Business on Top, Party on the Bottom

Business on Top, Party on the Bottom

It doesn’t seem fitting or nice to call a shoe the mullet of footwear. Even if meant as a compliment, it would be so left-handed that a gun enthusiast friend of mine would wink and say, “You’ll get hot brass down your shirt holding it that way.”

Nevertheless, the Specialized Recon may be the mullet of cycling footwear. And I say that meaning no disrespect. Here’s the thing: I’ve been wearing this shoe for months now and what I like best about it is that it attracts attention the way a ninja does—not at all. It’s as simple a black shoe as my dress cap toes. Nothing fancy or ornate. No racy stripes, no sci-fi buckles, no architectural flourishes.

It is—literally—the most understated cycling shoe I’ve encountered since my first cleated Sidis I bought back in 1988.

Meanwhile, the shoe has an underside that’s all about going places. This isn’t just a walkable shoe. No, this is a shoe that allows for toe spikes. These things are the love child of a pair of dress shoes and football cleats. So while, yes, you could capably complete a cyclocross race in these, what I see in them is a terrific gravel shoe for when you don’t want/need to show off. That the sole is done in tan, as it plays off the black upper, it evokes an old school gumwall tire, something that has recently begun to come back in style. All that said, there’s also an orange/yellow fade that’s quite attractive and to which none of this applies.


Looks-wise, think piano black Mercedes AMG rather than canary yellow Lamborghini. All the horsepower and none of the ridiculous.

The carbon fiber sole is among the stiffest I’ve ridden. Were I racing cyclocross in this shoe, I think I might want a bit more flex, or maybe some moleskin for my heel. For mixed surface riding where the walking/hiking is more limited, it’s not as much of a concern. Indeed, when I’m doing mixed surface riding, I want a shoe that fits and feels like a traditional road shoe, but with the ability to stomp my way across a stream bed if necessary.

Plenty of people will look at this shoe and decide that it’s Specialized’s response to the Empire. I even asked them as much. Their response was more subtle, less aggressive and in it I see a certain wisdom. What I was told is that their product development guys are always on the lookout for good ideas and willing to try anything that seems like a worthwhile technology.


The Recon has a lace retention strap, reinforced eyelets and polyester laces that won’t snap the moment you pull on them, all features found in the Giro Empire that anyone undertaking a laced shoe would have been stupid not to emulate.

Like other shoes in the Specialized line, the Recon is a firm D width, but with a slightly roomier toe box than I find in some of their road shoes. It was a relief to discover this as when I first spied the shoes the toe looked narrow. Looks, as we’ve been told, deceive. Thank heaven.

The Recon is a $225 shoe, but I’d put it on a par with shoes costing $300 or more. In that, I find it to be a respectable value. Anyone looking for a do-it-all SPD shoe, a shoe good for mixed-surface rides, cross-country mountain biking, commuting and even intense road riding will find much to love in this shoe. More than six months in, these shoes are holding up nicely, which is never how things go with the more budget-oriented shoes I’ve tried.

Final thought: Something so understated never goes out of style.

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  1. Dave

    While Giro and now Specialized have got a few nice looking shoes that can you can unclip and go straight into the boardroom with, I think Quoc Pham has really got it figured out. I’m glad to see some competition in this area since as long as I keep working I’ll always need a pair like this.

  2. VeloKitty

    > The carbon fiber sole is among the stiffest I’ve ridden

    Ummmm… stiff soles are not conducive to walking.

    The Shimano RT4 is going to be around $100.

    1. Author

      This isn’t so stiff that it’s unpleasant to walk in. And I haven’t actually done a ‘cross race in them, but they could become a challenge on a long day with many dismounts.

  3. Shawn

    Specialized road shoes tend to fit my feet best (I have a narrow heal and wide front). I know you have reviewed their road shoes in the past. Would you say this shoe is a similar fit?

    1. Author

      Similar, yes, but not quite the same. This has a tad more room in the toe box. I like the fit quite a lot.

  4. Harth

    I got a new job this fall and treated myself to a pair of these. Been wearing them on my long commute 4 or 5 days a week and really like them. The fit is different. Definitely a wider toebox, though they look narrow. I just bought a tongue pad to put in there to compensate for the extra room. A touch longer than my previous few pairs of Specialized in the same size, too. Just a touch.

    They are very stiff. Walking on hard floors is interesting. I need to pay attention. However, the lug material is different than my Pro mtb shoes; it’s softer. There is less clacking and a little more grip on hard, slick surfaces.

    The heel cup is fairly deep, so when they are snugged up nicely, my foot feels very secure. I like that.

    One thing I’d add to Padraig’s review is the quality of materials. I mentioned the soles, which seem to be excellent, so it will be interesting to see how durable they are. But the material inside the shoe seems super durable, like I won’t have to worry about it wearing out in the heal any time soon. I also like the reduction in mesh from my Pro mtb shoes. There is a little, and the shoes definitely breathe, but not a lot of mesh overall.

    And damn, they do look sharp!

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