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 MTB chorus line is the price of a good pair of shoes cheaper, a full 100 fewer pounds, so these are perched perilously high up their shoe tree.
Price is up there with top of the range XC clogs from the likes of Shimano and Sidi so this other Big S aren’t exactly stepping out on a limb on this one and not exactly worthy of too much preposterous pricing inverse-snobbery arm-flailing.
Why are they so much? Shoe fetishists will notice that this XC shoe looks remarkably similar to the top tier Specialized S-Works 6 road shoe, and the S-Works 6 XC is pretty much the top half of that shoe mounted onto a mountainbike sole. If you look at the shoe in those terms you’ll get a good understanding as to who the likely audience is.
The upper of the 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 and add up to comfort for the fore foot whilst the mid-foot and heel are held super tight for maximum power and efficiency.
To supplement the latter Specialized have put in their PadLock molded 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 racey 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 soled shoe.
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 underfoot, something not aided by the stiff sole, and there’s still a certain amount of clumpy ballerina steps required when walking around in the 6 XCs. They’re fine enough for brief and essential off-bike meandering but you wouldn’t want to do much hike-a-biking up rock fields like you might do in a more rufty-tufty MTB shoe, or wandering round a National Trust gardens if you’re more of the nice ride on a Sunday 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 a Body Geometry sole footbed that according to the Spec. boffins 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 BG 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 XC fits very solid and tight around the ankle and mid foot, thanks to all that Dyneema, Cubic Tech and PadLock technology, making them bit of a struggle to put on, but the shoe then broadens out to a nice roomy toe-box for comfort. It’s a combination that makes the shoe efficient for short fast blasts yet comfortable for all-day efforts, it’s not a tight-all-over Chinese-binding race shoe that you can’t wait to get off at the end of the ride. Saying that the S-Works 6 XC shoes took a few rides to bed in, feeling 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, with the clicks being incremental enough for subtle ratcheting 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 XC pretty much needs to be treated like an off-road road shoe. It’s stiff, efficient and uncompromising, designed to be clipped in, ridden (hopefully fast as…) and then clipped out at the end. If your mountainbiking 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, this is a performance shoe 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.