“SHOETOUT”: SPECIALIZED TORCH 2.0 VS. GAERNE CARBON G.VOLATA

What’s the difference between a $300 shoe and one that’s half its price?

Have you ever had some pain following a ride and found yourself unable to pinpoint the cause? While it’s obvious when the time comes to replace a chain, tires or even your frame, worn-out gear is the leading cause of most cycling injuries. As your shoes wear, your foot’s position changes. After thousands of crank revolutions per ride, a minimal shift in your shoes or cleat position might lead to pain that comes to haunt you in the following days. 

While component manufacturers repeatedly remind us of the average time to replace worn-out parts, less obvious is when the proper time to upgrade our gear is. If your shoes are worn out or you’re looking to upgrade to one of the latest offerings on the market, check out these two shoes for 2021.

THE BRANDS

World famous for their motorcycle racing boots, Gaerne has been producing an array of performance-oriented footwear specializing in two-wheeled sport for almost 50 years. Based in Treviso, Italy, Gaerne’s renown in cycling circles is based on both their durability and WorldTour cycling success. Their latest release is the Carbon G.Volata, which pares down some of the features and cost of their high-end offerings.

Specialized’s catalog has just about every item a person needs to become a full-on roadie. Comfort is the goal for Specialized’s Torch line, which consists of three levels of shoes ranging in price from $110–$225. At $160, the Torch 2.0 is one of the best bang-for-the-buck shoes on the market. Specialized’s wide reach allows for large R&D budgets that pump out state-of-the-art products year after year. 

THE TECH

GAERNE

Thanks to recent developments from in-house testing, Gaerne has updated their mid-range model with many design features borrowed from their top-tier shoes. Designed with performance in mind, the most notable feature is the G.Volata’s EPS lightweight full-carbon sole. It has Gaerne’s highest stiffness level with a rating of 12. Four vents in the sole encourage airflow, and the heel grip is replaceable. The same sole is used on Gaerne’s top-tier G.Chrono and G.Sincro shoes that can be found in the WorldTour on the feet of individually sponsored riders like Thomas De Gendt and Diego Ulissi.

The hand-stitched upper is made of a soft microfiber with laser-cut vents, which allows ventilation. Gaerne offers three additional colors—white, blue and orange—in addition to the matte black with gloss highlights we reviewed. A single Boa dial is paired with a hook-and-loop strap over the toe box to secure each foot. 

Gaerne touts the reinforced heel design as the biggest upgrade for the Carbon G.Volata. Throughout testing, it was what really distinguished the $300 shoe from the $160 Specialized. A composite heel cup increases rigidity around the ankle, and Gaerne chose this to improve durability and slow wear in the material around the heel. The inside of the heel cup is treated with an anti-slip material that adds friction. The material acts similar to Velcro, increasing directional friction to further secure the ankle in place, which, when combined with the added durability of the heel, Gaerne claims decreases the possibility of ankle injuries like tendinitis.

SPECIALIZED

Specialized designed the Torch 2.0 with a supple microfiber upper mesh crisscrossed with reinforced thermoplastic polyurethane bands for a well-rounded mix of comfort, stability and ventilation. The closure system consists of a single Boa dial with a hook-and-loop strap over the toe box. The inside of the heel cup uses a cushioned synthetic material with a vertical reflective S-logo on the backside. Over 100 mesh-covered holes allow heat to escape and cool air to rush in.

Specialized uses their Body Geometry sole and footbed that are ergonomically designed to reduce injury. Specialized pinpointed the average proper cleat position of riders and implemented it across most of their footwear, which they have tested and claim reduces the chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee and foot alignment. The Torch 2.0’s nylon composite sole has a mid-stiffness rating, marked as a 7 out of 12 on Specialized’s stiffness scale. The sole is protected by low-profile, rubber toe and heel pads.

THE RIDE

GAERNE 

To dial in the fit, the carbon sole offers half-an-inch of fore-and-aft adjustability for the cleat position. Pressure points are kept to a minimum, thanks to the rigid upper and single Boa closure system, which aids fit accuracy, adjustability and comfort. The toe box narrows slightly, and wide-footed testers would have been better off with a bit more wiggle room. 

Don’t shy away from the G.Volatas just because they use Gaerne’s stiffest sole. The efficiency of the stiffness is noticeable with every pedal stroke, and there is no noticeable flex. This doesn’t make the G.Volatas uncomfortable. The evenly placed padding across the upper creates one of the most well-balanced fits when the Boas are properly tightened. The reinforced, anti-slip heel cup creates a secure glove-like fit with no wiggle room. Velcro strips hold the tongue in place for a reliable fit day in, day out.     

SPECIALIZED

Cleat-position setup is made simple, thanks to Specialized’s Body Geometry research. For our test riders, the set position is spot-on—only a few adjustments were necessary to find the proper cleat angle. This is one of the main reasons Specialized’s top-tier S-works 7 shoes remain popular with our test riders, thankfully the Torch 2.0’s are almost $300 less expensive.

Given the sole’s medium stiffness rating, a bit of flex is felt during heavy pedaling. But, this isn’t a negative. Given the price point and Specialized’s push for comfort on this model, the sole’s stiffness is appreciated, especially on three-plus-hour rides. Oftentimes, extra-stiff, sub-$200 shoes trade off comfort for stiffness, which results in unsavory hot spots. The 2.0s have a respectful mix and fit like a glove, thanks to the shapeable, supple upper. Proper tongue position is key to getting a comfortable fit, and unlike the Gaernes, there is no way to secure the tongue in position. Ensuring the tongue is fully taut and centered enables a comfy fit with ample wiggle room for your toes.

One downside we’ve found across nearly every Specialized shoe we’ve tested is their durability. Over time, after repeatedly tightening the toe-box strap, the shoe begins to deform. The stretched material causes the toe box to crease over itself, and it never fully returns to its original shape. This issue is exacerbated on higher-end models with less material in the toe box, but we’ve seen signs of this wear beginning in the Torch 2.0s after only a few hundred miles of riding.  

THE VERDICT

Specialized and Gaerne are both leaders in innovative, ergonomic shoe designs developed for modern-day riding. Pitting the Torch 2.0s in a shootout with a pair of handmade Gaernes that are nearly double the price is unfair; the Gaernes are the superior-performing shoe without question. 

The stiffness of the sole, the durable handmade upper and ventilation combine for a top-notch option at $300. They are designed to last, thanks to the replaceable heel pad and Boa dial. The reinforced anti-slip heel cup is smart, decreasing future injury with a real, meaningful design. Gaerne even put thought into securing the tongue in place for an easy, everyday fit. 

That being said, the Torch 2.0s offer incredible bang for the buck for a wide range of riders. Specialized’s Body Geometry is what keeps us using their shoes. Given the fact that tech is available starting at $110, the Specialized is a great option for those not wanting to break the bank. The Torch 2.0s have nearly all of the makings of a modern road shoe—a single Boa for a precise fit, rubber sole pads for extra cafe-time walkability, and a breathable, easy-to-clean mesh upper; our only hankering is for more durability. ν

PUNCH LINES

Specialized fit wide, Gaerne fit narrow.

You pay for durability and utility.

Boa dials make for a precise fit.

GAERNE G.VOLATA STATS

Weight: 550 grams (size 43)

Sizes: 39-48

Price: $300

www.albabici.com

SPECIALIZED TORCH 2.0 STATS

Weight: 598 grams (size 44)

Sizes: 36–49

Price: $160

www.specialized.com

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