Specialized S-Works Torch shoe review: Wide is the new normal
Specialized’s latest flagship road shoes perform gloriously, but more important is what this means for the rest of the lineup.
Specialized’s latest flagship road shoes perform gloriously, but more important is what this means for the rest of the lineup.
That’s how Specialized footwear design director Rob Cook said some people had described the S-Works 7. While that shoe offered outstanding support and an ironclad hold, for some riders, that security also apparently came with an overly restrictive feel that wasn’t as accommodating of different foot shapes as it could be.
The new S-Works Torch seeks to resolve all of that, maintaining the same level of support, but now with a much more coddling feel. The upper design is all new with completely different materials, there’s a dramatic change in the heel counter, and a more minimal layout in general. But perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle is that the S-Works Torch is substantially wider than any S-Works road shoe to date — and that’s going to be the new normal moving forward.
Specialized obviously has a lot of resources at its disposal: people, equipment, money, influence, and so on. But one resource that isn’t often discussed is data, which is exactly what the company harnessed in designing the S-Works Torch.
According to Specialized, a review of almost 110,000 scans of riders’ feet collected through its Retül fitting division revealed one consistent theme: shoes should be wider. While the general shape of the new S-Works Torch isn’t dramatically changed from the S-Works 7, the biggest difference is that the forefoot area is now 4 mm wider than it was before. That extra room allows your feet to spread out like they naturally want to do, supposedly for better blood flow, better performance, and more comfort in general.
There’s also an S-Works Torch “wide” version that’s another 4 mm wider still, and if the width of the previous S-Works models was just right for you, that will carry on as a “narrow” fit (although not all markets will get the “narrow” option).
It’s important to note that this isn’t the first time Specialized has offered a “wide” fit. However, as is often the case here, those shoes weren’t actually any wider than the standard version. Instead, the uppers were built with more volume to provide more room in general. This time around, the change is legitimately in width, not height. More importantly, the new lasts are paired to matching carbon plates — 4 mm wider for the updated standard fit, and 8 mm wider for the new “wide”.
It’s also worth pointing out that this isn’t a new idea. Fizik recently made a similar move with its wide-fit shoes (such as the Vento Infinito Carbon 2 Wide), and both Lake and Bont have used dedicated plates for years. Nevertheless, it’s good to see Specialized hasn’t taken the easy way out here.
While apparently more riders than not will appreciate the S-Works Torch’s roomier fit, there are a bunch of other changes, too.
Specialized has been touting the benefits of using Dyneema non-stretch materials in shoe uppers at least since the introduction of the S-Works 6 generation more than six years ago. But the company is letting all of that go with the S-Works Torch.
The Torch features an exoskeleton-like, multi-layer upper design. Certain areas that need to be more resistant to stretch (such as around the ankle and midfoot) get additional layers of reinforcement material, while other areas are stretchier and more compliant. In this way, Specialized is supposedly able to retain that ironclad hold Dyneema provided, but with a feel that’s less unyielding and rigid.
That approach is especially noticeable around the forefoot area. The extra 4-8 mm of width obviously make the S-Works Torch feel roomier, but much like the now-defunct Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II shoes, there are now stretch zones around the first and fifth metatarsal heads that cater to riders that might have bunions or other anomalies. The toe box area still has more structure than the radical S-Works Exos shoes that Specialized debuted in 2019, but there were clearly some lessons gleaned there.
The overall shape of the upper has been pared down, too. The rear of the shoe is more aggressively cut away (by about 4 mm in height, according to Specialized) and there’s more room around the top of the tongue for easier ankle flexion, and there’s less material overlap in general (which also improves breathability). Keen-eyed footwear fans will also notice there’s no longer a forefoot strap, and while the dual Specialized-exclusive machined aluminum Boa dials themselves carry over, the placement and orientation of the dials and cables have been revised to more evenly distribute pressure atop the rider’s foot.
Speaking of pressure, another major change is the external heel counter.
Specialized first debuted its PadLock heel design with the S-Works 6 generation in 2016, and while it offered an incredible hold, its tight fit was a little too tight for some. That was loosened a bit with the S-Works 7 shoes, but now it’s — quite literally — been cut in half for the S-Works Torch.
Again leaning on its giant pile of Retül fit data (along with pro team feedback and lessons from the Exos), Specialized says that while riders usually need support to keep their heels from migrating inward while pedaling, they don’t need it in the other direction. As such, this new asymmetrical heel counter design provides the support without the apparently unnecessary restriction, and together with the lower ankle cut in general, the hope is that more riders will find the latest shoes to be comfortable long-term.
Down below is an all-new carbon fiber plate. As already mentioned, it’s grown wider to properly support those more accommodating uppers, but it’s also dramatically simpler in shape. The cross-section is now trapezoidal with an internal I-beam reinforcement for stiffness, and tapered “pie crust” edges that supposedly save 20 g despite the increase in width. The sliding cleat nuts carry over from the previous generation for more adjustment range, and they’re in the same neutral position as before. Stack height hasn’t changed, either.
Specialized will offer the new S-Works Torch in six colors — all black, all white, “team white”, Deep Marine, Lagoon Blue/Vivid Coral, and Oak — each in three widths ranging in size from 36-49, with half-sizes from 38-47, although narrow sizes will only be offered in select markets. Retail price is a heady US$450 / AU$650 / £385 / €440.
Actual weight of my size 43 S-Works Torch test shoes is 462 g per pair, including insoles. That’s a modest 16 g reduction from the S-Works 7, but weight is hardly the most important story here.
I should preface my comments regarding the updated fit of the S-Works Torch by saying that I seem to have unusually adaptable feet. Although they’re rather wide with a low arch and very low instep (with slight Tailor’s Bunions on both feet, no less), I often get along with all but the narrowest shoes just fine, including the S-Works 7, and my long-time go-to, the S-Works Sub6 lace-ups. That all said, I really like where Specialized is going with these.
I’ve long held the opinion that road cycling shoes, on the whole, should be a little wider — partially based on various internet chatter, but also just looking at how most shoes are shaped as compared to how most people’s feet actually look. And while the new Torch doesn’t go as far as the wide options from Bont or Lake, they’re likely still a step in the right direction (no pun intended).
As promised, I’ve found the S-Works Torch to be exceptionally comfortable during my testing over the last few weeks. There’s been no break-in period required, thanks to the stretch zones in the toe box and newly accommodating tongue shape, and there’s noticeably freer ankle movement thanks to the newly cut-away rear.
That little bit of extra give has paid dividends on longer rides, too, with little need to adjust the Boa tightness after a few hours, and that more accommodating forefoot area providing more room for your toes to swell when it’s hot. Speaking of which, ventilation is better than on the S-Works 7, too, now that those big panels of unperforated Dyneema are gone.
Let’s not forget that shoe fit is highly personal though. While I quite like the wider forefoot area here, CyclingTips senior tech editor Dave Rome isn’t as much of a fan.
“The fit across the toe is almost too roomy for me, and I felt like the ball of my foot was free to almost flop up and down,” he said. “Really cranking on the lower Boa dial reduces this feeling, but doesn’t wholly solve it. I suspect the narrow version would be a better fit for me, but perhaps it’s also a sign that my preference for how a race shoe should fit is already better answered by the Ares.”
Count me among the percentage of riders who not only never had an issue with the original PadLock design (thanks for the narrow heels, mom and dad!), but was also a little bummed that the fit was relaxed for the S-Works 7 generation. As such, I expected to be underwhelmed by the asymmetrical heel counter on this new S-Works Torch, but I’m happy to report that it hasn’t been an issue. Specialized has once again done a great job of shaping the heel cup so that it snugs up around the base of your Achilles tendon, but it’s now more of a gentler hold — more like a bear hug than a stranglehold — and this aspect seems likely to gain widespread praise.
“Gone are my previous fit woes of painful pinching at the Achilles or the cutting feeling from the top of the tongue digging into the tendon at the front of my ankle,” Dave added.
Although comfort has improved, foot security doesn’t seem to have changed much. This isn’t designed to be a no-holds-barred sprinter’s shoe like the S-Works Ares, but you can still be surprisingly aggressive when cranking down the Boa dials at the outset without ill effects. Without question, your foot is very securely locked into place, and yet it’s unlikely anyone will describe these as a “foot container”.
“These shoes are comfy,” Dave said, “and you feel locked into the midsection and back section of the shoe, without feeling like you’ve put your foot into the jaws of a snapping turtle.”
Complaints? So far, they’re few in number and fairly minor.
This is likely more related to my low-volume, low-instep feet, but I’m getting a little bit of wrinkling in the uppers around the arch. My guess is riders with more average-shaped feet won’t have the issue, but this is still a little disappointing given that reducing wrinkling was apparently a prime directive when Specialized embarked on the S-Works Torch project.
One thing I really liked on the S-Works 7 was the way the toe tread wrapped around the front of the shoe a bit, which not only made for easier walking, but helped to protect the upper from wear. Unfortunately, the toe tread on the S-Works Torch is much more minimal, and while Specialized has graced the new shoe with a burly plastic toe cap, there’s still more sole and upper wear than I’d prefer, especially for something that costs as much as these do. The heel tread is thankfully still replaceable, but it’s smaller than the previous version (and, of course, incompatible).
I’d also caution against getting either of the white colors if you have any toe overlap. The plastic toe cap is easier to clean than the microfiber upper materials, but it’s still very difficult to keep these looking like new.
As impressive as the new S-Works Torch is, the reality is only a small minority of riders will be able to spend that kind of money on shoes. As such, what’s arguably far more important than these particular shoes themselves is what this means for Specialized’s footwear line in general. After all, if the company’s own data suggests that shoes should be wider, wouldn’t that indicate that this revised fit might find its way into the rest of the lineup?
That’s exactly the plan, as it turns out.
“Yes, it’s fair to say that if we’ve built innovation at the S-Works level, we’ll be working to bring that benefit to riders at other models within our product line,” said Specialized equipment PR manager Sierra Domaille. “We aim for consistent feeling across the S-Works line, especially with more and more riders becoming multi-discipline.”
In other words, Specialized road shoes are about to get wider across the board, and hopefully will offer a more generous range of fits in general. So if everything you’ve read here sounds appealing, but you just can’t stomach that sky-high price tag, sit tight. Your time will come — at a fraction of the cost — and my guess is it’ll be sooner than later.
More information can be found at www.specialized.com.