Brilliant features from Specialized's Recon range are uncomprimised even at this sub-£100 price point. Expect a really grippy sole, toe box flex that makes hike-a-bike a breeze, and a shape that's so comfy there's no need for breaking in.
Super comfy from day one
Really grippy soles
Toe-flex makes walking easy
Velcro straps won't be the most durable in mucky conditions
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While we've been seeking out the very best gravel shoes, (opens in new tab) Specialized released it's all-new Recon range (opens in new tab) from entry level at £95 right the way through to top-end S-Works at a whopping £350. As I've previously tried the Recon 3.0 (RRP £220) and been really impressed, I was curious to see how many of these great features would still be seen with Specialized's sub-£100 offering.
Once you get over the punchy aqua blue upper (also available in stealth black and a popping bright red), the most obvious and exciting part of the Recon 1.0 shoes are the soles. The natural rubber tread is nothing less than aggressive, with angled tread all over from the heel and forefoot to the arch.
This tread sits on a nylon sole, which is shaped to allow more flex in the toe box (more on this later). There's fittings for two-bolt MTB cleats (SPD style) along with a series of graduation marks to help you line up your cleats as you install them. Inside, there's a standard set of bright green Specialized insoles, which you can easily switch out if you prefer a different shape.
The toes and heel of the upper are reinforced, covering the parts of the shoes that typically get bashed during hike-a-bike. The upper is perforated to the inside of the foot and a little on the outside with a series of small holes, while a mesh area up top around the tongue helps to aid ventilation. There's minimal padding internally, except for the heel cup and ankle supports. Here you'll also find a loop at the back to help you pull on the shoes.
The closure system here is a simple trio of velcro straps that pass through two eyelet-reinforced holes and one looped buckle. Branding-wise, they feature the Specialized word logo across the side of the shoe in white, and the logo on the top of the toe box.
These little disco slippers have certainly seen some action this summer, from short across-town commutes to a four-hour hike-a-bike sessions across the Black Mountain. Yes, that was intentional, and yes, it was very boggy!
I've been impressed by the Recon 1.0 shoes from the get-go. It's not often that I test a new pair of shoes that don't need any wearing in at all, so that was a really pleasant surprise to begin with.
You probably don't need me to tell you how easy it is to fit velcro straps, or adjust the tension on the fly. Sure, they might not look like the most technologically advanced shoes with the kind of closure that you usually find on kid's pre-school shoes, but they're just really comfy.
Now second to comfort in my off-road priority list is walkability, which is a combination of grip and flex. The kind of rides that I really enjoy often include parts where you're beside rather than on your bike, hauling up a mountainside on an unrideable trail or mooching around a pretty town seeking out ice-cream. This is where the Recon range really come into their own.
Firstly, the amount of toe flex is great, thanks to Specialized's 'stride' technology, which essentially means that nylon sole bends by the toes to give you a normal range of movement while walking, but doesn't affect the stiffness of the shoe around the cleat so much as to negatively affect power transfer and pedalling efficiency. This makes a huge difference to comfort when you're walking for long periods of time.
Secondly, the level of grip offered by the aggressive rubber sole is really ace. These are designed for both MTB and gravel use (opens in new tab), and while riders that tend to opt for easy gravel roads where you barely need to unclip at all won't necessarily need this level of tread, those who prefer boggy and technical trails will benefit. Even in the wet and over slippery rocks these proved to be pretty good.
The only downside I can find would be around durability. Even though it's super easy to wipe clean the outer and spray out the muck from the velcro straps, I think that these straps might limit the longevity of the shoes, at least looking in great condition.
As you can probably tell, I've been really impressed with the features packed into these off-road orientated shoes at a price less than £100. Sure, there are many shoes out there on the market for less, but I don't think you can really argue with the level of comfort, grip and toe-flex offered by the Recon range. If you're not keen on the velcro straps, you can upgrade to the Recon 2.0 for £165, which features a single Boa dial and a velcro toe strap.
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