These S-Works 6 shoes from Specialized, the latest in a long line of top-end carbon fibre-soled race models, are among the best performing and most comfortable I've ever tested. They're very light, very stiff and, I repeat, really rather comfortable. They're not cheap, but if you can find the money, they're among the very best performance/race shoes currently available.
The shoes feature a new FACT Powerline one-piece carbon fibre sole, completely redesigned from the previous S-Works shoes. The profile is lower, so less stack height, and the rear section is tapered in a way that sees it providing better support for the back of the foot, with a new moulded heel cup that Specialized calls the PadLock heel. It really does work, they cup and support the back of the foot extremely well. There's no heel lift at all.
As well as the redesigned sole, there's the all-new upper. Specialized has used a fabric called Dyneema Cubic Light. A fancy name, and apparently it's the same stuff used by NASA for its space shuttle parachutes. Certainly an impressive factoid for the club ride.
The benefit of this fabric, and the reason Specialized has used it, is that it has very little stretch, and this helps power transfer. It's not used over the entire shoe, mainly just the midsection to provide extra support. It's combined with a regular synthetic microfibre material, which does have a bit of stretch. Essentially, the shoe is rock solid where it needs to be for pedalling efficiency, with stretch where needed.
Closure is via a pair of Boa S2 dials and one short Velcro strap, a carryover from the previous S-Works shoe, which distributes pressure across the top of the shoe extremely well. The fit is so good, though, that you don't need to cinch the dials up that tightly for regular riding. The dials are easy to operate; rotate one way to tighten, the opposite to loosen.
The sole is drilled for regular three-bolt cleats, with titanium inserts to save weight and boost durability. Alignment markers help you get the cleat position exactly right across both shoes. There's a small, and to my mind rather pointless, vent at the front of the foot. More usefully, there's a rubber toe bumper and heel pad for easier walking, and to save damaging the carbon sole.
The combination of the new carbon sole and the revised upper means power transfer is noticeably improved over the previous S-Works shoes. The upper hugs the foot much more securely, with no tightness or pressure hotspots, and no heel lift. The carbon sole perhaps isn't the outright stiffest on the market, but it certainly doesn't lack stiffness when you launch a sprint or give it the full beans up a climb.
Fit is obviously a personal thing, but these shoes fitted my feet exceptionally well. At this sort of price you might expect some level of heat mouldable customisation, but the fit and comfort of these shoes is so good that it's really not needed. In fact, I found them more comfortable than some mouldable shoes I've previously tested. It's like they've been shrunk onto my feet. Comfort for even the longest rides is outstanding.
At 476g for the size 45s tested, they're right up there with the lightest shoes this sort of money can buy. You really do notice that (lack of) weight when riding: pedalling feels about as effortless as it's possible to get.
Light, stiff and insanely comfortable
road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized S-Works 6
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Specialized says: "The advantages of the next generation S-Works 6 shoe can be summed up in two simple phrases''explosive speed and superior comfort. The speed comes as a direct result of great fit and better connection, delivering more efficiency and power to the pedal. The new PadLock heel, combined with revolutionary strong and lightweight materials in the upper, creates a snug fit that is incredibly secure. Result? You have a shoe that helps transfer more of your energy into the pedals when you crank up the watts. Add to that the legendary performance and adjustability of the dual-Boa® closure system and the S-Works 6 becomes more than just a shoe, it allows you and your bike to work seamlessly together with maximum efficiency."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Body Geometry sole and footbed are ergonomically designed and scientifically tested to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee, and foot alignment.
Our stiffest and lightest FACT Powerline™ (patent pending) carbon plate to maximize power transfer: Stiffness Index 13.0.
Dyneema® Cubic Tech™ directional fibres are thermo-bonded to create no stretch zones for ultimate connection.
Independent Boa® S2-Snap dials for on-the-fly micro-adjustment, backed by the Boa® Lifetime Guarantee.
PadLock moulded heel and one-piece stroble upper for superior fit.
Titanium alloy cleat nuts can rotate to position pedal/cleats 5mm rearward.
Non-slip, replaceable heel tread with internally recessed screws for security.
Form Fit last with roomy toe box for ultimate connectivity and comfort.
Three-bolt cleat pattern fits all major road pedals.
Approximate weight: 224g (1/2 pair, size 42)
How do they make them so comfortable?
I'm not pretending they're fantastic value for money, but if you compare them to other similar priced shoes (which you must) they perform extremely well.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Do everything expected of a top-end race shoe.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Lots of money.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
Yes they're a lot of money, but then so are all top-end race shoes that are this light and stiff. But these are among the best performing and most comfortable I've ever tested.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.