The Specialized S-Works 7 Lace is a top-of-the-range lace-up road cycling shoe, and quite possibly my new favourite pair of cycling shoes.
Following in the footsteps of the S-Works Sub6 shoe, which garnered a cult following for its low weight, sleek profile and Warp Sleeve lace cover, the S-Works 7 Lace offers a marginally less performance-focused design.
However, don’t let marketing images of riders sipping coffees next to a fleet of S-Works Aethos bikes fool you – the S-Works 7 Lace does offer improved comfort, but it’s still a ruthlessly racy shoe.
It won’t surprise anyone to learn these shoes lack the ability to make on-the-fly adjustments, but if you can live with that limitation then the S-Works 7 Lace is a fantastic shoe for all kinds of road cycling.
Classic style, modern performance
When the S-Works Sub6 was announced in 2015, Specialized was deep in its “aero is everything” phase.
It had just launched the radical S-Works Venge ViAS aero road bike, and the Sub6 was borne out of the same philosophy, offering a claimed saving of 35 seconds per 40km with the special Warp Sleeve lace cover in place (compared to the standard S-Works 6 shoe).
The idea is simple: replacing the rotary dials with laces means the form of the shoe is more aerodynamically efficient.
Specialized has eased off that philosophy in recent years (the Venge is no more, remember), but given how relatively simple lace-up cycling shoes tend to be, it’s little surprise the S-Works 7 Lace doesn’t represent a radical departure from the Sub6 mould.
The updates that have been made focus on dialling back some of the uncompromising performance-first features of the Sub6, and the result is a shoe that will likely suit far more people.
The aggressively narrow heel cup has, for example, been loosened off a bit. While our previous tester found that over-tightening the Sub6 could lead to pain in the heel and ankle area, I’m happy to report there’s not a hint of that with the S-Works 7 Lace.
At 494g for a pair of size EU45 shoes, the removal of rotary dials and mounting hardware has cut 23g versus a pair of standard S-Works 7 shoes (517g for a pair of size EU45 shoes), but that’s 64g heavier than a pair of Sub6s (430g per pair of size EU45 shoes). These are differences you’ll only ever notice on a set of scales, though.
Like the standard S-Works 7 shoes, with which the S-Works 7 Lace shares a last, you get Specialized’s lightest and stiffest carbon fibre sole (it’s rated 15 on Specialized’s arbitrary scale). It is, as you’d expect, very stiff.
The latest research suggests sole stiffness isn’t directly linked to pedalling efficiency, but I nevertheless feel it can make cycling shoes more comfortable, provided they fit well.
Specialized’s top-of-the-range carbon sole is very stiff under load. Fortunately, the fit is excellent too. The upper conforms easily to the shape of your foot, which cossets the mid-foot but still allows the toes to wiggle freely.
When testing the S-Works Recon Lace Gravel shoe (which has an almost identical uppers construction to the S-Works 7 Lace), our tester noted he initially experienced some discomfort around the front of the ankle area, which wore off as the shoes wore in, but I haven’t found that to be an issue here – they’ve been supremely comfortable from day one.
The finer details
As always, I appreciate the inclusion of adjustable cleat bolt holes. While shoes with fixed holes might be marginally lighter, the increased adjustment range granted by this design can be invaluable if your preferred cleat position falls outside of the normal range.
Even the laces are great, which shows Specialized has paid attention to the details.
They’re made of a non-stretch material which, combined with the reinforced upper eyelets, resists slipping and ensures the fit stays the same from the start to the end of your ride.
They’re also very thin and lie flat to the uppers. With the loops of the laces tucked into the elastic band (which sits between the third and fourth eyelets), the profile of the shoe is incredibly sleek.
That said, this extra friction between the laces and the eyelets, as well as the need to tie the laces and tuck away the loops, does mean the S-Works 7 Lace is a fairly slow shoe to put on or take off.
All lace-up cycling shoes have this problem, to varying degrees, though. Laces simply aren’t as quick to adjust as rotary dials or Velcro straps.
This is probably only of real concern to triathletes (for whom time spent in transition is time lost in a race scenario). The rest of us can probably afford to take a few more seconds here and there, especially if it means a more consistent fit while riding.
At the rear of the shoe, the heel pad is replaceable, should it eventually wear out, and new laces will always be easy to source if needed. Combined with the newly reinforced upper eyelets, I expect the S-Works 7 Lace should last a long time if properly looked after.
You get three choices of colour; black, white or ‘Vivid Coral/Black Umber’, which is a kind of white base with tie-dye purple and pink tones, and a black tongue.
I usually opt for white cycling shoes, and when testing this black pair I oscillated between feeling as though I was wearing some classic cycling shoes à la Eddy Merckx and feeling as if I was wearing Oxford shoes on the bike.
The £300 asking price is undoubtedly at the top end of the market, but it is in line with other high-end road cycling shoes, and it’s actually cheaper than both the Giro Empire SLX and Nimblr Air at RRP.
If you’re looking for cheap cycling shoes, Pearl Izumi’s Tour Road Shoes, Adidas’ The Road Shoes and DHB’s Dorica Road shoes all offer laces and a similar form factor for £120, £130 and £70, respectively. None of those has a high-end, full-carbon sole as the Specialized shoes do, though.
No more Warp Sleeve 2.0?
In terms of aerodynamics, Nick Gossen (business unit leader for shoes, saddles, body geometry and retül at Specialized) says the S-Works 7 Lace offers “similar [time] savings” compared to the S-Works 7, as the Sub6 did compared to the S-Works 6.
Gossen did acknowledge, however, that the Warp Sleeve – which was included in the box with the Sub6 – also partly contributed to this time saving, because it smoothed over the laces even more, to provide a similar performance to that of dedicated time trial overshoes.
Despite it sharing a similar overall profile, the lack of a Warp Sleeve 2.0 for the S-Works 7 Lace is probably more of a reflection of the fact that this shoe is now targeted primarily at the Aethos crowd (who are, Specialized says, all about “the love of riding”), rather than the Venge crowd (remember, Specialized cut the Venge adrift when it launched the Tarmac SL7).
Of course, the effect can be replicated with a time trial overshoe or shoe cover, but the nice thing about the Warp Sleeve was that it didn’t close off ventilation around the toe and ankle areas, making it more versatile for long rides on hot days.
When asked if there were any plans to release an updated Warp Sleeve in the future, Gossen simply said Specialized isn’t “ignoring” demand from racers and that we’d simply “have to wait and see”.
Specialized S-Works 7 Lace bottom line
If you want a road cycling shoe with stiff soles, all-day comfort and an aerodynamic profile, or simply just love the classic style of laces, then the S-Works 7 Lace ticks practically every box.
The lack of a Warp Sleeve 2.0 is mildly disappointing for this time trial obsessive, but I can’t reasonably mark Specialized down for not including a niche optional extra no other shoe offers.
Is this the lace-up cycling shoe perfected then? It’s very close.