While most eyes have been on Specialized's slippery new Venge aero road bike this summer, the US company has also rather more quietly added these Audax cycling shoes to its range, and they deliver on their promise of all-day comfort for sportives, day rides and commuting.
Aimed at cyclists who want a performance shoe without the usual performance aesthetic, they take their name from the popular long-distance non-competitive cycling events and offer a more understated styling than Specialized's regular race shoes.
Although the appearance, as well as the name, suggests they're not intended for cyclists interested in maximum efficiency, their full carbon fibre sole provides a high level of stiffness that ensures they can accommodate some quite aggressive riding. I've not felt any penalty compared with regular high-end race shoes.
They use a combination of two Velcro straps and a Boa S2 dial to keep your foot secured inside. The upper is made from a Micromatrix synthetic leather material with laser-perforated venting. A couple of discreet reflective details around the heel are a nice touch for riding at dusk or in the dark, and as well as the 'burnt orange' of the test shoes, there are light blue, white and black options if you want a more subdued appearance.
They're intended for all-day comfort, and they are extraordinarily comfortable. I found them a little roomier – a bit wider across the front – than other road shoes, including Specialized's own S-Works model. The fit is excellent with no heel lift even during harder bouts of pedalling.
The twin Velcro straps and Boa S2 dial, which pulls a wide strap down across the top of the foot, evenly distribute the load with no discernible pressure points. The fit is so good that only light tension through the straps and dial was necessary; I certainly didn't have to tighten them down loads. And adjustment on the fly is a doddle.
So far, so good. Turn the shoe over, though, and we find a three-bolt cleat drilling (compatible with Shimano, Look and Time cleats), along with minimal treading on the sole. They aren't really designed for walking in. That's in stark contrast to the mountain bike and touring-style shoes with a recessed cleat that makes them better for walking in, and hence favoured by regular audax cyclists.
There are certainly no rules governing the type of shoe you have to wear to participate in an audax, but the preference for a mountain bike shoe has come from the practicality of being able to comfortably walk across the pavement and into the tea shop/someone's front room without slipping up.
Still, not everyone approaches an audax in the same way, and many do wear regular road shoes regardless of the lack of walking ability. And the styling will probably make the Specialized Audax appeal to cyclists who want a performance shoe without the usual pro race wannabe look, or a non-racy appearance without having to change to touring or mountain bike pedals.
To sum up, the Specialized Audax is a high performance road shoe with good comfort for for long rides, with more relaxed styling than the largely race replica shoes that tend to dominate cycling at the moment. They'll appeal to cyclists wanting a comfortable and good looking shoe for long rides, sportives and cycling to work.
As for their use in an audax, well, there are more suitable shoes for riding such an event. Ignore the name and you've got a really good shoe that offers good performance. I'd love to see Specialized offer a proper audax version with a mountain bike SPD sole, but if you can live without that, these are an interesting alternative to regular race designs.
Stylish alternative to race shoes with good long-distance comfort, but where's the proper audax-specific sole, Specialized?
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Make and model: Specialized Audax
Size tested: 45, burnt orange/cream
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Specialised says: "Inspired by the European sport of randonneuring, the all-new Audax shoe has been specifically developed for long rides spent chasing far off horizons. And from a design standpoint, it strikes the optimal balance between comfort and efficiency, making it ideal for anyone exploring their limits across anything from unmaintained back roads to smooth tarmac."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Body Geometry™ sole and footbed are ergonomically designed, scientifically tested to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee, and foot alignment
Standard Fit for on-bike support and all-day comfort
Low profile heel provides secure fit and relieves Achilles pressure for free range of ankle motion
Supple Micromatrix™ synthetic leather with laser perforated venting with reflective elements for visibility
Boa® S2 dial for on-the-fly micro-adjustment, backed by the Boa® Lifetime Guarantee
Powerline carbon/composite sole for light, stiff power transfer: Stiffness Index 10.0
Combine Body Geometry shoes, footbeds, and wedges to maximize performance benefits
Replaceable heel tread and Boa® Snap dial
3-bolt cleat pattern fits all major road pedals
Approximate weight: 250g (1/2 pair 42)
Top quality construction with some nice attention to detail.
Pedalling performance and comfort is up there with the best shoes. There's no lack of stiffness from the carbon sole when you push hard on the pedals. Their audax performance depends on whether you view being able to walk safely to control points and tea shops as a vital aspect when buying a shoe for such an event.
They have handled a bit of rough stuff and the heel bumper is replaceable, as is the Boa dial.
They're certainly not heavy.
Comfort is their biggest trump card: a good fit, generous space in the toe box, and a closure system that doesn't apply excessive pressure to the top of the feet.
Specialized has priced these shoes too high for the audax market when there are lots of affordable shoes that are far more suitable for audax cycling.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
If you view being able to walk safely and comfortably as a vital component of an audax shoe, it's hard not to see these as a fail. If you don't plan to do much walking, and want a stylish and comfortable shoe for distance riding, they're a good choice.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The looks and the comfort.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The lack of a recessed cleat and better walking ability.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Maybe
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Some yes, others no.
Use this box to explain your score
I've scored them down because they fail on the walking test, but if you aren't bothered by that then these are a stylish alternative to regular performance shoes.
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.