Every now and then I run across a product that seems to have weaknesses equal to its strengths. As a reviewer, that leaves me in a quandary. Because I write about more than product, and really don’t want the mind-numbing job of trying to write about every single road-oriented product on the market (a task so large that it simply isn’t achievable), I’ve chosen to focus on products that excite and I believe are worthy of some attention and market share. The upshot is that I tend to get steered into higher-end products and don’t do a lot on more budget-oriented items even when there are great ones out there. Well, that and I use it as an opportunity, generally speaking, to avoid having a go at a product that I consider inferior. As my review of the Colnago CLX 2.0 last year showed, even after lambasting that bike (no matter how reluctantly) a couple of readers took the opportunity to write in to say they purchased the bike and loved it.
There’s no point in dragging this out in some overly dramatic build-up. I have a serious degree of ambivalence for the Specialized ’74 Road Shoes. I’ll do what I can to keep this simple and direct. Okay, genuine selling point: The FACT carbon sole is both stiff and light. My sense is that it’s not quite as stiff as the Easton carbon sole, but it’s stiffer than everything else I’ve ridden so far. Another genuine selling point: double Boa closures. There’s not another system on the planet that results in a more precise fit for cycling shoes. No matter how much I might like some other systems, Boa is simply better. Another selling point: Kangaroo leather. Try these shoes on and you’ll be reminded of just how soft and supple a cycling shoe can be. I couldn’t tell you the last time I wore a cycling shoe that featured leather this soft. It might be a pair of Sidis I had back in the 1980s. I can certainly list a dozen pairs of shoes I’ve worn that aren’t anywhere as soft as these.
Then there’s the look. The simple black leather with the red/orange/yellow tag and yellow stitching, not to mention the single Specialized “S” logo on the toe and the “74″ on the outside of the heel, makes these shoes as agreeable to look at as Grace Kelly in Rear Window—classic and classy. They are a serious departure from the typical S-Works product even though they are built on a decidedly S-Works platform.
So there’s plenty to recommend these shoes. That said, I haven’t had the shoes long enough to find out if the kangaroo leather will stretch with repeated riding. My circa 1980s Sidis stretched terribly when I switched from clips and straps to clipless pedals; the eyelets almost pulled through. But a bit of stretch could serve these shoes well for any number of people, especially those who, like me, have a high-volume foot. So that’s only a maybe problem.
What troubles me about this shoe is the last two inches of it. If you’ve seen any of the display ads for the 74 shoe, it is placed alongside an original Specialized cycling shoe from that era. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the heel cup curls down around the ankle and then rises high in back to keep the foot secure, even under the force of a sprint. The 74 shoe is cut less on a curve; it looks a lot like those other cycling shoes that were on the market in the ’70s and ’80s. While the heel rises nearly as high as the comparable S-Works shoe, it doesn’t rise as high and the difference in feel is noticeable … and disconcerting.
Look, I haven’t done a full-on sprint in these shoes and pulled out a la Tom Schuler at the US Pro Championships back in ’86. And I don’t even have the right to say I could. It might never happen. However, the feeling that my heel is not as secure as it is in a shoe that runs $40 less (more on that in a sec), is distinct and has caused me to throttle back efforts because I don’t feel secure enough. And because the S-Works shoe runs $360, that $40 premium means these retail for a not insignificant $400.
As I said, there’s a lot to like about these shoes, but my issues with the heel cup and the fact that I simply don’t feel as secure when wearing this shoe as I do when pedaling away in its sibling has the bummer factor of finding out your favorite beer is made using child labor. Really? What gives? Can’t they fix that?
But damn, they look cool.
On a brighter note, the gloves are wonderful, full stop. While many Pittards-leather gloves can go for $60 or more, the 74 glove is a long-finger glove that is only $55. Pairing the gloves and shoes with an understated kit will make for stylish appearance, there’s no doubt. It’s worth noting that the back of the hand features four Lycra gussets to improve fit and flexibility. And while they look good on my hands as i ride, they’d be an even better accessory were I driving a Porsche. On a more technical note, I tend to wear gloves like this in cool but not cold conditions; I prefer them from the low 50s to the low to mid 60s. They also have the advantage of coming in a whopping five sizes. Those of you with big hands who have had trouble finding gloves big enough to accommodate your mits might appreciate the XL and XXL sizes.
I suspect that after I return to wearing the S-Works shoes, each time I pull these gloves on I’ll continue to wish the 74 shoe fit better than it did. Of course, I can keep them around for recovery rides and those breezy jaunts when you don’t want to feel anything more than the wind in your face. For that, these shoes may be perfect.