Specialized Pro MTB Shoes
- Stiff sole ensures excellent power transfer.
- Built for the long haul.
- Fit is exceptional.
- A bit heavy for the price.
The latest update of this old standard improves on past versions while keeping the fit that Specialized is known for.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I am a Specialized fan-boy where shoes are concerned. I have worn their shoes since the mid-nineties and have always appreciated their fit. Especially since the advent of BG, their Body Geometry approach to biomechanics, the shoes seemed to be tailor-made for my feet. Speaking of my feet, I should also disclose something about them. I measure out at an 11D. My feet are medium volume, have an average to mildly narrow heel but are wide at the ball of the foot, especially on the outside at the fifth metatarsal. Most footwear, whether it is a pair of dress shoes, ski boots or cycling shoes, tend to squeeze my fifth metatarsal. Specialized shoes don’t do this. It’s almost as if they modeled their last on my foot. Since fit is the single most important factor in selecting a shoe, you can probably appreciate why I like Specialized shoes so much. Enough about my feet; let’s move on to the shoes.
The Pro MTB shoe sits near the top of Specialized’s off-road line, just below the flagship S-works and S-works EVO MTB shoes. The Pro MTB features two Velcro and one buckle strap which is a pretty common configuration these days as well as being more mud-tolerant than Boa systems. The upper is a combination of a synthetic leather called Micromatrix and nylon mesh. Specialized rates the carbon fiber mid-sole as a 10 on a stiffness scale that maxes out at 12.
And stiff they certainly are. In fact, I would not want them any stiffer. On steep run-ups, I had to tighten down the straps to a borderline uncomfortable degree to minimize heel lift. A full length race with shoes this tight would leave my feet tingling. I preferred to leave them a little looser and suffer the heel lift. Fortunately, the entire heel pocket is lined with synthetic leather which will wear better than the nylon mesh found in cheaper shoes. The stiff soles were appreciated on high power, out-of-the-saddle efforts up steep hills and never gave me hot spots on longer training rides.
While I had mud-clogging problems with the previous generation of Specialized buckles, the 2010 version as well as the 2011 version tested here feature a buckle design that is immune. After repeated dunkings in mud bogs, I was able to easily release the buckles. In fact the “D-link” strap is the engineering gem of this shoe. It is adjustable on both ends so that you can center the comfortable pad over the instep of your foot whether you have a low, medium or high volume foot. On the medial side, a new concealed tool-free adjustment system is easy to fine-tune and holds fast when buckled down. There was one occasion where the strap seemed to adjust itself when packed in a bag on the way to a race. Be sure to check the strap adjustment whenever you pull them out of your gear bag.
The “D-link” strap works in tandem with a new tongue design that magically combines ventilation and stiffness which transfers the force of the strap to a wider area. During cyclocross season, I’m not so concerned about the ventilation aspect of the tongue, but the way Specialized has designed it to spread the load is impressive.
What is not impressive is the weight. While the size 45 shoes I tested were three sizes larger than those that Specialized weighed, they are over 100 grams or a quarter pound heavier. I never felt weighed down by them but for a pair of shoes that cost $300 with tax, I expect them to wow me in the weight department.
Despite that minor issue, Specialized has continued to improve on a very impressive shoe that is well-designed, well-manufactured and does what it’s supposed to do.
How We Tested It
I rode these shoes for two months during the wet and muddy Mid-Atlantic fall of 2011. I set them up with broken-in Time ATAC cleats and rode them on our local practice grounds and cyclocross race courses. They were thoroughly tested in typical “Belgian” conditions.
The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.