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Specialized's S-Works Recon Lace Gravel Shoes are near the top end of light, stiff, rugged footwear for going fast off-road in better weather. The use of laces as opposed to Boa dials will divide opinion at this stratospheric price point, but if you like the look and want the go-fast feel, they are a great option – especially with a discount.
Q: When is a shoe a Gravel shoe?
A: When it's ridden on Gravel.
There are as many arguments for and against branding products as 'gravel' as there are products to brand as such. Particularly when 'gravel' riding is such a broad church as to include 200-mile flattish epic races where pros wear road shoes in drier years, alongside gravel bikes coming with 2.1-inch tyres, suspension at both ends and drop handlebars wider than those on cross-country mountain bikes back in the day. So what makes a product 'gravel' as such?
Basically, if it's capable of getting dirty, and aids performance of any sort off-tarmac, it's fair game to be 'gravel', in my eyes. And in that respect, these Recon Lace Gravel shoes fit the bill.
Built on Specialized's stiffest carbon sole (stiffness index 13, since you asked), there are the usual high-end sciency features such as metatarsal buttons, longitudinal arches and varus wedges to aid foot alignment. Whether these work for you will depend entirely on your personal foot-leg-hip setup, and there's nothing quite as random as footwear to laugh in the face of 'value'. I've worn shoes this expensive that were penury after a few hours, and own a pair of £100 mountain bike shoes that have lasted over 20 years, have done many, many thousands of miles and fit like gloves. They're Specialized, as it happens.
The Recons are definitely aimed toward wider feet – which I have – and I found them to be very comfortable from the word go and after four hours plus. Whether they work for you is another story, and I'd recommend seeking out a Specialized dealer or ensuring a robust returns policy before buying, unless you know Specialized's fit works for you.
The toe box is generous, even wearing waterproof socks – which you'll need in bad weather as the Recons have cooling holes and are in no way water resistant let alone proof. Fortunately, the synthetic fabric and minimalist design mean there's nothing to soak up water per se, so if they do get wet they dry quickly.
I'm a reliable UK 10.5, and an 11.25 (46) fitted perfectly with thick socks. I could cinch the laces down quite a bit further if riding in hotter, drier weather requiring a thinner sock too.
On the underbelly of the Recon Lace the tread pattern is fairly open and aggressive, with two spikes to aid traction.
The treads are made from Specialized's 'SlipNot' rubber compound, and the material extends along the base between the heel and the cleat area, so if you're standing with your foot arch on, say, a log or while astride a gate, there's more to grip than just bare carbon.
The two-bolt cleat plate is titanium, and is positioned fairly rearward. I usually use the rearward pair of cleat plate bolt holes, but for the Recon Laces I needed to fit the cleat to the foremost, shifted pretty much to the front of the plate's range. If you need a particularly forward cleat position this might be a limiting factor for you. If you ever do trash the cleat plate through over-zealous torquing (should be 5-6Nm max), replacements are available.
The plastic-clad toe spikes are replaceable, and use an M5-thread so you aren't restricted to Specialized's own brand. Specialized does a pretty good job of hiding its own studs' availability online, so if you need some and want to stick with the brand you might be better off talking to a Specialized dealer; otherwise, any M5-threaded stud should work.
And so to the laces: the make-or-break for most purchasers, I imagine. The laces themselves have a bit of stretch in them, so there's a natural feeling of give unless you cinch them down really tight. The tongue is well padded and feels comfortable even under tight lacing.
The top four out of six hole pairs are lined with metal eyelets, meaning the laces slip easily for adjustment. I only recall one ride when I thought I'd like to adjust the tension on the fly, but I cracked on and promptly forgot about it.
There's an elasticated lace loop sewn onto the top of the tongue to keep them secure, but – in this size at least – it's positioned underneath where two laces cross; it might not be an issue in bigger or smaller sizes, but if it is, in a £300 shoe the designers really should pay more attention.
The upper fabric feels totally unyielding, and around the toe there's a bumper of rubber to keep scuffs at bay.
The heelcup is deep and secure, and is really noticeable in its effectiveness when sprinting hard, either for speed or to muscle over technical sections of trail.
Walking in such a stiff shoe means the bed is fighting the heelcup, and the heelcup loses out as the foot flexes the laces, allowing it to slide forward a smidge. This results in a small amount of heel lift when off the bike and scrabbling uphill, but it's not uncomfortable. I wouldn't want to be walking for ages in these shoes, mind – they are definitely a pair for keeping on the bike if it can be helped.
As shoes are inherently personal, my saying that the Recon Laces fitted me really well and I felt happy in them for hour after hour on tarmac, gravel and singletrack is neither here nor there, as your feet are likely different to mine. But if you know the Specialized BG fit profile is a good one for you, then it's pretty likely you'll get on well with these.
I came to relish the feel of acceleration and connectedness to the bike that the heelcup and stiff sole gave under max power efforts. If you're going to go all-out there are definitely Happiness Watts to be gained from the instantaneous feedback a well-fitted high-tech shoe delivers.
So they're light, with well-formed heelcups for aggro riding, and stiff as all get-out, with some give in the laces, which are as easily-adjustable as retro gets.
Dave really liked the similarly stratospheric-priced S-Works Recon Shoes two years back, which are basically the same tech as the Recon Gravel Lace but with two-way Boa dials. The Boa'd kicks are £70 more, though, so you can see the Boa premium there. Then again, if you're in the market for £300 shoes in the first place you're likely able to afford another £70, if the micro-tweakability of two top-end Boas matters to you. They're 124g lighter to boot, which is rather bonkers given the four sets of Boa hardwear on offer.
If you can't stretch to £300, the Recon 3 Mountain Bike Shoes are £70 less and you get two Boas of the non-micro-undo variety, but they are 180g heavier and not as stiff, if that matters.
How does the price compare with others outside the Recon family? Well, they're £60 cheaper than the Sidi Jarin MTB Gravel Shoes that Anna tested and liked. For the extra you're getting a Boa and a ratchet for on-the-go tweaks, but as above – not that great for walking in.
Shimano's RX8 SPD shoes were quite to Stu's liking – at £80 less, with a Boa, they're also a mouthful of water lighter. The carbon sole's not quite at the Spinal Tap end of the comparative stiffness scale, but that's likely a good thing in an all-day shoe.
You can make the S-Works Recon Lace price tag a fair bit more palatable by signing up for Specialized's newsletter before purchase, bagging a hefty 15% discount off your first online purchase – so £255 instead. But it's still a fair chunk of cash for a non-Boa shoe, no matter how light or stiff.
Whether they're worth the money for me comes down to fit, styling, stiffness and then weight – in that order. If you only care about fit, you could go for the cheaper versions where the Body Geometry science carries over. Likewise, if you prioritise on-the-go adjustability, the Boa versions will be your friends. If you want super-stiff, light AND adjustable, save an extra £70 for that top-end Boa version.
But if you fancy great fit, stiffness and the retro-ness/style/feel of laces, and are maxing out your budget at £300 or thereabouts, the S-Works Recon Lace Gravel shoes might be right up your premium alley.
Seriously light, stiff and good-looking shoes for Gravelly adventuring, better on the bike than off
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized S-Works Recon Lace Gravel Shoes
Size tested: 46 (11.25)
Tell us what the product is for
They are for folks wanting the laces look but also top-end performance and low weight.
Specialized says: 'On gravel, style is a state of mind. The new S-Works Recon Lace will put a smile on your face and style in your pace every time you head out the door. A timeless look combined with tried and true Body Geometry features and the performance and durability that have become hallmarks of S-Works Recon shoes. Plus, you'll leave everyone in the group asking, 'What shoes are those?'
'Built with Purpose. Backed by Science. Our Body Geometry trio of the Longitudinal Arch, Metatarsal Button, and Varus Wedge work together to increase efficiency, optimize hip, knee, and foot alignment, and reduce injury risks.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Our stiffest and lightest XC FACT carbon plate maximizes power transfer: Stiffness Index 13.0.
PadLock™ heel construction cradles the heel and is proven to improve acceleration.
Titanium alloy cleat nut.
SlipNot™ rubber heel and toe tread for confident traction on all terrain with removable toe studs.
Form Fit last with a roomy toe box for the ultimate in connectivity and comfort.
Two-bolt cleat pattern fits all major MTB pedals.
Can't fault the build quality – only the lace holder position.
Love the feeling of power, less so the heel lift when walking, but I'm not sure that's a circle that can be squared.
Early days, but the feeling of quality instils confidence they will last many years.
I love specialized's BG fit. If you have wider feet, you probably will too.
Sized perfectly for my wider feet.
They are not the lightest, but are right up there.
Very happy feet, hour after hour.
Worth the money if you value the look, fit and weight, especially if can get them with a discount.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
They scrub up like new every time.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They're light, look great and your feet will be very happy if you're a Specialized fit.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The heelcup feeling of vroom when putting the power down (or up, actually).
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The lace retention elastic position. And the rearward cleat position – which could be a deal-breaker for some.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's certainly a premium, and if you're happy with a few hundred grams more and want Boas then the Recon 3 is likely a better bet.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
They're very good, which means an 8; to score more, Specialized would need to fix the lace retention (minor niggle I know, but one you notice every time), and maybe introduce some sort of flex that aided walking while not detracting from the feel of power transfer. And also drop the price a bit.
About the tester
I usually ride: Sonder Camino Gravelaxe My best bike is: Nah bro that's it
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, general fitness riding, mtb, G-R-A-V-E-L