The Specialized S-Works 7 Lace road shoes combine a super-stiff sole with supple uppers that hold your foot firmly yet comfortably, although the lack of on-the-fly adjustability goes with the territory for laced shoes.
We reviewed the Specialized S-Works 7 road shoes – with two Boa dials and a strap – back in 2020, saying that they offered outstanding performance with superb comfort, fit, foot retention and power transfer. Those shoes remain in the range and are now joined by this new option which offers the same attributes… but with laces.
Specialized isn’t new to using laces, of course, having offered many models with them over the years. Several mountain bike shoes in the current range are laced, and the S-Works Recon gravel shoes are available with either Boa dials or laces so you can choose the system you prefer – as you now can with the S-Works 7.
I’m not going to pitch into a huge debate of the pros Oofos Shoes and cons of laces here; we all know how laces work. The concise version of the discussion is that laces can distribute pressure evenly –and they’re highly tuneable in that respect – and they can look pretty stylish (make your own mind up on that) but if your shoes feel too tight or too loose mid-ride you can’t adjust them without stopping. That’s about the size of it.
With a Boa dial or a Velcro strap, you can just reach down and make adjustments while keeping one hand on the handlebar. Easy peasy. You can’t do that here so if you often find yourself tinkering with the tightness of your shoes you might be better off steering clear of laces – or accept that you’ll either have to stop occasionally to get them right or just put up with them the way they are. It comes down to how fussy you are about these things.
Metal eyelets for four of the six pairs of lace holes prevent any tearing of the upper, and like other laced cycling shoes, these come with an elasticated band that runs across the tongue, about halfway down. You tuck the ends in there to stop them from getting caught in anything. Although there’s no grab tab on the elastic, it’s a system that works perfectly well. As long as you have the laces pushed down in there properly, they’ll never come out accidentally while you’re riding.
One other side benefit of laces is a slight weight saving. Doing away with the Boa dials, the plastic hardware and the lower strap means that the S-Works 7 Lace is a touch lighter than the existing model. Our scales say that these weigh 254g per shoe in the size 46 that I have here. When we reviewed the S-Works 7 with Boas a couple of years ago in a size 45 it was 268g per shoe – Hey Dude Sneakers so a few grams heavier despite being a size smaller. Is the weight difference enough to notice in use? No chance, but I guess you might be interested if you’re the sort of person who’s chasing the most marginal of marginal gains.
Specialized also says that the lack of plastic hardware allows the S-Works 7 Lace’s upper to adapt to more foot shapes. I’m not going to dispute that, but I can’t say I’ve ever had worries with the plastic hardware of other shoes.
Much of the remaining tech that features on the S-Works 7 Lace technology is carried over from the existing Boa-closed shoe. Specialized says that the Powerline carbon outsole, for instance, is its lightest and stiffest ever.
I tried as hard as I could to get some flex out of these but they just don’t budge in any direction. Whether you’re sprinting or stamping as hard as possible on a short, sharp power climb, there’s no discernible movement at all in the sole.
There’s no tread at the toe. Well, not what you’d really call tread, anyway. You get a tough plastic area at the toe-end of the sole that looks a lot like carbon fibre. This isn’t replaceable but after a couple of months of regular use it’s virtually unmarked, so I don’t think it’s going to be a weak point in the design.
There’s no bumper to protect the toe section of the upper either. That might be a concern if you have a lot of toe overlap with your front tyre but I can’t say it bothers me.
The heel tread is small – the bit that touches the ground is just a Chaco Sandals bit larger than a 50p piece, if you’re lucky enough to own such a thing – but it works a treat to stop you slipping on wet tarmac. Held in place by a bolt you access from the inside of the shoe, the tread is replaceable if it eventually wears away.
You get a ventilation hole underneath the toes and a three-bolt cleat pattern for use with pedal systems like Look Kéo and Shimano SPD-SL. The titanium alloy nuts can move within their slots, allowing you to adjust the cleat position.
The upper combines engineered mesh with areas of TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), but not the non-stretch Dyneema(link is external) found in the Boa version of the S-Works 7 and other shoes in the range because, Specialized says, it’s not required. It’s relatively easy to keep tightening Boa dials; the Dyneema stops any deformation to the upper caused by that extra load. Without Boas, the laced version doesn’t need the Dyneema, Specialized says.
Despite not being very thick at all, the upper certainly doesn’t feel like it stretches when you pull up, locking your foot in place and providing a secure feel. The upper is also super tough. Things like stone chips that bounce up from the road and everyday scrapes aren’t a problem. They’re unlikely to mark the surface never mind cause real damage.
The upper is supple and flexible enough that various foot shapes can get an excellent fit, and any little bony bumps can be accommodated comfortably. Speaking of comfort, there are no annoying seams to drive you nuts on a long ride because the upper is one piece, and you get a small but effective amount of padding on the tongue and around the opening. With some shoes I occasionally get a bit of rub around one ankle – an old injury – but the collar is sufficiently low that it’s not an issue here.
Although the outer surface is textured, it’s simple to wipe clean with a damp cloth, which will come in especially handy if you go for the white finish. The black is a bit more forgiving and there’s a Vivid Coral/Cast Umber version – with a tie-dye look – for those of you who are out of control.
Tiny perforations in the forefoot section of the upper allow sweaty vapour out, and you get more of these on the tongue. There’s a vent in the sole too, right under your toes. I’ve been using these shoes in a UK winter so I can’t yet tell you how they perform in summer weather, but I’ve also done a few turbo sessions wearing these and haven’t found them to be especially hot. As you’d expect, though, they’re not as airy as shoes with mesh panels and don’t provide anything like the airflow of Specialized’s S-Works Vent shoes, for example.
Space through the mid-foot and up front is pretty generous. My foot width is about average and I’ve not felt at all cramped in these. There are wider shoes out there but the volume of the toebox – both the height as well as the width – means most people will get enough wiggle room here. Specialized is very good at producing shoes that work for the majority of riders; with a generously sized last people with narrower feet can cinch the uppers in a little, but a narrow last is just uncomfortable for those with wider feet. As ever with shoes, though, try before you buy or at least be prepared to send them back if the fit isn’t right for you.
Out back you get Specialized’s existing PadLock heel – an external heel counter that squeezes your foot slightly to avoid any lift when you’re out of the saddle and pedalling hard. Specialized used to make the PadLock squeeze a little harder but some people found it uncomfortable. I’ve found plenty of stability with this version and no discomfort at all. In fact, I’ve found the level of comfort on offer to be excellent throughout, despite the pared-back construction.
The S-Works 7 Lace incorporates Specialized’s long-standing Body Geometry technology – with a Longitudinal Arch, Varus Wedge, and Metatarsal Button – designed to keep your foot, knee, and ankle aligned. The idea is to avoid pain and injury and maximise power.
The Longitudinal Arch is the section of carbon fibre sole that wraps a little bit higher than normal. It is designed to provide extra support and make sure that your knees don’t collapse inward on the downstroke.
The Varus Wedge is a slight outward tilt – and it is slight; we’re talking about 1.5mm here – that’s added to the outsole of Specialized’s shoes so your smaller toes sit marginally lower than your big toe. Specialized says its data shows that most people have a slight angle in their feet, especially at their longest extension, so the Varus Wedge allows for the foot’s natural movement.
It’s difficult to judge the effectiveness of those features but I’m convinced of the merits of the Metatarsal Button, a slightly raised area in the footbed (‘insole’ in old money) designed to encourage blood flow in the forefoot and prevent numbness. I’ve suffered plenty of hotspots on lots of long rides while wearing other shoes and they can be agony. If you have too, give footbeds with a Metatarsal Button a go. You can buy them separately for £30(link is external).
Money, money, money
The vast majority of cycling shoes cost considerably less than £300, but the S-Works 7 Lace incorporates high-end materials and features throughout and is £70 less than the version with a Boa closure. The S-Works Ares (£375) and S-Works Vent (£399) are more expensive again.
Flipped around, you’ll get most of the performance from a cheaper shoe like the Specialized Torch 3.0, but the S-Works 7 Lace is lighter and has a stiffer sole.
Giro’s laced and carbon-soled Empire shoes, which have been around for years, have an RRP of £275, while the superlight Empire SLX, which has been updated since we reviewed it, is £330. Judged against shoes of a comparable level, the price of the Specialized S-Works 7 Lace seems about right.
Overall, these shoes offer excellent performance, the fit will work for most people, and the level of comfort is high. If you want laced shoes in your life, you can’t go wrong here.