Review: Specialized S-Works Torch road shoes

Replacing the S-Works 7 in the line-up, the new S-Works Torch shoes are stiffer, lighter, far more comfortable and there's no velcro...

It goes without saying that shoes form one of the most crucial parts of a cyclist’s outfit. Keeping the feet firmly in place, they transfer all those hard-earned watts through the pedals – the stiffer the sole, the less power wasted. A good cycling shoe should have a barely-there feel, providing comfort through a shape which cocoons the foot with no rubbing or friction. Ventilation and weight also play a big part in forming the perfect boot and, of course, aesthetics can’t be forgotten, either.

It’s fair to say that Specialized is a company which understands how crucial the shoe is to a good bike ride. For years, it has dedicated time and research into the development of its cycling shoes, using its trademark Body Geometry system to constantly try and improve the body-to-bike connection. As a result, S-Works shoes have won thousands of pro races, protecting the toes of the likes of Anna van der Breggen, Mark Cavendish and Julian Alaphillippe over the years.

The new S-Works Torch shoes are the latest in the brand’s range of racey, premium road shoe options. Said to be a much improved version of the brand’s S-Works 7 road shoe, the S-Works Torch sees a new carbon base plate, heel cup and upper which Specialized says reduces weight, relieves pressure points, gives added security and transfers power more efficiently. Over the last few days, we’ve been putting the new S-Works Torch shoes to the test, ascertaining if we really can see a difference between the S-Works 7 iteration and deciding if they’re worth the hefty investment.

Comfort

The new S-Works Torch shoes see some serious improvements when it comes to comfort in comparison to the S-Works 7 version. While the S-Works 7 shoes have been my go-to road shoe for around the last year, it did take me some time to break them in and get used to the stiff and aggressive fit which is clearly designed for performance in the pro peloton.The main problem with the S-Works 7 road shoes for many was the amount of notable contact points on the shoe. Stiff collar materials on the heel and stiff edges on the shoe’s tongue could cause some pinching until it was worn in – an unideal solution for premium, pricey footwear. The routing on the BOA cables on the S-Works 7 shoes has also been said to create pressure points on the top of the foot, something that Specialized have looked to remedy with the Torch shoes. 

Related: Specialized Prime Clothing Review

The BOAs have now been shifted downwards, ensuring that the shoe gives no pressure over the dorsal bump on the foot. The repositioning of the cables also means it now is angled to prevent the ball of the foot lifting out of the shoe when putting the pressure on or getting out of the saddle. With this, there is no need for the velcro strap on the bottom of the shoe like we see on the S-Works 7 shoes. The removal of this strap is a welcome change – most riders rarely adjust the velcro once it’s set on the S-Works 7 shoe.

Specialized has also made a change to the material used in the tongue of the shoe. Now a much softer, flexible material, it doesn’t dig into the front of the ankle or hold odour as it did in the S-Works 7 version. The material used throughout the whole Torch shoe is new, too. Specialized’s Dyneema has been replaced with an in-house material which feels more supple and adaptable. 

With the S-Works 7 shoes, the heel hold was excellent, ensuring the fit was secure and snug, but for many this material was too harsh for riders with wider ankles. The redesigned asymmetric heel cup on the Torch shoes gives more room in this area, informed by data gathered by thousands of RETÜL footscans.

Aside from the upper of the shoe and the heel, the sole of S-Works Torch shoe also helps with comfort. Perhaps the most important and notable part of this during my test was the metatarsal button. Sitting under the forefoot, it lifts and separates the bones of the foot leading to a snug fit that avoids any risk of numbness or hot points. As well as the metatarsal button, the Torch shoe features Body Geometry longitudinal arch support and a 1.5mm varus wedge which improves knee and hip alignment.

Related: Specialized Power Pro with Mirror saddle

The taller and narrower structure of the S-Works 7 shoe meant that the foot was held in from each side, somewhat compressing the shoe on the sides of the foot which could lead to hot points and discomfort, especially if the foot began to swell in hotter efforts. With the S-Works Torch we see a much more asymmetrical shape. Specialized have added in 4mm width at the ball of the foot and the plate itself underneath is wider, I found this meant pressure was distributed more evenly.

Overall, the comfort of the S-Works Torch shoe is impressive. While the S-Works 7 was a shoe that took some getting used to, the Torch provides out of the box comfort. It’s more of a soft element on the foot which leads to a glove-like fit.

Performance

The S-Works Torch shoes see a completely redesigned carbon base plate which is 20 grams lighter than that in the S-Works 7, meaning that they weigh 225g in size 42. This weight reduction comes despite the two base plate options in the Torch now being 4mm and 7mm wider than those in the S-Works 7 (depending on if you opt for the ‘wide’ version or not). Overall, Specialized’s main aim was to reduce the overbuilt carbon sole seen on the S-Works 7 to create a cleaner shape and remove any excess material which isn’t needed. With this, we see a narrower heel and a streamlined construction. This assists the lightweight, barely-there feel of the shoe but also makes them more comfortable to stand in.

Despite the weight reduction, Specialized hasn’t compromised on stiffness in the S-Works torch shoe. An internal I-Beam adds strength and this is something that’s evident while riding in the shoe. The power transfer feels optimum, and I felt able to put complete trust in the shoe, even when doing sessions that included punchy sprints or standing starts. Stripping weight while maintaining the stiffness that the S-Works shoes have long been famous for is an impressive feat of innovation from the designers of the S-Works Torch.

The aforementioned new, adaptive material on the upper of the shoe also felt like it gave me performance benefits. My foot felt secure thanks to zonal reinforcement sections, and I felt confident that no watts were being wasted. The zonal reinforcement over the big toe was a big help during low-cadence efforts, making the most of the pull phase of my pedal stroke.

Related: Mark Cavendish's Giro d'Italia Specialized S-Works Tarmac

Aesthetics

As is usual with S-Works shoes, the new S-Works Torch looks incredibly fast and streamlined. Specialized have maintained that minimalist look, keeping branding negligible and sticking to a solid base colour. Specialized designers hinted that this was a conscious choice, keeping in mind those pro riders who don’t want the shoe manufacturer to be immediately obvious on the shoe. It also avoids clearly mismatched brands for riders who don’t ride a Specialized bike. The new S-Works Torch shoes will come initially in black and white colour options, as well as a dark green colour. We’re led to believe that new colours will arrive later this year as well.

Specialized have also retained the metal boa system as seen in the S-Works 7 shoe. Unlike the shoes of some competitors, the BOA doesn’t pop open and is still dial-only. While this means they’re easy to adjust on the go, it is worth bearing in mind that this does mean the shoes are a little more fiddly to get on and off. I found the new material of the S-Works Torch shoe a lot easier to wipe clean after use, which makes me think that these will stay looking fresh for a long period of time.

The design of the S-Works Torch shoe is true to the identity of the S-Works range: it’s elegant, beautiful footwear that will add to the outfit of any rider. Specialized remained tight-lipped about the potential of lace-up versions of the Torch, but hinted that there were more versions in the pipeline, potentially with trickle-down technology to more affordable price points.

Overall

The new S-Works Torch shoes see a significant improvement when compared to the S-Works 7 iteration. It’s goodbye to pressure points, stiff tough materials and compression on the sides of the foot and hello to a glove-like shoe that really feels as if it is designed to fit with the rider, rather than the other way round. I used to purchase S-Works 7 shoes while being aware they’d be uncomfortable for the first couple of weeks until I’d worn them in, and I expected a similar experience with the Torch shoes, but I was impressed with how this is no longer the case.

Related: New Roval Alpinist CLX II Wheels First Look

I see the biggest improvements coming from the redesigned upper of the shoe, the new placement of the BOAs and the added space in the heel makes the Torch shoes extremely comfortable. All of this has been achieved without compromising on performance or taking away from this shoe’s identity as high-performance, race footwear.

While the 20g weight reduction on the carbon sole is a nice selling point, I wouldn’t say that this is the reason to invest in a pair of S-Works Torch shoes. I’d ascertain the hefty spend of £385 is instead worth it for the supreme, uncompromising comfort of the shoes, the peace of mind they provide that every single watt is being transferred optimally through the pedals and the impressive attention to detail. It’s a big hit to the wallet, but worth it if you really want the best of the best.