What is it
If you’re familiar with terms such as gravel grinding or groad, have considered signing up for Grinduro or Dirty Kanza, or simply like to ride your road bike where others typically won’t go, Specialized’s Recon Mixed Terrain shoes may be right up your (unpaved) alley. The Big Red S bills them as having a balanced “blend of durability, comfort, and adventure capability.” Power transfer is enhanced by stiffness index 10 FACT carbon soles, while grippy “SlipNot” tread helps keep you securely stable and upright when off the bike.
Of course the first thing you’ll notice about these shoes are the laces. For reasons of fit customization (and perhaps a few hipster points), buckles, Velcro and BOA dials are absent, replaced by a pair of non-stretch water-resistant laces that’ll have your non-cycling friends invoking their best bowling shoes jokes. However, those in the know understand that laces can offer a level of customization beyond other closure mechanisms.
Sizes for the Recons run 38-49, with half sizes from 41.5 to 46.5. (There are currently no wide options.) Color choice is either black/gum (tested) or the more flamboyant orange fade. Our size 44 testers weighed 388 grams per shoe without cleats, and 416 grams with Shimano SPD cleats installed.
- Competitive weight compared to other MTB shoes
- Classic look
- Reasonably comfortable
- Impressive sole traction
- Durable construction
- Highly versatile
- Stiff carbon sole enhances pedaling efficiency
- Replaceable threaded toe studs
- Laces allow for truly custom fit
- Laces easy to stow
- Good venting in toe box
- Elastic loop allows for easy lace stowing
- Two-bolt SPD cleat interface
- Water resistant laces
- Heavy compared to road shoes
- Sole stiffness not great for walking
- Laced design can be time consuming
- Not an all-weather shoe
- Some turned off by “hipster” look
- Bucking current trend with no BOA dials
- Occasional lace loosening
- Toe venting prone to water invasion
- Fit may be too snug for some
- Currently no wide foot size options
Let’s start with an important caveat: There is no such thing as the best cycling shoes. What works perfectly for one rider (and set of feet) may have another cyclist referencing the Spanish Inquisition. That said, I’m a big fan of Specialized’s Recon Mixed Terrain shoes. While a little cumbersome compared to a BOA dial or Velcro strap, the laced closure system allows for a finite level of customization you simply can’t get anywhere else. Yes, it initially takes a little time to get dialed. But once fit is finalized, hot spots are rare, if not completely eliminated. And there’s a handy elastic stow strap to keep the laces from unwinding into your cranks.
Specialized has also done a nice job blending pedaling efficiency (via a stiff carbon sole) with walkability (thanks to the grippy SlipNot rubber tread). No, these are not all-day-stroll friendly. The sole is simply too stiff for that. But for off-the-beaten-path adventures where you’re occasionally off the bike, they do just fine. Think aggressive XC racing shoes and you get the picture.
Inside you’ll find a Body Geometry sole and footbed that Specialized says are “ergonomically designed and scientifically tested to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee, and foot alignment.” Those are some bold claims that I can’t personally verify, except to say on my somewhat narrow size 44 foot with low arch, these shoes were comfortable right out of the box with no knee pain or otherwise. If you have wide feet, though, best look elsewhere. Specialized is sold out of the wide model right now, and the standard width fit is snug to begin with.
I also really like the look. It’s simple with a hint of cool factor. But others will call them hipster wannabes, and that’s their prerogative. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
The real question is who (and what) are these shoes for? I’d argue they’re a great all-around choice that can do a lot of things well. If you ride a skinny tired bike, but like to venture onto the dirt from time to time, the stiff sole will remind you of a decent pair of road shoes, but still allow for comfortable walking without feeling like a waddling penguin. If cross-country mountain biking is your thing, the durable synthetic leather upper, grippy tread, and 2-bolt SPD compatibility (and that stiff carbon sole) will keep you on pace for a podium finish. And if your cycling persona expands beyond these borders, all the better. You can do a lot with this single pair of shoes.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
More Info: www.specialized.com