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Specialized S-Works 7 road cycling shoe: in-depth review

14 May 2018
Verdict:

Specialized S-Works 7 is a comfortable, highly efficient & well engineered shoe, but suffers minor fit niggles and doesn’t come cheap

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£330
For 
• Very rigid power delivery • Highly intelligent ergonomic design •Custom insole works harmoniously • Fantastic aesthetics
Against 
• Stiff upper means minor fit niggles • Expensive

Specialized does many things well, but shoes have always been a strong point for the brand. The S-Works shoe is the flagship of the range, and has abounded for years in the ranks of the pro peloton and has a reputation for mixing efficiency and comfort exceptionally well.

Nothing has changed there, as Peter Sagan is currently sporting his own set atop the world stage, accompanied by the entirety of the Wolfpack (Quick-Step Floors) and the likes of Fernando Gaviria.

That success has been down to a finely tuned mixture of comfort and power delivery. Specialized’s long history in Body Geometry has no doubt aided the understanding in the fit complexities of shoes.

Buy now from Rutland Cycling for £169.99

That’s been furthered by a new partnership with Retul that means the shoes benefit from a wealth of biometric data - tens of thousands of human samples. We’ll return to that later.

The Specialized S-Works 7 Shoe is the latest in the line of range-topping shoes, and while the previous several generations had embodied baby steps, this shoe is a real revolution in appearance and design.

New looks

The first glaring update is that Specialized scored exclusive use of this new set of these fetching CNC-machined alloy Boa dials. We won’t be seeing the S3 Boa Dials on any competitor shoe for at least a year.

They aren’t just about a glamorous accessory, but offer more finely tuned one-millimetre micro-adjustments and a clutch spring internal to aid retention, while trimming a few grams off the previous generation of Boas.

Our substantial size 46 pair weighed a respectable 330g each.

Despite that low weight, the shoes claim a startling score of 15 on the stiffness index, which we once presumed would end at 10.

Even the upper of the shoe has been designed to increase the overall rigidity of the package, using aerospace Dyneema fabric that doesn’t stretch under load, preserving power transfer.

Most importantly, Specialized has offered a vast range of colours, including a hitherto undiscovered colour named hyper green-acid lava.

Aesthetics have often been a strong point with S-Works shoes, and the broader S-Works range, and there’s no doubt these stand out in the flesh. While riding them I was often asked about them – and they attracted many admiring glances.

I normally don’t wear white shoes, but these white test samples allowed me to pull many sparkling white socks out of the cupboard and definitely grew on me – matching the curves of the shoes quite well.

But with this pricetag, and Specialized’s strong claims about stiffness and fit, these shoes have to be more than a set of pretty slippers.

Fitting in

Specialized has prioritised fit as one of its retail strategies, and many retailers across the country will be offering a custom insole fit process (17 to be specific - with many more set to be rolled out).

I went through this process, which took around 30 minutes, and was also useful in making sure sizing was totally correct (who knew I was a size 46.5, not 47?) as it involves a tight tracing of the edge of the foot.

It required some measurements of the foot and then placing my feet in a Retul Futbed, which uses melted glass to trace the outline of the foot.

The whole process has a reassuring level of data surrounding it, but an experienced fitter is key to the success of the insole.

I’ve had numerous custom molded inserts on the job, and the Body Geometry insole is as supportive as any of them. Almost all of the bulk of the insert is placed at the rear of the foot arch to correct imbalances and collapsed arches, and can even make it feel as though the soles are slightly downward sloping.

The insole's rigid arch support hasn't sagged even after months of use

Once in place, they do the job very well. I’m so accustomed to custom insoles that without them I generate knee pain extremely quickly, and I’m happy to say that my time with the Specialized S-Works 7 has been totally knee-pain free.

The insoles haven't lost their shape at all even after months of use.

Combined with the intelligent Boa placement and rigidity of the sole, the shoes felt as though they were tightly hugging the feet, yet not with any degree of constriction on blood flow or overheating.

That said, I would place them on the hotter end of the spectrum, in comparison with heavily vented shoes that remain cool in the hottest of climates.

The PadLock heel, which locks the heel in place at the rear of the shoe has been re-worked to stop from pinching the achilles tendon - a complaint amongst some pros.

Now it seems to lightly grip but not irritate, and perhaps play a part in the impressive power transfer.

Initial impressions were certainly good.

On the road

The most lasting impression of the S-Works 7 shoes is one of extremely impressive rigidity. They remind me of a set of Bont Vaypor+ shoes, which seemed to lose no energy whatsoever between foot and pedal.

That’s aided by a nice positioning of the cleat bolts, which are fairly far back along the sole. It means that the cleat can be closer to the midpoint of the foot.

That traditionally increases power delivery (negating some of the stabilisation needs of the calf) and has seen pro riders drilling new cleat-holes in their soles to achieve.

Then the final piece of that performance puzzle is the Boa dials, which offer slightly more engagement points, offering a super-fine micro-adjustment which meant I could slot the shoes exactly into the retention I wanted.

That initial performance, coupled with an agreeable weight, was all hugely to my liking. However there was one slight niggle. 

With such rigid construction, while most of the upper didn’t cause a problem it’s lack of flex meant that when any fabric that pushes against the ankle or squeezes the foot, it takes a while to soften and can be uncomfortable. 

For me that meant a little ankle pain – on the lateral malleolus to be specific, at the base of the fibula. I have heard similar feedback from other users.

It meant that much like my girlfriend when wearing her favourite pair of high heels, I was assuring fellow riders that 'they may be uncomfortable but they look amazing!'

When slanting the shoe, the Dyneema fabric constricted my lower fibula bone

Eventually the upper seemed to soften at rubbing points and then comfort was abundant. But they did indeed take a while to wear in, which is a bit of a throwback to the days of leather shoes in cycling.

I’d hope for a little more on that front from the sophisticated fit knowledge of Specialized, which seems to be on a learning curve of how to mix stiff fabrics with comfortable fit – having softened the PadLock heel for a similar reason.

Beyond that, though, I’d be hard pressed to fault the Specialized S-Works 7 shoes. They are a little expensive, and mildly unforgiving at first, but these are as high performance as shoes get and look simply stunning.

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