The Specialized Recon 3.0 are more than just a mountain bike shoe, they’re a shoe for getting off-road, and that’s an important difference.
Choosing a shoe to wear riding can be as specific as choosing which bike to ride. Perhaps you have a bike for every occasion (road, gravel, trail, commuting) and a different shoe to go with each one. And that’s totally cool. I’m that kind of guy and I’d love to see your bike collection!
Bike companies, including Specialized, make different bikes and different shoes for this exact purpose. Road shoes for your road bike, mountain bike shoes for mountain bike, and so on.
But with the building popularity of bikepacking and gravel grinding, the need for a do-it-all shoe is growing. Up steps the Recon 3.0 – quite possibly the cross-genre shoe for all your off-road pursuits.
My Kind of Off-Road Riding
For me, riding off-road isn’t just about heading to the local mountain bike trails for a couple of laps. It’s about getting off the roads and into the bush. It’s about riding out of my back door and into nature, sometimes bikepacking and camping for days on end. And it’s about having a bloody good time when I’m out there.
For this reason, I’d never really considered wearing bike-specific shoes. I’d always heard talk of the performance benefits of clipping in, but it just wasn’t for me. I was getting out there to have fun, not break records on Strava.
When I’m out riding, I want my shoe to be just as comfortable off the bike, as it is on. I want to be able to hop off the bike and brew a pot of coffee in the middle of the ride. Or sit around with a beer in the backcountry. Or climb a tree to get a better photo angle.
I need a shoe that’s grippy while pushing my bike up a path I shouldn’t have taken, through a creek I didn’t expect or over fallen trees on the fire trail.
So does the Specialized Recon 3.0 cope with my kind of off-road riding? After putting more than 200km into these shoes within the first couple of weeks, I can confidently answer with a resounding yes.
The first ride out in the Recon 3.0 shoes was a pretty typical ride for me. 60km of new turns, climbing over gates; getting a bit lost, and a healthy mix of flowing singletrack and gravelly fire trails. Oh and it rained pretty hard.
Basically the ideal ride to start testing a new pair of mountain bike shoes.
While I wouldn’t say my feet were instantly comfortable slipping into these shoes (they’re not a pair of ugg boots after all) I certainly wasn’t uncomfortable. The toe-box is roomy enough to give your toes a bit of wiggle room and the Dual L6-Snap Boas made it real easy to tighten the shoes to fit.
There’s a velcro strap above the toes, but I didn’t find it added much to the fit of the shoes, so I haven’t touched it since. There’s more than enough room to get your feet in and out with the boa straps loosened – and they’re way easier than Velcro anyway.
After riding for about half an hour that first time, my foot did get a bit sore, probably just fighting that new-school-shoe feel, but it was super easy to loosen the fit using the boa straps while rolling along a smooth section.
After a few more micro-adjustments on the fly, my feet were fine for the rest of the ride and have been for every ride since.
Specialized have put a lot of effort into their ‘body geometry’ system, which apparently does great things like ‘boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce the chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee, and foot alignment.’
I can’t claim any scientific backing to my results, but no complaints here in the joint department and my Strava is telling me that some of my segment times have been faster since wearing the shoes. So I guess the body geometry is doing its thang.
The Recon 3.0 have a stiffness index of 10.0 which in the cycling shoe world is pretty darn stiff. Basically, the stiffer the shoe, the greater the power transfer in each pedal stroke.
As someone that usually wears a pair of well-worn Vans for riding, the difference is very noticeable. Like chalk and cheese, and the Recon’s are the chalk. Except stiffer.
The problem with ultra-stiff cycling shoes is that they’re usually incredibly difficult to walk in off the bike. Which is why you often see road cyclists hobbling around like a newborn foal with their post-ride cappuccino. But the Recon range of shoes aren’t like this.
While they have the stiffness of their roadie brothers, they are actually super natural and comfortable to walk around in. This is down to the Carbon STRIDE toe-flex – pretty much the shoes have a slight natural bend around the forefoot which gives you a sense of flexibility.
To be honest, I don’t really know how it works, but I’ve been scrambling around in these shoes off the bike and they carry on like a regular pair of shoes.
I have to say the rugged nature of the Recon 3.0 has really impressed me. I’ve ridden these shoes through all types of weather; although being winter the weather has generally been wet and muddy.
I’m used to getting wet feet when I’m out riding, so the XPEL Mesh that Specialized has used on the upper section of the shoe has been a pleasant bonus. This material sheds water, keeping my feet much drier than usual, and has the added benefit of being lightweight and quick-drying.
Down below, the shoes are grippy – seriously grippy. The SlipNot rubber treads had me confidently scrambling up grassy knolls, pushing up rocky single-track and navigating the cafe floor.
The open treads provide plenty of grip, but the wide spaces between knobbles were also pretty good at picking up rogue sticks and stones. Not a huge problem and a small price to pay for the impressive traction.
There’s also a tough, rubber, toe-protector which is definitely needed when scrambling around off the bike.
An added benefit of the fully welded upper and the XPEL Mesh is that you can get these shoes as muddy as anything, then simply wipe off the mud to bring them back to new. If you like that kind of thing. Personally I’m very happy getting around in a pair of muddy shoes.
When it comes to looks, these guys are pretty sleek. The fully welded upper and smart BOA dials, give the shoes clean lines and scream road shoe. There’s some pretty solid Specialized branding on the sides and a smaller logo on the top, and these are in a crisp white. The branding is big enough to be noticed, but also pretty subtle.
Looking at the bottom of the shoe, it’s clear that these ain’t no road shoe. The tough tread pattern is pretty clear from the side and let you know that these shoes can handle the rough stuff.
For some reason, those of us in Australia can only get the Recon 3.0 in black, whereas our international friends have a few more colour options. But hey, at least black never goes out of style.
Wearing cycling shoes for cycling is a bit like wearing hiking boots for hiking. Yes, you can get away with wearing anything on your feet, but at some point you’ll be grateful for the extra grip, water-resistance, and efficiency from a proper pair of shoes. And the Specialized Recon 3.0 delivers all three of these benefits and then some.
These shoes come in four models, from the budget-friendly Recon 1.0 ($160), all the way up to the primo S-Works model ($500). The Specialized Recon 3.0 sits towards the top end of the scale at $380, but you’re getting a whole lot of shoe for your money.
Like a decent pair of hiking shoes, you’d expect these boots to last the distance, and with hundreds of kilometres behind them, mine are still looking like new – albeit a little dirtier than when they were fresh out of the box.