the toe box. The saving grace of the Infinito Knit’s fit is the arch support band that helps secure the foot in place. Riders with wider feet may prefer the wiggle room in the toe box, but there was a bit too much space for our narrower-footed test riders.
It took a couple of tries to line up the cleats. Minimal markings and the increased cleat positions on the sole left us searching for the proper cleat alignment. Like the RC9, the Infinito Knit has a protective guard on the toe that prevents scuffing on the carbon sole, but there’s no protection on the upper material, which may lead to some expedited wear, though we haven’t noticed anything notable yet.
On the road, the Infinito Knit was reported to be comfortable by all of our test riders. The supple knit upper hugs the heel and top of the foot without creating hot spots. Ventilation across the tongue paired with the knit upper allowed for superior ventilation, as well as heat retention on cold days. Interestingly, the Infinito Knit stayed surprisingly dry for longer on rainy rides. As water seeped through the vent holes across the RC9, the rain rolled off the knitted material of the Infinito; although, by the end of the ride, both feet were drenched.
Shimano and Fizik have been leaders in performance footwear for over 20 years. The latest Boa retention systems and carbon soles give both shoes top-of-the-line characteristics that any other apparel brand would be hard-pressed to outdo. If we had to pick one, Shimano’s RC9 would be our choice. The improved sole design is the stiffer of the two while being more dynamic, thanks to the anti-twist heel design paired with the engineered compliance around the arch of the foot. To get arch support similar to the Fizik, Shimano offers additional insole pads for a personalized fit.
Released alongside the Infinito Knit was the $350 Vento Infinito Carbon, which features the same sole and arch support design but uses a Microtex upper. Fizik offers both shoes to WorldTour riders like Geraint Thomas and Alejandro Valverde. Expect to see WorldTour riders sporting shoes from both Shimano and Fizik throughout the Spring Classics.
SHIMANO PUNCH LINES
• Bright colors
• Durable, long-lasting design
FIZIK PUNCH LINES
• Supple, breathable knit upper
• High arch support
• More color choices, please
Weight: 510 grams
Sizes: 36–48 (44 tested)
Weight: 518 grams
Sizes: 36–48 (43.5 tested)