Aimed at mountain biking, gravel riding, and bikepacking, Specialized’s Recon shoe range takes inspiration from Specialized’s best mountain biking shoe and adapts it to be more versatile and liveable. The Specialized Recon 3.0 sits just under the race-specific Specialized S-Works Recon in the four-tier range and while they have benefitted the most from the trickle-down in top tech, the Recon 3.0s are more than a watered-down performance shoe.
On the trail, it's a remarkably different vibe as the Recon 3.0s are packed with features that you don’t see in the S-Works model and making them a much more liveable and versatile riding shoe than the strictly between-the-tap Recon range toppers. I have been riding the Recon 3.0s for the last few months to find out how they perform.
Design and specifications
Aside from the S-Works branded shoes, the Recon range consists of three models. At the bottom of the range is the Specialized Recon 1.0, which is an entry model featuring a Nylon sole and velcro closure. The Recon 2.0 uses the same sole but adds an L6-Snap Boa for a more secure fit and an XPEL mesh upper. Lastly, the Recon 3.0’s reviewed here benefit from a second Boa and a stiffer sole.
Despite not getting the ultra-tough Dyneema uppers of the S-Works shoe, the Recon 3.0’s share a lot in common aesthetically. There are perforations across the entire shoe to help with airflow and inside you also get Specialized XPEL mesh to help them dry out quicker.
The closure is handled by dual L6-Snap Boas which give good levels of independent mid and upper-foot adjustment although you don’t have any backing-off clicks like the S3-Snap dials so on-the-fly loosening is a little fiddlier. That's far from a deal breaker though as the Specialized fit is really good, plus they have the advantage of pop release which the fancy dials don’t have.
The major difference between the Recon 3.0s and the S-Works shoe is the sole. Stiffness is only one point lower than the race shoes, however, the carbon outsole is paired with a glass fiber forefoot to create what Specialized calls Carbon STRIDE toe-flex, giving the Recon 3.0’s more flex when walking. The sole also has a very unique and striking tread. Two standard blocks sit on either side of the cleat for pedal stability and to recess the cleat, however, the rest of the tread on the toe and heel uses long hexagonal pillars which not only give plenty of edges to grip rocky terrain but also dig deep into sloppy mud. If you need more mud grip for Cyclocross, Specialized has also added two spike threads. There's even some tread on the inside of the arch, very handy if your bike rides involve climbing over lots of gates or fallen trees. Lastly, the entire sole is rubber coated which not only helps grip and improve durability by protecting the carbon but should mean they stay looking new for much longer.
The weight isn’t too bad at 736g (size 43) for the pair although several equally priced shoes undercut the Recon 3.0s. Arguably shoe weight doesn’t matter a whole lot though as we are talking less than 200g difference between shoes like Fizik Vento Ferox Carbon (668g), Bont Vaypor G (654g), or the ultra-light Shimano RX8 gravel shoes (530g) or newer RX801 (510g, claimed).
The very premium S-Works Recon model uses a race-specific design that has an ultra-stiff sole and uppers that lock the foot in place for mega power transfer. They are comfortable as well, although the unforgiving nature means they aren’t the kicks I would pick for longer, more adventurous rides. The Recon 3.0, on the other hand, are very different, the uppers are more forgiving which is a big benefit if you are bikepacking or have slightly wider shaped feet. I found the fit is still very secure and had no problems with heel lift, it's just that your feet don’t feel quite as locked in. I get along well with Specialized’s Body Geometry shoes and didn’t experience any numbness or irritation from the Recon 3.0s.
The sole has an excellent stiffness about it when putting the power down without feeling too jarring over rough terrain either. The marginally lower-rated sole doesn't feel any less stiff than the S-Works model unless you are slamming massive wattage. Despite the similarly rated sole, the Recon 3.0s does feel a tad softer when driving power through the pedals, a lot of this is down the heel cup, which has a lot less structure when compared to the S-Works.
I never felt that the flex zone detracted from pedaling performance and it is noticeable when walking, especially when compared to the clog-like S-Works shoes. I felt the actual flex point was a little too far forward for me to get the full benefit and I didn’t find that it added much performance benefits when compared to other very walkable SPD gravel/adventure shoes, like Rapha’s Explore lace-ups. That said the Recon 3.0s are certainly a lot more surefooted than most other XC/gravel shoes I have used.
It would be unfair to simply say the Recon 3.0’s are a softened race shoe. While it's clear there is a good dollop of S-Works racing DNA passed down the Recons feel more like an evolution in versatility. Loaded with great features that make them a performance shoe that's much more usable whether you're going bikepacking or dabbling in a bit of XC or gravel racing.
The Recon 3.0’s will tick a lot of boxes for many riders who are looking for a comfortable do-everything shoe. I rarely needed to readjust them mid-ride and there was no discomfort when the miles started stacking up. If I was being picky, I would like a little more structure and stiffness in the heel for more direct power input, however, this is my own bias toward a racier shoe.
Tech specs: Specialized Recon 3.0
- Price: $230 / £230
- Weight: 736g (per pair, size EU43)
- Sizes: EU 36 to 49
- Half sizes: Yes
- Colors: Black, Rocket Red