Specialized S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoe review

Testing The Lightest MTB Shoe In The World

At $400 per pair, Specialized banks on brand trust and a demand at the pro-level for its bike-ready ruby slippers. (The S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoe comes in other colors, too.)

Specialized S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoe review

The ingredient list looks curated and high-cost: Carbon fiber, titanium, Dyneema fibers, and a svelte perforated upper constitute this shoe. They fit close, clip to a pedal with a rigid snap, and stay tight to the foot as you pedal mile after mile of singletrack trail.

Beyond price, there are few immediate downsides to the S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoe. (See a couple caveats below.) This is the Specialized flagship, a captain over a fleet of mtb shoes the company sells starting at one-quarter this price.

So why spend $200 per shoe ($400 in full)? Well, most people should not. Like most high-end products made for cyclists, you’re paying a premium for shaved grams (this shoe is among the lightest made for mtb) and a design so dialed it’ll grace the feet of the pros.

Specialized S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoe
Sole has rubber tread patches, cleat, and removable spikes up front

We reviewed the 2017 S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoe on trails this month. It’s the latest in a line of top-shelf mtb shoes from Specialized, and you can expect to see it on podiums across the country as this season ramps up.

Lightest Mountain Bike Shoe

At 270 grams per shoe (men’s size 9), these are literally half the weight of some footwear made for mountain biking. And many race-ready mountain bike shoes are 50 to 100 grams heavier at least.

Why does weight matter? When you are cranking thousands of revolutions per hour the sum of the spinning mass sucks energy with each stroke. Granted, it’s a minimal advantage when you’re talking grams.

But bikers are infamous for trimming weight at almost any cost. These shoes will be paired with similarly weight-conscious and pro-level bikes, likely costing $5,000 and much more.

Review: Specialized S-Works 6 XC Mountain Bike Shoe

The main draw to this shoe is its weight, or lack thereof. A roadie friend of mine was jealous picking up our test pair, noting they are lighter than his road-biking shoes.

But there is more to these than light weight. They are stiff — super stiff — and engaged, responsive, effective, and fast when your legs are spinning to move the bike ahead.

Boa made low-profile dials custom for Specialized S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoe
Boa made low-profile dials custom for Specialized; twist them to tighten and cinch the foot in place

The company notes these mtb shoes borrow traits from the road version of the S-Work shoes “for explosive speed and superior comfort.”

I agree with that. Though tight-fitting and uber-fast, the shoes are comfortable for training and racing alike.

Tight Fit With ‘Heel Cup’

A cup of carbon fiber keeps the heel in place. Specialized calls this the “PadLock heel,” noting the whole shoe has a “snug fit that’s incredibly secure.”

But all that snug-ness makes the shoes hard to put on. Don’t bank on these for a fast transition in an off-road tri. I struggled to pull the carbon cup over my heel without disengaging the Boa cables.

Specialized S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoe review
Carbon heel cup on back, svelte upper ahead of that, including a slippery laminate over synthetic leather, perforated throughout

It’s a slight annoyance, but the price to pay for a fit that does indeed lock the heel in place.

And despite the tight heel, the toe box is generous. I found the shoes comfortable on my feet even after a couple hours on a trail.

2017 Upgrades: Specialized MTB Shoe

The S-Works 6 XC Mountain Bike Shoe is a step up from its predecessor (which I tested); it’s a lithe but brutally stiff and secure object, a weird extension of the foot, locked in place on a spinning pedal via a cleat.

Laces are traded for dual Boa closures. These dials linked to thin steel cables twist to tighten the foot in place.

I have come to expect Boa as default on my cycling shoes; it’s superior in most circumstances to buckles, Velcro, and laces you tie.

Specialized S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoe review

Specialized includes a small tab near the toes (photo above). It pulls across the foot to further cinch the shoe in place, in theory minimizing movement even more in the shoe. But as with past Specialized models, I found the tab to be minimally effective.

At least with my foot shape, the tab does not change the fit too much, and when tugged as tight as I can get it, a small crease appears in the upper. The material folds over a tinge, a millimeter of imperfection stretching toward the toes.

The upper feels like a thin leather, including intricate perforated holes. But it’s synthetic, including Dyneema fibers that are bonded on to create what the brand calls “no-stretch zones.”

A titanium alloy is used for the cleat nuts. This metal is lightweight and durable, a weird upgrade but appropriate on a shoe that costs $400.

Underfoot things are less unusual. There’s a rubber heel and toe tread for traction. Requisite removable spikes near the toes give purchase when you hop off a mountain bike to push on handlebars running up a too-steep hill.

All this equals a sublime experience underfoot. I have few complaints when swopping a berm or cranking a steep grade.

Specialized talks with confidence with the shoes, as it should, touting them as the “lightest, most connected XC race shoes in the world.” It’s a tall claim, though one I am convinced could be true.

–See full details at Specialized.com.

Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.