Incredibly comfortable; light and stiff; Body Geometry benefits; secure fit without pressure points
Hard to get on; expensive
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Is it a soccer boot, a sandal, or a high-end road cycling shoe? Of course it’s the latter, but the new Specialized S-Works Ares has elements of the former, too.
You can read the story behind the construction of the Specialized S-Works Ares shoe, but I have found the shoes to be light, stiff, and locked in — normal traits of a high-end shoe — but also incredibly comfortable. As in: I can wiggle my toes around freely while still having enough tension over the top of the foot so that the slightest upward movement translates into forward momentum.
Specialized built the Ares with its existing S-Works 7 last, but the upper is completely different.
Instead of two sides being pulled together over a tongue, there are effectively two sandal-like straps that overlap over the top of a one-piece, sock-like upper.
That sock-like upper is extremely supple and super cozy — once you get the shoes on. For me, the elastic cuff makes pulling the shoes on a bit of a chore. Not quite a ski-boot-like chore, but one definitely has to be sitting down to get the things on.
Shimano already has something similar with its S-Phyre shoes, where the traditional tongue is tossed out in favor of one side of the upper completely overlapping the other. But otherwise, the S-Phyre is built like a standard shoe with BOA laces and a fairly uniform upper.
Giro has a hyper-malleable upper on its Empire SLX and Imperial shoes, but those are secured with laces and BOA straps, respectively, over a tongue.
My testing of the Ares has consisted of riding road, gravel, and inside. My riding outside has been in overshoes, so I just wrench the dials down and can’t really adjust them after the booties get pulled on. It has been remarkable to have such a secure fit feel like my roomy, box-toe wool clogs three and four hours into a ride.
Speaking of boxy toes, the Areas has a decidedly snub-nosed look compared to other shoes.
Some riders have had an issue with the height and material stiffness under the ankle on recent S-Works shoes. The Ares has the same height, but the sock-like upper might provide a little more forgiveness. Past S-Works have not hit my ankle, so I can’t speak to this personally.
Similarly, the top of the shoe at the heel is a bit higher externally than the S-Works 7 but that is just due to the construction; the padding and fit around the back of the shoe remains the same. (If you like the S-Works 7, they are now on sale for $249 down from $400, as this $425 Ares rolls out.)
As with other recent Specialized shoes, you can tweak the arch height with three different (and separately sold) insoles, or buy custom insoles from Specialized. All have the trademark Metatarsal Button, which helps with circulation. And the shoes have Specialized’s varus wedge, the 1.5mm cant to counteract foot collapse. It’s pretty subtle.
Bottom line, if you like past Specialized shoes, you will probably love the feel of the S-Works Ares. Just remember that when you are wrestling to pull the things on.