Whatever press embargo there was on Specialized’s new, range-topping S-Works Torch road cycling shoes, got lifted May 25th. Predictably, many cycling media outlets have talked about the underlying tech and changes from the S-Works 7 shoes of 2018, at least, or given their own reviews after logging saddle time on review samples.
Now, no new S-Works shoe of any sort is cheap, and these Torches follow that tradition at an MSRP of US$450 (~PhP23,570). Unless I dive into the bargain bins for these things a year or two later, they are just too rich for my blood. That said, Specialized has gone on record that the S-Works Torch shoes herald changes that will eventually trickle down to their cheaper models – which is why I think they’re worth talking about. It helps that I have their S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoes as a point of comparison.
So, what changes are Specialized introducing to their shoes going forward, starting with the S-Works Torch models?
A TRUE WIDENED FOREFOOT
Perhaps the headline item with these shoes is the added 4 mm of forefoot area, whereas previous “wide” shoe models kept the same sole and just added more upper material to accommodate wider feet. Manufacturers of road cycling shoes are finally recognizing that their wares need to match the actual feet of their customer base. Previous S-Works models were already quite good in this regard, but this improvement is welcome.
BETTER UPPER MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION
Once one of the big-ticket items on older S-Works shoes, the non-stretch synthetic fiber called Dyneema is now being phased out due to manufacturing and environmental concerns. Dyneema’s material properties made it impractical or even impossible to give shoes ventilation, so that is a direct benefit consequence to the S-Works Torch. The stretchy materials now used on the upper also give fit benefits for riders with bunions.
Somehow, Specialized is also better fine-tuning the fit and reducing upper material bunching with revised cable routing for the two Boa S3 dials per shoe, while throwing out the stubby Velcro strap on the forefoot used for volume control.
OPTIMIZATION IN THE HEEL
One of my favorite features on the S-Works 6 XCs was the unimpeachable heel hold at the back. That said, it was not universally liked, and basing off the data from their Retul bike-fitting service, it appears most riders benefit from the heel hold on the inboard side of the ankle. So Specialized basically sliced the heel cup in half.
Combined with a lower cut ankle, this should retain heel and ankle support without necessarily constricting. This is the part I’d like to test out for myself the most.
I am so hoping this trend extends outside of these shoes. The loud “S-WORKS” print and huge stylized S logos on many of Specialized’s footwear are embarrassing, bordering on juvenile at times. On these Torches you don’t necessarily have to resort to an all-white colorway to “hide” the garish branding.
So the S-Works Torch shoes are great and all, and it bodes well for the rest of the shoe lineup, but there are a few things I wish they can improve on.
It’s at this point where I will bring in a status update of my S-Works 6 XC shoes. I bought my pair heavily discounted after almost two years on the market, and proceeded to put on three years of use on them.
That very stiff carbon fiber outsole is still a great companion on rides and indoor trainer stints, so much so that Specialized still uses them in their current off-road-focused Recon line of shoes…pretty much unchanged from late 2017. Add that 4 mm forefoot width extension and it should be peachy.
Unfortunately the rest of the shoe hasn’t been quite as robust. Not that you would be able to tell from the outside; the S-Works 6 XCs arguably look used but not terrible…until you put them on.
Fitting these shoes on my feet betrays the lack of longevity. The leather-like material on the padded ankle collar has flaked off pretty badly where it faces my Achilles’ tendon. It’s a similar – maybe even worse – story on the tongue, which was the weakest point on this shoe to begin with. With the Boa dials tightened around my foot, the thin material on the tongue makes walking on polished tile floors and going down stairs an uncomfortable affair, further compounded by the hard tread blocks’ lack of grip. After three years of use, its inner lining layer has started to peel off in large swaths, which just exacerbates whatever issue is taken against the shoe’s tongue. It’s quite disappointing that it’s happening to these top-dog shoes, whereas a humbler, much cheaper offering from Shimano wears many more years of use much better.
How well the S-Works Torch’s design translates to other shoes from the big S remains to be seen, despite the trickle-down promise. Personally, their shoes are always worthy of serious consideration – not least because they are one of the few remaining holdouts that believes in a straight last design for their shoes.
I just hope the things last longer.