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Specialized S-Works Recon shoe review

The S-Works 6 XC shoes is a tough act to follow, can the Specialized S-Works Recon improve on a firm favourite?

Specialized S-Works Recon SPD shoe
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

Specialized’s flagship XCO/Cyclo-Cross/Gravel shoes are expensive but a brilliant blend of ultra efficient power transfer and premium comfort

For

  • Superb fit for threshold efforts or all-day odysseys
  • The stiff sole delivers power directly to the pedals
  • Precise BOA dial closure

Against

  • Finery comes at a cost

As massive fans of Specialized’s S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoes, we were both excited and nervous to see how these new shoes had evolved. We needn’t have worried though, they’re even better for riders who are wanting to get maximum power to their pedals without subjecting their feet to pinch and pressure torture.

As far as we can tell, the sole unit is exactly the same as the 6, but that’s fine by us. The carbon wraps up around the midfoot for a super stiff, flex-free feel that Specialized gives a stiffness rating of 13. That’s the highest of any of their off-road shoes and most of their road shoes too, although the brand's best road shoes, the S-Works 7, top out at a 15 rating. The cleat slot is generously long and the two-bolt cleat plate is titanium alloy to save weight and resist corrosion. That does make bolts more likely to seize into it though so be generous with the anti-seize prep when setting up. The cleat slots also extend a fair way backwards, which is great for riders who want a more centralised pedal position. It can tempt you to fit your cleats further back than normal though so be sure to set them up accurately rather than just templating off your previous shoes (unless they were XC 6’s).

Specialized S-Works Recon SPD shoe

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

In terms of tread, you’ve got solid pontoons with a soft top layer either side of the pedal to put all your power into the pedal even on minimal ‘platform’ designs like Eggbeaters. There are replaceable soft rubber toe studs for fanging up cyclo-cross banks and a cloven hoof at the back to level out walking. The tread rubber also extends up the toe and heel of the sole and under the midfoot to protect the carbon. That makes them much easier to walk around in than a road shoe and OK for short walks around a cafe/into a shop/to a World Cup XCO podium, but don’t confuse them for an easy hiking trail shoe. The super-stiff sole and narrow tread stance still make them feel precarious and the rubber tread is definitely on the hard and slippery end of the scale too. On the plus side, our 6’s have worn well in the couple of years we’ve had them which offsets concerns about the cost and the non-replaceable tread lugs.

The topside is all about evolved performance too. The ‘Padlock’ plastic heel cup properly locks your foot in place without angering your Achilles or rubbing you raw on 3 figure mileage marathon/gravel rides. The toe box is impressively roomy too so your pinkies don’t feel crushed and blood circulation isn’t compromised either. With small perforations rather than big mesh panels in the forefoot, they’re more windchill and splash-proof than a lot of race shoes too, although obviously not as airy if you’re riding your Recon’s in Reno. While Specialized used super light, zero stretch Dyneema fabric in the rear upper of the 6, they use more of it, and they use a thicker, rubberised and dimpled version. As we’ve only had the shoe on test in the UK since September either hiding under overshoes or used on a Wattbike, we can’t swear to its durability, but it seems tougher than the 6 which has given us no issues in two years as our go too ‘anything but pure road' speed shoe.

While the lower Velcro strap seems largely superfluous, the diagonally aligned double Boa ratchet system is superb. The CNC machined alloy dials feel fantastic, with a sweetly precise 1mm click that we imagine is what a Rolex winder feels like and makes the eye-watering price tag easier to justify every time you use them. There’s no punch release that can accidentally loosen on the trail, but you can unhook the loops from their guide hooks for a fast X-Terra exit. While the shoes come in 30g lighter than the 6’s - at 660g for a pair of 44s with SPD cleats - they haven’t skimped on padding. There’s a decent rim on the heel and a thick tapered tongue to spread pressure comfortably even when you’re on finishing sprint lockdown. It comes in a 36 to 49 size range.

Specialized S-Works Recon SPD shoe

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Specialized’s Body Geometry footbed plays a significant part in dissipating pressure and extending comfort under foot too, with specific mounds, cambers and contours designed to splay bones and set up correct ankle and knee alignment. How well that prescriptive ‘one size suits all’ orthotic approach works for you will obviously vary, but we know a lot of riders who are addicted to Body Geometry after suffering on other shoes and we’re certainly fans ourselves.

Verdict

The premium price is obviously a sticking point for some riders and you could get a dial fastened, carbon-soled XC shoe for a third of the cost that wouldn’t feel massively different on your foot once you were deep in the pain cave. If you can afford top dollar though, the Recon shoe is simply superb. It’s got a Cinderella fit that’ll let you dance on the pedals all day and all night without feeling anything but charming. When the clock strikes on go time, they’re a sprint finish Fairy Godmother. Given the ever-expanding range of riding genders somewhere between pure road and trail biking, plus better weather protection than most that price will soon seem like a wise investment not an indulgence for high performance, high mileage riders. 

Tech Specs: Specialized S-Works Recon shoe

  • Discipline: Cross-country, gravel and cyclocross
  • Price: £340
  • Sizes: 36-49
  • Weight: 660g (size 44 with Shimano SH51 SPD cleats)