SPECIALIZED S-WORKS TORCH – WIDENING FOR COMFORT
Whenever a new model of one of the best cycling shoes is introduced, as is the case with the Specialized S-Works Torch, the first question that comes up is how it differs from its predecessors.
With the S-Works 6 and 7 being two of the best-performing shoes over the years, Specialized established a dynasty of sorts with the S-Works road cycling shoe line. While I’m not privy to any sales data, it’s probably a good bet that Specialized has sold a crapton of them to road enthusiasts and racers. I certainly see a lot of them on the road.
For those of us who’ve owned S-Works shoes, like fellow tester Nate and me who have both the 6 and 7, and may need or more likely want a fresh pair of shoes every 15,000 miles or so, we’d like to know if the new S-Works Torch fits and performs the same, better or worse than what we’ve become accustomed to.
And for those who are looking to step into one of the best road bike shoes or perhaps switch from a pair they’ve not been totally satisfied with, the second question is how the Specialized S-Works Torch compares to models from other brands.
I’ll try to cover those two questions in this review about what Nate and I liked and didn’t like about the newest S-Works top-of-the-line shoe.
Overall, we found the S-Works Torch to be a very comfortable pair of high-performance cycling shoes. The outsole is as stiff and the power transfer is as good as any previous S-Works or other models we’ve ridden.
At the same time, the Torch is more comfortable in many ways than the S-Works 6 and 7 that came before it. If you like roomier shoes, it’s also one of the most comfortable dual Boa shoes available.
It’s certainly not perfect. Nate or I took issue with its lack of forefoot width adjustment, ventilation, heel cup width, and proprietary Boa dials.
From what we agree and disagree on, I hope you can find what aligns with your preferences and help you choose between the S-Works Torch and other models of the best road bike shoes we’ve tested.
A reshaped, better-protected toe box
For the labeled size (we tested a size EU 43.0), the S-Works Torch feels a bit longer than the S-Works 6 and 7. Whereas the 7 had a pointier toe box, a characteristic that might appeal to those with far longer big and second toes than the rest, the Torch is more rounded for those with piggies that have more similar lengths.
The length and size are the same between the Torch and 7 and perhaps a half size longer than the 6; just recognize that you may feel more room between the front of your shoes and the 3rd, 4th, and pinkie toes with the Torch than you did with the 7.
While the S-Works Torch’s side-to-side toe box room is one of the most generous of dual Boa shoes, it’s slightly less than what the 7 provided and more than what we experienced with the 6.
You do get far more protection against scuffing the upper at the front of the Torch than the 7. A rubbery, bumper-type piece about the height of your toes wraps that area of the shoe’s outside.
Take a ride on the wide side
Moving on to the forefoot, the balls of my size D feet didn’t even touch the insides of Torch shoes. It’s clearly wider in this area than either the 7 or 6 was. While Nate and I really liked that Spesh did away with the Velco strap that was intended to adjust the forefoot shoe width but really didn’t do the job, I’m disappointed that they didn’t extend the lower Boa lace down to the forefoot the way Shimano, Lake, and others do to actually be able to adjust the width in this area.
This is where we start to get into personal fit preferences. While my feet are a few millimeters wider and longer than Nate’s, this added forefoot width didn’t even merit a mention in Nate’s testing. I also prefer a racier, more glove-like fit despite riding nowhere near as fast as Nate.
At the mid-foot, the Torch is clearly wider than the 7 and more similar to the 6. Among the dual Boa, performance-level road cycling shoes we’ve tested, the Torch is also one of two with the widest forefoot.
Here again, Nate liked this after having found the 7 a bit too narrow. Despite my wider foot and probably because I like a snugger fit, I preferred the 7’s forefoot width.
Of course, once at the midfoot and continuing up toward the opening of the shoe, the Boa dials allow you to snug the shoe as much or little as you like. And it’s here where you see big changes between the S-Works Torch and its predecessors, ones that we think are all for the better.
While the S-Works proprietary Boa dials are the same as with the 7, the greater distance between the top dial and hook on the Torch gives you a more functional lace. That’s because Specialized removed a lot of material between the left and right side of the upper from the midfoot up toward the foot opening of the Torch.
This allows you to put your feet into and or take them out of these new S-Works shoes more easily by unwinding the dials rather than having to take the laces out of the hooks the way you had to with the 7 and 6. It’s still not as easy to get in and out of them as nearly every other top road cycling shoe that uses Li2 or IP1 Boas which fully release the wire tension by just pulling up the dials.
With this wider opening, the tongue plays a bigger role in the fit and comfort of the Torch. Tightening the dial, especially the upper one, feels more like you’re bringing the tongue and upper closer to your foot, similar to the way the 6 worked, rather than bringing the sides of the shoe closer together as we experienced with the 7.
The Torch’s tongue has two wire loops on top of it to keep the wire laces in place. It’s also comfortably padded and, notably different from its immediate predecessor has softened and shortened the edge that felt quite rigid and high against the front of your foot between your ankles.
And then there’s the upper material itself, also a big improvement from that rugged, plastic-like synthetic Dynema used in the 6 and 7. The S-Work Torch uppers are more supple and comfortable, making them on par with those used by all but the leather ones used in Lake shoes.
Where it can be better
On the hottest days, and we certainly had our share of those when I was testing these, my feet were hot in the Torch (Hmmm? Something in a name?). I’ve not had this issue in other shoes before. Perhaps the new upper material or the small, single vent in the sole between my first two toes was to blame.
The 7 had a slightly larger vent more to the center of the toes and much larger vents under the arch and just below the heel.
On the contrary, Nate found S-Works Torch hot weather ventilation more than ample and noted that he’d have to wear heavier socks for shoulder season riding due to the shoe’s lack of insulation. Doubling down, he welcomed the contribution of Torch’s added room for those heavier socks and its adjustability to still wear lighter ones in the summer months.
We strongly agreed that Specialized could also do better and be more competitive with the Torch by supplying insoles of different arch support heights the way brands like Shimano and others do with their highest-priced road and MTB shoes do now. While most of the best road bike shoes are built with flat arches these days, the thin insoles that come with the S-Works shoes are merely cosmetic and you are forced to spend money on an aftermarket insole like their Body Geometry brand ones.
Yes, you can move those insoles between your road and MTB shoes or into whatever road shoes you buy next. But, it shouldn’t be necessary to make the added investment for shoes that already cost as much as the S-Works Torch.
The heel cup has always been, dare I say, the S-Works’ Achilles heel. The back end of the shoe around the upper heel and below the ankles got wider and taller from the 6 to the 7. With the Torch, those areas get even wider than the 7 but shorter again like the 6.
These changes eliminate the interference and rubbing that came with the design of the 6 and 7 shoes, especially for those whose calluses weren’t established from early-season riding or who hadn’t worn shoes with their narrower heel cups.
Nate and I disagree on whether the Torch’s wider heel area has gone too far in the S-Works shoe evolution. While we agree that the Torch keeps our heels down, I experienced too much side-to-side movement. I felt less control and developed a blister on one of my heels during a long ride.
Nate also acknowledged that the wider Torch heel cup led to lateral motion but it wasn’t a control or blistering problem for him.
If you do your own cleat installation like Nate does, you may find it a bit frustrating on these Torch shoes. The sockets in the soles of the shoes slide and rotate so freely that you need to first capture them with the cleat screws and then keep outward tension on the sockets as you turn the screws. While they remain in place once everything is bolted down, Nate found it to be a rather fiddly experience getting them both tight and in the right alignment until you do.
There’s no doubt that the Specialized S-Works Torch is a top performer. For Nate’s fit and comfort preferences, it’s the shoe for him. I prefer a more tailored fit like the Shimano RC 9’s latest iteration. When I want a roomier ride for an exceptionally long day in the saddle or when I need to wear a winter sock, I’ll go with the Bontrager XXX that’s not as wide as the Torch.
If the Torch fits your preferences and US$450, £385, €446 MSRP/RRP budget, you can order it by clicking on these links to my top-rated stores Competitive Cyclist and Performance Bicycle in North America and Tredz (10% off w/code ITKTDZ10) and Sigma Sports in Europe and other regions around the world where you may ride.
You can compare our reviews and ratings of the Specialized S-Works Torch and competitively performing models in my review of the Best Road Cycling Shoes.
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