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Rob Cook worked for years with WorldTour sprinters like Sam Bennett to develop a high-performance shoe that could be worn very tightly, and ended up with something that also happens to be remarkably comfortable for everyday riders.
The new Specialized S-Works Ares uses the same last as the S-Works 7 road shoe, but the upper is completely different than anything on the market. The two primary differentiators are two broads straps that distribute pressure with BOA closures, and a design that foregoes a traditional upper for a very pliable, one-piece, sock-like design.
Cook is Specialized’s shoe design director, and he first met with Bennett years ago to talk shoes. What was planned as a 30-minute meeting turned into 90 minutes, as the two delved into Bennett’s sensations and needs when sprinting.
“I would just ask him things like, when do you tighten shoes in a race?” Cook said. “And Sam would say, ‘In a normal race, at 5k out. At the Giro, 15k. And at the Tour, it’s 25-50k out. Because if you wait longer than that, if you stop pedaling for a few seconds when everyone is full gas, you’re 20-30 places back in a few seconds. So he needed a shoe that he could race at full tension for 50km and not have his feet fall asleep or feel cramped.”
Bennett wanted a shoe that locked him down on the sole when sprinting.
“We know that riders who make efforts out of the saddle pull up on the pedals, whereas most of us just unweight the pedal,” Cook said. “For Sam, when he is sprinted and the bike leaned away, as he was pulling up he expressed a feeling that his foot was rolling in the shoe, getting unweighted from the outsole. He wanted to remove that delay, and he was pressing down with his big toe, almost bracing his foot in the shoe, to avoid flapping around in the shoe.”
So Cook and the Specialized team created the two-strap upper system, with the elimination of the traditional tongue for a uniform surface.
“You think of a tongue with a one-millimeter step at the edge, and you think about riders with 5 percent body fat, and high closure tension,” Cook said. “The tendons in Sam’s feet look like tree roots after a grand tour. We think pro riders can tolerate pain, but you realize in speaking to these guys that they have very little fat on the foot, and they need a comfortable shoe.”
The toe box of the Ares, while boxy-looking, is made from the same last as the S-Works 7. Like the rest of the Dyneema-enhanced sock body, it is quite malleable.
“The revelation of this shoe is that we put all this effort into aggressive action, into designing a shoe for such an extreme case, and then people just love how comfortable it is,” Cook said. “The face that the foot is held tight by the wide, uniform surfaces instead of just a few narrow points of closure, makes a huge difference.”
Similar to previous S-Works shoes, the Ares uses a heel counter that is attached to the carbon sole to that fit is always the same, from one shoe to the next.
The shoe uses BOA Li2 dials, that micro-adjust in both directions, and also pop open for a quick release.
Like all S-Works shoes, the Ares has Body Geometry features like the varus wedge, a 1.5mm cant insert to counteract a foot compressing inwards, and a Metatarsal Button on the insoles for better circulation.
The S-Works Ares comes in four color styles: black, red, white, and ‘Team White’, which is white with black lettering and a black heel cup.
Claimed weight on the $425 shoes is 220g for a single size 42.