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The Specialized S-Works Vent Evo gravel shoes offer exceptional breathability and performance, and borrow lots of the best bits from other S-Works shoes, such as the alloy S3 Boa dials and PadLock heel construction. While holding the foot securely, they're also very comfortable. As you can probably guess, they aren't very waterproof, so best for use in consistently hot and dry climates.
The Vent Evos are by no means Specialized's first pair of gravel shoes, but they are its most expensive. They're basically a cross between the Vent road shoes and the Recon mountain bike shoes, making them best suited to performance-orientated riders mixing off-road and tarmac sections in warm climates.
The shoes are stiff, light, comfortable and offer excellent ventilation like a road shoe, but with a two-bolt fitment for SPD cleats, and some more robust touches.
The lower half of the Vent Evos appears to have been taken directly from the S-Works Recons, and that's no bad thing. That means you get a carbon sole with a stiffness index of 13, which is the highest you'll find on a Specialized off-road shoe. It certainly feels plenty stiff enough in use, with no discernible flex even during hard sprint efforts.
Power transfer feels efficient too, and yet if you do find a section where walking is required they won't cripple you with pain. The same can be said on endurance rides – sometimes overly stiff soles can result in sore feet, but I was happily doing six-hour rides with no issues.
The rubber tread is also borrowed from the S-Works Recon. A large part of the carbon sole is covered in what Specialized calls SlipNot material. This provides good traction on the ground, and the reasonably aggressive treads flank the titanium cleat hardware.
The heel section of the sole extends quite a way forwards, providing protection for the carbon soles that can get scratched up when walking about on gravel. It also provides more grip than a bare carbon mid-section, which is useful when clambering over gates.
Up front there's a set of removable stud mounts, useful if you find yourself using the shoes repeatedly in muddy conditions.
On the very front of the shoe there's a rubber cap that protects from toe overlap and should help the shoes look fresh for longer.
I found the sizing to be accurate, and as with the rest of the latest generation of Specialized shoes, the toe box is wide and gives your toes plenty of wiggle room.
The similarities between these and the Recons don't stop there. You also get Boa S3-Snap dials, two per shoe, and although technically they're not the most recent iteration they really are a quality bit of kit. Not only is the CNC alloy cosmetically lovely but they're also a joy to use, with easy micro-adjustment in either direction possible on the fly. The only thing you don't get with these dials is a pop-to-release mechanism; instead, you have to unwind them. This really is the most minor of issues, as once you've turned them back half a rotation you can unhook the wire and pull your foot straight out.
Having used the metal dials for 20,000ish miles of abuse on a pair of S-Works 7 road shoes, I can also vouch for their durability both during normal use and in crashes. They're way more robust than their plastic counterparts, and if you do somehow manage to destroy one then replacements are available.
Under the CS2 lace, the tongue is padded and slightly offset towards the outer edge of the shoe to help spread the pressure from the laces over a larger area; rather than pulling down tight on the very highest bit of the foot, here you can tighten the shoes more without discomfort. The tongue is divided into three mesh panels, with Dyneema separating them, and the top of the tongue is the usual Specialized split tab design to prevent it from cutting into the ankle.
Then there's the main body of the shoe: the rear is very similar to the Recon with an external plastic heel cup, but differs in that the inside is lined with a much softer fabric. This helps with initial comfort as it doesn't need any time to bed in. Specialized calls it PadLock and it has supposedly been proven to improve acceleration. Although there was no perceptible speed boost, there also wasn't any sign of heel slippage, and my foot was held securely in the shoe without having to cinch them up super tight, as you'd want from a comfortable pair of performance-focused kicks.
The front of the shoe borrows design cues from the S-Works Vent Road shoes and is constructed primarily of robust and wipeable Dyneema material, but with three large mesh-filled cutouts. The largest and most noticeable can be found extending across the outer toes, the second sweeping rearwards from the big toe, and a third smaller panel on the inner mid-foot.
These panels combine to create a shoe that really comes into its own in warmer weather. The highly ventilated design means breathability is absolutely excellent – I'd go as far as to say they're the most ventilated two-bolt shoes I know of; they're certainly the most ventilated I've used and that's quite a sizeable number. Whether all that ventilation is completely necessary is a different question; in the UK I would argue that it's probably not, but I do also ride abroad and for those climates, these would be the first thing to get packed.
With all those holes, it should come as little surprise that these are not in the slightest bit waterproof, and as a general rule if you see any moisture on your ride then your feet will get wet. Saying that, I was slightly surprised to see that Specialized hasn't included any vents in the sole of the shoe, which I can only presume is to offer a little protection.
So, for dry and hot gravel these would be my shoes of choice, but for year-round UK weather I'd be tempted to go for the very similar Recon or Recon Lace gravel shoes, which share many of the good bits with the Vent Evos but lack the mesh, so don't stain and are much easier to wipe clean, at the cost of some breathability.
Fit is a very personal thing, but Specialized's tried-and-tested Body Geometry tech lives on in these new S-Works gravel shoes and is one of the reasons why its shoes are so popular with all sorts of cyclists. Body Geometry involves specially shaped insoles that provide longitudinal arch support, a varus wedge and a metatarsal button, with various degrees of support depending on your personal requirements.
Specialized is one of only a few brands to ship with an integrated 1.5mm varus wedge, which lifts the ball of the foot by 1.5mm and rotates the foot into a slightly more natural position. The majority of riders will find this beneficial, optimising hip, knee, and foot alignment to reduce the risk of injury and improve efficiency.
The Evos have a claimed weight of 300g per size 42 shoe, which seems accurate considering we weighed our pair of 43s at 614g. This does make them roughly 60g heavier than a pair of Recons but still competitively light; they are, for example, just over 100g lighter than the Sidi Jarin Gravel shoes Anna tested (size 43.5), and 40g lighter than the Bontrager XXX mountain bike shoes.
And then there's the price: £385. That puts them fifth on the all-time list of most expensive shoes we've tested here at road.cc. Despite only being on sale for a few weeks, they're already available for less, but as always, our comparisons and value score are based on RRP.
The very similar S-Works Recons that I keep harking on about are now £370, and for most riders are probably the better buy for UK conditions. For about the same money you could also buy the Sidi Jarins (£360), but reading Anna's review, they don't offer the same level of grip from the rubber tread and aren't the best for wide feet.
Alternative high-end gravel shoes include the Rapha Explore Powerweaves for £280, up £20 since Stu tested them last year, but those don't have quite the same performance focus, or the Shimano RX8 SPD shoes that suddenly look rather good value at £219.99 with their 9/10 review.
Overall, then, the Vent Evos are an excellent shoe but I'm not sure I could justify the added expense over a set of S-Works Recons, which after all do share the entire bottom half, the lovely metal Boa dials and the majority of the Dyneema upper.
If your gravel riding does take place in consistently hot and dry weather then these would be a very good choice: they're extremely breathable, stiff but not too stiff, comfortable even over long distances, and hold the foot securely. Top work from Spesh, minus the price. ☹
Excellent ventilation, comfort and performance – but that price...
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized S-Works Vent Evo Gravel Shoes
Size tested: 43
Tell us what the product is for
Specialized says: "The S-Works Vent EVO brings the outstanding breathability of our Vent technology industry-leading Body Geometry design off-road. As the newest member of our Vent family, the S-Works Vent EVO goes watt for watt with the S-Works Recon when it comes to performance, durability, and technical innovation."
It certainly is comfortable and performs very well; this is a shoe that's best suited to competitive cyclists in hot and dry climates.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
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.
The Vented Mouthport toe box pulls air in through the front of the shoe and channels it around your feet, while the entirely new engineered mesh upper and tongue let that air flow freely throughout the shoe''aiding in both cooling and sweat evaporation. Along with the engineered mesh in the upper, we added a layer of Dyneema® Mesh to keep a strong hold of your foot, ensuring pro-proven power transfer.
Our stiffest and lightest XC FACT carbon plate maximizes power transfer: Stiffness Index 13.0
For power transfer, our PadLock™ heel construction cradles the heel to ensure optimal power transfer. In fact, it's been scientifically-proven to improve acceleration.
Two independent, alloy BOA® S3-Snap dials backed by the BOA® Lifetime Guarantee so you can fine-tune your level of foot-hold on-the-fly.
Titanium alloy cleat nuts can rotate to position pedal/cleats 5mm rearward.
SlipNot™ rubber heel and toe tread for confident traction on all terrain with removable toe studs.
Two-bolt cleat pattern fits all major MTB pedals.
Approximate weight: 300g (1/2 pair, Size 42)
Sizes 39-49 including half sizes
First class build quality.
Superb performance in every aspect other than waterproofing, but they're not exactly designed for that so we'll let them off...
The Boa dials are very robust, there are plastic/rubber heel and toe guards, titanium hardware and rubber tread to protect the carbon sole.
I found the fit an improvement on previous S-Works shoes, with more space in the toe box.
The sizing was spot on and Specialized offers half sizes.
They're light compared with other top-end shoes, but heavier than the S-Works Recons.
They are top-end money. If they were the same price as other top-end performance shoes then I think they could justify it, but they're significantly more expensive than some other great-performing shoes.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
They're okay – the Dyneema sections are wipeable but the mesh sections stain in muddy conditions.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
For fast riding and performance-focused cycling they are ideal. They're good for less intensive cycling too – I used them for several gravel days out and still found them very comfortable.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The mesh panels stain after riding in muddy conditions.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
As mentioned in the review, these are some of the most expensive shoes we've ever tested. They're more than the very similar S-Works Recons, but do offer more ventilation.
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 shoes, and in some climates excellent. Comfortable, light, stiff and with some nice touches such as the rubber toe guard and alloy Boa dials, they feel every bit a premium performance shoe, but so they should at this price. There's no doubting they're very good, but you can pick up some excellent shoes for a lot less, and they're not as versatile as others in typical UK conditions.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialized venge pro 2019 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 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, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...