The Specialized Recon 3.0 shoes are highly comfortable and tough enough to stand up to the challenges of gravel/adventure riding, cyclo-cross, and cross-country mountain biking, and they're far easier to walk in than most rivals.
Dave Arthur gave an extremely positive review to Specialized's S-Works Recon shoes over on off.road.cc last year, saying that they provided a stunning performance and a first-class fit. He called them a benchmark product, the only issue being that they also come with a high-end price tag of £340.
Specialized has now introduced three more affordable Recon models: the Recon 1.0 at £90 (reviewed by Liam over on off.road), the Recon 2.0 at £158, and the model we have here, the Recon 3.0 at £210.
So what do you get for your cash? Let's start with the soles because Specialized has done a whole lot of work here. The Recon 3.0 features what the brand calls 'carbon Stride toe-flex technology'. Essentially, this means that the shoes come with a carbon outsole and a glass-fibre forefoot. Why? The idea is to added flexibility that "lets your foot function naturally off the bike, yet still provides incredible power transfer with a stiffness index of 10.0".
For comparison, the Specialized S-Works Recons have a stiffness index of 13.0 while the S-Works 7 road shoes are 15, which is where the scale tops out. In use, the soles of the Recon 3.0s still feel stiff. You can occasionally feel a little bit more movement than in a super-stiff road shoe, but only when you're out of the saddle and pushing hard.
The real benefit of the sole is that although you can't walk normally in these shoes, it's a helluava lot more comfortable than in most cycling shoes. I must say that I thought the Stride toe-flex technology was going to be a marketing gimmick; concentrate really hard and you might discern a little more bending, but not enough to make a difference. Nope, not that at all, it's a really noticeable feature when you're off the bike.
The carbon outsole extends from the heel to beyond the cleat attachment point, so when you take a stride everything is pretty solid up to there like it is in any other cycling shoes. Beyond that, though... Spring! You can bend your toes almost like you can in everyday shoes – albeit not the most supple everyday shoes you own. The further you walk, the more you'll appreciate this.
The flexibility comes in handy if you have to get off the bike during a ride – gates, shops, running up a bank in a cyclo-cross race, um, tackling cliff faces... I don't know what sort of capers you get up to out there! It's a huge bonus for adventure riders and anyone else who's likely to keep their cycling shoes on for long periods when they're done riding for the day.
In short, Stride toe-flex technology: not PR puff but a genuine real-life benefit for many people. You'll be surprised.
Over the top of all that you get what Specialized calls its SlipNot rubber tread, which is the same material that's used on the soles of the S-Works Recon shoes. It's really grippy stuff, even on wet rock, and reasonably durable too, as long as you don't drift every corner with your foot down. Deep hexagonal tread at the heel and toe help to keep you upright when walking/running through mud – and if you're in the UK, that's going to happen a lot – as do two removable toe studs.
The tread sheds mud well although stones can occasionally get stuck in the heel. You can live with that. My advice would be not to get the same gravel on your drive as I have, otherwise it becomes a regular occurrence.
As you'd expect, the sole takes two-bolt mountain bike cleats, such as Shimano SPD, and markings help you get the positioning of each one right.
Moving north, the uppers are made from TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) paired with an HD synthetic, the idea being to create similar foot-hold and structure zones to the Dyneema material that Specialized uses in the S-Works model. They're not the most supple uppers ever but they're tough and durable – especially the reinforced toe area – and that counts for a lot when they get caught by trackside undergrowth or hit by a pinging stone. I've used these on loads of gravel rides over the past couple of months and there's barely a mark on the uppers, still less any damage. There's a bit of scuffing to the visible carbon on the sole, but that's absolutely normal; durability definitely isn't going to be an issue here.
The uppers don't wrap over the top of your foot like they do on the S-Works version, although the opening in front of the tongue is slightly offset towards the outside. There's only one seam in the entire upper and that's right at the back and covered by an internal heel counter so there's no way that it can cause discomfort.
Perforations in most areas – including loads in the tongue – let sweaty air out although the flip side is that a little water and gunk can get inside when conditions are wet. If that does happen, the shoes don't tend to get ridiculously heavy and the internal fabric dries out quickly.
A Velcro forefoot strap and two Boa L6 dials take care of closure. The dials are easy to micro-tighten on the fly although you have to pop them up to loosen the lace, you can't click the dial backwards like you can with a Boa IP1, for example.
You get plenty of padding around the opening and the stiff heel counter provides lots of support while helping to prevent any lift back there. The Body Geometry footbed comes with arch support and a metatarsal button – a slightly raised section in the middle that's designed to improve comfort and avoid hotspots and numbness. Although there's no guarantee that the sizing of these features will work perfectly with your foot shape, most people will welcome them.
Specialized says, "The Body Geometry sole and footbed are built with purpose and backed by science to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce the chance of injury by optimising hip, knee, and foot alignment."
Well, that's something for a whole PhD thesis rather than a short review, but what I can tell you here is that I found these shoes extremely comfortable – off the bike as well as on it. The padding is effective and I didn't feel any pressure from the Boa laces or any particular tightness anywhere.
I've got a medium width foot and I had a lot of wiggle room up front. The sole isn't especially wide but there's a lot of volume in the upper, so my toes were able to stretch out and luxuriate! In fact, I had so much room that I think that I could probably have taken a size smaller than normal.
If you don't want all of that space, you can cinch in the forefoot to some extent via the Velcro strap, although if there's a lot of material to pull in you could conceivably get some rucking above your toes. As ever, try before you buy if possible.
As you'd expect, the Recon 3.0s are heavier than the S-Works Recons: mine came in a size 46 and weighed 844g for the pair, while the size 45s that Dave reviewed last year were 667g. Even taking the size difference into account, that's quite a lot more weight. The chunkiness of the 3.0's sole compared to the slimmer tread of the S-Works accounts for a lot of that.
I mentioned the prices of other shoes in the Recon range earlier. The Recon 3.0s are a whopping £130 cheaper than the S-Works version. Of course, the S-Works shoes are lighter and stiffer, but 130 quid lighter and stiffer? Your money, your call!
The Bontrager GR2 Gravel Bike shoes that I reviewed earlier this year are much cheaper at £129.99. Those shoes are quite different in having traditional laces which you'll either be into or not. The other big difference is that the Recon 3.0s are far easier to walk in thanks to the Stride toe-flex technology I mentioned earlier on.
The Rapha Explore shoes that I reviewed last year are £10 more expensive than the Recon 3.0s at £220, and they're also designed to allow you to walk comfortably. The carbon fibre plate used in the sole finishes just short of the toe and heel to allow a greater degree of flex.
You're going to want to know whether it's easier to walk in the Recon 3.0s or the Rapha Explore shoes, aren't you? Wait a sec, then, I'll put one on my left foot, the other on my right foot, and take a stroll around the block.
I'm back! First, I looked a right idiot because one of those shoes is green and the other is black. Second, I found it a little easier to walk in the Specialized shoes, although they're both miles ahead of normal riding shoes.
Overall, then, the Specialized Recon 3.0 Shoes are durable, comfortable, and reasonably stiff, and walking in them is nothing like the chore that it is in most cycling shoes.
Durable and comfortable shoes for gravel and cross-country mountain biking, with clever tech that makes them easy to walk in
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized Recon 3.0 Shoes
Size tested: 46
Tell us what the product is for
Specialized says, "The Recon 3.0 is all about putting the legendary performance of our S-Works Recon''power transfer, comfort, light weight, style''in a package perfect for the XC and gravel rider. Starting with Body Geometry, Recon 3.0 delivers comfort and efficiency, with features that stand-out off the beaten path.
"Looking for in the saddle speed as well as off-bike performance? Recon 3.0 mates a carbon outsole with a Pavé-inspired glass fibre forefoot to create Carbon STRIDE toe-flex, which lets your foot function naturally off the bike, yet still provides incredible power transfer with a stiffness index of 10.0. Whether you're flying up a run-up on the 'cross course or strolling into the brewhouse post ride, STRIDE toe-flex is a game changer.
"We know venturing off-road means venturing into the unknown, so we've given the Recon 3.0 XPEL Mesh to create a comfortable fit that sheds water, keeping the shoe light and making it dry as fast as it rides. Our SlipNot compound provides full rubber coverage of the outsole for off bike traction on any surface, with open treads to eject mud.
"Dual L6-Snap Boas and a Velcro forefoot closure ensure micro adjustable comfort with a secure fit designed for all day comfort and performance, whether your ride calls for open gravel, twisting single track, and even more than your fair share of hike-a-bike."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Specialized lists these features:
* Body Geometry sole and footbed are built with purpose and backed by science to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce the chance of injury by optimising hip, knee, and foot alignment.
* Carbon STRIDE toe-flex technology allows for natural toe movement off-bike but remains stiff for pedalling: Stiffness Index 10.0)
* Fully-welded upper reduces seams for superior step-in comfort.
* Independent BOA L6-Snap dials for on-the-fly micro-adjustment.
* SlipNot rubber tread for confident traction on all terrain with removable toe studs.
* Two-bolt cleat pattern fits all major MTB pedals.
* Approximate weight: 355g (1/2 pair, Size 42)
It depends what you're after, of course, but the Recon 3.0s have a roomy toe box at the front and a stiff heel counter at the back. Both will prove popular with many.
I take a 46 nearly every time. I had a 46 here too, but I wish I'd gone for a 45 because the Recon 3.0s felt a little long. Try before you buy and all that.
The £220 Rapha Explores we reviewed were 780g in the same size and the £130 Bontrager GR2s were 826g, so I wouldn't say the Recon 3.0s are especially light.
I found them very comfortable both on and off the bike.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Give them a wipe with a wet cloth, preferably before any mud has dried inside the perforations, and they're clean in no time.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very good shoes and the Stride toe-flex technology really works to make walking easier.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The fact that you can walk in them is a big plus if you'll be wearing them a lot off the bike. Durability is exceptionally good too.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I'd prefer to be able to click the Boa dials looser rather than pulling them upwards and possibly releasing too much tension.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The Recon 3.0s are £130 cheaper than the S-Works version. Of course, the S-Works shoes are lighter and stiffer... but £130 is a lot of money!
The Bontrager GR2 Gravel Bike shoes are much cheaper at £129.99. These are quite different in having traditional laces. The other big difference is that the Recon 3.0s are far easier to walk in thanks to their Stride toe-flex technology.
Rapha Explore shoes are £10 more expensive than the Recon 3.0s at £220, and they're also designed to allow you to walk comfortably. The carbon fibre plate used in the sole finishes just short of the toe and heel to allow a greater degree of flex.
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
Exceptional durability and impressive comfort at a good price: that balances out as an 8, for me.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.