How to make the world's best cycling shoes even better
The S-Works Torch is Specialized's most highly engineered set of shoes yet
Promotional feature in partnership with Specialized
A cyclist’s shoes present such a unique problem that guys like Adam Hansen simply made their own. It’s nearly an impossible conundrum for shoe manufacturers: every foot is different, which means every shoe needs to be different to accommodate.
So the perfect shoe really doesn’t exist. But Specialized has attempted to touch the sun with its newest shoes, the S-Works Torch. With a mountain of research and development behind it, can Specialized deliver on the promise of the perfect shoe?
The Torch shoes certainly come very, very close. And that’s no accident. Specialized uses years of research, relationships with pro riders, and a biomimicry process to create a shoe that promises to transform not only power transfer and performance, but also rider comfort.
The S-Works Torch shoes replace the S-Works 7 shoes. The Torch shoes offer the same stiffness as the S-Works 7 shoes, but they shave 20 grams off the total weight.
That’s probably the least dramatic change between the two shoes. For starters, Specialized has created an in-house ‘packet’ of materials for the upper that replaces the Dyneema upper used on the S-Works 7 shoes. This packet is a sandwich of different materials, used in different locations on the shoe, to make the overall package more supple and supportive.
The shape of the upper has changed to better accommodate the true shape of the foot too. It features an asymmetrical design that’s lower over your smaller toes than it is over the large toes. That creates a “close to foot” feeling, according to Specialized.
“The Torch has specific windows of materials with higher and lower amounts of stretch properties. This allows us to secure the foot in areas that are more capable to handle closure forces. We use higher-stretch materials in areas that may have a larger degree of variance depending on foot shape. All in all, the goal is to create a shoe that will provide enough hold to create the desired level of efficiency on the bike while also allowing the foot to be in a more natural state, comfortably,” said Kelly Henningsen, Global PR for Specialized.
Locking in the heel
Nothing about your foot is straight or symmetrical. So it stands to reason your shoes shouldn’t be either. That’s why the Torch shoes feature an asymmetric heel cup to help keep your foot from sliding around while pedalling. It also helps increase pedalling power by eliminating any unwanted movement.
Of course, Specialized has the data that shows how important knee tracking is to your body’s stability, power, and overall health. So the asymmetric heel cup addresses that, too. “The Achilles attachment point is an area that can vary in size and sensitivity,” says Henningsen. “We took feedback from our riders and built a design that would accommodate a wider range of people, without any loss in efficiency or changes in knee tracking. Through Retül, we were able to verify that this design provides consistent support and helps to maintain proper knee tracking, when setup the same as previous generations of S-Works shoes.”
The base plate of the shoe is also a bit wider than the S-Works 7 shoes. “We measure the forefoot shape, in particular the width of the ball of the foot,” says Henningsen. “This allows us to check plate width versus foot width and to more precisely prototype widths to test what felt best for riders. A 1:1 match isn’t necessarily what works best for riders, based on fit preference, so some trial and error was needed to establish a new baseline width for the Torch shoes.”
To get that data, Specialized used over 100,000 foot scans harvested from Retül fit sessions. With decades of Body Geometry data to back that up, Specialized came up with unique structural changes to the Torch shoes that benefits riders with different foot shapes. As such, the Torch is available in both a standard and a wide plate.
The Standard plate is 4mm wider than the S-Works 7 shoes, and the Wide plate is 7mm wider. That means you won’t have to upsize your shoes anymore if you’ve got wide feet.
One of the cooler features of the Torch shoes is one of the least noticeable. The base plate of the shoe features what Specialized calls “pie crust edging.” The sides of the plate rise slightly as it meets with the upper. This reduces flex and eliminates excess material around the perimeter of the base plate.
And one touch you can’t see at all: an internal I-beam structure within that baseplate to increase strength even more. This distinct support structure helps eliminate even more weight, which is part of the reason the Torch shoes come in so much lighter than the S-Works 7 shoes, which were made with light and strong Dyneema fabric.
That term became part of the cyclists’ lexicon within the last ten years as R&D concepts derived aerodynamic advantages from nature. With the Torch shoes, Specialized applies biomimicry differently. It’s all about mimicking you.
That ‘you’ applies collectively, however. The confluence of data and rider feedback pollinate, giving designers a more thorough understanding of how your foot moves, how to support it during its key functions while pedalling, and how to ensure you remain more comfortable longer.
Beyond the clever names and the unseen improvements, it’s Specialized’s decades of data and experience that make the Torch shoes stand out above the rest. Like most touchpoint equipment, the best shoes are the ones you’re not thinking about. The Torch shoes give you all the tools to succeed — and then leave you alone to get down to the business of winning.