Specialized's latest flagship S-Works 7 road shoe offers outstanding performance with superb comfort, fit, foot retention and power transfer. Yes, they are spendy – and if you opt for custom insoles (more on them below) rather than standard that adds another £110, but they're about the same as other top-end shoes and are easily a match for the best shoes in this class.
If you're interested in the lightest shoes Specialized makes, check out our first look at the recently launched S-Works Exos and Exos 99. Unless you're a weight weenie, for all-round performance, outright stiffness demands and durability, the S-Works 7 is the shoe to plump for.
You don't need me to tell you just how important fit is to cycling happiness and performance, whether it's the bike or shoes. You can have the spangliest shoes but if the fit is wrong, you're not going to extract your best performance and you risk injury. Specialized has always focused on fit and its Body Geometry tech, developed over a decade ago, has seen its shoes become incredibly popular even with brand conscious types.
I found the fit of the new S-Works 7 shoes excellent, the best it has ever offered. Specialized has harnessed thousands of Retul bike fits to hone the shape and design of the shoe, increasing the volume in the midsection and around the front of the shoe, developing brand new Boa dials, reducing the stitching in the construction of the upper, using tough non-stretch Dyneema and angling the new Boa dials and cutout to improve the spread of pressure across the top of the foot.
They offer a slightly more relaxed fit than the previous S-Works 6 shoe. The toe box volume has been increased – it's a little boxier than before – and the new PadLock heel cup has been dialled back, yet it's still very good at preventing heel lift when stamping on the pedals.
Part of the excellent fit is due to the Dyneema material used in the upper. It's a lightweight, very strong and non-stretch fabric and it contributes to excellent foothold around the midsection of the upper. Specialized has worked on reducing the amount of stitching inside the shoe to minimise potential discomfort points; the attention to detail really is very impressive.
New CNC-machined metal Boa dials, developed exclusively for these new shoes, are just lovely to use. It's like the difference between operating a high-end stereo and a cheap plastic radio. They provide micro-adjustment for increasing and decreasing tension which you can do easily on the move, but their barnacle-esque appearance is distinctive. I've managed not to crash but the durability of the dials has been just fine in a year of use, and they've survived some really grotty weather and being hosed down after muddy rides.
A short Velcro strap at the front of the shoe helps to adjust the volume of the toe box and it's a set-and-forget thing. It doesn't massively influence the fit all that much really, but is a useful micro-adjustment option.
Turn the shoe over and you find a full FACT carbon fibre sole with a stiffness rating index of 15, an increase over the 13 of the previous generation S-Works shoe. In use, that means they are damn stiff; I tried as hard as I could to elicit some flex from the carbon soles but I failed. Whether you're sprinting against mates, clobbering along in a chain gang or stamping up steep gradients, the shoes do not waste your power at all.
They are easily as stiff as the stiffest race shoes I've tested from the likes of Sidi, Fizik, Giro or Bont. What's impressive is that the extra stiffness isn't down to more carbon and therefore increased weight. Specialized has moved carbon from where it's not needed to where it is, so it's using the same amount but it's used strategically. And how did Specialized know where to shuffle the carbon? Pressure mapping studies, that's how. So, same weight (224g 1/2 pair, size 42, claimed – 536g for pair of size 45s on the road.cc Scales of Truth) but more stiffness.
There's the same three-bolt cleat drilling as before, with titanium inserts, lots of fore-aft adjustment, and handy alignment markings. There's a slim rubber padding at the front and a replaceable heel tread for slightly easier walking.
All the tried-and-tested Body Geometry tech lives on in these new S-Works 7 shoes, first developed over a decade ago and a reason why Specialized shoes are so popular with all sorts of cyclists. To recap, BG involves specially shaped insoles that provide longitudinal arch support, a varus wedge for the forefoot and a metatarsal button, with various degrees of support depending on your personal requirements.
While this review is centred on the S-Works 7s in their standard form as mentioned earlier Specialized also offer a mouldable custom insole option. Fitting them takes about 30 minutes of measuring, prodding and stroking of your feet, as part of Retul Match. Retul was bought by Specialized a few years ago and Match is a new service intended to offer a lower cost, more accessible and quicker fitting solution for people who might not want or need a full bike fit.
Watch the video below to see what's involved as I go through the process.
I went through the process to get the right size S-Works 7 shoes. You start off by prodding a large touchscreen television housed inside a kiosk, answering a few simple questions to determine the sort of cyclist you are (gender, the frequency of rides and so on) before the fitter uses the Retul Zin Wand to take key measurements, in my case my feet using the Digital Foot Device. This data is gathered by Retul Match and is used to suggest the shoe size and arch support you need.
It's simple and quick and helps to take away some of the confusion and mystery about getting the right size shoes and insole fit, using data to determine the right product rather than guesswork. For the majority of people, I can see that it's going to be a big help.
When it comes to inner soles, most people will be well served by the wide range of insoles the company offers that cater to different arch heights. And if you have specific requirements, Specialized is now offering custom mouldable insoles. There are a few companies that have been doing custom insoles for a few years now and it's interesting to see Specialized getting involved. As I said above, the soles add an extra £110 and the whole process takes about 30 minutes and essentially involves taking a cast of your foot using a special machine and heating up special inner soles to mould using this cast.
I've always got on well with Specialized's Body Geometry insoles – in fact, I actually fit them to most other brand shoes to ensure maximum comfort. Upgrading to the custom insoles took a little getting used to, because of much more arch support, but the level of support feels far superior and my feet feel more planted in the shoes than with regular insoles. I've had not a jot of knee pain since I've been using them, and the insoles have kept their shape. The only negative is that they are quite a bit heavier than stock insoles.
I mostly tested the new shoes with regular insoles as I found them to be most agreeable, and swapped into the custom insoles for a while. Comfort and performance with the regular insoles is very good, the main reason to look into custom insoles will be if you have any bike fit issues or you just want to extract every last ounce of performance. They are a pricey upgrade but the regular shoes are fine if you can't justify the extra outlay.
I've been wearing these shoes regularly for the past year to really put them through their paces, and they've done nothing but impress me. I'll admit to always getting on well with Specialized shoes and these are easily the best S-Works level shoe yet, with some appreciable improvements over the previous shoe. The more generous toe box is a big plus, and the heel cup prevents heel lift while being more comfortable. The new Boa dials are simply a delight to use and raise the bar for retention systems.
The durability of the dials after nearly a year of use has been excellent. They've not once failed on me and I've ridden through plenty of disgusting weather, and it's not like I've gone out of my way to maintain them. The white upper is the least practical of the colours available, and mine are showing a few marks and scrapes. They do clean up pretty well, though.
The custom insoles have raised the comfort and performance but they are a pricey upgrade on an already expensive shoe. Considering how important shoes are to ensuring efficient and effective pedalling, though, it's easy to make an argument to spend money here rather than on some flashy new carbon bar or a lighter saddle, say, if you really care about performance.
It's clear Specialized has put a lot of effort into these shoes and it really shows. They are, without a doubt, one of the benchmark shoes in this category.
Top-level performance, fit and comfort
If you're thinking of buying this product using a cashback deal why not use the road.cc Top Cashback page and get some top cashback while helping to support your favourite independent cycling website
road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized S-Works 7 Road Shoes
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for
Specialized says, "What makes the perfect cycling shoe? Is it exceptional power transfer? Superior Comfort? Undeniable style? The simple answer is "yes" to all of the above. With the S-Works 7 Road, you get shoes with no compromises.
We took a no-holds-barred approach to transferring every bit of your power to the pedals. The lighter and stiffer Powerline™ carbon sole is new and brought to you by the same team that developed Rider-First Engineering. Why's this special? Because it led to our lightest and stiffest carbon outsole to date. A completely refined Padlock™ Heel, meanwhile, packs in more comfort with the same exceptional heel hold that you found in the previous iteration. And finally, the space-grade Dyneema™ material used in the upper doesn't stretch when pulled on, making sure that your foot stays where it's supposed to. With these all features combined, you can be sure that we've kept in line with the motto 'every watt is sacred.'
In the comfort arena, we kept all of the Body Geometry features you know and love, like the Longitudinal Arch, Varus Wedge, and Metatarsal Button. Each one of these features have been ergonomically designed and scientifically tested to not only boost power, but also to increase efficiency and reduce the risk of injury. We also took luxury into account by designing the S-Works 7 to have form that complements its function, so you'll find seams that are bonded together, rather than sewn, cleaning up the lines and contouring to your foot with slipper-like comfort. The custom CNC'd alloy Boa® dials also add some panache, but they also feature durable spring clutch internals and precise, one-millimeter micro-adjustments that let you perfectly dial in your fit.
The S-Works 7 embodies everything we know about footwear, compacted into one shoe with no compromises and no shortcuts''just explosive speed and superior comfort."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Specialized lists these features:
Body Geometry sole and footbed are ergonomically designed and scientifically tested to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce the chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee, and foot alignment.
Our stiffest and lightest FACT Powerline™ carbon plate maximizes power transfer: Stiffness Index 15.0
Dyneema® Mesh is trapped between layers of four-way stretch mesh and TPU to create no-stretch zones for the ultimate connection and comfort.
Independent alloy BOA® S3-Snap dials for on-the-fly micro-adjustment, backed by the BOA® Lifetime Guarantee.
PadLock™ heel construction cradles the heel and is proven to improve acceleration
Titanium alloy cleat nuts can rotate to position pedal/cleats 5mm rearward.
Non-slip, replaceable heel tread with internally recessed screws for security.
Form Fit last with a roomy toe box for the ultimate in connectivity and comfort.
Three-bolt cleat pattern fits all major road pedals.
Approximate weight: 224g (1/2 pair, Size 42)
First class build quality.
Superb performance in every aspect.
White isn't the most practical colour but they do clean up well. The Boa dials have proven to be very hardy.
I found the fit an improvement on previous S-Works shoes with more generous space in the toe box. Shoe fit does differ a lot for people so make sure you try them on before you buy if you can
The sizing was spot on and Specialized offers half sizes.
They're light compared to other top-end shoes but nothing compared to the new Exos.
Comfort is really good; they are my go-to shoes for all sorts of cycling.
They are top-end money but no more spendy than other top-end performance road cycling shoes, and considering all the features I feel they do justify their price. For clarification I've scored them without taking into consideration the custom insoles to give a fairer representation of how they compare to rival products
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Easy to care for, and the white upper does clean up well.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
For fast riding and performance-focused cycling they are ideal. They're good for less intensive cycling too – I used them for a 300km audax with no issues.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Great fit and comfort, and the Boa dials are lovely to use.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
They are jolly expensive shoes but at least comparable in performance terms with other shoes in the £300-350 price bracket, and the custom insoles is a spendy upgrade if you need/want it
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Yes they are expensive but they are similarly priced to other top-end rivals such as those from Shimano, Fizik, Giro, Bont etc.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
There's a lot of performance on offer here, all wrapped up with superb comfort, and the BG tech (custom or stock insoles) improves comfort and pedalling efficiency over other shoes. The custom insoles is a spendy upgrade but chances are you'll be just fine with the regular BG insoles.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.