The new Specialized S-Works Ares road bike shoes are an evolution of more than a decade of shoe designs. The goal? Make the most comfortable high performance road cycling shoes ever. How? By minimizing pressure points on the top of the shoe without giving up their secure hold on your foot.

The result is the Ares, a shoe that builds on the lowers and insoles from prior models but introduces an entirely new upper that cradles your foot and spreads the pressure evenly across the top. It’s respectably light, too. Here’s how they got there…

How the Ares was developed

specialized ares road bike shoes prototypes and concept designs

Prototypes and test shoes used to develop the final Specialized Ares shoe design. Click to enlarge for detail.

If we step back in time (pun intended), it becomes clear how Specialized end up looking at the top of the foot. They started with their Body Geometry insoles, which add varying levels of arch support to keep the foot from collapsing as you drive the pedals downward. A metatarsal button in the middle/front helps spread your metatarsal and phalange bones, giving the nerves between them a bit of room to breathe.

In 2012, they redesigned their carbon soles to make them stiffer, lighter and thinner. They also used that opportunity to create a bit more medial support to handle the pressure that the inside of your foot puts on the sole.

Since then, they’ve made them lighter, cooler and more ventilated, and then lighter still, ending up with a 99g Exos S-Works shoe that still reigns supreme as the lightest cycling shoe on the market.

Still, despite messing around with different BOA dial and shoe lace placements and designs, they weren’t quite satisfied with how the upper wrapped around your foot.

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes with a rider

Specialized has worked with some powerful athletes over the years, Mark Cavendish perhaps the best known in terms of pure wattage and sprinting output.

But it was Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Sam Bennett that led the development of the Ares, testing prototype after prototype. Because it turns out it’s not just a stiff carbon sole that wins all-out finish line sprints. It’s the ability to also pull up against the shoe without it stretching or allowing your foot to move. That’s why we see riders reaching down to tighten their shoes before they get into the final stretch.

But, shoes need to be comfortable for the hours of riding that lead up to a last minute push, too.

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes on a rider

Legion’s Justin Williams cruises along in the Ares.

From Specialized:

Turns out that a meticulous data fan like Bennett was the perfect development partner. “Sam was amazingly focused on giving feedback,” says Cook. “At our first meeting, I was expecting to spend 30 min with him. We spent an hour and half, just talking about sprinting, and shoes, and his thoughts on them. The information he shared was just incredible.”

It was Bennett’s input about the balance between a secure fit and race-long comfort that helped spur the team to jettison old thinking and approach the shoe from a new perspective.

“We started from scratch, not thinking about the closures, and focusing on what the rider wants to feel against their foot,” says Cook. Those explorations led them to an entirely new upper design, eliminating the traditional tongue in favor of a Dyneema®-reinforced sock liner, combined with a repositioned closure that was game-changing.

And here’s how they did it…

Specialized Ares road shoes tech features & benefits

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes closeup features and colors

Three main features separate the Ares from the rest of Specialized’s cycling shoes:

  • repositioned lower BOA dial, sits lower on the foot
  • broader cover flaps between BOA cables and foot
  • Dyneema sock wrapping all around the upper foot

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes in black

The lightweight synthetic upper wraps from the side, then up and over the top of the foot with a broad section that spreads the pressure from the dial and cables more evenly. On the instep, the cables use a triangular pattern to pull against a broader section there, too.

The lower dial uses a flap over a flap design to allow it to disperse pressure lower, too. The gap between them supposedly reduces unnecessary pressure on the middle of the foot.

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes pressure mapping image for uppers

Compared to their standard dual-BOA closure shoes, the Ares has a 20% increase in contact surface area. That lets you ratchet down the dials for a more secure fit without creating hot spots.

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes contact patch graph for uppers

It’s not just surface area, though, it’s also the combination of materials and components. BOA’s Li2 dials let you loosen and tighten in single click increments to get the fit just right.

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes side profiles in black colorway

Underneath the flaps is a soft, sock-like liner that wraps around most of your foot. Except, it’s not all stretchy…there are Dyneema fibers running through specific sections that prevent stretch so that it won’t loosen when you’re pull hard on the upstroke.

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes side top and bottom details

The PadLock heel cup cradles the rear of your foot to prevent slippage, too.

The FACT Powerline carbon outsole is their stiffest version (Stiffness Level 15.0). It uses reversible titanium cleat nuts that expand the adjustment range if you like mounting your cleat further back.

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes on a rider showing proper knee alignment for a cyclist

Lastly (another pun…get it?), the shape and angles of the insole and outsole help provide proper knee alignment. You’ll be more comfortable, and be able to drive the pedals downward with more force, too. The overall result?

They’ll make you 1% Faster

A bold claim, and one that may sound trivial, but do the math and it would usually mean winning a race. Making the rider exactly 1% faster wasn’t the initial benchmark, but Specialized says that’s the end result of being more comfortable while also being able to eek out every last watt in a sprint.

Specialized Ares pricing & colors

specialized ares s-works road bike shoes closeup features and colors

The new Specialized S-Works Ares comes in Black, White, Team red and Team White. Sizes range from 36 through 49, with half sizes from 38.5 to 46.5. Claimed weight is 220g for size 42 (per shoe).

Other features include a replaceable heel tread, and a roomy toe box with bumper cover. Retail price is $425 USD (£375 / €419.90). Read our full review to see why they work the the most non-intuitive way.


  1. Miclaroc on

    Wish I could trade my 2 sworks 7 in for these the 7 are so painful at the top they are unwearable I have permanent scars on the tops of my ankles from the tongue gouging into my foot. Wasted $1000 on them pretty much burned me from specialized

  2. Tom on

    can’t speak to the comfort level of 7 or Ares, though I just picked up a pair 7s on special to try out. Haven’t ridden them yet. To the extent the Ares are faster, I’d guess it’s due to aero – the dials on the 7 stick out to the side quite a bit. They’ve rotated the dials on these to the near the top of the shoe, so they don’t contribute to frontal area, and the wake they create helps to create a wind break for the foot/ankle transition. But they look kinda weird.

  3. Gerald on

    Why can’t Specialized and Shimano with their new S=Phyre get on the band wagon like Sidi and put on nice flush dials. Those dials looked like they went through someones game boards and used checker pieces.
    Perhaps their design engineer used to work on vintage radios.

  4. Eli on

    Wonder how well they deal with wider toe needs of some people. Wish someone did bike shoes with a toe box like Altra. Why do shoes insist on a pointed toe no one has for a foot shape?

  5. Chris on

    I second that on the S-works 7 shoes. They killed my feet for a month or two. Once I developed decent calluses on both feet they finally stopped hurting. My wife keeps asking what is wrong with my feet when I don’t have socks on. I just tell her it is my $425 shoes. Wish I could trade these in. It’s almost like they tried to make the 7 shoe so uncomfortable that you will run out and get these instead.

  6. Gavin on

    Nice shoe. The marketing is a bit much tho! 1% faster haha. I bet they add more in aero drag than they make up for with power transfer. And no available measurement system will allow us to test the 1% claim…

  7. Speedneedle on

    Every year I seem to buy 10 items that make me gonna be 1% faster.
    Lads watch out! Looks like my average speed will be >>> 60 KM/H in 10 years time >>>
    At the same time I did not even take into accoutn the Watts I’m gaining 😉


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