Specialized Recon ADV gravel shoe review – lace-up gravel adventure shoes

Specialized updated lace-up gravel shoe shakes its racey attitude in favor of adventure

Specialized Recon ADV gravel shoe review
(Image: © Graham Cottingham)

BikePerfect Verdict

Specialized Recon ADV’s do an excellent job of walking the fine line between sharp performance and soft comfort

Pros

  • +

    Stiff pedaling platform

  • +

    The Stride sole adds flex and is comfortable to walk in

  • +

    Secure lace-up closure

  • +

    Light

  • +

    Lots of sizing options

Cons

  • -

    Limited breathability in hot weather

  • -

    Low-profile tread limits muddy or rocky walking

  • -

    Only two color options

Why trust BikePerfect Our cycling experts have decades of testing experience. We'll always share our unbiased opinions on bikes and gear. Find out more about how we test.

Specialized’s Recon ADV is their second lace-up iteration in the recon range and has seen a significant redesign over the S-Works lace-up model. The first lace-up Recon took Specialized’s off-road racing shoe and simply added laces, the result was a savagely stiff shoe that felt at odds with the casual laces and required walkability that would be expected from a more casual adventure shoe, on top of that the laces didn’t offer the security to properly leverage the shoe’s full performance ether.

Specialized went back to the drawing board, redesigning the Recon ADV to give them much more of an adventure focus. The result is a gravel bike shoe that's softer, more forgiving, and easier to live with when the rides are about being on the bike for a long time, rather than a fast time. 

Specialized Recon ADV gravel shoe pictured from the side

Laces give plenty of scope for fine tuning tightness across the foot (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Design and specification

While the S-Works lace transplant didn’t mesh as well as many hoped, I'm a little surprised Specialized didn’t simply add laces to their existing Recon 3 gravel shoe and call it a day. Instead Specialized designed a brand-new shoe, keeping the aesthetics sleek and in line with the new S-Works Recon.

The uppers feature laser-perforated holes across much of the shoe and there's a microfiber backing on the inside for added moisture management and comfort. The front, rear and outside edges of the shoes are TPU reinforced to add protection from stone strikes. 

Specialized Recon ADV gravel shoe perforated upper details

There are perforations across the entire upper for ventilation (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Inside there’s all the same Specialized Body Geometry foot typography that's featured in all of Specialized’s other shoes. Varus Wedge, Longitudinal Arch, and Metatarsal Button are all said to help keep your feet, and therefore knee and hips, in an optimal position when pedaling.

One thing that was borrowed from the Recon 3 is the Stride Toe-Flex carbon sole. Walkability is an important consideration for an adventure shoe but sole flexibility needed for walking is at odds with good pedaling performance. The Recon ADV’s have a carbon sole but Specialized has added a thinner flex zone in front of the cleat position to help toes bend without affecting pedaling performance.

Specialized has this all black version and a more fun Taupe/Dark Moss Green/Fiery Red/Purple Orchid color as well as a Dusk/Purple Orchid/Limestone that is only available in smaller sizes. There is plenty of sizes from EU36 to EU49, with half sizes across the majority of the size range.

Specialized Recon ADV gravel shoe pictured from behind

Specialized has given the Recon ADV's a sleek and clean aesthetic (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Performance

I have always got along fairly well with Specialized’s Body Geometry designs and found the shoes to be very comfortable. It wasn’t too hard to get a comfortable tension on the laces and they stayed tight while riding. Obviously, laces lack the on-the-move tightening that you have with dials however on long rides once I had them done up comfortably I rarely felt the need for any further adjustment. Contouring around the heel helps keep stopping any heel lift and I didn't experience any discomfort around my ankles from the uppers when pedaling or walking on uneven terrain.

Ventilation isn’t their strong suit but the perforations across the shoe do a decent job, although you aren’t going to get a noticeable cooling breeze like you would in a stripped-back racier shoe.

Specialized Recon ADV gravel shoe sole detail

Unrated but decently stiff whilst still retaining walkability (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Although stiffness ratings are somewhat arbitrary, they do offer a way of comparison within a brand's range. Specialized doesn’t state a stiffness rating for the Recon ADV’s although I think they feel a touch flexier on the pedals than the Recon 3’s. That said I found the Recon ADV’s offer a more secure fit allowing me to drive more force through the pedals when needed.

Walkability is good with the Stride Toe-Flex Technology helping the foot bend naturally when walking around. On a shoe that’s likely to see a fair share of walking action, I am pleased to see that the Slipknot tread blocks have also been redesigned. I found the old “race only” Recon S-Works style sole design wore down quickly however the Recon ADV blocks seem to be holding up well. The tread pontoons are well-spaced for good stability and much of the sole features textured rubber to help when clambering around, although I would prefer full rubber coverage to avoid any scratched carbon. If hike-a-bike is a mainstay of your adventuring by bike though, they can’t match Rapha’s Explore lace-ups of extremely rocky or muddy terrain.

Having laces means there is a lot less hardware and reinforcement required so my EU43 Recon ADV’s weigh in at a very reasonable 646g, and almost 100g lighter than the Recon 3’s.

Specialized Recon ADV gravel shoe lace tidy detail

Little elastic loops keep the laces tidy (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Verdict

Specialized’s first Recon lace-ups really struggled with their mixed race/adventure identity however Specialized has done a great job softening the Recon ADV’s up to boost long-haul comfort. The balance of all-day comfort, with walkability, whilst still leaving enough stiffness to kick up a climb if needed. They aren’t the most breathable when temperatures start getting super hot but on the flip side, you won't get chilly toes when temperatures drop later in the day either. 

Tech specs: Specialized Recon ADV gravel shoe

  • Price: $225 / £200 / €220
  • Color: Black, Taupe/Dark Moss Green/Fiery Red/Purple Orchid, Dusk/Purple Orchid/Limestone
  • Retention: Laces
  • Weight: 646g (EU43)
  • Sizes: EU 36-49
Graham Cottingham
Senior reviews writer, Bike Perfect

Graham is all about riding bikes off-road. Based in Edinburgh he has some of the best mountain biking and gravel riding in the UK right on his doorstep. With almost 20 years of riding experience, he has dabbled in downhill, enduro, and gravel racing. Not afraid of a challenge, Graham has embraced bikepacking over the last few years and likes nothing more than strapping some bags to his bike and covering big miles to explore Scotland's wildernesses. When he isn’t shredding the gnar in the Tweed Valley, sleeping in bushes, or tinkering with bikes, he is writing tech reviews for Bike Perfect.


Rides: Cotic SolarisMax, Stooge MK4, 24 Bicycles Le Toy 3, Surly Steamroller

Height: 177cm

Weight: 71kg