Specialized S-Works Ares road shoes - first look

After much speculation, Specialized drops the covers off its fastest road shoe ever made - the new S-Works Ares, a shoe of two extremes

What is a hands on review?
Specialized S-Works Ares road shoes
(Image: © Aaron Borrill)

Early Verdict

A WorldTour-developed road shoe built around providing its wearer with impressive comfort and fit levels, ultimately boosting power transfer and all-round performance


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    Class-leading retention system with twin Boa Li2 dials

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    Tongueless sock system improves fit and comfort

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    Layered and detailed aesthetic

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    Light and stiff

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    Non-slip replaceable heel tread


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We first caught a glimpse of the new Specialized S-Works Ares road shoes when Bora-Hansgrohe's Daniel Oss leaked an image on his Instagram account back in October last year. While much speculation hinged around whether the shoes in question were in fact a replacement for the venerable S-Works 7 shoes, we can now confirm they are an entirely new model that will form part of a four-prong S-Works line-up together with the S-Works 7, S-Works EXOS and S-Works Vent shoes. By broadening its S-Works shoe offering, Specialized has given both the professional athlete and competitive amateur racer more choice. The S-Works Ares however, is said to cater for all types of rider styles despite the research and development team using feedback almost entirely from sprinters. 

Design and aesthetics

The S-Works Ares are a truly aggressive-looking pair of shoes. This comes from the exquisite use of textural layering of materials such as Dyneema which is ensconced in layers of TPU synthetic and mesh material. The shoes are available in four colourways: White, Black, Red Team and Team Edition (pictured here), distinguishable by way of a prominent black Specialized wordmark logo running along the outer flank of the shoe.

Ventilation is excellent with perforations and mesh material talking centre stage in this regard. The big talking point here, however, and I'll get into it in greater detail a bit later, is the tongueless sock-liner made from 3mm air mesh fabric. Not only does this provide a greater sense of comfort it also greatly improves ventilation and foot support.

In terms of keeping things clean - well, white will no doubt pose an issue for those who reside in countries with inclement weather patterns but the sock and fabrics have been treated with a dirt-repellent to stave off dirt and the like. Besides, there are other weather-friendly black options available.


The S-Works Ares was designed to address a number of issues related to high-performance cycling, the most vital being improving performance and comfort. To achieve this the company set out to build a shoe from the ground up combining the company's Body Geometry philosophy with real-world feedback from its professional athletes such as Deceuninck-QuickStep's Sam Bennett. Of all the reported issues the main areas of concern were tendon management in the area around the top of the foot, foot instability on the upstroke and pressure points. By removing the tongue and any overlapping materials by way of a Dyneema-reinforced sock, Specialized was able to radically reduce irritation issues, even when the shoe is tightened to the max.

Improving the connection of the foot and shoe around the upstroke was another key area that was looked at. Sam Bennett mentioned that when sprinting at 120rpm in top gear, he'd often feel a sense of lag on the upstroke - an issue caused by unwanted play in the shoe. This issue was solved by introducing the wrap-around strap configuration which is anchored at the back and wraps over the top of the dorsal layer essentially creating a foot brace for better support and energy management. The y-shaped arrangement of the upper Boa cables have also ensured a reduction of volume and better overall fit resulting in a 20 per cent improvement in contact surface - Specialized reckons this is the fastest shoe it has ever made.

Speaking of the Boa dials, Specialized decided to bin the ornate Boa S3 metal dials of the S-Works 7 for the new Li2 dial platform - and for very good reason. The S3 dials only pull the cables from one side whereas the Li2 configuration pulls both cables simultaneously which creates even pressure across both sides of the shoe. 

Like the S-Works 7, when it comes to stiffness, the new Ares road shoe is rated at an index of 15 which is as rigid as you get before adding unnecessary weight into the system. In fact, according to Specialized, retention and sole stiffness work hand-in-hand - you can't have the one without the other. In terms of power delivery, the company believes it has hit a sweet spot. 

Despite sharing the same carbon outsole, cleat positioning system and heel counter, the S-Works Ares are 30g lighter than their S-Works 7 stablemate compliments of the sock and strap closure. On our scales, the Ares clocked in at 235g per shoe (size EU42). 

But is it a sprinter's shoe?

Well, although it's been designed around the demands of sprinting and ensuring every last watt is saved, Rob Cook, Specialized's Design Director had the following to say on the matter: "We're surprised by the kind of riders that are really happy in the shoe. We had it in our head for riders like [Sam] Bennett and [Peter] Sagan but then there are riders like Julian Alaphilippe who explodes out the saddle when he attacks. We've designed a shoe for extreme use and then below it everyone who doesn't use it to the same extreme gets the same benefit - we expect to see 50-70 per cent of the riders wearing these shoes, even more."

Early verdict

While testing has been limited to indoor cycling and racing on Zwift for now (current winter conditions are dangerous and dirty), what is immediately evident is the ensconcing and comfortable fit, particularly when it comes to winding up the Boa Li2 dials for a sprint. Hot spots and pressure points are practically non-existent and the way the shoe shrinks around the foot creates a sense of symbiosis.

As a rider who much prefers it when the road tilts upwards, these shoes don't feel like 'sprinter's shoes' but rather shoes that can accommodate myriad riding styles and situations. As an object, the S-Works Ares are beautiful to look at and possess a textural aesthetic that's built around the notion of 'form follows function'. 

At $425.00/ £375.00 / AU$575.00, these are ranked in the upper echelons of the best cycling shoes and will only really appeal to those looking to maximise marginal improvements when it comes to on-the-bike performance. That said, Specialized has mentioned the S-Works Ares will benefit all riders, regardless of which side of the spectrum you find yourself straddling.

A full review of the Specialized S-Works Ares road shoes will follow soon.

Tech Specs: Specialized S-Works Ares road shoes

  • Price: Starting at $425.00/ £375.00 / AU$575.00  
  • Sizes: 36-49 (EU)
  • Weight: 235g (actual per shoe, size 42 without cleats) 
  • Outsole: Fact Powerline carbon (Stiffness Index 15)
  • Retention: Twin Boa Li2 
  • Colours: 4 (White, Black, Team Edition and Red Team)   

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Aaron Borrill

Aaron was the Tech Editor Cyclingnews between July 2019 and June 2022. He was born and raised in South Africa, where he completed his BA honours at the University of Cape Town before embarking on a career in journalism. Throughout this career, Aaron has spent almost two decades writing about bikes, cars, and anything else with wheels. Prior to joining the Cyclingnews team, his experience spanned a stint as Gear & Digital editor of Bicycling magazine, as well as a time at TopCar as Associate Editor. 

Now based in the UK's Surrey Hills, Aaron's life revolves around bikes. He's a competitive racer, Stravaholic, and Zwift enthusiast. He’s twice ridden the Cape Epic, completed the Haute Route Alps, and represented South Africa in the 2022 Zwift eSports World Championships.

Height: 175cm

Weight: 61.5kg

Rides: Cannondale SuperSlice Disc Di2 TT, Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Rim, Cannondale Supersix Evo Ultegra Di2 Disc, Trek Procaliber 9.9 MTB 

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.