Specialized makes some pretty fancy shoes, with more than one offering featuring in our list of the best cycling shoes. In fact, the brand’s line of S-Works road shoes is ever-growing, with the Ares alongside the S-Works Exos, S-Works 7, 7 Vent, 7 Lace and a new pair on the way as well.
The S-Works Ares are, according to Specialized, the most efficient and powerful performance shoe ever made, and 1% faster than any other shoe it has made before, which is why they were the most visible on the feet of the Williams brothers of Mark Cavendish, Sam Bennett and Legion of LA, who sprint quickly.
Do they live up to their reputation as a set of hyper-performance running shoes? Will their quest for performance come at the expense of comfort? What is the sock? Read on for answers to all these questions and more.
Design and aesthetics
The S-Works Ares shoes have a pretty muscular silhouette compared to their more delicate siblings, mainly in my eyes due to the raised ankle. It reminds me more of a football shoe than a cycling shoe at first glance, although the two Boa dials in the middle position on the front of the shoe would hamper efforts to make a cross in the box (can you say football is not my forte?).
The ankle height is due to a tongue-less, Dyneema-reinforced sock, to avoid any additional pressure areas, and has the added benefit of providing greater ankle support. In all honesty, I didn’t notice any feeling of extra support, but I was comforted to find that the raised ankle never rubbed on the bony protrusions of the ankle as I originally expected.
The focus on power transfer balanced with comfort is evident in the marketing surrounding the positioning of the foot in the shoe, as well as the construction itself. The carbon outsole has a stiffness index of 15 (take that, Spinal Tap), the highest on offer, but it’s less the stiffness of the sole than its angle that intrigued me. A built-in “varus wedge” claims to provide better hip-knee-ankle alignment by tilting the foot slightly outward (apparently adding 10 seconds to the point of exhaustion at maximum exertion). Also, the built-in arch support and a “metatarsal knob” (aka a little raised bump) in the sockliner that’s meant to splay the toes out to prevent hot spots add up to what I was hoping would be a ride comfortable.
The cleat attachment features sliding mounting points to add more adjustability, and since this is a premium road shoe set, the mounting hardware is also titanium. At first glance, the ground-facing heel pad looks non-replaceable, but upon removing the insole, I found that it could be replaced with a single screw.
Given the higher ankle there is a bit more material involved in the construction, and as such the shoes came on my scale at 487g (size EU43) which is not the best of class, but you’re hardly going to feel like a mob boss gave you concrete shoes either.
The S-Works Ares were almost comically hard to put on when fresh. They’ve loosened over time, but you’d better get by with a cheap shoehorn to get things going. I attribute this to a combination of the high sock, but more importantly an extremely stiff heel cup. The cleats had plenty of adjustability thanks to the slotted mounts, and the markings on the sole, although a little weak, were usable enough to ensure a corresponding position.
Starting with the fit, which I didn’t really like. The two Boa dials add a decent level of adjustability, but having a single dial for the entire lower foot makes finding that perfect fit a little more difficult compared to my usual lace-up Empire SLX. I think this is made somewhat worse by the higher peg design, which means the top Boa is mounted higher than on a standard double Boa design, letting the bottom cover more ground. Both dials are mated to wide straps that distribute pressure well across the top of the foot.
If the Boa cables were fitted further to the sides, it would also provide some degree of width adjustment, which brings me to my main issue with the fit; they felt extremely narrow and my feet aren’t that wide. This was further compounded by the fact that the lower Boa was positioned over the widest part of the foot, giving me the option of tightening the lowers in a way that left the shoe feeling secure, but uncomfortable, or loosening them up. ’til they’re comfortable, but then put together with a degree of internal movement.
On another note, the Varus Wedge was noticeable while riding, but not so much for a better leg-aligned feel. My feet are naturally slightly pronated, and having a shoe that effectively tilts them further put the majority of my weight on the outside ball of my foot and about an hour after each ride, my outside three toes became numb .
A final bugbear was the ventilation. The single front vent on the sole, with no exit point, left my feet feeling quite warm. In order to encourage any airflow through the shoe, I had to physically lift my toes to “open” the vent.
While I disagree on fit, which like saddles is a personal thing, the performance of the shoes was outstanding. The wide straps allow you to tighten the shoes to a high degree and, combined with a tenacious heel cup, there is no movement of the foot even during sprint efforts. The heel cup for me is the star of the shoe, and the retention is significantly better than my benchmark from Giro, despite having less padding.
The retention was so good that, for the first time, I felt like I could pull in my heel and effectively use my hamstrings during steady-state high-intensity flat efforts (simulated TT, essentially). Sole stiffness may have played a role in connecting the heel to the cleat with greater efficiency, but it wasn’t noticeably stiffer than other high-end shoes, even though the stiffness index screams . In all honesty, for running effort and maximum power transfer, these are the best shoes I’ve used to date, but I couldn’t use them to their full potential for more than an hour. The dials make the fit easily adjustable on the fly, though, if you’re the type to tighten your shoes before a big sprint.
One final point for riders in the wetter parts of the world: the built-in sock tends to retain moisture, so on wet rides the S-Works Ares felt a bit more soggy and chilly than other shoes, but this could easily be mitigated by checking the forecast and thinking about putting on shoe covers. They are also very difficult to clean, so expect your white shoes to be paired with a gray sock after a few dusty or dreary days.
The S-Works Ares road shoes are probably the most uncompromising running shoes I have encountered. They’re not the most comfortable, at least not for my feet, and they’re not the most adjustable either. What they offer is absolute vise-like retention thanks to wide, no-stretch straps and a heel cup that locks your foot in place.
If you’re racing, especially something short and full of maximum effort like a crit, then this is likely to be a desirable option. What they offer in sprints or even seated absolute efforts is second to none. For long days in the saddle, or for those who don’t race, I’d be inclined to suggest going with the S-Works 7 instead, or even the S-Works 7 Lace if you really need some adjustment. fine for your shape.
|Design and aesthetics||Not ugly at all, but a slightly bulky look||7/10|
|Comfort||For my feet, to use their full potential, uncomfortable||6/10|
|Performance||Exceptional foot support and power transfer||9/10|
|Mass||Not a class leader, but not dead weight around your ankles either||7/10|
|Value for money||They’re not the most expensive shoes on the market, but being so race-focused, they don’t offer as complete a package as their rivals.||8/10|
Tech Specs: Specialized S-Works Ares Road Shoes
- Weight: 487g (EU43 pair, real, without studs)
- Outsole: Carbon
- Upper: Dyneema and TPU reinforced fabric
- Retention: two Boa Li2 dials
- Colours: white, black, white/black, gradient turquoise, gradient red, red/black