Wider S-Works Torch replaces popular Specialized shoes - and our tech writers had very different first impressions

Wider, lighter, more comfortable and better looking - here's the story behind the development of the S-Works Torch plus our first ride impressions

S-Works Torch
(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

Specialized has launched the S-Works Torch, its new flagship road shoe that will replace the S-Works 7

Like the latest wheels and tyres, Specialized has decided that the best cycling shoes need to be wider if they're to be both comfortable and fast.

The S-Works Torch is a ground-up design based on a brand new, wider carbon sole that's 4mm wider than the S-Works 7's and also comes in wide fitting that's 7mm wider. Despite being wider, the sole is 20g lighter with the size 42 shoe weighing a claimed 225g, the same overall as the old S-Works 7.

The new Torch also has a softer, more comfortable upper with "zonal reinforcement" and an asymmetric heel cup that supplies more targeted foot support.

S-Works Torch

(Image credit: Specialized)

According to Specialized its focus with the S-Works Torch was all about increasing comfort without sacrificing power transfer: to create a shoe that’s less of a foot container and more of a piece of apparel that you don't notice when you're wearing it, in the words of its head designer Rob Cook.

The press release’s strapline is: "Engineered to disappear"

The Torch shoe name will already be familiar to Spesh spotters: it’s a range of three lower-tiered shoes. Why call the new flagship shoe ‘S-Works Torch’ and not the rumored ‘S-Works 8’?

Specialized told us it wanted to create a better connection between those lower tiered shoes and the top one, so that riders who don’t want to spend $450/£385 - the price of the new S-Works Torch, which is $25/£15 higher than the S-Works 7 - will be able to see the connection to what they’re buying. Future lower-priced Torch shoes will feature trickle-down tech from the top model. Previously S-Works shoes had existed at the top of the tree in isolation.

The S-Works Ares will stay in the range, a shoe that’s aimed at explosive efforts and was developed with sprinter Sam Bennett.

The main innovations Specialized highlights for the S-Works Torch are:

* Zonal reinforcement 
* symmetrical heel cup 
* Rerouted S3 Boa system placement 
* New carbon base plate 
* Internal i-beam reinforcement 

Meanwhile the three Body Geometry pillars of wisdom - varus wedge, longitudinal arch and metatarsal button - are still at the heart of the shoe.

There's an awful lot of buzzwords there. So, let’s take a closer look at what all that actually means - and perhaps more importantly - what our two testers thought of the shoes when out on the road. 

S-Works Torch: wider, lighter carbon sole

S-Works Torch

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized says that by analysing more than 100,000 foot scans from its Retül (opens in new tab)fit data - the biggest in cycling - it recognised that both a standard and a wide plate would best serve the spectrum of human foot shapes. So it engineered two new carbon base plates that are 4mm and 7mm wider than the S-Works 7's.

Cook said the S-Works 7 achieved its fit by being tall and narrow. Although the foot was well held, this was done by compressing the sides of the foot. Combined with the stiff materials in the older shoe’s upper, he saw room for improvement.

The Torch's wider plate allows the foot to spread and distribute pressure more evenly and also allows the new Boa routing to pull the shoe down onto the foot rather than closing the sides and compressing.

In Cook’s words, the foundation of the pyramid is wider so that closure is more surrounding.

The plates’ new ‘pie crust’ edging shape - two layers of carbon crimped together - is claimed to reduce flex and eliminate bulky material build-up around the perimeter of the for a more streamlined (and lighter) construction. 

An internal i-beam adds stiffness and strength, eliminating the need for additional bracing. Cook said it’s this that allowed the sole to drop 20g compared to the S-Works 7's. In the middle of the sole is a ‘PU cookie’ which is a hard non-compressible foam that would snap like a biscuit if it was bent. Wrapping it in an extra layer of carbon enabled Specialized to add extra rigidity and stiffness without adding weight. “We were able to reduce the girder-like lattice structure on the S-Works 7 and now you have a clean shape in the midfoot that contributes to that nice tapered heel,” Cook’s told us. 

S-Works Torch: more comfortable upper with zonal reinforcement

S-Works Torch

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized says it refined every detail of the S-Works Torch’s upper for improved fit and performance. The lower Velcro toe strap has disappeared. It was “a bit set and forget”, Cook believes. Now the lower Boa cable has been shifted down and angled, preventing lift on the ball of the foot, negating the need for a strap while supplying a power-enhancing structure and eliminating unwanted pressure or pinching, according to Specialized.

There’s more space between the two dials as well as a relief zone in the tongue that is designed to avoid that ‘red spot’ on top of the foot when you take your shoe off after a long ride.

As with the Ares, the placement of the top Boa dial is more central in order to make room for the tendons coming from the front of the ankle.

According to Cook, the Torch is more about holding down the midfoot but allowing the toes to wiggle whereas the Ares is more about forefoot lookdown and anchoring the foot all the way down in order to squeeze out the last few watts in a sprint. 

New materials allow natural movement of the foot where needed for comfort, says Specialized, while data-driven zonal reinforcement keeps the foot secured for crisp power delivery and optimal efficiency.

It’s this new material that Cook says allows the shoe to become less of a foot container with harsh touchpoints and more of a glove. Specialized says layers of material were sandwiched together to create a mix of adaptive stretch zones with no one or two-week break-in period necessary. Over the top is a layer of TPU that is intended to help preserve the clean look and performance for a longer time.

As for the Boa S3 dials themselves, Specialized has carried them over from the S-Works 7. These are all metal with a metal spring on a metal post on a clutch. They look high end, and are durable, but they don’t pop up - to remove the shoe the cable has to be slackened off and the cable unhooked.

Specialized says the look and the durability of the S3 dials outweigh the fact that they don’t pop.

S-Works Torch: asymmetric heel cup

S-Works Torch

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized says the S-Works 7’s heel hold worked for some riders but not all, especially those who had an inflamed or a wider Achilles attachment. Additionally it found through testing multiple versions that most riders only need support on the medial side in order to prevent pronation inwards - but not against rolling outwards.

Taking out the hard plastic from the outer heel cup left more room for more expansion, and Specialized says it was able to lower the shoe’s lateral collar by 4mm, meaning at the bottom of the pedal stroke with maximum flexion it’s less likely to interfere with the ankle bone and tendons underneath it. 

According to Specialized, riders didn’t notice the difference in heel hold between the new Torch version and the S-Works 7 heel, but there were no comments that it was too hard or too stiff - suggesting that support was equal, without the discomfort experienced by some previously. 

S-Works Torch

(Image credit: Specialized)

As for the aesthetics, Specialized says with the S-Works Torch it was looking for an elegant, sleeker silhouette. Compared to the S-Works 7, it says, this level of refinement gives it an 'object of desire' feel rather than one of pure sporting performance. In Cook’s words, it’s not a billboard or a NASCAR. 

Check out Specialized's website (opens in new tab) for more details.

First rides

At Cycling Weekly, we had two testers trying out these shoes. In the US, Anne-Marije Rook put them through their paces, whilst Simon Smythe was our tester in the UK. Rook an ex-elite level racer, and Smythe an ardent time trialist, both are cyclists naturally inclined to seek speed. However, their first impressions were markedly different. The reality is that shoe fit and preferance is extremely personal, not one slipper will fit all!

Anne-Marije Rook, North American editor

S-Works Torch

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Shoe fit and comfort are such a personal thing. What doesn’t work for me may work for you brilliantly, and vice versa. To that end, it's nice that Simon Smythe and I each had a chance to take these all new S-Works Torch kicks out for a spin or two, and share what I’m sure will be differing opinions.

You see, the old S-Works 6 shoes were among my all-time favourites. I wore those until they were simply too scuffed and banged up to be socially acceptable. Every shoe that has followed since has been compared to that model. 

I really liked the snug, locked-in feel, the stiffness and noticeable power transfer of the S-Works 6. They had a reasonably roomy toe box paired with a rather tight heel cup and secure Boa-reeled uppers. They simply made you feel faster, which is half the battle anyway. 

It’s with this fondness that I was eager to take the new, stark white S-Works Torch beauties out the moment it finally stopped raining. White shoes are impossible to keep clean here in the Pacific North-wet and I usually prefer a touch of colour for that reason. 

Right out of the box, the S-Works Torch look quite different than the S-Works 6s or S-Works 7s that they’re replacing. The whole shoe looks wider, and with just two Boa reels, the lower velcro strap is noticeably missing, giving the shoes a nice, clean and minimal look.  

While they do stick out a little — like ‘radio dials’ a rider on my group ride recently commented — I do quite like the two-way Boa dials. Rather than pulling up on the dial as so many previous Boa models, you simply spin the dial clockwise to loosen. 

One thing I’ve always appreciated about the Specialized road shoes is that I never have to second-guess my size, and these too fit comfortably from the get-go. They are perhaps even a tad on the roomy side, but more on that later.

The upper is very supple and I didn’t experience any hot spots or pinching, and like leather, I get the feeling that these get even more soft and supple over time rather than brittle or creaky like some other synthetic materials have a tendency to do. 

Specialized relied heavily on its extensive Retül database to inform the shape of this shoe, and in the feedback for the toe box, the heel cup and the base plate there was one recurring word: wider.

Specialized says these shoes were ‘engineered to disappear’ and well, they hit the nail on the head with that slogan. They’re darn comfortable. I’d have no hesitations about wearing them on long endurance rides. 

However, when it comes to pure speed and performance, it’s in the fit changes that they lose me a little.The front of the heel cup and the toe box are just a tad too wide for my liking. The extra space in the toe box is not bothersome by any means, but I do end up ratcheting down the lower Boa reel quite a bit. The front of the heel cup and the sides of the arches is where I miss that locked-in and secure feeling that I’d want for more explosive efforts and maximum power transfer. But for that, perhaps the S-Works Ares shoes would suit me better. For all-day comfort with solid performance, however, you can’t go wrong with any of the Torch shoes. 

Simon Smythe, senior tech writer

S-Works Torch

(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

Unlike Anne-Marije, the last S-Works shoes I reviewed, in my case the S-Works Ares (opens in new tab), were anything but my favourites. I tried really hard to like them: the right shoe felt amazing, locked in, powerful and comfortable but my left foot felt like it was treading on a hard lump towards the rear of the arch. I’d never had any kind of problem with cycling shoes like that and I literally laid the blame at my own feet.

But the fact was they didn’t suit the shape of my feet - whereas the new S-Works Torch feels like it was made for my feet. Not just one foot but both.

Admittedly I was fortunate enough to go to Specialized HQ in Dorking for a Retül custom footbed fitting. These are £120 at Retül-equipped Specialized dealers. I learnt a lot from the session.

I’ve always sized down for cycling shoes and accepted the shoe touching the end of my big toe. Having been into rock climbing and skiing in my younger years I thought putting up with the discomfort of slightly too-small shoes was the sacrifice you had to make for good power transfer and a locked-in feel.

The S-Works Torches have shown me I was wrong. The Retül fitting said I needed a 45 instead of a 44 and the moment I tried the 45s on I was sold. You can have comfortable toes and good power transfer with no heel lift at the rear or bagginess at the front. Honestly, they’re a revelation.

Just to check that it wasn’t all down to the custom footbeds I’ve tried them with the standard insoles and although of course not as glove-like they’re still the most comfortable yet efficient cycling shoes I’ve ever worn by a very long chalk.

I haven't ridden in the S-Works Torches for more than an hour so far - keep an eye out for my full review.

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Simon Smythe

Simon Smythe is Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and has been in various roles at CW since 2003. His first job was as a sub editor following an MA in online journalism. In his cycling career Simon has mostly focused on time trialling with a national medal, a few open wins and his club's 30-mile record in his palmares. These days he spends most of his time testing road bikes, or on a tandem doing the school run with his younger son.