Light, stiff and very comfortable, Specialized’s new S-Works Exos shoes are highly impressive, as well they should be for £450. I’ve been riding them for the past week and have managed to clock up a fair few miles, enough to form a first impression before long-term testing continues.
If you missed all the key launch details have a read of this first look article and there's a first look video there as well.
The first thing to report is that, yes they are jolly light. They’re feathery light in your hands when you’re bolting cleats onto the carbon sole. But do you notice the lack of weight when cycling? Yes, but to what extent depends obviously how heavy your current shoes are. Compared to the Sidi shoes I was riding immediately beforehand, the difference is noticeable.
Does this make you faster? Well, to try and find out I’ve been heading into the hills, riding all my favourite local climbs on a daily basis, a mix of short and steep wall-like gradients to longer more gradual inclines around the Cotswolds, culminating in a cheeky 5-hour hilly ride last Sunday.
I felt faster up the climbs on any sort of gradient, like I had been gifted a boatload of extra watts out of nowhere. Of course, since the sun was shining and it was unseasonably warm, it could have been entirely psychological and the string of PRs I set wasn't due to the new lightweight shoes.
It's really difficult at this stage to asses how much difference a few hundred grams on the shoes makes to performance, so I want to try and conduct some more scientific testing using power over the next few weeks.
But are they stiff enough? I attempted to examine the stiffness of the carbon fibre sole by sprinting and grinding up as many steep hills in as big gear as I could manage to try and get the carbon fibre sole to flex. Flex it didn't. Granted I'm not the heaviest or most powerful rider but I just couldn't feel them flexing. What I did feel is they perhaps don't have the outright stiffness of some other high-end races shoes. But there appears not to be a significant tradeoff in stiffness.
Comfort hasn’t been compromised either with this pursuit for low weight. I’ve found them so far to be very comfortable, certainly no less comfortable than other shoes I've been wearing a lot recently. They've been fine on short lunchtime rides and longer weekend jaunts, there's no sense that they are compromised in the comfort department as a result of that drive for low weight.
The fit and volume are very much the same as the S-Works 7 but they feel very different on the feet. The upper is much more pliable, and while in your hands you can completely compress the upper (watch the video to see that demonstrated), cinch down the BOA dial and the cord pulls the Dyneema Mesh upper over your foot such that it is securely and firmly held in place. The padded tongue distributes the load well and there are no pinch-points across the top of the foot at all.
Even pulling them on to your feet is different and a little tricky. You do need to make use of the heel tab to pull the shoe around your foot because the softer material will collapse if you don't line up your feet perfectly. It’s like pulling on a skin suit and wearing them is akin to a one-piece outfit.
The BOA dial is easy to use with micro-adjustments to tighten and loosen possible on the move. It feels nowhere near as nice to use as the posh CNC machined metal dials on the latest S-Works shoe, but it does its job well. The fit is good enough that I found I didn't have to really tighten the dial to keep the shoes secure.
Despite the upper being a lot softer than any regular shoe, they don’t feel floppy and loose. Even the heel area which is made from a much more flexible material than most regular performance shoes appeared to provide sufficient heel lift during hard hill efforts and sprints. The shoe just feels like a natural extension of your feet with the Dyneema Mesh doing a top job of securing the shoe over your feet with no wiggly about when you’re dishing out the power.
When I first saw these shoes I naturally thought they would be a shoe you’d only pull out for special occasions, or would only appeal to mountain goats or hill climbing specialists. But if you’re spending £450 on a pair of shoes you’re going to want to get your money's worth, and after a week of riding them every day, I see no reason why they can’t be your go-to shoe.
These are just my first impressions based on a week of riding, I'll now spend the next several months really putting them through their paces and I'll deliver a full and in-depth review in due course.
If there's anything else you'd like to know just pop a question in the comments section below.
If you missed the first look you can read it here along with a video first look.
The new S-Works Exos shoes are available now and cost £450, more info at www.specialized.com
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. 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, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.