Review: 2019 Specialized S-Works Recon

Mtb shoe worth it at $425?

News Pro Reviews

2019 Specialized S-Works Recon, one sexy beast of a clipless shoe

What is it

Specialized created an entirely new clipless mountain bike shoe, loaded with premium features and offers it at a premium price. Their intended customer is anyone from gravel grinders to XC. Is the Recon worth its price tag and how does it perform for all-mountain riding? Read on to find out.

Specs:

  • Body Geometry sole and footbed
  • BOA® S3-Snap, BOA® Lifetime Guarantee
  • Rigid FACT carbon power plate last. Stiffness index: 13.0
  • SlipNot™ rubber heel and toe tread
  • Titanium alloy cleat nuts
  • Dyneema® Mesh is trapped between layers of four-way stretch mesh and TPU to create no-stretch zones
  • PadLock™ heel
  • Two-bolt cleat pattern, two positions
  • Black or red colors
  • Wide sizing available
  • Weight: 351 grams (per shoe, 46 Wide, without cleat)
  • Sizes: 36-49, Regular and Wide
  • Price: $425

Rating: 4.5/5

Pros

  • Stiff sole
  • Very breathable
  • Durable
  • Supportive

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Loam finds its way in
  • Tread is not replaceable (cleats are)

2019 Specialized Recon Sole

Product Description and Fit

These new Specialized S-Works Recons are gorgeous, with incredible styling and top-shelf materials. After hearing I was going to get to test these shoes out, my first thought was comparing them to the previous generation Recon, which I pedaled for more than a year. However, after seeing and riding this new model, it was obvious that would not be the right approach. The S-Works Recon is an entirely new shoe, coming 172 grams lighter for the pair! The target audience might be the same, but that is where the similarities end.

2019 Specialized Recon BOA S3, lightly scraped

The test shoes were 46 Wide’s and have similar sizing to the previous generation Recon, though much more room in the toe box. The new heels are narrow and totally slip free. My foot is a 12 4E, wider than the last for these shoes (targeting a 2E), so they were slightly snug in the midfoot but everything else was perfect. My daily ride shoes are Lake MX 332 Extra Wides, which are at a similar price point, but require adding Lake’s Carbon Insole to get adequate arch support, ending up costing $75 more than the Recons. The MX 332 toe box is not as roomy as the Recons, and last is also not quite as stiff, though Lake’s custom molding process yields an instantly perfect fit.

Directly out of the box, the Recons are fairly stiff. It takes a few rides for them to get more comfortable, due to the firm padding and durable materials used. Give them some break-in time and you’ll be rewarded. I’d actually recommend wearing them around the house a bit, before venturing out on a ride. I did not and my feet were a bit uncomfortable the first couple rides, but it was tolerable. The BOA S3s are quite helpful for getting the fit dialed in, allowing one-click loosening, so you don’t have to release them completely to get a smidge more room and can actually adjust the dials without dismounting (though we do not recommend it). After spending some time in the shoes, they seem to mold themselves to your feet.

2019 Specialized Recon Toe Protection

Riding Experience

MTBR has tested the Specialized S-Works Recons for three months over a variety of trails, including multiple hike-a-bikes through rocky terrain. They were paired with Crankbrothers Mallet E LS pedals for the testing. We have been impressed with the lack of wear of the Dyneema and TPU material, as you can see in the photos.

The Recons exterior is an incredibly durable material, Dyneema, which also breaths very well. From the Dyneema® web page, they describe the product as, “the world’s strongest fiber™, is respected as the premium brand for Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene.” It seems many products applicable to harsh offshore environments are also finding applications in the mountain biking world.

Ventilation is provided by perforations crossing the toe box and extending along the inside and cover the tongue. Honestly, I had issues in cold weather with how well these things breathed, absolutely freezing my big toe! Granted, these are not the best choice for cold weather rides without a shoe cover. Something like Specialized’s Element WINDSTOPPER® Toe Covers are all I need to address this and only $30.

2019 Specialized Recon Vents on the Inside also

During minor creek crossings and puddle splashes, I had minimal water ingress, much less than shoes with a mesh toe cover, but on deeper crossings your feet get totally soaked, as you’d expect in shoes with holes in them. Two other items to note, dust definitely passes through the holes, so your feet and socks get a bit dirty. When roosting in loamy conditions, a bit of trail debris can get in around your ankles. That’s nothing unusual for this style of shoe, but is worth noting. Many of the recent enduro flavored shoes have been including a mini-gator to address debris invasion.

The toe box has some minor protection across the front, in the form of a rubberized plastic cup. I’d recommend not kicking rocks, but it should help prevent toe injuries when rocks attack.

2019 Specialized Recon Toe Vents

The ventilation ports wrap along the side of the big toe and really cool the foot off. The inside and outside midfoot is a Dyneema, mesh and TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane) sandwich, which is very durable and supports the arch well. That combines with the stiff sole to support your foot on drops and other fun activities, where many clipless shoes are too flexy. When riding clipless, you do not have a large pedal platform to support your foot, so are completely reliant on your shoe’s sole.

Heel slip is nonexistent thanks to the PadLock™ heel. Slippage is something which has always plagued me, having a very wide fore/mid foot and narrow heel, and this shoe’s heel performed better than anything I’ve tried before. Super grippy, totally locked in, very impressive indeed, Specialized.

2019 Specialized Recon PadLock™ heel

The Recon has an outer plastic heel cup which holds the foot in place, is very supportive and offers protection.

Specialized utilizes their Body Geometry technology to ensure proper alignment of the knee, hip and foot. The shoes incorporate a molded arch support in the outsole, varus wedge and metatarsal button to help with foot alignment, not typically found without custom orthotics. Specialized also has Body Geometry SL footbeds available for additional support, coming in at $30.

The sole on the Specialized S-Works Recons is very stiff. At about 220 pounds, I can definitely feel flex in shoes and found these efficient and satisfyingly rigid. Some shoes work fine for pedaling, then when I start hitting jumps, I can feel my arch starting to collapse and have needed to replace the stock insole with a carbon fiber version to obtain more support. With the S-Works Recons, they were golden exactly as delivered.

The sole stiffness is definitely felt while walking, though, is a compromise I have no issue making. Some rocker is present to improve the walking experience. I’m not one to pedal up everything, so have climbed up many technical sections in these things. Traction is decent, though the rubber is not replaceable. That said, I saw minimal wear on the sole’s intended contact surfaces, only removing a few chunks of rubber on the thinner midsection which is only there to protect the carbon. As with any shoe that could be used in cross, there are cleats, they are removable and I found them to be quite light, so left them installed and enjoyed the extra traction on muddy climbs.

The S-Works Recon has a two-bolt cleat pattern, with two rows. Unlike many shoes, where I have had to slam the cleats to the far back to get a good descending position (including the previous generation Recon), these have a wide adjustment range and target modern mountain biking styles. I found my ideal position perfectly centered in the adjustment range.

The BOA S3’s deserve a paragraph of their own. They ratchet effortlessly, positively engaging and allow you to loosen one click at a time for when you get them slightly too tight. Their metal construction has a satisfying look and feel and withstands rock contact (I’ve broken the plastic version doing that before). They make the shoes somewhat slow to remove, since they do not have a quick release, though it is a trade off I quickly stopped complaining about because of their durability and the ability to loosen one click versus releasing, reengaging, then retightening from scratch and hoping you get back to the proper position.

2019 Specialized Recon Heel Cup

Summary

The 2019 Specialized S-Works Recon shoe is a top shelf clipless shoe, sure to satisfy the most demanding rider who can afford nice things. They are equally at home on XC or Enduro rides and fit the bill for gravel grinds too. Let them mold to your feet and you’ll have a very supportive, durable and light clipless shoe that breathes well. This is a premium shoe that is worth the price.

For more information www.specialized.com.


About the author: John Bennett

With 210 lbs of solid, descending mass, John is a good litmus test of what bikes and components will survive out there in the real world. And with a good engineering mind, John is able to make sense of it all as well. Or at least come up with fancy terms to impress the group.


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  • James says:

    In a word… NO.

    My Lake shoes will walk all over them, have lasted me through 9 years of MTB and gravel racing, training, thousands upon thousands of miles, show no sign of giving up anytime soon, and cost less than HALF of what “S” thinks a shoe should cost. Give it up for their marketing dept… they swung for the nosebleed seats on that one.

  • mort says:

    Big spesh fan…but shoes are a funny thing for my feet. I would spend almost anything to have a good fitting shoes for my feet because I have some issues. But only thing that seems to work for me are the middle of the line Shimano WIDES. And I’ve tried all the big boys like Spesh, Sidi etc. I replace my shoes about every 2 years, 3 if I can stretch it…so think I’ll pass at this price tag.

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