A good pair of XC shoes is hard to find. With high miles crank after crank, stiffness and comfort become more of a priority. Given how good almost everything MTB looks these days, there isn’t any room for ugly shoes.
The new Specialized Recon 3.0 shoes look to take on these challenges and provide the much of the legendary S-Works performance in a more affordable package. The Recon 3.0s are made for cross-country and gravel riders and feature stiffness, comfort, and good looks in a package that is $200 less than S-Works level Recons.
The Recon 3.0 MTB shoes retail for $225 (available at JensonUSA and Competitive Cyclist), while the Recon 2.0 retails for $160, and the more rugged Recon 1.0s retail for a very reasonable $110. The S-Works model retails for $425 and weighs a claimed 270g per shoe in a size 42. My test set of Recon 3s weigh 345g per shoe in a size 41.
The Recon 3.0s carry a lot of features over from the S-Works models. The 3.0s get a double Boa closure for a better fit, a fully welded upper to reduce bulky seams, a rubber tread for better off-bike traction, and of course, the trusty two-bolt cleat pattern. Specialized says the stiffness rates at a 10.0 and “allows for natural toe movement off the bike but remains stiff for pedaling.” There is a short carbon plate where the cleats are fixed but it doesn’t take up the whole sole like on the S-Works Recon.
The stiffness, or flexibility rather, of the Recon 3.0 is one of the first things I noticed about the shoe. The Recon is stiffer than most of my trail-riding MTB shoes, but nowhere near as stiff as the higher-end XC shoes I have around. There is quite a bit of flex through the toe, which does make for better maneuverability off of the bike, but I really like for XC shoes to be stiff and trail-riding shoes to have more flex. Usually, the two are pretty distinct from one another. Specialized rates these as a 10 on their stiffness scale whereas the S-Works Recons rate at a 13.
The flexibility is noticeable considering power transfer during pedaling as well. If you’re looking for an XC race shoe, the S-Works or a Shimano S-Phyre might be a better bet for something stiffer.
I have had issues with the fit on the Recon 3.0 also, and unfortunately, I was in between sizes. I tried a size 41 first – and I am a size 41 in every MTB shoe I own (as a gear tester, I have a lot of bike shoes), and the Recons felt a little too big. So, I tried the 40.5, but those were certainly too small, so I was stuck with the 41s and my little piggies had a bigger pen than usual.
The shoe also flexes oddly over the metatarsal joint between my foot and where my big toe starts. As the toe flexes while walking, the rigid material of the upper presses into the joint, not in a terribly uncomfortable way, but not in a welcomed way either.
Aside from those complaints, the Recon 3.0s have been a good shoe. The upper is perforated well and my feet get enough airflow to keep them comfortable on hot summer days. The material feels tough enough to handle rock scrapes for years to come and the toe of the shoe does a good job deflecting rock strikes.
I haven’t had any issues with cleat or pedal clearance, or with clipping in or out of my pedals. I also like the double Boa closure, as it helps the foot stay right where it needs to be. The inside fabric of the shoe, comfy as it may be, still results in heel slip.
The Specialized Recon 3.0s are a more affordable alternative to their S-Works models, with similar features for almost half the price. The length of the shoe wasn’t perfect for me, but it may be for others. The way the shoe flexes around the top of the toes hasn’t been great either, and it may be getting better with wear, though I’m not sure it will soften enough for my liking. But, if you want an XC or gravel shoe that packs a sharp, athletic look with a more casual feel, the Recon 3.0s are a good option.