The new Specialized S-Works Recon shoes provide stunning performance and first-class fit, which makes them ideally suited to fast-paced and demanding mountain bike, gravel and adventure cyclists. They don’t come cheap mind, but if you can afford them, they are probably one of the best top-end shoes available right now.
The new Recon shoes are based on the S-Works 7 road shoes (read that review on road.cc) but with a treaded sole for walking traction and a 2-bolt cleat drilling. That’s a good thing since the S-Works 7 road shoe is a bloody good road shoe with high levels of stiffness and comfort, so to get all that with a mountain bike sole is a very good thing.
Key to the Recon is a completely redesigned upper constructed from light and non-stretch Dyneema fabric, sandwiched between a four-way stretch mesh and thermoplastic polyurethane to provide durability, with stretchier material used around the front of the shoe and a moulded plastic heel cup.
Planted to the side of the shoes like two limpets are the best feature of the shoes, CNC-machined alloy Boa dials. They are supremely nice to use with easy micro-adjustment. You can’t pop them to release like you can with some other dials but unwinding them is quick and you can unloop from the retainer to get out quickly if you’re in a hurry. The padded tongue and off-set opening help to spread pressure evenly across the top of the foot.
The upper does a sterling job of keeping your feet planted to the insole and your heel anchored in place. There’s no hint of heel left and no hotspots or pressure buildup areas anywhere across the upper. The toe box provides more generous volume than the previous S-Works off-road shoe, and it can be adjusted to a limited degree by a short Velcro strap.
The carbon fibre sole has a stiffness rating index of 13.0, a smidgen less stiff than the road shoes, but in use, it's plenty stiff enough in my experience. I’m not the most powerful rider in the world so you powerhouses reading this might be able to get them flexing, but for the majority of people, they strike a good balance. I couldn’t detect a hint of flex no matter how hard I pushed on the pedals, you just get instantaneous and efficient power transfer, yet they aren’t insanely stiff that the moment you have to walk you’re crippled with pain.
Covering large parts of the carbon sole is a rubber tread made from the company’s SlipNot material, designed to provide good traction on the ground. Reasonably aggressive treads flank the titanium cleat hardware, and the heel section extends to the mid-foot which also serves to protect the carbon sole. A pair of optional stud mounts up front will appeal to cyclocross racers.
The size 45 shoes tested come in at 667g on the scales, with a claimed size 42 weight of 270g per half shoe.
And let’s not forget all the Body Geometry goodness that sets Specialized shoes apart, and has seen them be popular even with those people who don’t like to cross their brand streams. First developed over a decade ago, you get specially shaped insoles that provide longitudinal arch support, a varus wedge for the forefoot and a metatarsal button, with various degrees of support depending on your personal requirements. They go a long way to amping up the comfort by providing superb support.
What are they like in anger?
I’ve been testing them for several months, using them almost daily on mountain bike and adventure rides, I’ve got them soaked and covered in mud on more than a few occasions, and they are still working as sweetly as when they were first pulled out of the box.
The fit works really well for me. The increased toe box volume provides generous wiggle room for the pinkies, and the upper fits nicely over the foot with a padded tongue spreading pressure from the Boa dials very well. The heel cup fixes the shoe firmly to your feet without pinching or feeling excessively tight.
Durability of the shoes after several months of use, including everything from mountain biking to adventure riding, and some walking up unrideable rocky mountains is very good.
To survive all the scrapes and bashes off riding off-road, the front of the toe box is wrapped with a protective material and provides adequate protection for your toes if you do smash your foot into a rock. It also helps to ensure the durability of the shoes is sufficient that they can be used and abused and won’t fall apart.
The Boa dials are still working smoothly and haven’t required any maintenance, and they’ve been jet-washed and pummelled through mud and grit.
The only signs of damage are to the exposed areas of carbon fibre, but it’s all superficial scaring and if that worries you then you probably ought to avoid using any sort of carbon soled shoe for off-road riding.
The comfort of the shoes is their best asset, combined with the performance of the stiff carbon sole and secure upper provides. On the longest rides, and a 100km mountain bike ride and 100-mile gravel and grit ride stand out here, the shoes performed admirably. Comfort was right up there from the first to the last mile, there’s never any soreness or discomfort as can occur with some high-end super stiff carbon race shoes after a few hours. I really have worn them all day with no complaints.
Shoes are a personal thing though and these Recons clearly work for me, but I realise they might not fit everyone as well as me. The Body Geometry insoles give a degree of customisation, however.
So whether it’s for short mountain bike or cyclocross races, or longer adventure and bikepacking shoes, provided you can afford them, the new Specialized S-Works Recon are seriously impressive. Time to start saving.
This overhauled design has really improved the fit and they set the benchmark in my opinion for others to be judged by.
But, and it’s a really big but, they cost £340. As much as I am impressed with the performance of the shoes, that’s a big price to justify. It’s a few quid more than the Fizik Infinito X1 shoes that impressed me last year but the Recon shoes do provide a more comfortable fit. It’s well over £100 more than the very good Giro Empire VR90 lace-up shoes too. And if you really want to save some cash but not compromise on performance, the Shimano XC7 shoes are worth a look.
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