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Specialized S-Works Ares Review

A brilliant union of comfort and speed to create a high-performance pro shoe
Specialized S-Works Ares
Photo: Specialized
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $425 List | Check Price at Backcountry
Pros:  Very comfortable, stable, ergonomic, fast, light
Cons:  Premium price, last shape not universal, heel cup might rub
Manufacturer:   Specialized
By Ryan Baham ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 22, 2021
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83
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 10
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Weight - 15% 9
  • Power Transfer - 25% 9
  • Adjustability - 20% 7
  • Durability - 15% 7

Our Verdict

The Specialized S-Works Ares is one of those flashy shoes with a lot of hype that seems to build its value out from its marketing department, but after spending a few hundred miles in them out on the road and inside on the trainer, we're convinced that it's the other way around. So much so that we gave them our Top Pick Award for Comfort. And we're not the only ones who've come to view them as such high-performers. They're also the shoe of choice for the professional cycling team sponsored by Deceuninck–Quick-Step, owing to the shoes' ultra-stiff carbon sole and Body Geometry features.

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Price $425 List
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$400 List
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Pros Very comfortable, stable, ergonomic, fast, lightStylish, breathable, great adjustability, great power transfer, fits like a gloveSuper low weight, very stable, unbeatable power transfer, great adjustabilityVentilated, unbeatable power-transfer, lots of replaceable parts, durable, stableLightweight, stiff, affordable, simple
Cons Premium price, last shape not universal, heel cup might rubPricey, sole scuffs, may be narrow for some feetLess comfort than earlier versions, upper material susceptible to wear, can feel too rigidCostly, high-weight, can be too stiff, fasteners can be a pain on the flyLimited comfort, one fastener, mid-range power transfer
Bottom Line A brilliant union of comfort and speed to create a high-performance pro shoeA sleek, stylish, refined road shoe ready to lay down the wattsA pro peloton reimagining of one of the most popular shoes on the roadThe classic Sidi design you’d expect to see peppered throughout the pro pelotonSturdy and simple, this is the right shoe for serious road riders on a budget
Rating Categories Specialized S-Works... Fizik R1 Infinito Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre Sidi Wire 2 Air Ven... Fizik Tempo Overcur...
Comfort (25%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Weight (15%)
9.0
9.0
10.0
6.0
8.0
Power Transfer (25%)
9.0
9.0
10.0
10.0
6.0
Adjustability (20%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
Durability (15%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
9.0
6.0
Specs Specialized S-Works... Fizik R1 Infinito Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre Sidi Wire 2 Air Ven... Fizik Tempo Overcur...
Measured Weight (Pair) 19.2 oz 20.0 oz 18.8 oz 22.9 oz 20.8 oz
Size Tested 45 44 45 45 45
Outsole FACT Powerline (stiffness index 15) Carbon Carbon fiber Vent Carbon Carbon reinforced nylon
Upper Material Synthetic leather, Dyneema, TPU Laser-perforated 1.2mm microtex Synthetic Highly-perforated Microfiber Techpro PU laminate, mesh
Closure BOA Li2 Fit System BOA Dual Boa Li2 dials Soft Instep Closure Strap, Tecno-3 Push Dials BOA and hook and loop strap
Width Options Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Specialized S-Works Ares took a little convincing for us to come around. When you first slip them on they it feels a little crooked or unbalanced. The last has a slightly unusual shape and the sock feels maybe too tight. Once you get your foot stuffed in you'll probably fiddle around with the closure system and its untethered flaps. Once that's all handled and you're finally clipped in it might take a few miles (at least an hour, really) before you start to feel yourself working with your shoes, pedals, and bike. We certainly went through an initial phase of resistance before we realized what was happening and how great the shoes really were. They remain high up on our shoes to grab for long days in the saddle. We'll spend the rest of this review breaking down their performance across our measures, going into more detail on key points and features.

Performance Comparison


The S-Works Ares was truly a unique design that we've never...
The S-Works Ares was truly a unique design that we've never experienced before, but definitely want more of.
Photo: Ryan Baham, Andrew rook

Comfort


This is the key feature of the S-Works Ares in our view. While the shoe offers a lot in specs and features, it's the superior comfort that brings it together and makes it such an alluring choice. It's what sets it apart from most other premium racing shoes.


The central feature holding it all together is the snug bootie (Dyneema-reinforced sock). It creates a nice cushioned barrier and also solves the terribly annoying tongue issue that so many cycling shoes have. It's a little annoying trying to get your foot into and out of, but it's way worth it.

The upper actually closes around over the sock for a close, secure...
The upper actually closes around over the sock for a close, secure fit.
Photo: Ryan Baham, Andrew rook

This shoe also uses a suite of design features which Specialized calls Body Geometry. These include:
Longitudinal Arch: A supportive structure molded into the outsole and paired with one of the three standard footbed shapes (can also be personalized by Specialized) to limit power loss as the arch of the foot compresses.
Varus Wedge: A 1.5-millimeter wedge along the upper medial edge of the shoe to help stabilize and align the hip, knee, and foot. Specialized claims that it adds 10 seconds to your time of exhaustion. That's not a test we could reasonably run.

Metatarsal Button: A structure molded into the footbeds which is meant to relieve pressure on the metatarsal bones to limit hotspots, numbness, and ache.

We're not always convinced by companies' claims, but we put in a lot of miles in these shoes and they really seemed to hold up. The "1% faster" and "10 seconds" longer stuff may be specious. We still stand by them as excellent, comfortable, serious performers worth a look.

The footbeds are key to the Body Geometry suite.
The footbeds are key to the Body Geometry suite.
Photo: Ryan Baham, Andrew rook

The last important point that goes into the comfort of a shoe is how your foot fits into and stays in the shoe, which means fastening and securing. Their design is still patent-pending as of our testing, but it uses two BOA Li2 dials, which are nice, sensible two-way dials. They're affixed to two flaps that close over two other free flaps for a gentle closure, limiting hotspots while keeping the upper's superstructure secure. It's effective and comfortable.

They also nailed the heel cup using their PadLock™ heel. It consists of a hard external cup with a line of thick padding around the inner collar that gently, but firmly catches the heel. The result is a secure fit with limited heel slippage. It's another area that S-Works executes better than most of the other top-level road bike shoes and significantly contributes to its earning our Top Pick Award for Comfort.

There's nothing ignoble about wanting a comfortable shoe to putz...
There's nothing ignoble about wanting a comfortable shoe to putz around in. Luckily, the Ares are also hardcore shoes for serious riders.
Photo: Ryan Baham, Andrew rook

Weight


At 19.2 ounces in a pair of Men's size 45 (Euro sizing), these are among the lightest in the lineup. That's partially owing to the lean upper with its judicious use of heavier, reinforced materials.


Specialized also claims that their FACT Powerline™ carbon outsole is not only their stiffest but also their lightest outsole, which will obviously go a long way to lowering weight.

19.2 ounces in a pair of men's 45 makes them among the lightest in...
19.2 ounces in a pair of men's 45 makes them among the lightest in our group.
Photo: Ryan Baham, Andrew rook

Power Transfer


The S-Works Ares felt extremely efficient - among the best. It's worth noting at the outset that this typically comes at the expense of comfort, but there was no such sacrifice here. Another reason we were so taken by the shoes.


They use the S-Works FACT Powerline™ carbon outsole for top-end stiffness and all the power-transfer inherent to most of the other premium carbon outsoles on the market. That doesn't necessarily set them apart from the flagship shoes from Shimano or Sidi. Where they stand out is in their Body Geometry design features. We outlined them under the Comfort section above. While they improve comfort through ergonomics, they also improve efficiency, which translates into power transference into forward motion. The Varus Wedge under the forward medial edge of the foot took a bit of getting used to, but seemed to especially improve the stroke and stability, making it a little easier to get after it on climbs and sprints.

Standing climbs are a good way to test the mettle of a shoe and feel...
Standing climbs are a good way to test the mettle of a shoe and feel its power transfer. Slow, deliberate, painful strokes at high wattage will make it pretty apparent if a shoe's sapping power.
Photo: Ryan Baham, Andrew rook

The rest of the efficiency comes from the snug fit that reduces excessive wiggle and energy loss. The upper and Form Fit last work together so that the heel and midfoot are clasped while the toebox has enough room for the toes to splay in concert with the Metatarsal Button. The Dyneema®-reinforced tongueless sock and PadLock™ heel come together to cradle the foot and limit both slip and energy waste.

Their closure design also does some solid lifting here. Two independent flaps fold over the top of the foot to pull the sole and upper together against the foot for a nice, sandwiched fit that improves efficiency and reduces rolling and discomfort.

Adjustability


This is a pretty standard design for high-end shoes, even the best road bike shoes. Really it's only Sidi that goes above and beyond in this measure You get two fasteners in the form of two-way BOA Li2 dials that use a strong cable to pull together the sides of the upper. Two-way BOA dials have really become the baseline for premium road shoes.


One minor complaint here is that the flaps that form the closure system, while effective, do get caught up tangled in the wiring. It's a minor inconvenience, but it can be annoying to fiddle with when you just want to get your darn shoes on and get out the door.

It took a few rides before we got used to organizing the flaps and...
It took a few rides before we got used to organizing the flaps and getting them in place so we could lock down the cables (see the errant flap on the left side all bunched up).
Photo: Ryan Baham, Andrew rook

Durability


The design of the Ares relies on a proprietary material called Dyneema®. It's claimed to be similar to Kevlar®, but stronger. It's used both in the tongueless sock and in the upper where it's set between synthetic material and TPU.


The toe and outsole also have a layer of protection against abrasion which should hold up well against pedals and the road for a few hard seasons. They also have a replaceable heel pad and we always love shoes with replaceable parts. It's sure to extend the shoe's life.

Value


Those with the means will get a lot out of the Ares. As we've said elsewhere, the Deceuninck–Quick-Step professional team didn't choose this shoe without good reason. It comes at a premium because it delivers hard-to-top performance.

It's really hard to find lasting comfort in a stiff carbon shoe, but...
It's really hard to find lasting comfort in a stiff carbon shoe, but you get exactly that with these.
Photo: Ryan Baham, Andrew Crook

Conclusion


The S-Works Ares isn't just a super-light, ultra-stiff, compliant road bike shoe that improves your pedaling efficiency, though it is all of those things. It's also an extremely comfortable shoe. It's the combination of performance and comfort that clenches the Top Pick Award for Comfort. It's not enough to be comfortable, it has to also be a peak performance shoe, which it is. We think they can work on the closure and get the wires and flaps figured out and maybe add another layer between the heel and heel cup, but it's hard to improve on this model otherwise. We were quite happy riding in these and we suspect most other riders will agree.

The S-Works Ares is a fantastic, high-performance shoe meant for...
The S-Works Ares is a fantastic, high-performance shoe meant for long days in the saddle.
Photo: Ryan Baham, Andrew rook

Ryan Baham

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