Unlike street shoes, Specialized shapes its line of BG (Body Geometry) bike shoes to isolate arch movement and compensate for a foot's tendency to tilt and cant with a 1.5mm wedge built on the outsole. The result is better foot, knee and hip alignment and, hopefully, a smoother and more efficient pedal stroke.
I've been riding with the BG S-WORKS MTB shoes for three months and have become a fan of its ergonomic tweaks. Beyond the wedge tilt, there's a raised "metatarsal button" that sits under the forefoot to slightly spread metatarsal bones and help prevent pressure on nerves and blood vessels.
The lacing system, based on Boa's tiny twist-and-reel crank mechanism, works slick, making micro adjustments to tightness easy as well as providing a quick on-and-off with these shoes. Further, you can adjust the small braided-steel lace for fit individually on the top and mid zones of the shoe.
All these nice features don't come cheap. The shoes, available in white and black color schemes, cost $300 on www.specialized.com. They sell for slightly less, around $250, with other online retailers.
Materials used include a tough, water-resistant synthetic upper called Micromatrix that feels like suede. The shoes have a thin, comfortable tongue and six side vents for breathability. For rigidity, a carbon midsole runs the length of the shoe. There's also a Velcro strap near the toes, though I couldn't see its use. The fit hardly felt different whether that Velcro was pulled tight or left loose.
With a thermoplastic rubber outsole and under-the-toe spikes, these shoes dig in for traction when pushing your bike up a muddy slope. However, off-the-bike comfort is not a strength of the BG design. I got a blister after popping a tire and pushing my bike a quarter-mile in the tight, canted shoe.
Fit on the foot with the BG S-WORKS, which is lightweight at about 11 oz. per shoe, felt tight side-to-side. I like the precise, tight feel while pedaling. Though if you have wide feet be sure to try the BGs on to get the right size.
Overall, I am a convert to the ergonomic features of this shoe. They are solidly built and hardly show any wear after three months of riding. For the average weekend mountain biker, the pricey and top-of-the-line BG S-WORKS MTB shoes might be overkill. But for racers and serious mountain bikers, the shoes can provide a gain in comfort and performance that might give an edge.
Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.