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First ride review: Specialized S-Works Ares shoes

Ultimate power transfer levels don’t only need a stiff sole, delicate feet also call for ultra-comfy shoes…

Specialized has released its sprinter-focused S-Works Ares (£375), which is designed to eliminate lateral foot roll and reduce pressure on tendons, all in the name of performance gains.

I got the chance to ride in these white stunners and they seriously impressed with a secure hold, slipper-like comfort levels and pure stiffness.

Specialized Ares first ride 5

If you want more details on the backstory and the science behind the shoe, Liam’s covered the geekier stuff over here.

So, what is it like to ride in a shoe that is “1 percent faster” than any shoe Specialized has ever made? Well, you’ve got to get them on first…

Specialized Ares first ride 1

With a mesh sock liner instead of a traditional tongue system opening, putting on these blinding white kicks does require some force, to the extent that I questioned whether I would even be able to get in. But, persevering and, with my foot snugly in place, the fit turned out to be spot on. Holding away the mesh liner with one hand seemed to be the best way of wiggling in, without pressing down too much pressure at the heel.

2021 Specialized S-Works Ares shoes - in step detail 1.jpg

Before even tightening up the retention system the shoe has an impressive hold—you feel locked in straight away. This is in part thanks to the closed top and snap-back strength in the sock liner, but also very much down to the well-judged rear construction which cradles the heel.

2021 Specialized S-Works Ares shoes - heels.jpg

The sock liner, which has decent stretch to it, wraps around the top of your foot, with no creasing or folds to dig in. It’s there to eliminate irritation and it does just that—no issues with tension points or hot spots at all for me. This mesh liner is not a completely seamless construction, but the join—which curves round the centre—is unnoticeable when riding.

The liner is also surprisingly thick (3mm to be exact) and well padded—not like the thin mesh of a top-end performance lightweight sock—which means it feels incredibly snug. The sock dips below the ankle at each side, and rises up at the front, sitting slightly higher. I found it doesn’t pinch at the front when you flex (with the foot bent up towards the shin), which is an issue I’ve experienced with some standard tongue setups.

2021 Specialized S-Works Ares shoes - detail.jpg

To be clear, this sock liner does not mean you don’t need to wear actual socks when wearing these shoes. Number one, ew. Number two, do you want to look like a triathlete? Number three, although the sock has a cushioning feel it’s not silky soft and is in fact a tad scratchy against bare skin, so don’t do that. That said, the shoe sock does seem to grip the fabric of a standard sock and pulls it up slightly, which I could see cramping your toes—although Specialized doesn’t advise using a particular sock model with these shoes, it might turn out some play better than others.

2021 Specialized S-Works Ares shoes - toes.jpg

Specialized has opted for BOA’s Li2 dial system, which has as a simultaneous cable pull, spreading the pressure evenly as it is tightened up. The triangulated retention network means this tension is dispersed across a larger surface area over the midfoot. There’s a second dial above the toe box, too. Even when fastened up, the toes have space to wiggle about, and stay comfortable as the miles clock up.

2021 Specialized S-Works Ares shoes - in step detail 2.jpg

Something to be careful with is the small flap on the inner side. It quite easily finds itself above the larger outer flap, which is supposed to be on top. Check it’s where it is supposed to be and if not, just tuck it under, in-between the two retention cables, before twisting the dial and you’re all good.

Micro-adjustments can be easily made to tighten and loosen the dials, so I could happily tinker as I rode along for utter perfection. As someone with quite narrow feet, often the closure system is right at the cusp for the tension I require, whereas with these, there is plenty to spare.

Incorporating Specialized’s Body Geometry, the outside of the shoe wraps the contours of your feet, while inside the Varus Wedge (a 1.5mm outward tilt to the outsole), is supposed to stabilise the forefoot and align the ankle, knee and hip. While I can’t say whether the kinetic chain of my legs has genuinely been aligned, the shoes certainly felt supportive and lent themselves to a smooth pedalling action.

2021 Specialized S-Works Ares shoes - sole toe.jpg

Now for the carbon plate. It’s the Specialized FACT Powerline, which is said to be the brand’s stiffest and lightest offering. Specialized give it a stiffness index rating of 15.0 (the highest level). For my Cat 2 level power outgoings, let’s just call it proper rock solid. There’s no play at all that I can perceive. Accelerating, you feel powerful.

As a shoe marketed as one for the sprinters—the innovative design was apparently developed with much feedback from TdF Green Jersey winner Sam Bennett—I took these straight outside for some hard intervals.

Specialized Ares first ride 3

Through some (deliberately) ungraceful out-the-saddle efforts, these shoes felt glued to my feet—at no point around the pedal stroke did it feel like my feet lost connection with the shoe. When ramping my cadence up for the sprints, there was certainly no need for clenching my toes or such to lock my foot in place.

Specialized Ares first ride 4

Nudging just over the two-hour mark, this ride definitely didn’t suffice as a test of the long-distance comfort levels of these shoes, but I’ve had no niggles at all to suggest that these won’t continue to be super comfy as you soldier on.  

Pacing it along Sussex lanes in winter, the inevitable did happen. Specs of mud flicked their way onto the crystal clean outer. So rude. While the surface of the main body proved easy to wipe clean, the mesh keeps some faint reminders of the muck—even though a dirt-repellent treatment has been applied.

How bling will the white mesh liner stay in the worst of England’s weather conditions? Well, if that is your biggest concern, then the Ares is also available in a long-term friendly black (and a red option too).

2021 Specialized S-Works Ares black

A non-aesthetic based question might be, how does this liner deal with workout-related stenches? Or, what kind of comfort does it offer on rides pushing a century?

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£375 is a lot to put down on a pair of shoes. We'll do a comparision with cheaper performance options in the full long term review.

That will be coming, well, not so soon because we only just got the shoes…!

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