Rigid sole, biomechanical design that works for a lot of riders, locked-in heel, very flexible and vented upper
Ultra-flexible upper may feel unsupportive for some riders; and, of course, the cost
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Designed for cross-country and gravel, the Specialized S-Works Vent EVO shoe combines a stiff sole, firmly shaped heel cup, and BOA dials with an ultra-flexible upper that is thin and malleable to the point of being shapeless in some areas, particularly on the mesh parts of the toe box.
As with all shoes, personal fit and preferences determine ‘good,’ but with a $450 pair of shoes, I would certainly advise buying these in person versus online so you can try them on first.
The concept with the S-Works Vent EVO is straightforward: Take the popular off-road Recon shoe design, add mesh (the ‘Vent’ part), and use thin Dyneema material on the rest of the upper to allow the foot to move easily.
Specialized’s Body Geometry features continue in this S-Works Vent EVO, with arch support built into the outsole, a metatarsal button built into the insole, and Specialized’s forefoot ‘Varus Wedge’ adding 1.5mm of height on the inboard side to combat pronation.
Also continuing are the carbon outsole that’s fully rigid with a rubber tread that (in the past) has stood the test of years. As with many such shoes, there are replaceable toe spikes for extra traction, and even the center of the sole has a thin layer of rubber for a bit of traction should you miss a pedal clip-on.
All that to say, fans of Specialized fit and feel underneath their feet will feel right at home here. The major difference is how the shoes feel around the feet.
The tongue has three longitudinal gaps in the generous padding, with mesh on both sides allowing heat to escape and a bit of air to reach the top of the foot.
Generous padding tops the fully rigid heel cup, keeping the bony part of the foot locked in but providing some comfort and flexibility for walking.
The inboard side of the shoe has a small bit of mesh inset into the Dyneema upper, which doesn’t stretch but conforms to any shape with hardly any pressure. On the outboard side, a rigid panel supports the two BOA dials, so the Dyneema’s flexing ability is confined to the short section between the BOA platform and the outsole.
But it’s the toebox where the design is most dramatic. A reinforce toe bumper gives solid shape (and frontal toe protection), then a Dyneema panel extends like a bridge back to the Velcro strap, both sides of which are anchored in Dyneema. While the Dyneema is thin and malleable, it still has some shape and doesn’t really stretch. The mesh, by contrast, feels like a thin sock in terms of weight and structure.
The goal of these shoes was to let riders’ feet move uninhibited. It is a stark contrast to the firm fit of many XC or gravel shoes. For riders who like the locked-in feel of a firm shoe, this may feel strange. For those who have fit issues, this could be a godsend.
I have yet to do any truly hot rides in these shoes. Most of my rides here in Colorado have been in booties — or on the trainer. On the few warm rides I have done, I did appreciate the bit of ventilation the shoes provide. While pedaling, the mesh portions aren’t as dramatic for wind-through-the-toes feeling as road shoes that have big ports in the sole, but it’s noticeable, especially when coasting at high speed and when wiggling your feet around.
What I like
In general, I love the fit and feel of Specialized shoes. So that was my bias putting these on. And sure enough, the shaping of the outsole, insole and heel cup felt immediately like home. I’ve done a few long rides on these with no comfort complaints.
I also appreciate the stiffness of the soles. ‘Walkable’ shoes with flexible sole certainly have their purpose, but I aim to minimize the ride-to-walk ratio whenever possible, you know? That said, the give at the top of the heel cup — and certainly in the rest of the shoe overall — feels good when hike-a-biking.
I am a big fan of BOA dials in general, and these metal micro-adjust dials in particular. They’re quick, easy, and effective. I’ve worn out earlier plastic versions of the BOA dials, but I have yet to experience that with the metal dials.
What I’m not sure about
Yes, the price is bonkers. I’ll leave that portion for you to judge.
The mesh-plus-Dyneema fit is certainly unlike anything I’ve experienced in an off-road shoe, and I’m not sure I like it. Where is the line between comfortable and vague? I mean, I love house slippers, but I wouldn’t want to race in them, you know?
The BOA dials as always do a great job of locking down the top of the foot to your preferred degree of tightness. But the toe box is mostly shapeless. This might be a good thing for many riders! What I don’t like is how the Velcro strap and the Dyneema paneling underneath it are quite pronounced in contrast to the surrounding mesh. This is most noticeable when walking, as you can feel the edges of the Dyneema like a separate structure.
In short, let me repeat my suggestion above: Try these on before you buy.