As you might have guessed from glancing at the price the Specialized S-Works 6 XC is the company's all-singing, all-dancing, off-road disco shoe. The next model down their mountain bike chorus line is a full £100 cheaper — the price of a pretty good pair of shoes — so these are perched perilously high up their shoe tree.
The price is up there with top of the range cross-country mountain bike clogs from Shimano, Sidi and the recently reviewed Suplest so Specialized's not exactly stepping out on a limb here and shouldn't be the target of too much preposterous pricing inverse-snobbery arm-flailing. Although don't let me stop you.
Why are they so much? Shoe fetishists will notice that these shoes looks remarkably similar to the top tier Specialized S-Works 6 road shoes, and the S-Works 6 XCs are pretty much the top halves of those shoes mounted on to mountain bike soles. If you look at the shoes in those terms you'll get a good understanding as to who the likely audience is.
The upper of an S-Works 6 XC is composed of two halves. The front is a perforated synthetic microfibre that's soft and has a bit of give to it while out back is a tough stretch-free material made from special Dyneema Cubic Tech directional fibers. These two parts to the upper are joined seamlessly with no internal joins or ridges to rub the foot. All that adds up to comfort for the forefoot while the mid-foot and heel are held super tight for maximum power and efficiency.
To supplement the latter Specialized have put in their PadLock moulded heel that holds the rear of the foot vice firm and ensures there's no heel lift, even under the gruntiest of efforts.
In keeping with their racy feel the tongue is perforated and slimly padded with an offset guide loop for the top Boa wire. Despite this there was never any pressure on the foot from the Boa wires. The padding around the inside of the heel is very minimal and firm and combined with that PadLock and overtly snug tightness of the heel box things could get a little pinchy around the Achilles tendon every once in a while. The toe of the shoe has a firm bumper to save your pinkies from the odd root or rock strike. The cleat plates are titanium, which should get your race juices flowing.
The sole is what Specialized say is their stiffest and lightest FACT plate with a Stiffness Index of 13.0, this differs from the road shoe that has a FACT Powerline carbon plate but still has the same Stiffness Index, although there's no mention of how high the Stiffness Index actually goes, or what it actually means in the real world. Rest assured, it's a stiff sole.
Tread at the heel is thick and chunky and usefully rubbery, and the base of this section extends towards the front down the middle of the shoe to protect the sole from fluffed clipping-in pedal strikes. The twin islands of tread either side of the cleat have a firm plasticky base with a slightly softer layer of grip on top. None of the tread on the sole is replaceable should it wear out so if you're keen to extend the life of the shoe you'll want to be strolling about as little as possible. There are replaceable toe-studs though, so you could tippy-toe on those all the time.
The grip on the sole isn't actually very, um, grippy. It feels very solid and not overly confident, and that's not aided by the stiffness. There's still a certain degree of clumpy ballerina stepping required when walking around in the 6 XCs. They're fine enough for brief and essential off-bike stints but you wouldn't want to do much hike-a-biking up rock fields like you can in more rufty-tufty mountain bike shoes, or go wandering round National Trust gardens if you're more of the touring Sundays persuasion. These are more shoes for walking from the team bus to the bike and then to the podium afterwards.
The shoes come with Specialized's Body Geometry insoles that mate up with Body Geometry sole footbeds that Specialized boffins say are ergonomically designed and scientifically tested to boost power, increase efficiency and reduce chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee, and foot alignment. I have iffy knees and the Specialized Body Geometry concept works for me. I even use their most pronounced footbed to keep my joints running in a straightish line. Your mileage may vary.
The S-Works 6 XCs are very solid and tight around the ankle and mid foot, thanks to all that Dyneema, Cubic Tech and PadLock technology. That can make them bit of a struggle to put on, but the shoes then broaden out to nice roomy toe-boxes for comfort. It's a combination that makes the shoes efficient for short, fast blasts yet comfortable for all-day efforts; they're not tight-all-over Chinese-binding race shoes that you can't wait to get off at the end of the ride. Saying that, the S-Works 6 XC shoes did take a few rides to bed in. They felt a bit unforgiving initially in the fore section of the upper, but they soon softened and conformed more to the foot.
The twin Boa dials work well. The clicks are closely-spaced for subtle ratchet tightening and loosening, and they sit proud enough to do this easily on the move, even with gloves on. The Velcro strap at the front actually does a good job of tensioning the shoe over the foot too, which is not something that can be said of every shoe with a similar arrangement. One unexpected plus is that the Boa cables can be unhitched from their open-ended guides, so if you release the tension on the dials just enough you can simply loop them out and totally untension the shoe which makes taking them off and squeezing them on a lot easier.
The S-Works 6 XCs pretty much need to be treated as if they're road shoes that happen to have two-bolt cleat mountings and a bit of tread on the sole. They're stiff, efficient and uncompromising, designed to be clipped in, ridden (hopefully fast as...) and then clipped out at the end. If your mountain biking or gravel biking involves lots of getting off and hiking across rugged terrain, or you walk up hills a lot, or you kick around in the dirt then these probably aren't the shoes for you; these are performance shoes for the off-road roadie. They're equally applicable for a cyclo-cross race, as long as there's not too much scrabbling up muddy banks, and they'd make a very good long distance gravel ride shoe, if gravel shoes are a thing.
The 6 XCs are also excellent for the road rider, tourister or audaxer who wants performance shoes but likes or needs to saunter about a bit. If you want top-end shoes but actually get off your bike during a road ride then these could be the shoes for you.
If you're bored of wearing through cleats because you walk around too much in your road shoes, or are frustrated by the road cleat teetering duck walk when scavenging petrol stations aisles for anti-bonk food but still want to retain the stiffness and performance of a quality road shoe then these S-Works 6 XC MTB shoes might be for you.
As well as going off-road on proper off-road jollies these shoes were taken on long long road rides where there was stopping and walking around looking for food and somewhere to sit down for a bit and they were every bit as good as a premium road shoe, but without the awkward perambulating bit.
Despite the smaller contact of a SPD cleat over a broad road cleat there was no noticeable pressure point or spiky hot spots thanks to that stiff sole, they felt exactly like a high-end road shoe, just one that you could stroll about in without teetering or slipping about.
Stiff and efficient yet comfortable off-road shoes that cross over to be viable for the road too
road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized S-Works 6 XC Mountainbike Shoe
Size tested: 41
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: "We spent some time thinking how to describe our new S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoes, and really, their selling point is pretty easy''they're the lightest, most connected XC race shoes in the world say Specialized. They're not just light, although they are only 270 grams per shoe, but it's more about the blend of low weight and incredible performance. They feature our stiffest and lightest carbon fiber outsole for pedaling efficiency and feedback, while they borrow some unparalleled traits from the road version of the S-Works 6 for explosive speed and superior comfort. The speed comes as a direct result of an incredible 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's incredibly secure. The 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."
Yup, light, stiff, uncompromising, if you want a performance off-road, or even walkable road shoe these are the ones.
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 plate (NOT POWERLINE) Stiffness Index 13.0.
Dyneema® Cubic Tech™ directional fibers 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™ molded heel and one-piece stroble upper for superior fit.
Titanium alloy cleat nuts can rotate to position pedal/cleats 5mm rearward.
Non-slip, rubber heel tread.
Form Fit last with roomy toe box for ultimate connectivity and comfort.
Two-bolt cleat pattern fits all major off-road pedals.
Cermamic printing for lightweight durability
Approximate weight: 270g (1/2 pair, size 42)
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Easy to wipe clean.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
An uncompromising light, stiff and yet comfortable performance cross-country shoe for being fast in, and maybe walking about just a tiny bit.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Light, fast, performance on both dirt and tarmac.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Ex-pen-sive, non-replaceable tread, short walks only.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, both off and on road.
Would you consider buying the product? It would be beyond my reach at that price, unfortunately. But I'd like to.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? I know a few racey types and several on and off-road endurance riders that this shoe would be suitable for.
Use this box to explain your score
The S-Works 6 XC shoes are toe-curlingly expensive, but they manage to be both stiff, foot hugging and comfortable, whether that's for short fast blasts or all day schlepics. They're also a damn good road shoe if you like walking about a bit but don't want to chew up protruding cleats.
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun