Specialized S-Works Ares Shoes Review: Channeling Your Inner Sam Bennett
Ares is the ancient Greek god of war and courage, often portrayed as the personification of sheer brutality and the physical valor needed for success in war. If that sounds like what it takes to win bunch sprints in the pro peloton, then Ares is an apt name for the newest member of the Specialized S-Works family of road cycling shoes — more so knowing that the Ares was developed with a lot of input from Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s star sprinter Sam Bennett, who won the green jersey in last year’s Tour de France.
Specialized S-Works Ares – $425
Yeah, I know … $425. These are not cheap shoes. But if you were looking to buy S-Works shoes, it means you were already willing to pony up top dollar. And the pricing is not out of line with a lot of other manufacturers’ top-of-the-line road shoes. FWIW, they’re less expensive (by more than $100) than my Lake CX402s! So if what you were looking for was a bargain, these are not the ‘droids you’re looking for. But if you’re a rider looking to extract every last watt out of your pedaling stroke, the Ares may be able to help you deliver the goods.
A shoe bag is included
Here’s what you get for $425:
- Dyneema-reinforced tongue-less sock
- Ultra-stiff FACT Powerline™ carbon outsole to eliminate foot roll, reduce pressure on tendons, and transfer every ounce of power to the pedals
- Body Geometry technology — Longitudinal Arch, Varus Wedge, and insoles with a Metatarsal Button — to align the hip, foot, and knee, while also limiting medial/lateral knee movement and maintaining good circulation down to your toes
- BOA Li2 dials for on-the-fly micro-adjustment
- PadLock heel construction cradles the heel and is proven to improve acceleration
- Non-slip, replaceable heel tread with internally recessed screws for security.
- Form Fit last with a roomy toe box for the ultimate in connectivity and comfort
- Three colors: Black (what PEZ got … just to be old school different since the predominant color choice for shoes now seems to be white), White, Red
- Approximate weight: 220g (one shoe, size 42)
My size 43 Ares weighed in at 235 grams
A very different shoe
At first glance, the S-Works Ares is a very different looking shoe. Svelte is not necessarily a word that comes to mind. It’s actually a little bit odd and chunky looking. One might even mistake it for a triathlon cycling shoe. But it’s anything but.
The first thing that makes the Ares different is the Dynemma knit sock upper. Dynemma is a ultra lightweight, ultra high-strength synthetic fiber used in a wide variety of products, including ballistic armor (NOTE: the Ares is not advertised as bulletproof). According to Dynemma their composite fabric provides exceptional foot stability using “directional fibers that are thermo-bonded to create no-stretch zones for ultimate connection. This fabric was an ideal solution in creating foot stability, comfortable hold but without additional weight.” Additionally, Dynemma provides “added strength against abrasion from the inside and the outside of the shoe.”
It’s hard to convey in pictures, but some idea of the Ares’ sock-like upper
The sock upper is just that. There’s no tongue/flap like you would find in traditional shoes. You put the shoes on just like you would a pair of socks, i.e., you pull them on. This can be a little tricky (mostly because it’s different) but isn’t all that difficult. Like a pair of tight compression socks, the Dynemma fabric stretches just enough. I found the way that worked best for me was to slide my foot into the shoe as far forward as it would go and then grasp the bottom/heel of the shoe with one hand to pull it up while holding and pushing from the toe box to get my foot down and forward into the shoe. [PEZ SEz: I recommend a shoehorn – which I use slipping on the similar concept DMT KR1 road shoes.]
It may be a sock-like upper, but putting the Ares on isn’t as easy as pulling on a pair of socks
BTW, just because the upper is a sock doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear socks … unless, of course, you’re trying to impersonate a triathlete.
The stretchy sock part of the shoe has a “skeleton” of more “solid” non-stretch material for the heel and closures. And because the upper is a sock, how the closures wrap around your foot is different than traditional shoes. On most shoes, the instep closure pulls a “flap” over the tongue from one side to the other (or just tightens the closure wires across the instep, pulling the “throat” together across the tongue). With the Ares, the instep closure originates from the ankle and flaps wrap across your instep from the sides. The forefoot closure wraps flaps from both sides.
One thing to make sure of when cinching up the closures is that the flaps on the inside part of the shoe are underneath the outside flaps (the ones with the BOA dials on them) and that the laces are on top of the flaps
Finally, the S-Works Ares just looks different than most other cycling shoes. Because of the sock upper design, it comes higher up around the ankle (almost like a low boot cut). And the front of the shoe is more squared off rather than rounded (the other shoe that comes to mind with a similar toe box shape is Bont).
Not boots … and not made for walking
The toe box shape may not appeal to everyone, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder
The fairly substantial heel pad (left) can be removed and replaced via the screw on the inside of the shoe (right)
I can’t attest that Specialized’s Body Geometry technology works as advertised, but the insoles are comfy enough for my low arches
BOA Li2 dials
It’s worth mentioning that the BOA dials on the Ares are the newest Li2 dials, which won a Design & Innovation Award 2021. It’s actually more than just dials. Rather, it’s an entire BOA Fit System comprised of three integral parts, the Li2 dial, lace (the CS1 lace uses 49 strands of stainless steel wrapped in nylon to withstand abrasion and shed dirt, debris, and water), and low-friction lace guides.
If you have shoes with BOA’s IP1 dials, the Li2 dials work the same way: push down to engage them, turn forward (on either left or right shoe) to tighten, turn backward to loosen, and pull up to release them.
The Li2 dials are lower profile than IP1 dials — perhaps a micro #marginalgains in aerodynamics?
I don’t know if it’s real or perceived, but the click-stop microadjustability of the Li2 dials seems much more “micro” than the IP1 dials — which allows you to more finely tune fit.
A word about cleat fitting/adjustment
Conventional 3-hole mounting for cleats
Like every other road shoe, the Ares uses a 3-hole pattern with fore/aft adjustment for cleat mounting. Out of the box, the cleat mounting holes are in the forward-most position. My experience with every pair of shoes I’ve ever owned is that I need to move the mounting holes to the rear-most position to be able to get the ball of my foot over the pedal/spindle in the right position. So I naturally assumed I’d have to do that with the Ares.
Well, it turns out that moving the cleat mounting holes is not a straight forward proposition. They don’t easily slide back and forth. In fact, after about 20 minutes of trying to get them to move, I gave up. In one of those rare instances, I actually read the manual that came with the shoes: “If necessary, you can access the cleat fixing washer from the inside of the shoe by removing the sockliner.” Doing that simply revealed the shoe last with no apparent way to get to the washers from the inside of the shoe.
Pulling the insole out reveals a slip last
So I called up Specialized in Morgan Hill, CA and was able to connect with one of their techs. He explained to me that the washers were underneath three “half moon” or C-shaped slits cut in the last. But that the cuts weren’t finished (imagine the middle third of the C not being cut) and that I’d have to use something like a X-acto knife to finish the cuts (connect the top and bottom thirds of the C). Once cut, you can lift the last material up to get to the washers to move them.
Access to the cleat mounting washers is in the forward part of the shoe
So my first thought was that this is a lot of work/hassle for something that should be simple. Especially with the sock-like upper design that makes it extremely difficult to reach into the front part of the shoe to access the cleat washers from the inside. The tech said if I couldn’t do it myself, that I could take the shoes to a Specialized dealer to have them do it. Again, a lot of work/hassle for something that should be simple. And, honestly, something I wouldn’t expect to have to do for a pair of shoes with a price tag north of $400.
The very difficult to reach C-shaped slits that have to be cut to access the cleat mounting washers
But the tech also told me that Specialized placed the OEM cleat mounting position such that the vast majority of people should be able to mount their cleats without having to move the mounting holes rearwards. I admit I was skeptical (given my prior experiences with lots of different road shoes), but figured it was worth a try. If it didn’t work, I figured I would be making a trip to an LBS that’s a Specialized dealer for them to remedy the situation.
Well, I’m happy to report that I was able to get my cleats mounted in the right position. Whew! Still, any potential buyers of the S-Works Ares should be aware of this. And I politely suggested to Specialized that they may want to re-consider their design choice from a DIY user-friendly perspective.
Fit and feel
Size-wise, I wear a US size 9 in almost all my shoes. How that translates into Euro sizing isn’t always consistent. And some manufacturers will recommend sizing either up or down based on a particular shoe design. Specialized spec Euro 42 for US 9 and that’s what fit my feet. So if you’re going by US sizing, I’d say they’re true to size.
Sturdy heel counter holds you firmly in place
The very well padded heel keeps you comfortable
After slipping on the Ares (OK … it’s more like wiggling into it), the first thing I noticed is how snug the Dynemma hugs your foot. It really is like wearing socks in that the upper adheres to the shape of your foot — “shrink wrapped” is a term that comes to mind. The result is a firm/tight fit but not to the point of constriction. But it’s firm/tight enough that minimal tensioning of the BOA dials (just few clicks to feel some compression) was needed for me to feel locked into the shoes.
Definitely not to be mistaken for Italian designer shoes
The toe box is on the roomy side. There isn’t so much space that your feet move around, but enough space for your toes to spread out a little as you apply pressure to the pedals.
What’s remarkable is that for such a tight fitting shoe, it’s still very comfortable — almost surreally so. Again, like wearing a pair of socks — so a more uniform feel of wrapping around your foot. The flaps don’t dig in. No pressure points or hot spots.
It’s winter here in Babylon on the Potomac with enough rain/sleet/snow (not to mention cold and wind) that I haven’t felt like riding outdoors, so my only riding so far in the S-Works Ares has been indoors on Zwift and The Sufferfest. But constant pedaling having to always put power down for an hour or more — including a few extended “climbs” and some all out sprint efforts (for the record … I’m not a sprinter) — isn’t such a bad test of shoes and hasn’t produced any discomfort. We’ll have to see how they do on 4-6 hour rides in the great outdoors when the weather warms up some, but the prospect is certainly promising and I’m looking forward to doing so.
The vent under the toe box is readily apparent when you remove the insole
A sprinter’s shoe for all occasions
Given Sam Bennett playing a role in developing the Specialized S-Works Ares, it would be easy to think of it as a sprinter’s shoe. But another Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider wearing the Ares is current World Champion Julian Alaphilippe — who is probably more appropriately classified as an attacker. The truth is that the Ares is a shoe that would work for anyone wanting to put power down through their pedals.
Sam Bennett (pre-Ares) sprinting to victory on the Champs-Elysées in the 2020 TdF
We’ve come to think of a super stiff carbon sole as being what’s needed to transfer power from a rider’s foot to the pedal. And the Ares certainly has that. But that’s just one (important) part of the equation. The shoe literally needs to fit so that a rider’s foot is secure and stable inside the shoe — restricting foot movement. Yet at the same time be comfortable. The Ares ticks all those boxes.
The super stiff FACT Powerline carbon sole rated at stiffness index 15 (the stiffest) by Specialized will make Spinal Tap fans proud
With the S-Works Ares, my feet feel comfortably locked inside the shoes. In turn, that means, I feel firmly locked to the pedals. That means — regardless of whether I’m sprinting (the only sprint I have a chance of winning a sprint is in a battle of of skinny guys on an uphill finish like in the Vuelta), grinding out a long climb in the saddle, powering up over a short climb out of the saddle, riding tempo on the flats, trying to bridge up to a rider(s) in front of me, or simply wheel sucking waiting to jump one of my riding buddies after taking too long a pull — I’m probably as efficient as I can be applying power and turning the pedals over to generate forward momentum. So it really is a shoe for all occasions.
Despite 30(F)-something degrees and impending snow, I put on shorts just for this pic … feets don’t fail me now!
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