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Gravel Gear

Specialized Recon ADV shoe review: gravel shoes with laces

Specialized calls it a gravel shoe, but a multi-surface shoe that's happy both on and off the bike might be a better description.

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The idea of a gravel-specific cycling shoe can be a bit silly. The average gravel bike rider uses a two-bolt MTB-style shoe for the sake of walkability and durability. Those same gravel riders will spend plenty of time pedaling hard on roads, smooth dirt, and gravel, so the stiffness of a road shoe is welcome. As a result, finding the optimal shoe isn’t as easy as finding a two-bolt shoe for Shimano SPDs and moving on. But does the world really need a gravel cycling shoe?

Specialized seems to think so. The Specialized Recon ADV shoe is targeted right at the heart of the gravel rider market with a shoe they say is optimized for cranking out the miles. It takes the rough-and-ready DNA of the Recon MTB shoe line and adds a fair bit of flare, a bit more stiffness, and a lace-up upper profile. To me, that makes these shoes worth considering, even if you aren’t a gravel cyclist. Let me explain.

Specialized Recon Shoe review - taupe tan gravel shoe
The Specialized Recon ADV shoe in the taupe colorway.

Specialized Recon ADV details

Not everyone likes a lace-up shoe, and the cycling shoe market has typically borne that out. Laces went through a bit of a revival since Giro released the Empire road and MTB shoes in 2012, as their low weight and sleek looks against the swath of velcro-laden shoes seemed to strike a chord. The enthusiasm behind lace-up shoes seems to have waned over the last few years, but Specialized is continuing onward with the Recon ADV. 

Specialized claims the idea behind the new Recon ADV was that style is just as important as the ride quality, and the details show that. Specialized offers the Recon ADV in three colors: an all-black, a purple with gum soles, and an earth-tone taupe with a smorgasbord of black, gum, and pink I had for the test. The laces add even more color with a different pink hue with purple specks sprinkled in. It makes for a combination that doesn’t work in a vacuum but looks great in person.

There are also a number of other style points sprinkled around the shoes. The base of the laces just below the eyelets is emblazoned with the Specialized ‘S’. Those vibrant pink (or is it magenta?) laces stitch up to the top three eyelets, which carry the pink highlight from the inside of the shoe. Even the rubber below has what amounts to a pseudo-topo detail. None of this affects how the shoe feels while out riding, but it does make the shoe feel a bit more premium. All of it just says adventure.

Specialized Recon Shoe review - taupe tan gravel shoe
The little ‘S’ logo at the base of the laces is a nice touch.

Fortunately, Specialized added some substance to back up the shoe’s looks. The upper features a number of little laser-cut perforations over the whole of the shoe and tongue that offer some ventilation. The area just above the sole has a light rubberized area to prevent the upper from getting scratched up, with more TPU material just in front of the toe box to protect against stone strikes. 

Adding to the bits of substance is a partial carbon sole. This is mixed with a glass fiber forefoot which Specialized says allows for the front to flex as you hike a bike, be it up the trail or at the local coffee stop. 

Our Specialized Recon ADV in size 40 weighed in at 289 g per shoe or 478 g for the pair. Relatively lightweight compared to similar two-bolt shoes.

The Recon ADV is available in a wide array of sizes from 36 up to 49, with half sizes available from 38.5 to 46.5.

Specialized Recon ADV shoe colors
Recon ADV in black, taupe, and purple colorways. (Image: Specialized)

Recon ADV riding impressions

I’ve had the chance to spend about 120 miles (~193 km) of riding time in the Recon ADV over road, gravel, and singletrack. Fit for the shoe is pretty classically Specialized, with a last shared with the Specialized Recon 2.0 shoes. The heel cup is pleasantly snug compared to many other two-bolt shoes that leave the heel swimming when you pull up on the pedals. The mid-foot and forefoot areas of the shoe strike a middle ground along the likes of Giro or modern-day Shimano. There’s some wiggle room up there, but I wouldn’t consider the shoe exceptionally roomy or friendly to truly wide feet.

Specialized Recon Shoe review - taupe tan gravel shoe
The sole’s rubber has a topo-adjacent pattern to it. No, topo isn’t played out, stop asking!

If the outgoing S-Works Recon Lace shoes were focused purely on performance, and a majority of lace-up two-bolt shoes are focused on recreation, the Specialized Recon ADV shoes are a bit of a happy medium. The predominantly carbon sole feels plenty stiff underfoot when pedaling hard, but not so stiff that the shoes became hard to use in hike-a-bike sections. It makes transitioning from riding hard to stopping to carry the bike through something like a rock garden fairly seamless. Rarely did I feel like I was in the wrong shoe for the job.

Along that note, the flexible toe area seems to work really well. Instead of extending that carbon stiffening plate to the front of the shoe, the shoe replaces it with a much more flexible material that makes it easier to walk. While I wouldn’t feel as confident using them as I would with shoes designed for flat pedals or the like, the shoes seem to toe the line between stiffness and walkability well enough. 

Specialized uses what they call their SlipNot rubber compound underneath. The rubber underneath is a fair bit grippier than the hard plastic found underneath the likes of a Shimano RX8 gravel shoe. Treadwear over the last few weeks of use has been minimal, which bodes well for long-term durability. I would’ve liked to see more rubber where the carbon bits of the sole shoe are as there are some scuffs and scratches down there, but omitting rubber there didn’t disadvantage the shoe’s functionality.

Specialized Recon Shoe review - taupe tan gravel shoe
The laces might do a good job of spreading out pressure on the forefoot, but they require more work to find proper adjustment.

Laces seem to be better at distributing pressure across the tops of your feet than a traditional BOA dial or strap, and these shoes are no exception. That said, the extra work required to find the right fit isn’t for everyone. Adjusting a BOA dial is a one-handed affair that can be done on the bike, but laces mean any mid-ride adjustments will likely require coming to a stop. 

While all of my riding in the Specialized Recon ADV shoes have been done in south Texas, temperatures haven’t risen to the point where I can test the shoe’s overall breathability in warm weather. There’s no sole-based ventilation underneath, and the perforation in the upper is good but not great for ventilation. Hot, slow days will leave your feet a bit sweaty, but no more than a traditional MTB shoe.

Specialized Recon Shoe review - taupe tan gravel shoe
The Recon ADV has a whole lot of protection toward the bottom of the shoe.


The Specialized Recon ADV shoes likely aren’t going to be your go-to choice if your only prerequisite is performance, but they’ll work fine for the vast majority of folks. It approaches the walkability of a mountain bike-oriented shoe but is stiff enough to be a stable platform when pedaling hard. Add in the laces, and I’d say the shoe is pleasingly sleek if you were to wear more casual clothing. 

Does the world need a gravel bike shoe? Perhaps not, but plenty of cyclists could use a shoe that does everything the Recon ADV does. It has few weaknesses and a lot to like, regardless of whether or not you intend to ride gravel solely.

Price: $225 / £200 / €220 / $350 AUD

Specialized Recon Shoe review - taupe tan gravel shoe
Minimal rubber, but the cleat mount goes pleasingly far back should that be your jam. 
Specialized Recon Shoe review - taupe tan gravel shoe
The insole is fairly simple but is easily replaceable. 
Specialized Recon Shoe review - taupe tan gravel shoe
There’s very little branding on this shoe, particularly from this angle. 

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