Performance dedicated yet seriously stylish, Specialized's S-Works shoes have always been hot property. But has the brand retained the coveted top of the wish-list spot with the S-Works 7 road shoes? We put the miles in to find out
There’s a scientific core at the heart of Specialized’s products that resonates in their designs.
Whether it’s the Specialized Tarmac and its Rider-First Engineering, the new Specialized Evade and its cooling system and now the S-Works 7 road shoes, and its scientifically crafted, performance pushing design. But with the latest iteration of the shoe, has science pushed its performance focus too far?
The fit of the S-Works road shoe was always a little Marmite, and we had riders in our office that loved it, and those that struggled with it. The main complaints of the latter was of pinching around the ankle and the heel.
Clearly, that particular problem wasn’t unique to us, and at the launch of the new shoes Specialized confirmed it had added additional cushioning to protect from nips and rubbing.
Initially, that same tell-tale rubbing still existed with the S-Works 7 shoes, and I suffered in the usual spot just below the ankle. However, with a little work, the shoe could be broken in, and multiple members of our office found that the rubbing stopped after a couple of rides. If anything, it re-affirms the old adage “try before you buy.”
As performance shoes, the S-Works 6 models were known for being stiff, but, with the new shoes, Specialized has increased the stiffness to 15 on its index.
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Admittedly, there is no industry-wide stiffness scale, so it’s a little arbitrary, but these are seriously stiff slippers. It’s hard not to describe it in the same clichéd way all carbon soles are. But getting hard on the pedals, there is a clear and immediate response to the carbon sole, and there’s zero movement in any other direction other than downwards.
So it’s definitely a racing shoe, and I think performance athletes and criterium racers would really see an advantage in them.
However, I’m not a racer, and personally really struggled with numb feet when riding. It wasn’t just on rough roads or cold days either, I even lost sensation when riding on the turbo indoors. I partly put that down to the Retül insole that took up lots of the room inside the shoe, but I think the biggest culprit is the unforgiving sole.
This problem isn’t unique to the Specialized shoes, though. In general, I struggle with very stiff carbon soles, finding my feet go to sleep quite easily. I know that to be properly comfortable on the bike I need to opt for something less stiff, which to many might mean a less performance orientated shoe.
So, while there’s definitely an argument that Peter Sagan needs them, I feel like there’s probably options better suited for amateurs, including myself. Something like the awesome Specialized Torch 3.0 for £200 (or Torch 2.0 for £50 less).
The shoes come with two dazzling, and proprietary, Boa dials and a velcro strip across the forefoot. Gone are the rubber edged Boa dials of the last shoes, and in their place sit some space-age aluminium ones. The new dials offer really minute adjustments on the fly and have a great feel to them, but you can’t pull them up to immediately release the wire.
You can also feel the air intake when you’re riding, with it being fed to your feet by vents on the soles of the shoes. The Dymena mesh of the uppers isn’t stuffy either, but creates a supple yet rigid covering for your foot.
I don't doubt that racers will value the pure performance stiffness of the new S-Works 7 shoes. But I found it too much much for my riding, and I struggled with numb feet.