Specialized Recon 2.0 gravel shoe review: S-Works on a budget? Not quite

by James Huang


Specialized says its Recon 2.0 XC/gravel shoe is “inspired by S-Works Recon”, which suggests a fair bit of that flagship model’s DNA is included here, despite costing a fraction of the price. It looks the part and sounds good on paper, but if you’re hoping for a similar fit to the S-Works Recon, just with a bit more weight and fewer bells and whistles to help make up the difference in price, you’ll likely be disappointed. These shoes are still pretty good, but they’re definitely cut from a different cloth.


Let me get this out of the way first and foremost: I love the S-Works Recon shoes. At least for my feet, they offer a snug and supportive fit that’s reminiscent of the company’s superb S-Works road shoes, a mega-stiff and efficient pedaling platform, and just enough armoring to shrug off most gravel and cross-country riding. They’re prohibitively expensive, however, and the pared-down outsole might just be a little too pared-down for some.

And so it was that I was excited to see the far-more-affordable Recon 2.0 (and the higher-end Recon 3.0 model) shoe recently added to the lineup. Compared to the S-Works model, the Recon 2.0 features a similarly purposeful aesthetic and the same Body Geometry forefoot wedge and arch support shaping, but a far more aggressive tread and a handy flex zone under the toes for more surefooted walking.

Obvious cost concessions include a more flexible and heavier nylon plate (with a “stiffness factor” of 6 instead of 13), a single and simpler one-way-adjustable Boa cable dial per shoe, and a thicker and less compliant upper material. But hey, remember that we’re talking about a shoe that costs barely a third of its big brother. You have to have reasonable expectations, no?

The Boa L6 reel is only micro-adjustable in the tightening direction. If you need to loosen things up, you have to do a full release by pulling up on the dial. It’s a bummer if you’re used to the dual-direction micro-adjustability of higher-end Boa models, but it’s pretty typical for shoes in this price range.

For sure, these Recon 2.0 shoes feel softer underfoot than the S-Works model, with more flex noticeable when pedaling hard. There’s also a fair bit more torsional wiggle if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing. However, I can’t say I noticed the additional weight, at least not on everyday gravel rides. My size 43 test pair came in at 736 grams without cleats — a total gain of 126 g, which is hardly surprising if only given how the Recon 2.0 shoes include far more rubber.

That more generous tread pays big dividends if and when you need to do some scrambling, though, with a notably confident feel when you’re on foot. Where the S-Works Recon basically feels like a high-end road shoe with a few bits of rubber strategically glued on to the bottom (which, in essence, is exactly what it is), the Recon 2.0 almost feels like walking in a hiking boot in terms of security and grip. That flexible toe really works, too. Instead of extending the rigid plate all the way to the tip of your toes as is usually the case, Specialized replaces the forward-most part with a much flexier plastic for a much more natural gait.

Tread wear over the last few weeks has been minimal, and prior experience with Specialized’s SlipNot rubber compound suggests that trend will continue long-term.

See that grey sliver in the toe area of the midsole? Where the rest of the Recon 2.0 is quite rigid, that grey section is very flexible, which makes for a much more natural gait than what you typically find in cycling footwear.

As for the way the Xpel shoe construction is supposed to help the shoes dry out, it was more of a mixed bag.

“Standard shoe construction uses foam in areas like the tongue and upper to create comfort and structure, but when you get this wet (like when you do a creek crossing, for example), the mesh acts like a sponge,” said Specialized footwear product manager Stephen Quay. “This makes your shoes heavy and, oftentimes, means they’re wet for the rest of the ride — or even for days after the ride.

“Unlike foam, the Xpel mesh is very open and hydrophobic, so water will pour straight through it, but it still has the necessary loft to be comfortable. By the numbers, Xpel shoes onboard about 60% less water than a shoe using typical construction methods. And [they] will dry out overnight (usually in less than four hours), so you don’t have to put on wet shoes the next day.”

Specialized’s Xpel technology doesn’t refer to any sort of water-repellent coating on the shoe, but rather the use of materials that absorb less water than usual so they dry faster.

Prior experience with Specialized’s Rime 2.0 mountain bike shoes (which also feature the same Xpel construction) seem to support Quay’s claim. During a camping trip in Crested Butte a few weeks ago, I crossed the same stream four times in a single ride, and I returned to the campsite with horrifically drenched shoes — and was sure they’d still be wet by morning. But just as claimed, they were bone-dry the next day, despite chilly overnight temperatures that were hardly conducive to drying.

That said, these Recon 2.0 shoes don’t have nearly as much open mesh as those Rime 2.0s do, and while they don’t seem to absorb as much water as you’d expect after getting soaked, the effect of that Xpel construction isn’t as dramatic. Along those same lines, the upper material is quite thick and offers only modest breathability at best. It’s not a big deal in more temperate conditions, but on especially hot and/or muggy days, the difference is noticeable relative to airier options.

The Specialized Recon 2.0 may be “inspired” by the top-end S-Works model, but it definitely doesn’t fit the same. Part of that is due to the single-Boa closure design, but it turns out that Specialized also builds this shoe with a more generous last.

All of this I completely expected. What I didn’t expect, however, was how different the Recon 2.0 would feel in terms of overall fit.

While the S-Works Recon envelopes your feet like some sort of armored sock, the Recon 2.0 feels curiously roomier, almost as if it were built around a complete different last. The heel cup is wider and sloppier, and it doesn’t subtly pinch down around the base of your Achilles tendon like the S-Works version does.

Likewise, the midsection is broader and seemingly higher-volume as well, and doesn’t offer that same pleasantly snug hold, even when the Boa dial is cranked down harder than it probably should be (and if you do so, remember that the one-way micro-adjustment means you’ll have to do a complete tension release before re-tightening again). Continuing the theme, the toe box offers a fair bit more wiggle room than the S-Works Recon, although in this case, that’s hardly objectionable.

The heel cup is wider and generally roomier than Specialized’s more racing-oriented shoes. At least on my feet, I noticed a fair bit of lift.

“Both Recon 3.0 and Recon 2.0 are built on our Standard last, while the S-Works Recon is built on our Form Fit last,” Quay explained. “They both have the same last bottom shape, but the form-fit last in S-Works Recon is a little lower in the ball of the foot for a tighter next-to-foot fit.

“The Standard Fit last is a little more accommodating than the Form Fit last, so fits a wide array of foot types nicely but doesn’t have the exact same close to foot feel.”

Keep in mind, of course, that the Recon 2.0’s more generous fit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Not everyone loves the ultra-snug fit of Specialized’s top-end road and gravel shoes, after all, in which case the Recon 2.0 might be just the ticket — and, without question, the Recon 2.0 is far better when on-foot than the S-Works version, which caters more to pedaling. As is always the case with footwear, be sure to try before you buy.

So what’s the verdict? Overall, the Recon 2.0s are pretty good, offering a reasonably stiff pedaling platform, a grippy and durable outsole with a cleverly bendy toe, sleek aesthetics, and a water-shedding construction that might come in handy on multi-day excursions. Just don’t expect it to fit like the S-Works version.

Price: US$160 / AU$240 / £165 / €150
www.specialized.com

Editors Picks