Gravel bike product development follows that of mountain biking. Mountain biking was adventure-oriented initially but eventually emulated the road racing scene. And the products logically followed suit. Lighter, stiffer, and faster were adjectives that dominated road racing development, and so followed mountain biking and now gravel riding.
Specialized has been there for all of it on both road and trail. And their S-Works road racing product division stands proud. Now it leverages that race-winning knowledge to gravel. The Recon is the highest-performance gravel shoe I have ever put on my feet.
Before today’s launch, I got to sample the S-Works Recon for a few gravel rides around my home. Compared to the cross-country (CX) mountain biking shoes that most normally run for gravel, they are indeed “racy.”
In short: The Specialized S-Works Recon gravel shoe is a high-performance road racing shoe massaged just enough to cross over to gravel. It’s stiff and efficient, providing only the necessary features to pedal hard and fast. And if you have a wide forefoot, rejoice.
Specialized S-Works Recon Gravel Shoe
- Platform material Carbon fiber
- Upper material Perforated synthetic
- Closure 2 BOA dials
- Verified weight 574 g/pair, size 43
- Super stiff
- Low stack height
- Wide fit
- Mediocre breathability
- High price
- It may be too wide for narrow feet
- Terrible for walking off-road
Specialized S-Works Recon Features and Stats
The Recon’s carbon fiber platform has high-density pontoons around the cleat, toe, and heel. These look minimalist compared to the tread on most mountain biking shoes. An internal I-beam in the sole assures stiffness and strength.
The shoes have Specialized’s long-running Body Geometry technology. The Varus Wedge, Longitudinal Arch, and Metatarsal Button are all there. Compared to a “normal” flat shoe, these additions bring the sole up to the natural angle of the hanging foot and help keep the structures of the foot and leg in a more powerful, comfortable, and stable position. Additionally, Specialized includes shims for the pontoons and offers cleat stackers to compensate for leg length discrepancies.
Two high-end BOA dials adjust the upper tension. These dials operate in both directions so that you can loosen or tighten the reels in small increments while on the go. A rigid, asymmetrical heel counter graces the back of the shoe, while a softer toe cap protects the front.
The carbon fiber base plate is 4mm wider than the standard width and a whopping 8mm wider than the S-Works Recon mountain bike shoe.
All these attributes are almost identical to the S-Works road racing specialist, the Torch. And that’s a good thing, as the Torch has won plenty of WorldTour road races.
My size 43 Specialized S-Works Recon tipped the scale at a feathery 574 g for the pair. Specialized offers them in sizes 36 to 49 and in five color schemes. The MSRP is $450.
S-Works Recon Gravel Shoe Fit
The Specialized S-Works Recon is a savior for those with a wider forefoot. I have dealt with my fifth metatarsal getting squished in road shoes my entire adult life, and the S-Works Torch road shoe finally solved this. And now the S-Works Recon does the same for gravel, using the same last as the Torch.
The Recon allowed my foot to naturally splay out, which improved comfort, especially on warmer days when my foot swelled. I also like that the pressure applied to the pedals was distributed across a more comprehensive section of my foot. Gone was the feeling that the outside of my foot was off the platform, something I got accustomed to in most other cycling shoes.
The Recon has the widest forefoot of any gravel or mountain bike shoe I have tested to date. Specialized used over 100,000 foot scans from RETÜL fit data to produce the wide last.
First Ride Impressions
The easiest thing to say is that it feels like a high-end road racing shoe that works for gravel. For all you astute S-Works roadie fans, you are right; not only does it use the Torch last, but it also looks almost the same. And it rides very much like a Torch for gravel.
The stiffness of the very low-profile baseplate would make a road sprinter grin. These are the stiffest shoes I’ve ever run for gravel riding. This is not the shoe if you prefer some give to mitigate vibrations. But if you prioritize efficiency and like the direct drive feeling of a road racing shoe, the S-Works Recon fills the bill.
This stiff platform and minimal pontoons relegated the Recon to rides where I didn’t have to walk off-road at all. The S-Works branding signals high-performance racing, so I didn’t count this as a negative. The shoe is squarely on the race side of the spectrum, not the adventure end. Trying to walk on wet rocks in the Recon could be almost comical.
The perforated synthetic upper played the comfort vs. efficiency gambit well. For a cycling shoe to transfer every watt of power, the upper has to resist stretch and deformation. This is often at odds with comfort. But Specialized did a fine job of bridging power transfer and comfort. I felt that the upper locked my foot well when I cranked the BOA tension up to attack hills, but I never noticed any pressure points or discomfort from upper stiffness.
The perforations in the upper delivered acceptable breathability for up to 80 degrees. I live in Texas and continue to ride through the abysmal heat of the summers. Through experience with the S-Works Torch, I know my feet get hot (my feet run hot), and I want mesh shoes during summer. But I bet I will still run these shoes on faster gravel rides because I want the efficiency.
The aluminum, dual-direction closure dials were my favorite version from BOA. I preferred the ability to micro-adjust lace tension in both directions. I didn’t mind the extra time it took to get out of the shoes compared to the dials that entirely released the laces. Plus, the feel of the aluminum dials on sweaty fingers was a lot more positive than on plastic dials.
Final Thoughts on the Specialized S-Works Recon
If you want a race-oriented gravel shoe and your rides don’t require hiking off-road, the S-Works Recon could be the shoe you’ve always wanted but didn’t exist. The super stiff and low-profile platform made me feel like all my wattage made it to the pedals. I had never sprinted on a gravel training ride until I donned these shoes. They made me want to throw down on the dirt.
I realize $450 is a lot to pay for shoes. But I’ve ridden in carbon road shoes for over a decade. The only reason I had to replace them was from the platform wearing out from walking, not riding. I can see these shoes lasting a very long time with proper care and riding them as intended (no hiking).
And these shoes can do double duty as a super light and efficient CX mountain bike racing shoe. Specialized athletes will run the S-Works Recon during upcoming CX mountain bike races.
The value increases drastically if you have a wide forefoot and have suffered. After almost four decades of dealing with at least some foot pain, the Specialized S-Works Recon and Torch finally brought blissful comfort to my feet.