Range topping race shoe built to provide stiffness and comfort in equal measures
The Specialized S Works 6XC shoe represents the current pinnacle of the company’s off-road range and crams in a myriad of technical innovations to create one of the most hi-tech shoes available today. One of the most noticeable visual aspects of the 6XC is how similar it is to the S-Works 6 road shoe. But compared to some other brands that might just slap on a tread to their road model, the 6XC is a proper off-road edition.
Designed by scientists
Specialized’s shoe designers have been busy looking at what riders require from their shoe and the S Works, being the top of the tree, has had the works thrown at it. The upper is split into two distinct ‘zones’. The front section is made from a softer material to create an almost slipper-like level of comfort. This is constructed with minimal stitching to eliminate any irritation or discomfort. The material is perforated for ventilation and also incorporates a reinforced toe to protect delicate appendages from rock strikes.
The rear section is aimed at holding the foot in place and minimizing movement. Specialized uses a reinforced and moulded heel cup and a material taken from sailing that has practically zero stretch to securely grasp the foot.
The ubiquitous BOA dials even the retention and are a breeze to adjust on the fly. The added bonus of the BOA dial is their simple user replacement. The last thing you want to do is throw away a three hundred quid shoe because of a damaged retention device. Replacements are around £14 per shoe.
It’s easy to overlook the technology that has gone into producing the wafer thin carbon sole of the S Works but suffice to say it is the stiffest that Specialized produces (equal to its road version) with absolutely no flex detected whatsoever. The double cleat bolts are made from titanium and allow for a large range of positions. A sticky rubber outsole and toe studs finish the shoe.
Rider first thinking
Specialized is responsible for the Body Geometry concept in conjunction with bike fit guru Dr Andy Pruitt, and the S Works 6XC incorporate a shaped insole and wedged midsole to aid body alignment and pedalling efficiency. The great thing is these features are found across the range and contribute to the 6XC feeling like one of the most stable and supportive shoes on the market. The shoe fitted me incredibly well, but I did need to go up a half size in comparison to a shoe from lower down the range. The toe box has ample width and Specialized has hit the nail on the head when it comes to comfort. The S Works do feel as comfortable as a pair of slippers and the BOA dials spread the tension evenly across the entire shoe.
As stiff as you need
As expected the 6XC are exceedingly good if you want to pedal fast and long. The sole stiffness contributes to every ounce of your power going into the bike. However, if it wasn’t for the Body Geometry features, I would imagine the 6XC could be very unforgiving as foot-friendly flex is non-existent. One thing I did find is heel lift when walking/running up slopes. A more flexible sole allows a shoe to move with the foot but the S Works stays in place. This leads to your foot wanting to lift out of the shoe and potentially causes irritation and rubbing across the heel.
The price might be a touch stratospheric (but still cheaper than top end SIDI or Shimano) but when looking at the amount of technology involved, the quality of materials and overall comfort, it is a little easier to swallow.
The S-Works XC6 fulfils the wishlist for a cross country race shoe – stiff, light and comfortable. This level of performance should also make it pop up on the radar for any rider looking for an efficient shoe for ‘normal’ longer distance trail riding. However, as with most shoes at the highest performance end, the XC6 isn’t for everyone. The stiffness makes it uncomfortable for longer periods of walking or running.