Too much cycling gear is designed for racers, while ignoring the needs of regular, but no less passionate, cyclists. The Specialized Audax shoe attempts to buck that trend by offering a shoe that performs up to the level of the finest shoes on the market, but feels better, looks sharper, and costs less.
Inspired by, and named after, the French term for a long-distance, untimed cycling event, the Audax shoe is designed for riders who value performance as well as comfort. The toe box is roomier than most shoes, your forefoot won't feel cramped, and you'll have plenty of room for thicker socks when the weather cools. The heel is cut low to provide a snug fit and a wider range of motion, while keeping pressure off your Achilles. Reflective stripes add visibility to the heel, but not enough that you'll want to leave your lights at home when riding in low-light conditions.
The Audax's upper is constructed of a soft synthetic leather that's perforated to breathe on hotter days. Synthetic leather means no break-in time is necessary, and the shoes felt great from the moment we first put them on. Our all-white test pair responded well to a gentle cleaning, which is good considering all the conditions this durable road shoe is designed for. Unpaved roads or singletrack? No problem. The Audax is meant for long-distance adventures, so feel free to explore.
For retention, the Audax marries two of the most effective devices ever used on a cycling shoe: Velcro straps and Boa steel laces. The shoe's two Velcro straps are easy to cinch down across the top of your foot while riding. The Boa's dial pulls the shoe closed around the front and outside edge of your ankle, and allows for easy micro-adjustment. The Boa's lace mechanism also comes with a lifetime guarantee and is completely replaceable.
The Audax's carbon composite outer sole is stiff, and climbing, sprinting, or just riding along, they felt like they transferred power from our legs to the pedals as efficiently as any race shoe. Like most of Specialized's road shoes, the Audax comes with a neutral Body Geometry footbed but can be swapped for one of the company's SL footbeds for more or less arch support. Wedges are also available for those who need to dial-in their foot and cleat alignment even more.
There is a slight weight penalty for riding the Audax. A pair of Specialized's high-end S-Works Road shoe ($350) registers 100 grams lighter. The S-Works Road is a fantastic Tour de France–worthy shoe used by the world's top pro. We've tested both and couldn't feel a difference in efficiency between the two, despite the Audax's weight and comfort. [$250; specialized.com]