Specialized Recon 3.0 Review
Cons: Long break-in period, poor traction on hard surfaces
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Specialized has a long history of making high-quality shoes. From lightweight race models to heavy-duty downhill brawlers, they have a habit of designing some of the best shoes on the market, so our expectations were high when we got our hands on the Recon 3.0. This new model boasts a highly-adjustable closure system with two Boas and a hook-and-loop toe strap, a carbon STRIDE walkable sole, and a burly Slipnot lugged outsole. The designers at Specialized went above and beyond to create a shoe with all the answers, and in testing we found that, for the most part, they hit the nail on the head.
With its XC and Gravel focus, power transfer is among the most important aspects that the Recon 3.0 needed to get right, and it didn't disappoint when we threw a leg over the saddle. The carbon STRIDE sole is among the stiffest and snappiest we tested, and-when combined with the minimally-padded but well-shaped Specialized Body Geometry insole—it translates your power directly into forward motion when you stomp on the pedals to sprint out of a corner or through a steep switchback.
In repeated back-to-back testing out on the trail, we found that the power transfer didn't quite match the stiffest models in the test. The Giro Empire and Shimano S-Phyre XC9 both felt slightly snappier, but without testing them side by side you would be very hard-pressed to discern a difference. For all intents and purposes the Recon 3.0 is among the stiffest models we rode.
The Recon 3.0 is a comfortable shoe with a few minor caveats. When we first donned our test pair and hit the trails we experienced some discomfort. One of our testers had the stiff upper edge of the tongue press against the front of his ankle during his natural pedal stroke which irritated the area over the course of a ride. Additionally, we found that if you're not careful with the tongue placement when tightening the Boa straps, it can create a pinching pressure point along the outside edge of your instep. Despite the initial issues, we continued riding with the shoes and found that eventually the material of the upper softened slightly and got a lot more comfortable. It took roughly ten hours of ride time before we really started to feel comfortable in these shoes, but when they were well broken in we liked what we found.
Once we got through the break-in period, we could really dig into what makes these shoes comfortable. The fit is a little bit roomy in the toe box, making the Recon 3.0 feel more natural on your feet than most typically-narrow XC race shoes, and the double-Boa closure system allows for the fit adjustment necessary to avoid hotspots and numbing on long rides. The combination of the two Boas and the hook-and-loop toe strap makes adjusting the fit comfortably to a wide range of instep shapes and foot widths quick and easy. We had no issues making quick on-the-bike tension adjustments to combat foot swelling on long rides. Like most XC shoes, the Recon 3.0's insole doesn't have a lot of padding, which means that you're at the mercy of the carbon sole when things get rough. If you're hammering long descents, the Recon 3.0's stiffness—like any purebred XC shoe—can cause some foot and calf fatigue.
Traction and Walkability
If ever the time comes when you have to get off your bike and hoof it, the Recon 3.0 will have you covered. The sole's STRIDE toe flex technology allows the front of the shoe to flex slightly, similar to to the 3/4-length sole shanks in most trail and enduro shoes, meaning you don't have to do a robot shuffle to get up that unrideable section. Compared to our other top-rated shoes in the power transfer metric, the Giro Empire and Shimano S-Phyre XC-9, the Recon 3.0 allows for a more natural walking gait. The Slipnot outsole features large, flat-bottomed lugs that almost act as cleats in loamy conditions. We were surprised by the versatility of the outsole rubber and found traction in conditions ranging from dry hardpack to slick mud. The sole also has two toe cleat mounting points for especially muddy conditions.
While the Recon 3.0 walks great on a variety of dirt surfaces, we weren't overly excited about using them on hard surfaces like rock or concrete. Our SPD cleats protruded ever so slightly farther than the surrounding Slipnot lugs, meaning that it would contact the ground for a brief part of each hard-surface footstep. Smooth metal on a hard surface isn't ideal for traction, so between the cleat contact and the metal toe lugs at the cleat mounting points we were happy to get off of concrete or rock and back to dirt whenever possible. The metal contact points were so small and well-surrounded by rubber lugs that we never actually experienced a slip or loss of traction because of it, but regardless, the click-clack feeling of metal on rock isn't a comforting one.
Specialized's claimed weight for the Recon 3.0 in a size 42 is 355 grams, and our test pair of size 45s clocked in at 395 grams per shoe. They aren't the lightest shoe that we tested, but they're certainly in the ballpark. The Recon 3.0's most direct XC-oriented competitors all tip the scales within thirty-five grams.
Riders that are truly on the hunt for the lightest shoe they can find will want to look elsewhere, but anyone else will likely not be able to tell the difference between the Recon 3.0 and the lightest shoe we tested once they start pedaling. We certainly couldn't. The Recon 3.0 feels light and racy underfoot, and it also packs a more protective toe box than the lightest shoes we tested.
As we've come to expect from Specialized, the Recon 3.0 is a durably-constructed shoe. The heavily-perforated upper is reinforced in places that commonly wear quickly, and the sole and upper are firmly bonded. Save for a few scuffs and scrapes, our test pair is no worse for wear than when we took them out of the box despite countless hours of punishment and a few close encounters with granite and redwood bark. Riders should be aware that Boa closures do seem to have a finite lifespan before they stop functioning properly, but they are a replaceable part and Boa's warranty covers them for the lifetime of the shoe.
Although the Recon 3.0 packs a little bit more reinforcement than most XC shoes, it is still very clear that it's an XC shoe when you're out riding. The inevitable foot contact with sticks, branches, stumps, and rocks when you're out on the trail is a reminder that there's not a lot of material between your foot and the forest. Impacts that you might not notice when wearing a trail or enduro shoe can be disconcerting in a race shoe like the Recon 3.0. That said, despite the minimal padding, our test shoe held up to everything we threw at it.
The Recon 3.0 carries a fairly heavy price tag, but when compared with the other top XC offerings that we tested it's actually quite reasonable. Many of the top XC race shoes, including the top-of-the-line Specialized S-Works Recon, sell for over $400. Given the Recon 3.0's near top-level performance, we think it's a great value for anyone looking for a competitive race shoe that won't break the bank.
Despite a rough introduction to the Recon 3.0 we grew to appreciate everything these shoes have to offer over the course of our test session. We weren't excited about the long break-in period, but once we got comfortable in these kicks we loved the feeling of speed they gave us on the trail. The closure system is hugely adjustable and the sole is walkable, which helps make the trail more shreddable for a wide range of people.
Other Versions and Accessories
Specialized offers a full range of Recon cross-country shoes, from the budget-friendly Recon 1.0 up to the top of the line S-Works Recon. Each version is available in multiple colors to suit your taste.
— Zach Wick