An immediately comfortable, lightweight and breathable race shoe that meets its brief with absolute excellence, just don't get them in white
Lightweight at 281g (EU46)
Boa S3 dials are still the best around
Tongue 'falls' outwards
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According to Specialized, 41 riders took to the start of the 2021 Tour de France in Specialized shoes. One of the brand's four offerings that fit the bill for pro road cyclists is the S-Works Vent, and if you look at the feet of the pro peloton for more than a few minutes, there's a good chance you'll spot some, such are their popularity.
The S-Works Vent shoe was designed as a highly breathable, fair-weather shoe, for summer weather. I first came into contact with them back in 2019 when, by chance, I stayed at the same hotel as Bora-Hansgrohe's training camp in Majorca. The scorching weather during that week was exactly what the S-Works Vent was designed for. However, little did we - or Specialized - know what was to come, and the shoes eventually launched in June 2020, ironically during the midst of the COVID pandemic when many people around the world were forced to remain indoors.
Like many, my 2020 summer of riding and racing was spent in the garage, plugged into the internet on the various indoor cycling apps, and by some stroke of fortune, Specialized lucked out big time. The S-Works Vent was almost the perfect shoe for the task: highly breathable, comfortable, yet stiff enough that power transfer wasn't lost.
Since their launch, we've used the S-Works Vent through all manner of riding. We've trained in them, we've raced in them, both indoors and out, and spoiler alert, we've been thoroughly impressed.
The S-Works Vent retail at £399.00 / $425.00 / AU$575.00 / €409.90, which puts them right at the top of that top-tier bracket where many of the best cycling shoes sit, at around five to 10 per cent more expensive than Specialized's own S-Works 7 shoes, depending on which country you're buying them in.
But in their construction, they have managed to carve out a bit of a niche in an otherwise crowded space, so for those seeking the ultimate in cycling shoe performance, is the S-Works Vent shoe worth the premium?
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Design and aesthetics
The S-Works Vent shoes are available in two simple colour configurations: black or white, each with contrasting S-Works logos. I've been testing the black pair, which I'm glad about because having seen the state of some WorldTour riders' white shoes, it's safe to assume the mesh doesn't clean up easily.
They share much of the same design blueprint as the ever-popular S-Works 7 shoes, but Specialized has integrated the lighter weight carbon outsole of the hyper-lightweight Exos. This offers four cut-outs, each of which sees holes drilled into the shoe's internal construction, and covered by a plastic mesh. At the front, a curved bumper helps with durability when walking, and at the rear, the heel pad is replaceable via a screw accessed on the inside.
Up front, they have been given a rubberised toe cap, which is treated to two large ventilation ports in what is easily the most polarising part about the aesthetic of these shoes. The instep is constructed primarily of the same Dyneema material as the S-Works 7, but with two mesh-filled cutouts. The first can be found across the big toe, while the second is smaller and placed further up the foot, extending downwards from the first metatarsal.
Moving back, the heel cup is a plastic external shell, exactly the same as the one used on the S-Works 7, however on the inside, it's lined with a much softer fabric which really helps with initial comfort.
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As you extend around the rear of the shoe to the outstep, the large S-Works logo travels with you, starting at the rear of the heel and finishing near the joint of the little toe.
This entire section is also made from Dyneema, and then a third mesh panel extends across the outer toes. In the centre of the front, the two mesh panels are separated by a small extra Dyneema section, which is complemented by the Specialized 'S' logo.
Three further mesh panels are built into the tongue, which is given the same three-tab finish at the top to prevent it from cutting into the ankle.
Inside, the usual S-Works Insole is replaced with a honeycomb mesh version that furthers the shoes' breathability, which adds little in the way of arch support. The shoes themselves are pretty supportive, but for those requiring extra, instead of including additional arch supports with the shoes, Specialized offers a choice of three aftermarket footbeds. Not only will this cost extra, it will also reduce some of the ventilation coming from below.
Retention comes by way of two Boa dials and a small velcro strap across the forefoot. They use Specialized's proprietary Boa S3 dials, only found elsewhere on the S-Works 7, and even in light of the more recently released Boa Li2 dials, we still think the S3 dials are the best out there. The two dials are positioned in the tried and tested outer side of the forefoot, and thanks to the stiffness of the Dyneema material, there's no unwanted digging in or pressure where the dials sit against the foot.
The S-Works Vent shoes weigh in at 281 grams (size EU46) per shoe, which is particularly light in weight compared to much of the competition. As a comparison, Fizik's Infinito R1 weighs 304g, Sidi's Wire 2 Carbon Air weighs 342g, and Gaerne's G.Chrono weighs 331g. It's not quite as feathery as Giro's Empire SLX shoes though, which weigh 256g, and Mavic's Cosmic Ultimate III which weigh a feathery 233g.
The carbon outsole is given a stiffness index rating of 13, on a scale that goes as high as 15 with both the Ares and S-Works 7. It's important to note that while other brands have a similar scale, the rating doesn't translate over.
On this sole, there are four cut-outs for ventilation, two embossed logos, a removable heel pad at the rear, a fixed toe pad at the front, and holes for three-bolt road cleats. These cleat holes are conveniently placed - i.e. they're not too far forward or rearward - and they feature 5mm of adjustment fore and aft to aid with finding the right cleat position, with plenty enough guidelines to aid with positioning.
The sole of the shoes is built with an integrated 1.5mm varus wedge, which lifts the ball of the foot by 1.5mm and rotates the foot into a slightly more natural position. Since a bike fit in 2019, I've been riding with a 1.5mm shim in all of my (non-Specialized) shoes and noticed a marked difference in the tracking of my knees, so I don't doubt Specialized's claims when it says this is designed to aid foot, knee and hip alignment. With that said, I remain sceptical of the vague claims that it increases time to exhaustion by 10 seconds.
Unlike our experience with S-Works 7 road shoes, we were happy to find that the S-Works Vents were immediately comfortable, and didn't require any period of bedding in. This theme of comfort has continued throughout the entire testing period, with the shoes excelling beyond expectation in cooler temperatures, and coming into their own in the warmer weather. Of course, with their myriad holes, they're far from a wet weather shoe, but that's not what they're promising.
With their highly ventilated design, it won't be a surprise to anyone to learn that their breathability is excellent, which is one of the reasons that these shoes became the go-to choice for many of our indoor cycling endeavours during the various lockdown periods over the past 16 months. Unfortunately, we can only back it up with anecdotal evidence, but having ridden in odd shoes comparing the S-Works Vents to dozens of other top-level road shoes, we are confident that the Vent shoes are the best-ventilated shoes on the market, and despite Specialized's claims that they are less stiff than the S-Works 7 shoes, the power transfer feels equal when it comes to performing fitness tests or racing.
With their immediate comfort and performance that excels at what the S-Works Vents were designed to do, there's very little to complain about.
If we were to be really picky, the only small issue is that the tongue has a habit of 'falling' outward, in that it shifts towards the outside of the foot after a period of riding time, but not only does it make absolutely no difference to the comfort of the shoe, it's also super easy to solve, with a quick grab of the tabs at the ankle.
As mentioned, they're not a wet-weather shoe, and if you're looking for an all-rounder that can stave off the spray from a damp road or a light shower, then the S-Works 7 is likely the shoe you'll be looking for, but if you're fortunate enough to live in year-round warmer climates, or you simply ride indoors when the weather threatens, then we can't think of a better shoe for the job than the S-Works Vents.
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As the Tech Editor here at Cyclingnews, Josh leads on content relating to all-things tech, including bikes, kit and components in order to cover product launches and curate our world-class buying guides, reviews and deals. Alongside this, his love for WorldTour racing and eagle eyes mean he's often breaking tech stories from the pro peloton too.
On the bike, 30-year-old Josh has been riding and racing since his early teens. He started out racing cross country when 26-inch wheels and triple chainsets were still mainstream, but he found favour in road racing in his early 20s and has never looked back. He's always training for the next big event and is keen to get his hands on the newest tech to help. He enjoys a good long ride on road or gravel, but he's most alive when he's elbow-to-elbow in a local criterium.
By Will Jones