The Specialized S-Works Ares balance retention and comfort superbly thanks to a tongue-less design and sock-like foot-wrapping closure system. With the Ares, Specialized developed a shoe that supports riders pulling on the upstroke in full-gas sprints and claims to be 1% faster. But it doesn't only deliver a secure hold, there's a surprising amount of focus on comfort for a shoe that's optimised for sprinting. For all-out intervals or long days out on the bike, these are a great choice.
There's no tongue in these top-end performance shoes. Instead there is a soft 'sock' that wraps all the way around the upper foot. This mesh liner provides a super-smooth surface directly against your socks. It's stretchy and there's no bunching, even when you fully tighten up.
However, with its close-wrapping fit, it can be a chore getting in, and lots of pressure is forced onto the heel as you drive your foot downwards and into these. A shoe horn definitely helps, especially when wearing thicker socks, and using one will also likely go a considerable way towards ensuring these last.
As much of the stretch of the liner is used each time just to get these on, it's not surprising that the sock is already beginning to sit a little more loosely – this stretchy material does not seem to be as durable as the rigid tongue that is typically used.
Along with the sock tongue design, the upper uses Dyneema fibres that wrap around the foot to provide support around the whole pedal stroke. This closure system wraps from the outer side to leave space for the tendon at the front of the foot. This tendon is more prominent for riders who pull on the upstroke, and was developed with feedback from Deceuninck – Quick-Step powerhouse sprinter Sam Bennett.
The PadLock external heel cup is solid without being uncomfortably stiff. It locks your heel into the shoe – no signs of slippage here. With this well-judged rear, the shoes keep your foot planted without having to cinch them up super tight.
Simultaneous cable pulling from each of the two Boa Li2 dials ensures pressure is spread evenly, and these can be twisted in both directions for accurate fine-tuning. Retention is triangulated across the midfoot, spreading pressure out over a larger surface area, with Specialized claiming a 20 per cent increase in the contact surface compared to traditional dual closures. This closure system is designed to prevent lateral roll, especially when it comes to extreme out-of-the-saddle efforts. I've cinched these up tight and there are no noticeable pressure points – even after a long day in the saddle no issues were raised.
The unidirectional hollow carbon fibre plate found on the S-Works 7 is still used down below. This is the Specialized FACT Powerline carbon sole and it has the brand's highest stiffness rating of 15.0. Without a doubt the Ares is a stiff shoe. Giving it my all, I've never detected any flex or movement.
There's a rubber toe cap at the front of the shoe that protects from toe overlap. The toe box is wide and gives your toes plenty of wiggle room. I found this really helps when pairing with thicker socks during the winter months, as well as for longer rides.
There's a slim tread section underneath to prevent long term wear, but unlike the heel tread section at the rear, this front gripper is not replaceable.
The Ares are not the most ventilated shoes. Specialized has its Vent for riding out in the most extreme heat. The UK isn't that most of the year round and neither is my turbo room with my fan on full-blast. The perforations across most of the side surfaces provide sufficient venting to cover most everyday riding conditions. My feet do start to get clammy, but not uncomfortably so.
Specialized's well-established Body Geometry approach to designing shoes is carried over. The Longitudinal Arch support helps stop the foot arch collapsing, the 1.5mm outward tilt Varus Wedge helps knee alignment, and building the Metatarsal Button into the footbed separates out the bones of the forefoot to reduce pressure on blood vessels and nerves. These all work together wonderfully in providing a comfortable fit. By keeping the foot, knee and hip movement in line in a controlled way, this is supposed to reduce injury. It's not caused me any problems.
As well as the white with black details, called team white, the Ares is available in three other smart colourways: pure white, fully black and red/black highlights.
The white mesh sock helps considerably with exceptional comfort of these shoes, and a dirt-repellent treatment has been applied to protect for outside riding, but even after trying to avoid the worst of conditions there's already some discolouration. If you're desperate for white kicks, these don't have as many wipeable surfaces as other options such as Sidi's Shot 2s.
Retailing at £375, the Specialized Ares are some of the most expensive cycling shoes out there. The Sidi Shot 2s are the same price, but have lots of replacement parts for longevity and a largely wipeable surface for keeping white. However, I found them seriously lacking in comfort, while the Ares are incredibly versatile and perfect for both racing and all-day rides. But then the Ares' sock design doesn't work very well in white, and isn't as durable a material as a rigid tongue closure...
There are more pricey options out there, such as Lake's £425 CX403 CFC Carbon Road Shoe that guarantees comfort and support with its mouldable design. So the Specialized shoe does deliver on these aspects at a lower price point.
Specialized has absolutely nailed comfort with these shoes. The Dyneema foot-wrapping closure with its stretchy sock liner is extremely well thought out for all-day riding and performance. You can notch these right up and they're still wonderfully cosy hours later.
But with this incredible comfort, efficiency and stiffness, longevity has been sacrificed. The sock liner is vulnerable to discolouration and becoming baggier, then there's the toe tread that is not replaceable.
All-day comfort delivered with ultra-stiff performance – but not for everyday use
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized S-Works Ares shoes
Size tested: 43
Tell us what the product is for
Specialized says: "When the moment comes for an attack in the hills, a long solo move, or a full gas sprint for the line, every watt counts, which is why we designed the S-Works Ares to be the most efficient and powerful performance shoe ever made. We combined decades of Body Geometry development with obsessive innovation working with the world's best athletes to completely reimagine the race shoe. An entirely new, patent-pending closure system, Dyneema®-reinforced toungless sock, and ultra-stiff FACT Powerline™ carbon outsole eliminate foot roll, reduce pressure on tendons, and transfer every ounce of power to the pedals for unprecedented performance and comfort. It's 1% faster than any shoe we've ever made, and at the finish line, that's all that matters.
"The key to more comfort, less injuries, and higher power output comes from our ergonomically designed, scientifically tested Body Geometry features - Longitudinal Arch, Varus Wedge, and personalized insoles with a Metatarsal Button. When used in harmony, these three features align the hip, foot, and knee, while also limiting medial/lateral knee movement and maintaining good circulation down to your toes."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
*Patent-pending closure design secures the foot for extreme, out-of-saddle efforts, locking the metatarsals and preventing lateral roll.
*Dyneema® is sandwiched between layers of synthetic and TPU to create no-stretch zones for the ultimate connection and comfort.
*Our stiffest and lightest FACT Powerline™ carbon plate maximizes power transfer:Stiffness Index 15.
*Independent BOA® Li2 Fit System for on-the-fly micro-adjustment, backed by theBoa® Guarantee.
*PadLock™ heel construction cradles the heel and is proven to improve acceleration.
*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.
*Titanium alloy cleat nuts can rotate to position cleats 5mm rearward and fits all major3-hole road pedals.
*Approximate weight: 220g (1/2 pair, Size 42.
Sock-like mesh liner is vulnerable.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Not easy to clean the white mesh liner. Choose black if you want them to last.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Brilliantly, I'd choose these for both sprinting and long endurance rides.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Comfort, even pressure and the two-way Boa dials.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Longevity concerns, and they're very difficult to keep white; not the most breathable, and hard to put on and take off.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Same price as Sidi's top end Shot 2s.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, but not in white.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, but only if they wanted a performance shoe not in white.
Use this box to explain your overall score
These are absolutely great for both high-intensity interval workouts and all-day rides as they are super-comfy and deliver a secure hold. But they are not that practical and longevity is a concern: the Ares are hard to put on and take off, the mesh liner is already starting to stretch and is prone to discolouration, and the toe tread isn't replaceable. These are luxurious shoes, but I'd want to keep them for important rides or races as I'm not convinced they'll last that well if used every day.
About the tester
I usually ride: Road bike 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, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, Gravel riding, indoor turbo and rollers, track
Anna has been hooked on bikes ever since her youthful beginnings at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit. As an avid road and track racer, she reached the heady heights of a ProCyclingStats profile before leaving for university. Having now completed an MA in Multimedia Journalism, she’s hoping to add some (more successful) results. Although her greatest wish is for the broader acceptance of wearing funky cycling socks over the top of leg warmers.