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The release last year of the super-lightweight S-Works Exos road shoe was more than just a gram-saving exercise for Specialized – it showed that there was scope to further optimise the brand’s shoes for specific needs. Now, with the launch of the airy new S-Works Vent road shoe, Specialized has unveiled a shoe designed for the hottest conditions.
The Vent project was driven not by idle experimentation but the needs of the pro athletes Specialized sponsors – the riders who race in stifling heat at the Tour Down Under, the Vuelta, and in the Middle East throughout the road season.
In the past, a bit of old-fashioned ingenuity was the only solution. “We see our riders making their own modifications to shoes for ventilation – we wanted to offer them something better,” says Ashley Sult, who leads footwear development at Specialized. “The pros are looking for this, but we didn’t want to give up anything to deliver a cooler shoe.”
Luckily, the Exos had given Specialized a starting point, with the lightweight but efficient FACT Powerline sole able to pull double-duty for the Vent project, too. That sole features four generous vents along its length, titanium hardware with fore-aft adjustment, a pared-back toe tread and a replaceable heel tread.
The Exos project was an exercise in weight-reduction, and there was a similar austerity required for the Vent – coupled with a simultaneous need to retain all the performance characteristics expected in a high-end road shoe.
“With the Vent, we were looking at airflow,” says Nick Gosseen, Specialized’s category leader of footwear. “We needed to remove enough of the shoe to dramatically increase that, without sacrificing fit or performance.” That could be be a tacit acknowledgement that the Exos was a bit too minimalistic – the Vent sees the return of an external heel cup, as used on the brand’s marquee S-Works 7 shoe, as well as the ritzy dual aluminium BOA closure.
Specialized isn’t the first brand to pursue ventilation as a goal in its shoe design, and others have revealed different solutions to the same problem. Giro and Fizik’s knit uppers are one example; Rapha’s woven uppers are another. And while both of these approaches provide a comfortable and nicely flexible upper, they are, according to Specialized, not without compromise. With too much stretch and too much moisture-retention in mesh, Specialized says, “the tradeoffs aren’t worth it.”
That led Specialized to Dyneema, a “space-age” mesh that is supple, easy to shape, and conforms to the shape of the foot, yet is “entirely without stretch when pulled”. The mesh gives the shoe a visibly airy appearance, and when the development team took prototypes to their sponsored athletes, the feedback was positive. “I showed the shoe to [Zdenek] Stybar,” says Ashley Sult, “and he simply said, ‘I would wear that at the Vuelta.’ That affirmed we were on the right track.”
With generous mesh panels through the forefoot, toe and the tongue, along with the cutouts on the sole, Specialized had solved the ventilation problem, but worked to finetune the humidity management of the shoe – for a foot to stay comfortable you don’t just need air in, but moisture out. “When we talk about ventilation, we’re really talking about airflow in service of cooling,” says Stephen Quay, Vent product manager. “We want to make sure we’re creating a less humid environment in the shoe.”
To optimise airflow and moisture management, Specialized tested the Vent alongside the S-Works 7, and compared both temperature and humidity levels. In 100ºF (~38ºC) conditions, Specialized’s testing found that the S-Works Vent was 3-4ºF cooler than the S-Works 7. The Vent’s humidity tested at 10% across the board, meanwhile; that’s compared to the S-Works 7, which tested between 30% and 60% humidity, depending on the location in the shoes. Of course, you can expect your feet to get a fair bit damper in the Vent in the case of rainfall, but at least they’ll drain easily too.
The Vents come in at a claimed 233 g a foot (size 42) – which is a fair bit heavier than the 140 g Exos, but surprisingly, also fractionally heavier than the S-Works 7 (224 g). Depending on where in the world you are, you’ve got a very classic choice of white or black. While that may sound a touch monochromatic, keep in mind that you can always dress them up with your jazziest socks, which will very much be visible through all that mesh.
Availability varies by region, and they’re priced at US$425/€399.90/£360.