Striking, well-engineered shoe that provides its wearer with cosseting fit while still prioritising the performance and comfort
- Superb visual package
- Comfortable fit, tailorable even further by using custom footbeds
- Two fits available - standard and wide
- Good ventilation
- Well engineered
- Some might prefer Boa Li2 dials rather than S3
Now up to five distinct models, the Specialized S-Works shoe portfolio is brimming with some of the best cycling shoes options, of both the lace-up and Boa dial variety. The brand's latest road shoe, however, serves more as a replacement rather than outright addition – it also represents something a little different to what we've come to expect from the fabled S-Works moniker with a special focus on comfort. Of course, this hasn't come at the expense of stiffness and outright performance but Specialized is touting it as its most comfortable S-Works shoe ever, 'crafted to disappear on your feet'.
It's called the S-Works Torch and serves as a replacement for the long-serving S-Works 7 performance road shoe. The Torch name is nothing new to the Morgan Hill-based firm having first appeared on its mid-range road shoe line-up back in 2017, and the new model serves as a means to connect the lower models with the premium S-Works nameplate.
Are they as comfortable as Specialized claims or, better still, can they still perform when the pace gets spicy and you need to press the pedals?
Design and aesthetics
The Specialized S-Works Torch shoes look incredible – and are available in three colours from launch: white, black and green (pictured here). The design team have gone with a distinctly different focus than before, which favours understated over brazen. As a result, the S-Works nomenclature plays second fiddle to the textural and colour combinations that dominate the visuals.
In fact, the only S-Works reference comes in the form of an embossed imprint on the outer heel cup. This looks even more lowkey on the white-on-white option - but the model pictured here uses a fluro-limegreen hue to fill the S-Works embossing to contrast the darker shade of the shoe itself together with the matching 'S' logos. This pastel-army-green colour is a practical option for European climates, and shouldn't show up dirt and grime.
The colour mapping of the S-Works Torch is pretty dynamic in that it takes on an Ombre look, fading from flat-black at the rear to pastel-green at the front. This is further contrasted by the shiny, metallic Boa S3 dials, matching black wires and an equally reflective heel cup - it's all very premium. The soles have also been given unique finish. In this instance, a Jackson Pollock-like drip motif - finished in the same fluro-limegreen - which resembles a starry night sky.
The whole notion behind the S-Works Torch was built around creating a shoe that's less like a foot container and more an adaptive piece of apparel. It was developed in conjunction with the brand's in-house Retul fitting protocols, where a data set of over 100,000 foot scans were used to identify and improve problem areas. As a result, the Retul database was instrumental in developing the underpinnings of the S-Works Torch.
The last of the new S-Works Torch is 4mm wider than the S-Works 7 (7mm wider if specced in wide configuration) which, in essence, has helped create a better fit together with the zonal reinforcement of the upper and asymmetrical heel cup. That said, it's still able to maintain a close fit for narrow-foot riders with a roomier toe box and heavily reworked carbon plate. The new carbon plate is 20g lighter than its predecessor, featuring what Specialized calls internal I-Beam reinforcement in the midfoot which creates a better 'tapering off' of the shape of the heel, which reduces excess carbon and creates a cleaner shape. This has helped foster a better closure support system which channels the retention around the foot as opposed to the flanks.
In terms of the upper, Specialized looked at ways to improve comfort. This came as a result of ditching Dyneema for an in-house-developed material that is more supple and adaptable, improving specific tailoring support for individual zones. This has helped reduce hard plastics on the outer area of the shoe, providing better support for the medial side. The asymmetrical heel cup is a chief proponent behind this rhetoric, which also doubles up to prevent interference or irritation around the ankle bone.
One of the most notable design changes over the S-Works 7 comes in the form of the retention system - the Velcro strap has been binned but the brace of Boa S3 dials retained. Specialized felt using a Boa Li2 configuration would distract from the visual clout of the shoe, not to mention do little to improve overall retention. I tend to agree with Specialized and feel the S3s complement the visual package and add a certain degree of tactility to the package. To help keep retention in check, the cable routing has been refined with the bottom dial adopting a yoke assembly to help pull the shoe, which adds support without affecting toe and foot movement. The top dial anchors around the tongue with wider spacing between the guides to improve closure and pressure dissipation along the upper foot tendons.
Performance and riding experience
It's not often that marketing talk and real-world performance align but the S-Works Torch shoes honestly do everything Specialized claims. They're super-comfortable and the levels of support around the midfoot and heel is the best I've sampled to date. It's easy to fall victim to the 'tighter-is-better' philosophy but the S-Works Torch turns that thought process on its head.
Another important attribute in unlocking a shoe's performance is the fit and, like the stubborn man I am, have always been adamant of my EU42 shoe size. Turns out, I've been wrong for years and after getting some custom Body Geometry foot beds made up at Specialized's UK HQ in Dorking, it's been brought to my attention that I am in actual fact an EU43. (My foot size is more in line with 42.5 but when pressure is applied to the pedal that grows to 43). Another area the footed fitting procedure pointed out was that my left foot arch was lower than the right, something which could be one of the factors behind my 49-51 left-right pedal imbalance. It's worth getting this checked out.
Out on the road, the shoes are very impressive. Ventilation is good and the extra room afforded by the wider base means there's not much in the way of restriction when your feet begin swell in warmer temperatures. Power transfer is exceptional. The stiffness index rating of the S-Works Torch has remained unchanged over the S-Works 7 at 15, the only difference comes in the improved overall comfort which really does bring across that feeling of a shoe that disappears on your foot.
And the Boa S3 dials? While, these aren't a deal breaker for me personally. I think they look great, work just as well as the Li2s and are probably more intuitive in terms of operation if I'm honest. For me, the defining feature of this shoe is the retention system which works in harmony with the last and supportive upper construction. The way the dials are positioned and threaded, really do allow you to tweak the fit in a precise manner, negating the need to re-tighten. Specialized has knocked it out the park as far as the performance-to-comfort ratio goes.
Up against the scales of the truth, the S-Works Torch shoes weigh in at 220g per shoe (size EU43).
My testing was carried out in a variety of settings that comprised indoor racing, some time trial riding and several road rides, all in an attempt to unearth any flaws. Try as I may, the verdict remained the same - these are truly exceptional cycling shoes that are difficult to fault based on mechanics alone.
Despite the S-Works moniker affixed to the heel cup, they posses the fundamentals to service the entire cycling spectrum such are their incredible all-round levels of comfort, support and performance. The lowkey Specialized nomenclature is another factor in why they might appeal to a broader demographic, and not just Specialized acolytes or brand-agnostic buyers.
Of course, for many, price is going to be the chief decider here and these aren't by any means cheap - especially when considering the current cost of living crisis. At £385 / $450 / €440, they're the cheapest contemporary Boa-equipped S-Works shoe in the line-up but Specialized has a real winner here. The S-Works Torch shoes are genuine threat to the top step of the best cycling shoes podium.
Bring on the group test.
|Design and aesthetics||Beautifully designed with a wonderful balance between textures, colours and materials||9/10|
|Comfort||Specialized has put a massive emphasis on comfort and tweaked all the right areas to promote a better fit across the sizing spectrum. Full marks here||10/10|
|Performance||Retention is brilliant. The Boa S3 dials have culminated in a closure system that also fosters a better interaction between the foot and shoe - it's not just about maximum watts here but overall performance||9/10|
|Weight||At 220g per shoe (Size EU43), the S-works Torch are one of the lightest options in the segment||9/10|
|Value for money||These aren't the most expensive shoes in the segment but they're not what you'd call affordable either and many cyclists will find the price tag hard to swallow - especially as the cost of living crisis gets worse||8/10|
Tech Specs: Specialized S-Works Torch road shoes
- Price: Starting at £385 / $450 / €440
- Sizes: 36-49 (EU)
- Fit: Standard and wide
- Weight: 220g (actual per shoe, size 43 without cleats)
- Outsole: Fact Powerline carbon (Stiffness Index 15)
- Retention: Twin Boa S3
- Colours: 3 (White, Black and Green)
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Aaron is Cyclingnews' tech editor. Born and raised in South Africa he completed his BA honours at the University of Cape Town before embarking on a career in journalism. As the former gear and digital editor of Bicycling magazine and associate editor of TopCar, he's been writing about bikes and anything with wheels for the past 16 years. A competitive racer and Stravaholic, he’s twice ridden the Cape Epic and completed the Haute Route Alps. When not riding, racing or testing bicycles in and around the UK's Surrey Hills where he now lives, he's writing about them for Cyclingnews and Bike Perfect.
Rides: Cannondale SuperSlice Disc Di2 TT, Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Rim, Cannondale Supersix Evo Ultegra Di2 Disc, Trek Procaliber 9.9 MTB