The pedals, saddle, and handlebars are the body's contact points on the bike. When considering accessories and components for these points we look at comfort, functionality, and performance. It doesn't hurt to take style into consideration either.
While we've always stocked several brands' high-end end road offerings, of the shoes currently on the market the Specialized S-Works model stands out as one of our favorites. Shimano recently released their new elite footwear platform—S-Phyre—so we took the opportunity to put the two shoes head to head in our four areas of consideration. For a test of this nature, it was only appropriate to bring in Tim Mullins, a resident roadie and rider of discerning tastes.
Right out of the box, the hands-down winner in comfort is the Shimano S-Phyre. The soft uppers coupled with the comfortable heel leave no hotspots or binding. The specialized S-WORKS shoe can take some getting used to especially the narrow heel. Once you get used to them, you may actually prefer the "no movement heel zone" even when running the shoes loose on the top.
I'm a real sucker for small marginal gains in all areas of cycling performance. With that said, if I can achieve relatively the same in comfort or close to, I will always choose something that is more aerodynamic and lighter. This is where the S-WORKS shoe comes out on top. Narrow more aerodynamic heel and smaller BOAs, along with lighter weight make them my choice for race shoes.
Functionally both shoes work well. The S-WORKS shoes are a little harder to get on but once you figure out a few tricks, no problem.
I did experience getting the correct amount of snugness a challenge with the S-Phyre shoe. Because they are so supple, it is easy to over tighten and not realize it for five or ten minutes that the shoe is too tight.
I've had custom shoes and the S-WORKS is the closest I've experienced in a mass produced shoe. They even look a little custom. Stylewise there are many colors and graphics to choose from, along with a lace up version I've been riding the last two weeks with great success. I've always liked to mess with my shoe tension mid-ride, so I was always hesitant with lace ups. So far no complaints.
The S-Phyre comes in four different colors and the craftsmanship is unparalleled which you would expect from the world's largest component manufacturer.
Either shoe would be a great choice, but if you're more concerned with absolute comfort I would choose the S-Phyre. If you like the idea of super lightweight, aerodynamic performance footwear, the S-WORKS is definitely for you