28 January, 2021
Tyler Willmer- Author, Photos
Appropriately named after the Greek God of War, the Specialized Ares captures the essence of his character. Strength, aggression, an unstoppable thirst for conflict. Ares is representative of pure unwavering power. These characteristics transcended myth and have made their way into the new road shoe by Specialized.
The S-Works Ares road shoe was made specifically with the power laden rider in mind. Two boa dials linked to an entirely new retention system keep the foot locked in place while the new bootie design and further reinforced carbon sole allow the wearer to squeeze every watt of power from their legs to the pedals. For the Ares, the people at Specialized have cranked the stiffness to eleve-... fifteen. Past S-Works shoes have featured a stiffness indicator with a (somewhat arbitrary) number ranging from 1-14. The previous S-Works 7 shoe features a rating of 14, whereas the S-Works 6 featured a 12.
Whether you’ll notice the difference in stiffness is of course a subjective position. What you surely will notice, however, is the new construction method. The shoe is made of three distinct pieces. The carbon sole, the inner mesh bootie, and a Dyneema support structure which wraps around the bootie. The idea here is that the mesh bootie holds your foot securely and closely, but features enough stretch to allow your foot to still flex and swell without issue. You probably don’t care about that though, you likely care more about what it feels like rather than the concept behind the construction. To put it as honestly and as succinctly as possible, it’s a thick mesh sock. It’s lovely.
The most interesting part of the shoe lives further from the center though, and it’s that Dyneema support structure I spoke of earlier. For those unaffiliated, Dyneema is an ultra durable, super light polyethylene based fabric that has gained popularity in many different applications for the last few years. This support structure wraps around the bootie using different heavily structured pieces and flaps that prevents lateral and vertical movement without creating discomfort. It’s somewhat difficult to explain in writing, however the images provided paint a much better image of how the closure system works.
Fit, Feel and Finish
Before I get into the fit section of this review, it’s worth making a quick disclaimer about myself. I have absurdly wide feet. I’m talking EE width. Just keep that in mind when I go over my fit opinions, and remember that everyone’s foot is different and that fit is subjective.
In general, I was quite pleased with the fit of the Ares. I have experience with Specialized road shoes with my last two pairs being some S-Works 6 shoes and a set of Audax’s as a set of training/cold weather shoes. The Ares is largely in line with the traditional S-Works last, which tends to cater to a narrower foot in a way not too dissimilar to a pair of Nike running shoes. My feet were too wide for the Ares however, and if you have a tremendously wide foot such as I do, you may want to look at other options. The S-Works 7 is offered in a wide option and those work quite well for me. I did find these to be noticeably narrower than my S-Works 6 shoes, so keep that in mind as well. Will we see a wide variant of the Ares release? It’s possible, however we won’t know until we hear more news from Specialized.
Other than my gripe with the width of the last, I found the fit to be quite comfortable. The bootie really is as comfortable as it sounds, and the Dyneema upper provides as much support as they claim. It’s quite a unique feel for a road shoe, and not one that I can say i’ve experienced in offerings from other brands or models. The combination of the bootie and support structure offer a uniquely warm hug type fit. Your foot is not just held down by Boa wires, but by large pieces of Dyneema that overlap one another and create a wrap around your foot. It’s a really good idea, and the implementation is near flawless.
When it comes to design, quality and overall finish of the shoes, it’s not hard to notice these are a premium product. They feel every bit as good as their $425 (USD) price tag would imply they are. Some keen features include a well thought out toe bumper to protect from wheel overlap, a replaceable heel traction pad, and the lifetime warranty backed Boa Li2 dials.
All in all, the Specialized S-Works Ares shoes are a somewhat niche shoe in concept that will likely have mass appeal as time passes. It has a price which matches the performance, and a bite which matches its bark. It will be interesting to see how shoe design might change after such a radical departure from one of the largest manufacturers in the world, but I’m willing to bet that what's radical now will soon be the new norm.