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Top-End MTB: ‘S-Works’ Shoe

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It wasn’t until three or four years ago, when I began seriously training and racing, that I could truly appreciate top-end, expensive gear. My latest mountain-biking shoe, the Specialized S-Works MTB Shoe, is a perfect example of this: Though it costs a staggering $350, like most every product that bears the company’s “S-Works” badge, this shoe represents the latest, hottest technology and “raciness” that Specialized can muster. Pros in the most prestigious races will wear this shoe, and now — for 350 big ones — you can, too.

I got a test pair a few months back. My first impression? The shoes seemed incredibly lightweight for a mountain-bike model. At about 11.8 ounces (335 grams) apiece in Euro size 42, they are closer to road than mtb shoe weight. No doubt, the full-length carbon midsole is partly responsible. But the uppers are also airy and light.

S-Works mtb shoe in white

On the bike, the shoes are comfy yet high performing — the uppers feel supple while the sole is stiff. Pedaling efficiency, with the shoes’ combined weight, stiffness and tuned-in fit, is probably the best I’ve ever experienced.

Instead of Velcro straps or a ratchet-closure system, Specialized employs Boa Technology’s lacing system, which gives a solid, precise fit via its tiny, twist-to-tighten braided steel laces. Another nice extra: The tread over the carbon sole, a thermoplastic grip, is replaceable when worn down. In the past, I’ve tossed out shoes when the tread had worn away while the rest of the shoe had plenty of life left. Too bad this feature is often only available on top-of-the-line shoes.

Close-up: S-Works carbon sole

Perhaps more important than all the fancy materials is the research Specialized put into making this shoe fit and function right. Working with sports-medicine experts, the company designed the shoe to accommodate the natural posture of the foot when the body is in a seated position. In the saddle, most people will find their foot angles to the outside. Plus, a person’s big toe often sits higher than his or her pinky toe.

Specialized accommodates this canted foot position by giving its shoes a 1.5mm rise on the inside. In addition, with this shoe there are included optional foot-bed shims intended to help alter forefoot angle even more. Three footbed choices let you customize the fit. This whole setup optimizes “biomechanical foot/knee/hip alignment,” Specialized cites. (Note: The company recommends users get footbeds and shims fitted by technicians trained within Specialized’s “BG FIT” program. Bike shops in most cities have workers trained in this popular professional bike-fitting technique.)

As a final touch, the shoes’ footbeds have a feature built in called “metatarsal buttons.” Specialized touts that these bumps under the ball of your foot promote better blood flow and keep your forefoot comfortable.

This spread of fancy tech may sound overkill. But it’s subtle on the shoe, and when you’re riding the S-Works MTB feels in no way overbuilt. The system is dialed, and for me this year — training and racing — the shoes have functioned as true performance enhancers for the feet. If your wallet can handle the asking price, these pro-level shoes will not disappoint.

T.C. Worley is a contributing writer for GearJunkie as well as a year-round bike racer. Stephen Regenold, founder and editor of GearJunkie, contributed to this review. Regenold tested the S-Works MTB Shoe training and racing this year, including for 200+ miles of racing in the 2011 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race, held this past February in southern Chile.

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