Issue #018 Review

Specialized S-Works Recon Lace gravel shoes long-term review

World domination? Bring it on, say Specialized! Few manufacturers offer as comprehensive a package of high-performance cycling products as the US brand. Can the new S-Works Recon Lace gravel shoes build on this success? We put them to the test to find out.

Tester Ben | Testduration 1 month | Price € 330 | Weight 740 g (pair, size 46, with Shimano cleats) | Manufacturer’s website | Sizes 36–49 and also in half-sizes from 38–46 | Intended use gravel adventures

Oops! … We did it again! A new S-Works shoe. Intended use? Gravel adventures. Ratchets? Nope, shoelaces are all the rage. Bike giant Specialized are becoming a driver of innovation in the shoe sector with their Body Geometry technology and wide range of shoes. Can the concept of a comfortable upper and a stiff sole work on the new Recon Lace, offering a high level of comfort and high performance simultaneously? Is this the perfect choice for ambitious gravel adventurers?

Disclaimer: Shoes are a very subjective topic and, together with saddles, largely come down to personal preference. Many pro teams even let their riders use the shoes they want. If possible, please always try the shoes on before buying!

The upper of the Specialized S-Works Recon Lace

At first glance, the new S-Works Recon Lace differs significantly from the S-Works Recon. However, while the BOA S3 dial has been replaced with shoelaces, they share many features. The upper material is made from the miracle material Dyneema, which is particularly popular in the world of ultralight bikepacking. It has almost no stretch, in contrast to the laces, which are somewhat more forgiving than the aforementioned BOA mechanism. The combination of an inelastic upper and more compliant laces definitely makes sense and the concept works. On the downside, unlike BOA ratchets, laces don’t allow you to adjust the fit while riding and you’ll have to stop to retighten your laces. Despite the upper material being inelastic, the shoes adapt to your feet to a certain extent. However, like a leather Brooks saddle, it takes a long time before the shoes are perfectly worn in, especially compared to other options. The advantage of laces is that the fit of the shoes can be adjusted more freely to accommodate various foot shapes. In contrast to the BOA-equipped S-Works Recon, pressure is distributed very evenly and comfortably.

Takes your shape
The combination of Dyneema upper and laces works very well. You can adjust the shoe to your feet even better with the laces than with a BOA closure and the upper takes the shape of your feet over time.

The S-Works Recon Lace is a good companion for gravel rides in unpredictable weather as it doesn’t soak up water when you get hit by an unexpected shower, meaning that once the rain has passed, the shoes dry very quickly. In terms of ventilation, there are more breathable alternatives and at temperatures above 25° C, your feet are bound to get hot. Of course, your perception of temperature will be just as personal as the fit so your mileage may vary. Test rider Ben liked the low cut ankle with his dainty feet. This provides your ankles with plenty of space so that they don’t chafe on the shoes when pedalling. Excellent! But be careful if you’re out and about on the gravel slopes at high speed, where they’ll be very exposed to flying stones. However, the S-Works Recon Lace shoes are consistently geared towards performance, meaning that protection and comfort aren’t the top priority. That said, your toes are well protected by rubber caps covering the tips of the shoes, which also protect against scuffs and scratches. The design makes a robust impression and perfectly matches the intended use. To allow the Recon Lace fit as many different gravel rider feet as possible, the shoes come in many sizes, including half sizes. The toe box is very roomy too and we can absolutely recommend them for wide feet.

The outsole of the Specialized S-Works Recon Lace

The next point on the agenda are the outsoles of the gravel shoes which, fortunately, have also been generously dimensioned for wide feet. FACT carbon will tell the well-versed GRAN FONDO readers amongst us what to expect: the stiffest carbon for direct power transmission, like that found on Specialized’s carbon bike frames. The stiffness index of the S-Works Recon Lace is 13.0, which is ultra-stiff and even outperforms some road shoes. For example, the Specialized S-Works 7 road shoes have an index of 15.0 and, in practice, the S-Works Recon Lace shoes don’t feel at all dissimilar. Impressive! They ooze performance, relaying vibrations and feedback from the ground very directly to the rider. There are no ventilation ports in the outsole. While that can lead to the aforementioned hot feet, it makes absolute sense for gravel shoes that get used in all weathers and should keep water out from below. If you compare the S-Works Recon Lace with the Recon 3.0 gravel shoes, you’ll immediately notice the limited walking comfort. In comparison to the more flexible model, you can’t roll off the balls of your feet while walking, meaning you should avoid long distances on foot. The manufacturer’s promise to deliver world class stiffness is 100% true! The rubber inserts in the bottom of the sole are relatively grippy and always offer secure footing on flat surfaces. However, you should avoid stepping on large stones as the stiff soles cannot bend. If you tend to ride on steep terrain and sometimes have to push your bike, you’ll appreciate the two toe studs. On soft ground that they’re able to dig into, they offer a lot of traction and much more secure footing. However, the studs are useless on solid surfaces and can easily be removed if desired.

Space for the toes
The Specialized S-Works Recon Lace’s toe box offers plenty of room, and along with the many size options, you’ll find plenty of room with it even if you have rather wide feet.
Perfect power transmission
The sole of the Recon Lace is extremely stiff and helps you put every watt on the pedal. However, it is not particularly comfortable on long walking sections and does not have the best grip.

The insole of the Specialized S-Works Recon Lace

To be honest, the standard insoles aren’t much more than placeholders. They offer no support or any other features. In addition to the € 330 for the shoes, you’re basically forced to fork out more of your hard earned cash to finish them off. Specialized seem to have adopted the practice often referred to as milking the customer. The prefabricated insoles from the Body Geometry range are available for an additional € 30, which is almost 10% of the purchase price of the shoes. Still, we recommend buying them as they’re a worthwhile upgrade, giving you a choice of different levels of arch support. Alternatively, you can also have a custom insole made at large Specialized stores, which is highly recommended but of course also costs quite a bit more. The S-Works badge never was and never will be for bargain hunters and penny pinchers!

Bad fit
The standard insole (left) only serves as a placeholder and offers hardly any support for the arch of the foot. You should replace it as soon as possible with a high-quality insole – for example, the Specialized Body Geometry insole (right).

The heel of the Specialized S-Works Recon Lace

Ben couldn’t stop raving about the so-called PadLock heels of the S-Works Recon Lace. They consist of a moulded construction, allowing them to cling very securely to your heels and always keep the shoes in place instead of feeling like flip-flops. If you happen to encounter a descent you’d rather walk, you can confidently dismount and do so. You can ram the heels into the ground, giving you plenty of grip. However, the glossy finish of the outer part of the heels scratches rather quickly. But hey, patina ups your street cred ;).

Everything under control
The Recon Lace fits snugly around your heel and provides a very good grip in the shoe. When there’s a steep downhill section and you have to get off the bike, you can really ram your heel into the soft ground and find plenty of grip.

The tongue of the Specialized S-Works Recon Lace

The tongue is the cherry on top of the S-Works Recon Lace and an absolute dream compared to the Recon and the S-Works 7. We never felt it dig into our skin. It is super comfortable and thanks to the elastic band on the tongue, the laces can be neatly tucked away to stop them from dangling around while riding. That’s how it should be!

The compatibility of the Specialized S-Works Recon Lace

The gravel shoes are compatible with all common two-bolt mountain bike cleat systems: Shimano SPD and Crankbrothers systems being the most common examples. Thanks to the generous adjustment range, everyone will find a suitable position, regardless of whether they are knock-kneed or bow-legged.

Specialized S-Works Recon Lace conclusion

The new Specialized S-Works Recon Lace impressed us with their beautiful looks as well as their fit. Unfortunately, the standard insole is a flop and should be replaced. However, combining the very non-stretch upper material with laces is an all-round success. The Recon Lace can only be partially recommended for relaxed touring, though they are comfortable for such high-performance shoes. UNBOUND Gravel, we’re coming!


  • spacious toe box
  • clever combination of laces and non-stretch Dyneema upper
  • high level of comfort for high-performance shoes
  • wide range of sizes
  • attractive design


  • limited comfort and grip when walking
  • the standard insoles don't do justice to the otherwise high-quality package
  • limited long-distance comfort for tours

For more information about the Specialized S-Works Recon Lace visit

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Words: Philipp Schwab, Benjamin Topf Photos: Benjamin Topf