Specialized’s New S-Works 7 Shoes Are Comfortable & Fast!
Specialized’s flagship shoe underwent a similar redesign to the brand’s helmet for 2018, focusing on a middle ground between performance and comfort. Andy Pruitt, founder of the Boulder Centre for Sports Medicine and creator of Specialized’s Body Geometry program, said that the central focus for cycling shoes for years has been trying to stabilise the foot and attach it to the pedal in a way that minimises side-to-side knee tracking, while generating maximum power.
“The challenge is taking the foot, which is a dynamic structure with arch flex and energy return, and turning that into a rigid lever,” he said. “That’s a pretty hard thing to do.”
With the S-Works 6, Specialized got as close to that as it’s ever gotten but, as Pruitt acknowledged, it came at some cost of rider comfort. Specialized used Dyneema – a high-strength, non-stretch polyethylene fibre used in products ranging from parachutes to rock climbing equipment – to create an upper that would securely hold the foot to the sole plate. An aggressively shaped heel cup prevented heel lift under hard efforts.
It worked, but many riders found the upper to be overly stiff and thought it took too long to break in, while the heel cup sometimes caused hot spots and blisters.
To fix that, Specialized adjusted the shape of the shoe last for the S-Works 7, altered the heel cup slightly, redesigned the tongue, and changed materials in the upper. They also added new, custom Boa closure dials and re-engineered the outsole.
The new last is essentially a middle ground between the S-Works 5 and 6 versions. It’s medium width, medium volume (there are narrow- and wide-last variants, in black only), with slightly more room on the outside of the little toe to prevent pressure, and a slightly more snug wrap around the instep for support.
The heel cup is still moulded for an aggressive hold, but the shape doesn’t pinch quite as firmly. To re-engineer the sole, Specialized used a software technology called topology optimisation, which analyzes the force and pressure on a sole while pedalling to adjust the carbon layup and thickness. Where the old sole had only gradually varying thicknesses, the sole on the S-Works 7 has two medium-sized divots behind the cleat, which help the sole remain stiff at the point of power transfer while allowing some even flex to avoid hot spots. The three-bolt cleat attachments feature 5mm of fore-aft adjustment.
The S-Works 6 used Dyneema fabric laminated to a thermoplastic polyurethane base (think of it as flexible rubber). The result was a powerful connection to the pedal, but a relatively stiff body that took a long time to break in.
The S-Works 7 mitigates that by bonding the Dyneema between two layers of stretch mesh. The outer layer has a TPU coating, but nothing as thick as the old version. The orientation of the Dyneema fibre still ensures the upper doesn’t stretch vertically, but does have some give fore-aft along the footbed, and is far more supple. And Specialized worked with Boa to create a slick-looking closure reel, which features upgraded, dirt-resistant internals, 1mm micro-click adjustments and knurled aluminum dials. It’s exclusive to this shoe.
The shoe comes with Specialized’s Body Geometry insole, and as an aftermarket upgrade, Specialized now offers semi-customiseable insoles through dealers that work with its Retül fit service. The insoles, which are from snowsports company MasterFit, use a heat-moulded thermoplastic in the heel and arch area that is shaped to your foot.
I’ve spent about a dozen hours in the new shoes so far, both with the MasterFit footbeds and my own custom footbeds. I never spent time in the S-Works 6 shoe (I gathered test impressions from staffers at Bicycling who had), but one pair of the S-Works 5 has been my “daily driver” for five years and ranks, for me, as the best shoe I’ve ever used, by a nose over the Giro Factor.
The S-Works 7 shoes aren’t fully broken in yet, and on the left shoe in particular the tongue needs some more time to adjust to my foot. But the rest of the shoe has been remarkably comfortable right away. The heel hold is noticeable, but not intrusive, and hasn’t resulted in any irritation. And the Dyneema section of the upper feels remarkably like the synthetic leather on the S-Works 5: supple and supportive without hot spots. Because of the Dyneema, I find I’m not cranking the Boa closures down as much; I can achieve a secure hold with less pressure.
Time is the test for all shoes, of course, and we’ll have a long-term review update later this spring. And, these are among the priciest road shoes you’ll find, if still below the eye-popping tag on Sidi’s Shot Vent Carbon, for example. In other words: for this price (around R5000), they should kick ass. But I’m cautiously optimistic, and if I got five years out of my old shoes, then these should offer at least as much service life.
Weight: 446g (size 41 tested)
Sizes: 36-49, half sizes between 38-47
Colors: Black (regular, narrow and wide last options); white, acid lava/acid purple, rocket red/candy red; hyper green/acid lava
Closure: double Boa reels, forefoot strap