While laces may offer a more casual gravel aesthetic, the S-Works Recon Lace is still an ultra-stiff high-performance race shoe. While the laces may not offer the start to finish tension, the lower weight and cost make this an excellent proposition
- - More adjustability across the foot over Boa alternatives
- - Dyneema uppers have a proven history of durability
- - The super-stiff sole gives maximum power transfer
- - Arguably better value than the S-Works Recon Mountain
- - Laces add stretch to the shoe upper construction
- - Stiff sole and heel cup are uncomfortable on hike-a-bike sections
- - Still a pricey shoe
We were already very impressed with the performance of Specialized’s S-Works Recon Mountain bike shoe, a shoe that Specialized boldly exclaimed were the “fastest off-road shoes on the market”. So when it announced a lace-up version of its off-road carbon kicks that was targeted specifically at gravel riding - well let’s just say our interests were piqued.
Despite being a cross-country mountain bike shoe, the S-Works Recon Mountain may be one of the best gravel bike shoes around. That said, it's a race shoe that's been optimised to be used for two or three hours of furious racing. It has an uncompromised approach to performance and fit which, on a long drawn out gravel ride, could be too much for some riders. Specialized has looked to address this with the S-Works Recon Lace, which borrows much of the existing Specialized’s S-Works Recon mountain bike shoe and adds laces for a more forgiving fit and to keep with the gravel aesthetic. So has Specialized managed to tie down its cross-country race shoe to make the new S-Works Recon Lace a long haul gravel racer?
Design and aesthetics
The lace-up version of the Recon uses the same ultra-stiff XC FACT carbon plate sole as the current existing Boa S-Works Recon shoe. The carbon sole is rated to 13 out of 15 on the Specialized stiffness scale, that’s the same stiffness as the racier Specialized S-Works Vent road shoe and the stiffest that Specialized offers in its off-road range. This has been done to maximize power transfer and is a clear indicator of this shoe's performance intentions. The sole features an exposed carbon finish which looks great although don’t be precious about it as the finish will quickly show signs of use after the first hike-a-bike.
A section of SlipNot toe grippers and two stud placements in the front of the foot shoe aid grip and gives the option to fang into soft surfaces if you need the extra grip. The heel blocks get the same treatment to add a little extra grip when walking. There are two raised pads on either side of the cleat for walking, cleat stability on the pedal and to help guide it into the pedal mechanism. These pads don’t get the SlipNot treatment and instead are made from a harder TPU which has been chosen to help further aid power transfer.
The Dyneema uppers are also almost identical to the Boa version, using welded mesh/TPU and Dyneema which forms a malleable non-stretch construction. The Dyneema, which is an ultra-high-molecular-weight non-woven composite material, does the hard work, is claimed to be 15x stronger than steel and is resistant to scratches and cuts. The panelling is almost the same shape as the other S-Works Recon Mountain with the only change being the six lace holes, of which the top four are reinforced with metal eyelets for improved durability. Gone is the lower Velcro strap as, with the adjustability of laces, there is no need for it and the result is Specialized are able to construct the entire upper from a single piece of material. The material is perforated across the forefoot to add breathability on top of the thin mesh construction on the inner foot.
The Specialized Body Geometry concept has been around for a long time, featured throughout Specialized shoe ranges it is generally well-received by most riders. There’s a longitudinal arch built into the outsole to prevent arch collapse while the forefoot is supported by a +1.5mm forefoot Varus Wedge. Finally to help prevent numbness a metatarsal button spreads the toes.
Despite being marketed as a gravel shoe, Specialized hasn’t softened any of the protection that the S-Works Recon Lace comes equipped with. An external toe cap deflects any wayward rocks and is further protected by the small lip of rubber that extends from the front of the sole. The rear heel cup is stiff and armoured with plastic as well.
Specialized is upfront that part of the decision to develop a lace version of the S-Works Recon was to appeal aesthetically to the gravel market. That said, laces bring with them a few key benefits when compared directly to the Boa counterparts.
One of the big selling points for laces is the lighter weight, with the S-Works Recon Lace saving grams and money by foregoing the Boa system. Removing the Boas also removes the mounting hardware and allows a uniform suppleness across the upper. Finally, laces can better utilise this suppleness with the ability to fine-tune fit across the foot rather than only in two positions, albeit a little more manual than the simple click of a Boa.
Considering the S-Works Recon range essentially shares the same sole and upper, the fit itself is - unsurprisingly - the same as the S-Works Recon Mountain. Laces extend far enough down the foot for the wearer to create some zonal tensioning and the PadLock heel cup really helps lock the foot in place. A roomy toe box allows quite a bit of wiggle room while the Body Geometry footbed orientates and cambers the foot comfortably. Even on longer rides, there was no discomfort from numbness or lack of support around the foot. The walking characteristics haven’t really improved with the addition of laces, the super-stiff sole still stops any flex when walking around and the supportive heel cup and upper continue to try and dictate the foot position as if you are on the bike, albeit not quite to the same extent as the Mountain bike version.
This test pair is black in colour and still looks great. However, I've heard from a colleague that the white pair doesn't stay white for long. If our longer-term Recon Mountain shoes are anything to go by, durability should be superb as ours have been heavily used and abused for the last year with little to show for it.
The unyielding quality of the Dyneema really locks the foot in place on the Boa versions of the S-works Recon, however, the fit isn’t quite as cemented with the lace versions. As there is zero stretch in the uppers it means that the natural give of the laces is noticeable. As you pedal and subject the laces to different forces, they settle and begin to feel a little looser over the course of the ride. It never became a specific problem, even on long rides, but it was noticeable and highlighted the fact this is something that's easily remedied on the S-Works Recon Mountain with a couple of clicks of adjustment while riding with their two-way S3 Boa dials.
To caveat this verdict, the S-Works Recon Lace are great shoes for gravel riding. We wore them on a broad spectrum of rides from casual coffee spins to 160km gravel-enduro stage racing and they excelled every time. The laces look great and I found the Body Geometry fit of the shoe to be very comfortable across a range of distances. While the upper is essentially the same, as is the fit, I found them a touch more forgiving off the bike as well, whereas the S-Works Recon Mountain's can be pretty uncomfortable until you're clipped in and riding.
That said, if you are looking for an all-out race shoe for gravel you will still be better served by the S-Works Recon Mountain as they offer a more secure fit and are easier to adjust on the move. If your gravel riding is more unknown than Unbound and frequently takes on hike-a-bike, these are also probably not the optimal shoe for you. The tall and stiff PadLock heel cup which does such a good job of stabilising your foot on the bike will work against you as soon as you start to clamber on steep or off-camber gradients. The stiff sole doesn’t help, neither does the large quantity of exposed carbon which is slippery on its own.
Of course, it’s all relative to your riding, personal foot shape and size and if the extra modulative adjustment of the lacing system suits you then these are going to be a high performance and hard-wearing set of gravel shoes.
Combine that with the fact that they knock 21g off an already competitively light race shoe whilst leaving your wallet £70 / $100 heavier sweetens the deal.
Tech Specs: Specialized S-Works Recon Lace gravel shoes
- Colour: White, Black, Aloha, Oak Green
- Closure: Laces
- Upper Material: Dyneema
- Outsole Material: XC FACT carbon sole
- Weight: 312g Men’s size 43
- Size availability: 36-49
- Price: £300 / $325 / €330
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