If your gravel riding is mostly on the bike, the S-Works Recon’s quality, stiff construction makes for efficient progress and a comfortable ride. But the lack of flex makes the shoe a bit awkward to run or walk in and the uppers on the test pair have taken some damage.
Stiff sole for efficient pedalling
Bombproof metal Boa dial closures
Stiff sole makes off-bike action awkward
Uppers are not as robust as they look
Specialized launched the S-Works Recon shoe at the beginning of 2019 as its top of the line off-road shoe.
The S-Works Recon shoes come with a very stiff, lightweight carbon sole unit. Spesh says that it has a stiffness index rating of 13. That’s against 15 for the S-Works 7 road shoe. You can feel the stiffness when you ride – it leads to excellent power transfer and a boost to your pedalling efficiency when using two-bolt cleats.
The carbon sole plate is well covered by the bonded-on rubber grips, with little scuffing after a winter of use, and there’s the option to fit spikes at the toe for extra grip. The floating cleat plate has plenty of fore and aft adjustability and is made of titanium alloy to save a few grams.
The stiff sole is a bit of a double edged sword though. Many gravel riders dismount little and top riders will often use three bolt road shoes for their better power transfer. But for the rest of us, cyclocross riders who will need to negotiate unridable course sections and anyone whose off-road riding includes an element of hike-a-bike, that stiffness may be too much. I found that, without any spring in my step, I was experiencing some heel lift, unless the upper was seriously tightened, and I was waddling when walking or running.
The uppers of the S-Works Recon include a toe bumper and incorporate Dyneema fabric. It’s the same material used in some anti-road rash cycling clothing and is designed to be abrasion resistant. It’s also non-stretch and lightweight, so your foot is well supported and comfortable in warmer weather. It’s used for the sides of the shoe and bonded, rather than sewn, to the lightweight, perforated material used for the toe box, for a seamless upper construction. At the rear, there’s a stiff plastic heel box, so the rear of the foot is well supported and doesn’t slip around when riding.
Closure uses two Boa S3-Snap dials and a front Velcro strap. The S3-Snap has a knurled metal dial, so it’s robust. Unlike the Boa IP1 used in may top end road shoes, it doesn’t snap out for quick shoe removal. That’s a good thing in an off-road shoe, as there’s no chance of the dial being inadvertently released by a brush with a passing branch.
Specialized incorporates its Body Geometry design features into the S-Works Recon shoes. So there’s a canted footbed, with various bumps and wedges. As with Spesh’s other shoes with these features, they lead to a really comfortable fit and good support for the foot. Even with the Boas cranked tight, my feet felt very well supported. The toe box is roomy, so my feet didn’t feel cramped and my toes stayed reasonably warm, even on cold, wet rides.
Despite Specialized’s claims for the ruggedness of the S-Works Recon shoes, after a few month’s winter riding, the uppers are already a bit the worse for wear. I’m not sure how it happened, but there’s a tear in the forefoot of one shoe, possibly from barbed wire or a branch, so I’d be concerned about the shoe’s longevity.
It does seem to be a one-off though, with the rest of the upper, the carbon sole and the rubber lugs standing up well to use and abuse. But in a premium priced shoe, it is disappointing.
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Paul started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2015, covering cycling tech, new bikes and product testing. Since then, he’s reviewed hundreds of bikes and thousands of other pieces of cycling equipment for the magazine and the Cycling Weekly website.
He’s been cycling for a lot longer than that though and his travels by bike have taken him all around Europe and to California. He’s been riding gravel since before gravel bikes existed too, riding a cyclocross bike through the Chilterns and along the South Downs.
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