Specialized S-Works Recon Lace review – a performance gravel shoe that almost delivers everything you could wish for

Specialized's S-Works Recon lace off-road shoes have a timeless aesthetic and come loaded with performance features but also some minor niggles

Specialized S-Works Recon lace gravel shoe
(Image: © Bartek Malysa)

Bike Perfect Verdict

The Specialized S-Works Recon lace shoe is lightweight, durable, and an almost flawless, race-ready gravel shoe.

Pros

  • +

    Laced fastening gives them a cool gravel bike vibe

  • +

    Dyneema upper material is tough and damage-resistant

  • +

    Stiff sole delivers plenty of power transfer

  • +

    Grippy 'SlipNot' sole

  • +

    Specialized Body Geometry makes them very comfortable

Cons

  • -

    Dyneema needs a bit of breaking in

  • -

    Not particularly waterproof

  • -

    The stiff sole slightly hinders walking performance

  • -

    Delicate carbon sole is easily scratched

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I've recently been converted to the looks and versatility of lace-up gravel/MTB shoes. As a fan of the Specialized S-Works Recon shoe with its Boa fastening, I was looking forward to testing the similarly designed Specialized S-Works Recon Lace model. I was also curious to see how it compared to the Rapha Explore, which features a laced closure system and is the top choice in our best gravel shoe guide.

We have already tested and reviewed many different iterations of Recon shoes over the years, including the recently launched Specialized Recon ADV, the Specialized Recon 3, and the budget-friendly Specialized Recon 1.0. So this laced version certainly seemed to have a design pedigree of similar top-rated shoes on its side.

Top down view of the Specialized S-Works Recon lace in Oak Green

The Oak Green colorway oozes a cool gravel look (Image credit: Paul Brett)

Design and specifications

The first thing you notice when opening up the box is the overall uber-cool look of the shoes. The Oak Green colorway I chose gives them a classic old-school look and combined with the black laces and details gives them a perfect gravel bike vibe.

One of the most interesting parts of the shoe is the lacing system. Specialized claims that it not only reduces weight but also allows riders to perfectly adjust the fit of the shoe across the entire foot. Each side of the lace closure has six holes, with the top four having reinforcing brass eyelets. The laces themselves seem to be fairly strong and feature some nice, detailed S-Works branding. 

Close up on the laces on the Specialized S-Works Recon shoe

S-Works detailing on the laces is a nice touch (Image credit: Paul Brett)

The upper part of the shoe is made of one-piece Dyneema material. Dyneema is claimed to be durable and non-stretch making it resistant to trail damage like cuts and scuffs. It is also perforated across the forefoot to provide breathability and the holes are small enough to cope with the occasional muddy puddle splash but heavy rain or multiple puddles did result in wet feet. Additionally, the Recon has extra protection in the form of a thick rubber toe cap at the front and a stiff, hard plastic heel cup at the rear.

These shoes also get the Specialized Body Geometry treatment, which includes three main features claimed to enhance comfort. The Longitudinal Arch prevents arch collapse and can be paired with custom footbeds. The 1.5mm Varus Wedge raises the inside edge of the foot for better knee and hip alignment, while the Metatarsal Button lifts and separates the bones of the forefoot, reducing hot spots and numbness.

Side on view of the S-Works Recon Lace shoe being tied in the rain

The lace fastening is excellent for fine tuning fit and comfort (Image credit: Bartek Malysa)

Underneath the sole features a woven carbon outer layer that wraps around the midfoot. This provides added protection and gives the shoes a super stiff, flex-free feel. Specialized gives them a stiffness rating of 13, which is the highest in its off-road shoe range and comparable to the majority of its road shoes.

The sole features a substantial amount of Specialized 'SlipNot' rubber at the front and rear, providing grip for moments when you need to push the bike. The 'SlipNot' material also extends from the rear between the heel and the cleat area, and the S-Works branded natural-colored rubber adds more grip to the foot arch area. This ensures better grip and stability when climbing over a fence or in slippery conditions. Raised pads on either side of the cleat are designed to aid walking performance, provide stability on the pedal, and guide the cleat into the pedal. These pads are made from TPU, which is harder and designed to enhance power transfer. The shoes come with toe studs for extra grip, although it's inconvenient that no tool is provided to remove them, especially considering the hefty RRP.

The S-Works Recon Lace comes in three color choices Oak Green, Black and Cactus Bloom/Purple Orchid/Limestone option. Sizes are from EU 36-49 depending on color chosen. It weighs in at 624g (size 43 with SPD cleats) with rivals like Rapha's Explore coming in at 694g, and the Shimano RX8 at 565g.

Birds eye view of the sole on the Recon Lace shoe by Specialized

The 'SlipNot' rubber provides plenty of grip (Image credit: Paul Brett)

Performance

Having ridden and loved the Boa version of these for years, I knew what to expect performance-wise, and slipping my feet into the laced versions, they felt pretty much the same. There is a slight lack of padding with minimal amounts around the ankle area, but it didn't create any discomfort. Padding on the longer tongue is also minimal but its' enough and aids comfort when tightening the laces. Fit-wise, my feet are fairly average width and the Recon Lace was true to size in my usual EU 43.

The lacing system is excellent and extends further down the foot compared to a normal shoe, allowing plenty of fine-tuning to aid comfort. The laces do loosen slightly as you ride, but not enough to be a problem, though the on-the-fly Boa adjustment will be preferred by some riders. The tongue also has a handy elasticated loop for storing the laces once tied.

When riding, my feet felt securely held in place by the stiff rear cup and the non-stretchy Dyneema material which feels notably stiffer than the leather build on the Rapha Explore shoe. Overall comfort didn't quite hit the spot when compared to rival shoes, but the Dyneema did begin to soften over time so the shoes became more comfortable.

The Recon Lace shoes are very breathable and the perforations in the Dyneema kept my feet sweat-free and comfy. However, if you're after a totally waterproof shoe, look elsewhere. They cope fine with the odd splash, but like most shoes, your socks and feet are quickly soaked when they go up against deep puddles and heavy rain. It wasn't a deal breaker for me though.

The S-Works Recon lace shoe being ridden through a muddy puddle

The Recon's cope well with certain amounts of water but you'll still eventually get wet feet (Image credit: Bartek Malysa)

Another slight negative on the sole was the exposed carbon outer layer, and scratches appeared almost straight out of the box, which for a shoe that costs so much isn't great. It does detract from the look of the carbon weave when it has scratches and debris damage, and perhaps a rubber sole covering the entire area would be a better option.

This leads me to another area where I felt the Recon was slightly let down – walking performance, it's not a major issue, but still worth noting. The ride-enhancing performance of the sole stops any flex when walking and combined with the hard plastic heel cup and stiff Dyneema material means your feet are held in position as if you are on the bike. This makes walking slightly uncomfortable, and the large raised pads can also give you a bit of a wobble, and feel very much like a road shoe at times. The 'SlipNot' rubber grip is really good, and the extra mid-arch coverage was most welcomed when climbing over some local farm gates.

What was excellent too and unsurprising seeing its design is the same as the Recon Boa was the overall ride comfort. There's plenty of wiggle room in the toe box and the Specialized Body Geometry footbed places the feet in an optimum position for comfort. There was no numbness or a feeling of a lack of support.

The sole of the S-Works Recon shoe engaged in a pedal

The stiff carbon sole gives plenty power transfer but scuffs and scratches quickly (Image credit: Bartek Malysa)

Verdict

The premium price and the laced fastening system could be a non-starter for some gravel riders but the S-Works Recon Lace is a shoe I really like. It’s got a great fit, it's lightweight and delivers comfort particularly once things soften up, and the carbon sole gives maximum power transfer for your efforts. It’s breathable but not that waterproof, and the durability is great with the Dyneema material holding damage and scuffs at bay. However, the carbon sole gets scratched up quickly, and hike-a-bike and general walking performance might let it down slightly for some. Saying that I love the look and the Recon Lace has become my go-to gravel shoe even after testing.

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The lowdown: Specialized S-Works Recon lace shoe
AttributesNotesRating
DesignTicks all the boxes for a superb off-road shoe★★★★
DurabilityExcellent, Dyneema material is superb, carbon sole gets scratched up easily★★★★
WaterproofingNot great but copes with minimal amounts of water★★
BreathabilityGood, feet kept cool but water does get in★★★
Value for moneyYou're paying top-dollar for S-Works performance★★★★

Tech specs: Specialized S-Works Recon Lace

  • Price: $325.00 / £300.00 / €330.00
  • Color: Oak Green, Black or Cactus Bloom/Purple Orchid/Limestone
  • Retention: Laces
  • Uppers: Dyneema
  • Outsole: XC FACT carbon sole
  • Weight: 624g (size 43 with SPD cleats)
  • Sizes: EU 36-49 
Paul Brett
Staff writer

Paul Brett is a staff writer for BikePerfect.com. He has been an avid cyclist for as long as he can remember, initially catching the mountain biking bug in the 1990s, and raced mountain bikes for over a decade before injury cut short a glittering career. He’s since developed an obsession for gravel riding and recently has dabbled in the dark art of cyclocross. A fan of the idea of bikepacking he has occasionally got involved and has ridden routes like the North Coast 500, Scotland and the Via Francigena (Pilgrim Route), Italy.

Current rides: Marin Alpine Trail 2, Ribble 725, Cube Stereo 160

Height: 175cm