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The clue to these Specialized shoes' use is right there in their name: the Recon Mixed Terrain Shoes are designed for riders who like to mix up their road and off-road riding on the same bike and ride, taking in all the gravel, fireroad, groad, gnarmac, blacktop, tarmac, asphalt, track, trail and whatever happens along the way.
The Recons are stood up on the price podium with other performance shoes, lace-up or not, although on the surface they look, to me, like a shoe a fraction of the price. That may or may not be an issue to you. Once horned on, their price justification and performance credentials shine through the bland exterior with a race-stiff sole and comfy all-day upper.
The Recon shoes only come in black in the UK (the USA gets a funky Orange Fade colour), which makes them pretty boring looking, some might say practical, or orthopedic. Plain may be your vibe, though; you might not want to be associated with the racy looks of other performance shoes, or you might want a shoe to pedal about in and then stop at places along the way and look almost normal, and maybe even a little smart... If so, then the frumpy look of the Recon is a benefit, but I'd prefer to see a little splattering of colour in there. You could jazz them up a bit with some coloured laces, but you'd have to make sure they were the non-stretch ones that maybe another brand of lace-up cycling shoe might supply in a variety of zazzy hues.
While we're on laces, tying them does take longer than sticking and clicking a common straps-and-ratchets shoe, especially if you like to take advantage of the ability to customise the tension of each lace cross-over across specific parts of the foot to help with comfort. A feature you might appreciate if you find other shoes can cause tension areas and hot spots. There's a Lacelock elastic strap halfway down the laces to keep the loops and lace ends tidied away from rotating rings and chains.
Taking the shoes off can take longer too, a minor detail you might think – until you're cold and wet and hungry and just want to get in the bath. The laces are resistant to water absorbency, though, meaning they're easier to undo after a muddy ride, if you're haunted by memories of trying to get your schoolboy football boots off...
The laces are non-stretch, too, so are supposed keep their tension over the course of a ride; that said, they do tend to loosen up over time and I found myself having to tighten and re-tie the laces during most rides. If you use the extra pair of holes at the top of the shoe and thread the laces in a 'Runner's Loop' this seems to lessen the gradual slackening... I'm a habitual cranker-up of straps and ratchets on shoes during a ride anyway, so this sort of thing may or may not bother you.
The uppers are made from a Micromatrix synthetic leather (graveggie riders rejoice!). They're lacking in much venting – just a pattern of pin-holes across the body and a pair of mesh sections at the toe ideally placed to let puddle water splash in – so they can get a little sweaty on hot days, but are ideal if you're into all-season riding or cyclo-cross where they'll keep the worst of the cold and water out and then easily wipe clean afterwards. There's a toe bumper up front to protect the shoe from knocks, dabs and stubs.
The sole is a rigid FACT carbon composite with a Stiffness Index of 10.0, so Spinal Tap fans might want to look elsewhere for a mixed terrain shoe that's one stiffer. As it is, it's plenty stiff enough; despite its casual appearance the Recon definitely has a performance sole. Stomp on the pedals and there really is no discernible flex, they feel very much like a rigid road-bred shoe. Even with the smaller contact point of an SPD pedal compared with a road pedal, there didn't feel like there was any loss of power.
The grip on the sole is pretty fat, chunky and made from SlipNot (see what they did there, Spinal Tap fans?) rubber tread. There's even a little bit of waffle grip mid-sole should you fluff a clip-in or be a little nervous and need to ride a section resting on the pedal not clipped in, and there are studs in the toe in case any rides see you scrabbling up muddy banks and suchlike.
The tread works well in both on and off-road environments, although they're going to flounder in really muddy situations, and for off-bike applications they're confident even in the slipperiest of surfaces – such as the floor of a gent's toilet in a pub.
Despite the rugged gummy grip on the sole, you wouldn't want to be walking too far in the Recons. The stiff sole that makes them so good on the pedal makes them rigid and clumpy to walk in – okay for the occasional run-up if you're cyclo-crossing, brief scrabble over some rocks if mountain biking, and the walk into the gas station for an ice cold Coke after a long gravel section – but if you're proper adventure biking and might need to walk or carry your bike any distance, they're going to get tiresomely unforgiving.
The Recons come with Specialized's Body Geometry insole, something it says is ergonomically designed to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce chances of injury by optimising alignment of things below the hip. You may or may not get on with this; I do, although I replaced the standard footbed with Specialized's most extreme Body Geometry insole, as I do with any shoe, and my knees thank me.
The top-line around the heel is well padded, extending halfway down the heel cup, and the outside band is a 3M reflective strip for night-time visibility – handy if you were to use the Recon as a Cat 1 commuting shoe.
The fit of the Recon is snug-racery tight, again belying their sneaker looks, and that's coming from someone who likes a close-fitting shoe. They're snug across the whole of the forefoot and the top-line around the ankle has a tight, padded grip, doing a supreme job of keeping the heel in place and minimising lifting when grinding up a climb. Some might find the fit around the top a little too restrictive after some time in the saddle, causing the achilles to feel a little pinched.
The one-piece construction of the upper and the suppleness of the faux-leather makes them an extremely comfortable shoe that wraps seamlessly across the foot, and that ability to customise the tightness over the tongue helps too. The combination of stiff sole and comfy upper makes them perfect for the all-day-efforts-and-grinds kind of riding they're aimed at, but that doesn't mean they won't make a good high-end mountain bike shoe or high-class commuting brogue.
Dowdy looks hide the stiff and efficient character of these performance lace-ups for all kinds of efforts, on and off the road
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized Recon Mixed Terrain Shoes
Size tested: 41
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?
Specialized says: "When the paved road ends, the Recon Mixed Terrain shoes begin. Designed for riders who take one look at that switch from paved to gravel and say "yes please," they're the perfect blend of durability, comfort, and adventure. And with their stiff FACT carbon soles and Body Geometry footbeds, you'll feel a tremendous connection to the bike, which translates to power as you tackle fireroad and paved climbs, alike. Should you encounter any obstacles that say hike-a-bike, the grippy SlipNot™ tread delivers superb traction for confidently scrambling over the rough stuff."
You wouldn't want to scramble over rough stuff for long on those uber stiff soles though.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Body Geometry sole and footbed are ergonomically designed and scientifically tested to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee, and foot alignment.
SlipNot™ rubber tread for confident traction on all terrain with removable toe studs.
Engineered FACT™ carbon/composite sole for power transfer: Stiffness Index 10.0.
Adaptive Fit lace-up with non-stretch, non-water absorbent lace for superb fit.
Lacelock™ elastic keeps laces out of the chainrings.
Supple Micromatrix synthetic leather with laser perforated venting and molded toe kick protection.
Classic low profile heel for ankle comfort with 3M reflective collar for visibility.
Two-bolt SPD-style cleat pattern.
Replaceable threaded toe studs.
Standard Fit last for all day comfort.
Approximate weight: 325g (1/2 pair, size 42)
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Easy, the Micromatrix synthetic upper with few mesh holes made the shoes easy to wipe clean.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
As a performance on/off-road shoe it works very well, the sole is road-shoe stiff and the upper comfortable. Its walkable credentials are compromised by that too-stiff sole, though.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Stiff sole for pedalling, comfort.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Stiff sole for walking, laces, boring looks.
Did you enjoy using the product? I wanted to enjoy them more, but their plain looks failed to inspire me and I don't think I'll ever get on with lace-up cycling shoes.
Would you consider buying the product? I'd probably buy a lighter performance mountain bike shoe that suited my aesthetic more.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? I know some who would like this shoe.
Use this box to explain your score
Appearances can be very odd. If you're splurging this much on a shoe you kind of want it to look like you've splashed out and not like you've bought a pair of £27.99 Dad trainers from the market. But underneath that dull exterior they're a comfortable yet real performance shoe with a stiff sole, although too stiff for extended walking. I'm marking them down for the laces thing (I could take another mark off for looking ploddy, but that's personal taste) and needing to have to stop to tighten them up mid-ride instead of being able to just reach down and haul on a strap or ratchet. This may not matter to you.
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I'm on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo-cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, moutain biking, fun
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.