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(The Gear Loop) - The S-Works moniker is only applied to the absolute pinnacle of Specialized’s range, be it bicycles, helmets or - in this case - impressively engineered road cycling shoes.

Read the official marketing bumph and you’ll see Specialized used what it refers to as "Body Geometry", together with "biomimicry, data science, and obsessive craftsmanship" to engineer a shoe "so thoughtfully constructed that you’ll forget you’re wearing it". Got all that? Good.

It’s a lofty claim, but when you dig a little deeper into the details, you’ll see the Californian brand isn’t messing about. The team produced more than 100,000 foot scans through its Retül fitting division and came to the conclusion that its shoes needed to be wider... among other things.

The Gear LoopSpecialized S-Works Torch review photo 3

Clearly there were many other insights, but it landed on the fact that both a standard and a wide carbon base plate would "best serve the spectrum of human foot shapes". So now, you’ve got the choice.

We strapped on a pair for a number of road rides to see just how good a set of shoes that cost almost as much as a bike can be.

Our quick take

Look past the insane price tag and Specialized really has created one of the most comfortable pairs of cycling shoes we’ve had the pleasure of testing. Beyond mere marketing fluff, the various systems employed to aid comfort and improve performance all seem to work. If you suffer from hotspots and pinch points, it could be well worth the money. If not, it feels like a mammoth investment. 

Specialized S-Works Torch review: premium shoes with a premium price tag

Specialized S-Works Torch

5 stars - The Gear Loop editors choice
For
  • Stupidly lightweight
  • Stylish BOA closure system
  • Good sizing options
Against
  • Wider fit won’t be for everyone
  • The price is painful
  • White marks up easily

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Design and materials

This is where the magic really happens because although it doesn’t look like much on the surface, a lot is going on under the skin of these shoes.

SpecializedSpecialized S-Works Torch review photo 9

There’s now an internal -I-Beam, which is said to add stiffness and strength without the need additional bracing and added weight.

On top of this, Specialized has implemented an asymmetrical heel cup for added grip at the rear and an improved "locked in fit". This is aided by a shoe that replicates the foot with greater accuracy, with an insole that is sloped more towards the lateral side to give a snug, close-to-foot fit.

The cables that work with the fancy BOA dials for on-the-move fit adjustments have been moved to reduce pressure across anterior ankle ligaments.

The Gear LoopSpecialized S-Works Torch review photo 6

Above all else, Specialized has ditched the Dyneema material in the upper, which was previously selected for its robustness and resilience. It wasn’t the most forgiving, so the team has opted for a multi-fabric set-up here, injecting stretchy materials where needed, interspersed with reinforced fabrics to aid longevity.

The outer is heavily perforated to aid breathability and, thanks to its numerous material elements, looks fantastic and really purposeful. When sat next to our ageing Specialized Expert Road shoes, they appear positively futuristic and lightweight.

Fit and feel

Weighing in at around 462g for a pair in an average size 43 (UK size 9), the new S-Works Torch is 20g lighter than the S-Works 7, which was regarded as the flagship shoe until this came along.

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It’s not much, but there’s no getting away from the fact these are incredibly light and when on the foot, really feel like wearing nothing at all.

The roomier fit in the toe box is a welcome addition, at least to these eyes anyway, as it avoids any pinching around the knuckle of the big to and requires fewer micro-adjustments as the feet get hotter and swell during a ride.

Specialized’s "metatarsal button", which has featured on other shoes in the Body Geometry range, is a lovely feature too. This lifts and separates the bones of the forefoot to prevent compressing of nearby nerves and arteries. It prevents hotspots and pinch points that can creep in during longer rides.

The Gear LoopSpecialized S-Works Torch review photo 4

The other mechanisms are also tangible when wearing the shoe, such as the longitudinal arch support that prevents foot collapse and mimics the foot shape when running for added power.

Plus, a built-in Various Wedge helps improve foot, knee and hip alignment that is said to increase power output. We’re not so sure on that, but considering your foot is the base for all power outputs, it only seems right to get everything lined up correctly and we didn't suffer from any hip or knee pain when riding in the S-Works Torch.

Performance on the bike

It’s possible to drill down far to crazy levels with latest S-Works Torch, with Specialized even offering a bespoke foot-scanning and fitting service that will produce, you guessed it, bespoke carbon footplates that match for feet exactly.

SpecializedSpecialized S-Works Torch review photo 10

This could be a deal breaker for those with slightly odd foot arch heights (that’s probably all of us), or even some cyclists that simply don’t get their shoe sizing right in the first place. After all, getting the perfect fit is going to be highly personal.

We didn’t get a chance to visit Specialized and have our feet scanned but that didn’t do anything to spoil the delightful fit and comfort these shoes offered.

From the moment you slip them on, to the moment you pull them off, they are so delicate and light that you may as well be cycling in slippers. However, they retain the sort of stiffness and robustness that allows for maximum power transfer between feet and pedals.

The Gear LoopSpecialized S-Works Torch review photo 1

We’re not going to claim they made us any faster over a 40km route, nor can we share positive variations in power output, but we can say they felt great. Because they did.

Although, and in the interest of impartiality, we did find that the rubber rand around the front of the shoe marked really easily, especially when plumping for the all-white model. But that’s really a minor fault, as it’s difficult to pick holes in these shoes, which might go some way to justifying the price.

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To recap

The Specialized S-Works Torch sets a new precedent for ultra-lightweight road riding shoes and the amount of research and development invested in them is impressive. They are comfortable, to the point they almost disappear, but who has nearly £400 to spend on shoes? Not us.

Writing by Leon Poultney.