This kind of money often doesn't get you a whole lot in a cycling shoe but Specialized's Elite Road packs in a remarkable amount of performance and a fantastic fit. More discerning cyclists may want a carbon fiber sole but for everyone else, this is all the shoe you'll ever need.
Despite the bargain price, overall fit quality rivals shoes costing much more. Heel hold is very secure without feeling overly confining, the upper is pleasantly tight through the midsection, and the toe box is just roomy enough to wiggle your little piggies around during a ride as needed.
Specialized infuse even this value-oriented model with their full complement of Body Geometry features. Outstanding full-length arch support is built right into the sole and won't pack out over time, the central bump in the insole helped keep our toes from falling asleep on longer rides, and yes, there's a bit of varus wedge built into the forefoot.
Opinions vary on whether varus correction is necessary on such a comprehensive scale but regardless, it makes for a noticeable difference in pedaling action versus flatter designs and it's easy to neutralize if it doesn't work for you.
The Road Elite shoes do without the fancy one-piece upper of the top-end S-Works model but the conventional synthetic-and-mesh construction is admirably supple and managed to conform to our feet without feeling unstably floppy or stretchy. The generous mesh panels use a very open mesh so ventilation is superb – we could feel air swirling around our toes during test rides and had to at least use toe covers in temperatures as warm as 10°C (50°F).
One key cost-cutting measure is the fiber-reinforced nylon sole, which isn't as light, stiff or thin as a high-quality carbon fiber plate. However, overall stiffness is more than adequate for most enthusiast cyclists and the shoe is still reasonably light at 655g for our size 43.5 testers.
Some extra versatility is provided by the dual three-bolt and SPD cleat drillings, and there are flow-through vents molded in as well. It's difficult to tell if they actually work but the perforations extend through the midsole unlike some other shoes we've sampled where the vents are purely cosmetic.
Other bits clearly help reduce the cost of the shoes but had no negative effect on performance. The buckle is plastic but the base is metal and it works just fine, the main strap is non-adjustable for length but it's suitably wide and the tongue is well padded to help distribute pressure, and the heel and toe treads aren't replaceable but the material is hard (yet still grippy) enough that there was barely any noticeable wear after a couple of months of regular use.
The one blight on what is otherwise a perfect score is the middle strap. Many companies go with an offset D-ring to relieve pressure but Specialized stick with a straight arrangement fore-aft and our feet paid the price. While we could tighten down the main and forefoot straps, we could only pull the middle one a moderate amount before the ring started to dig into the top of our foot.
Some additional padding on the tongue would help but simply moving the ring over a bit would truly solve the problem. This gripe apart, these are about as good as it gets at this price, especially when you add in the huge size range and the proven durability of earlier Specialized road models we've used,