Specialized’s latest gravel-focused shoe is certainly high-end, with a price tag nearly triple what many people would consider fairly pricey, but it’s designed to be a high-perfomance gravel bike shoe and, sometimes, quality costs – especially if it has ‘S-Works’ at the start of the name.
The Recon Lace Gravel is clearly closely related to the Specialized S-Works Recon and the Specialized Recon 3.0 with their pair of Boa dials, yet this gravel-focused (but almost equally at home on a mountain bike) shoe comes with laces, giving it a more timeless, classy look, as well as more points of tension control over the double-Boa system employed in its sister designs.
Specialized S-Works Recon Lace Gravel upper
The upper is built from an effectively seamless synthetic material that’s lightweight and, with use, flexible. The toe section features small ventilation perforations that help keep the shoe airy in warm conditions. They’re small enough that the occasional muddy puddle splash doesn’t instantly mean damp toes, but rain or multiple puddles will result in wet feet.
The material at the sides of the upper has a slightly different texture, and moderately thicker, stiffer build. This, I presume, aids durability when scuffing through undergrowth. During testing, I’ve bashed through plenty of brash and the shoe still has an unmarked appearance. With minimal foam within the shoe, it dries exceptionally fast, too.
Around the toe is some additional protection should you stub the end of the shoes onto a rock or stump, while there’s also stout reinforcement around the exterior of the heel.
The laces are held by six loop holes per side, giving ample opportunity to fine-tune the fit of the shoe over the top of your feet. The bottom two are laser-cut into the upper, while the top four have eyelets, reinforcing the holes and preventing the laces from causing undue wear to the upper.
Laces do look great, but they take more time and effort to use than a Boa or similar. They tend to cling on to mud more, get damp, and are harder to use when you’ve got cold fingers. Mountain bikers may find those compromises too much, but unless you ride on a lot of muddy terrain, gravel cyclists may find those characteristics a touch easier to live with.
During testing, I’ve not had any issues with tension migrating up or down the shoe, where some sections of lace start a touch tighter due to personal preference, and then the lace evens tension over the course of a ride.
The tongue is padded up to the top, where it splits into three to fit easier around the front of the ankle. It features an elastic lace keeper to prevent laces getting caught in the cranks.
The upper poses my main issue with the shoe. It’s one I’ve found with the Boa version, too.
The material around the front of the opening, to the front-sides of the ankle, is very stiff out of the box. On early rides with the shoe, this led to considerable discomfort, especially when I got off and pushed, or strolled into a cafe.
However, with time, this softens. It’s well worth persevering with this softening process, as once pliable, the upper is exceptionally comfortable.
Specialized S-Works Recon Lace Gravel interior fit
Inside the shoe, other than the issue explained above, the Recon Lace Gravel is excellent. The heel hold is good, meaning I had no slipping-heel issues throughout testing.
Specialized’s Body Geometry shoes are designed to ensure good alignment of the feet, knees and hips for long-term on-bike comfort. While I can’t attest to that per-se, I have found that the Metatarsal Button works. This feature helps keep toes splayed, rather than scrunching up over time, when putting in pedalling efforts. Having had issues with scrunched-up toes in other shoes, it’s noticeable with Specialized’s shoes that this tends not to happen.
The toe box is fairly roomy, adding to the lightweight, airy feel that the shoe has, and also means there’s plenty of room for winter socks – whether warmer or waterproof.
While the stock insole is perfectly adequate, for £300 I’d like to see a custom option included – either through home-moulding, or the option to go to a Specialzied dealer and get a Body Geometry SL Footbed included. These come in multiple shapes to aid a better fit.
Specialized S-Works Recon Lace Gravel sole
Specialized uses carbon for its XC FACT sole. This is rated 13 on its stiffness scale, which is as stiff as its MTB/gravel shoes go.
This means pedal power transfer is spot-on, and there are no hotspots when using minimal XC pedals. While some super-stiff shoes can be unforgiving on long rides, I’ve had no issues wearing these on 8-10 hour epics.
The cleat channel, built for 2-bolt SPD-style cleats, has reasonable fore-aft adjustability, and goes far enough back for mountain bikers who like their cleat slammed towards the rear.
There are front-to-back position markers, as well as a central line for alignment. Furthermore, the sole under the cleat is as smooth as it is elsewhere, rather than textured as you find on some other shoes.
There are three main sections of grip-giving rubber lugging on the sole, as well as extra rubber under the arch of the foot to help grip if you miss a pedal. There are also two studs, useful for when things get really muddy.
Grip is reasonable, if not exceptional, and the central set of lugs clog with mud easily.
The SlipNot rubber is said to offer grip over wet rocks, though I’m not convinced it’s soft enough to really help much. It’s an issue with many XC/gravel shoes – the lugs are almost always too hard to really help on rocks and roots.
Specialized S-Works Recon Lace Gravel bottom line
These shoes are clearly top-end, with top-quality materials and fit, matched with a high price.
Laces won’t suit everybody, but they offer plenty of fit adjustment, as well as classic looks. So long as your hands are warm enough to undo them, and you’ve avoided deep mud, they provide little to complain about.
Comfort with a gravel shoe is key. Once the upper has softened around the ankle, the Recon Lace Gravel shoes are incredibly comfortable. The Body Geometry concept works, the upper is flexible, heel hold is good and the toe box spacious and ventilated. With no hotspots from small pedals, I’d happily wear these on my longest rides.
It’s a shame that the shoes take a while to break in, though, as it may mean a fractious early relationship with them.