Specialized has revamped its top-end road shoes yet again, retaining the previous version’s pared-down approach but with a more refined fit and – at least in our opinion – a more pleasing and classic aesthetic. BikeRadar’s international crew has been testing the new S-Works 6 model on two continents (on opposite sides of the equator!) and, while there are a few minor quirks, we've found them exceptionally good overall.
Shoehorn not included
As good as the new shoes are, there’s a good chance your first impression of the new S-Works 6 shoes won’t be a positive one. Thanks to a newly aggressive external heel counter that pinches down around your Achilles’ tendon, grippy material inside the heel cup itself, and the lack of a quick-release function on the minimalist Boa S2 Snap cable reels, these suckers are certainly a little harder to put on than most other cycling shoes we’ve sampled. A shoehorn proves handy.
The new external heel counter is very aggressively shaped, tapering sharply inward up top for a very secure heel hold
Once you get them on and start riding, however, it’s even more likely that any negative opinions will quickly change.
The fit is fantastic, with a reassuringly snug and shrink-wrapped feel around the middle of your foot and an almost ludicrously secure hold on your heel. Despite having essentially no padding on the tongue, the Boa cables don’t dig into the tops of your feet at all, even when cranked down far more than necessary. And while those Boa reels don’t have a quick-release function (the open-backed cable guides do help, however), the upside is a very small footprint that creates none of the pressure points that ones with a bigger base are sometimes prone to.
Adding to the high-performance feel is an ultra-rigid carbon sole (supposedly Specialized’s stiffest ever, although it’s almost impossible to tell from the saddle) and an impressively low actual weight of just 440g for a pair of size 43 shoes – 20g lighter than last year’s already light version.
Despite a plethora of holes and a supplemental vent in the sole, there isn’t much in the way of airflow noticeable on the S-Works 6 shoes. However, breathability is nevertheless very good, keeping testers’ feet dry even during this year’s brutally hot Australian summer. And of course, there’s the full suite of Specialized’s trademark Body Geometry footwear features, the most notable of which are the stout built-in arch support and forefoot varus wedge.
Despite all those holes in the upper, it's hard to discern air actually passing through the shoe
Whether either helps your pedaling mechanics is obviously a highly personal thing. But at least one BikeRadar tester consistently noted more balanced quadriceps firing between the inner and outer sides relative to more traditional cycling footwear.
The comfort factor
That all said, finding a cycling shoe that’s stiff, light, and holds tightly on to your foot isn’t all that tough. Finding one that does all that but yet is still wickedly comfortable is decidedly more challenging, though, and it’s in this department where these shoes really shine.
While the S-Works 6 is extremely snug through the middle and rear of the shoe, for example, it’s never overly restrictive and yet still manages to conform nicely to moderate anomalies in your particular foot anatomy. And unlike other minimalist shoes, the hold stays consistent from the time to you saddle up to when you get off – something that Specialized credits to the non-stretch ‘Dyneema’ panels strategically applied to the midsection of the shoe.
Generous arch support is built into the outsole
“The single-layer base synthetic is selected as it has adaptive stretch for comfort in the forefoot, lateral side and ball area,” explained the shoe’s designer, Rob Cook. “The Dyneema material is actually a film holding a custom lay-up of ultra-fine Dyneema strands. These strands do not stretch at all and we have placed them in an orientation to hold the foot. Bonding this to the synthetic creates zones of absolute non-stretch for locking the foot in place. The film is still soft and flexible. Applying this film means we can tune the fit of the upper in zones without cutting and joining separate parts with seams.”
Even better, the front of the shoe is surprisingly roomy, leaving heaps of space for your little piggies to wiggle around. As before, the sides of the toebox are refreshingly vertical – even bowing slightly outward, in fact – and there’s even more room around your big toe than before.
The synthetic leather upper is crafted from a single piece of material save for the separate tongue
Specialized’s execution of the effectively one-piece, single-layer upper is also particularly good with no rough edges or material transitions inside the shoe. Even when searching with your fingertips, you can barely discern the seam at the base of the tongue.
Regardless of the reasons behind it, the end result is clear: whether for quick one-hour lunch rides or five-hour jaunts in the mountains, these suckers are exceedingly cozy.
Ride-ready from the outset
Our US editor-in-chief Ben Delaney even made the bold move of logging nine hours in his first two days wearing the S-Works 6 with no break-in time beforehand – but had no ill effects as a result.
“Jumping into brand new shoes for two big rides is usually a bad idea,” he said. “But they feel great when riding. I never noticed them when not actively trying to analyze them.”
Some testers found the new heel cup to be fantastic for its hold and yet very comfortable; others, not so much
Downsides? We’ve already mentioned that the shoe is a little unusually cumbersome to put on but in addition, the grippy heel cup material and aggressive heel cup shape just won’t work for everyone. One tester’s shoes also developed annoying kinks in two Boa cables that would occasionally jam up the reels.
In fairness, those kinks seemed to be some sort of freak occurrence and the reels are both easily replaced and fully covered by Boa. Not so easily shrugged off, however, is the S-Works 6’s premium cost. It’s hardly a surprise given that the previous version was identically priced but nevertheless, it’s a big number for a pair of shoes and it’d be nice if Specialized at least included a few alternative footbeds to help buyers further fine-tune the fit.
That all said, if you can stomach the tab, these are absolutely some of the best road shoes we’ve ever used.