Reviewed: Specialized Audax shoes

The Audax is designed around long rides — the name is another French term for randonneuring — and in some respects, Specialized hit its mark. It’s softer and more voluminously built than its racing brethren, with a stiff (but not too stiff) sole, more padding around the ankle, and a larger toebox. But it’s still a road shoe and is without any significant tread on its carbon outsole, which is drilled for three-bolt cleats. An adventure shoe this is not.

A Boa closure and twin Velcro straps synch down on the synthetic leather upper, which is a bit stiff when the shoes first come out of the box. Within a week of riding, however, it loosens up to become quite supple. Once broken in, it’s a great upper material, cleans easily (good news for anyone who picks the white option), and is quite breathable. Durability seems rather good, as the toe area held up well to a few toe-tire overlap situations.

The toe box is roomy, much more so than Specialized’s racing shoes. It’s as if the company is inviting you to wear comfy wool socks — and you should.

The heel cup is one of the best anywhere. It sits low, allowing for full ankle articulation without unwanted contact, but still holds tight. Extra padding around the ankle is a welcome addition.

The carbon outsole is slightly less stiff than the stiffest race soles, with a “stiffness index” of 10. For reference, the new 6 model, used by Specialized’s pro riders, is a 13. Those three extra points may make all the difference for Alberto Contador, but they’re a bit lost on me. Despite the softer sole, there was zero appreciable movement or flex around the cleat.

When I first heard about the Audax’s imminent launch and saw its dirt-oriented ad campaign, I hoped for something a bit burlier. Build it for road cleats, sure, but add more rubber to the sole, maybe a hint of flex in the toe, so getting off the bike would no longer be an exercise in cleat-footed awkwardness. I wanted something that truly sat in between a road and mountain shoe. But that’s not what the Audax turned out to be — it’s not a bad thing, just not what I had hoped for. It’s a plusher road shoe.

If you want a good-looking road shoe with a stiff-enough sole, comfortable heel cup, roomy toe box, and a slightly more durable upper, the Audax is an excellent option. If you want a race shoe, then look for something lighter with a thinner upper. For $250, the Audax is well-built and well-designed. I just wish you could walk in it.