The Specialized S-Works XC shoe is a high-end, cross-country style shoe that fits like a glove and includes inserts to further customize the fit for the individual rider. It is not the stiffest shoe in this testing batch, but it is still quite efficient at power transfer. The biggest downside of this model is the lack of a full release on the BOA dials, a common feature on shoes of this caliber.
The Specialized S-Works XC features Specialized’s FACT Powerline Carbon sole, which is rated at a 13 (high) on the company’s own stiffness index. These shoes are definitely stiff, although not quite on the same level as the Bontragers or Bonts, but all but the most obsessive riders will find them up to their standards. As a bonus, the shoes are reasonable to walk around in. Longer hike-a-bike sections would be a bit of a bear, but for such a stiff racing shoe, it is certainly manageable. The upper provides a nice wrap of the foot, along with a solid heel cup to keep rider’s feet locked into place, making it feel like there isn’t any wasted effort.
The real shining star of the Specialized S-Works XC is the fit. Specialized consistently has some of the best fitting and most comfortable shoes on the market, and this offering continues that trend. They are leading the way with their Body Geometry construction, which they claim has been “scientifically tested to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee and foot alignment.” We can’t speak to the veracity of this claim, but they certainly are comfortable shoes. They also come with a variety of different inserts that riders can use to further dial the fit. The upper is stiff yet comfortable, our testers didn’t develop any hotspots while riding in these shoes. For riders with nagging injuries or that require a highly customizable and comfortable shoe, the XC is definitely worth a look.
This is the biggest quibble that our testers had with this shoe. It features two BOA dials, and a Velcro strap over the toe box. The routing of the BOA wires is good and provides for excellent foot retention without creating pressure points or hot spots. However, the BOA dials do not feature one-click quick release, and the wires are not long enough for our testers to get their feet in or out without fully releasing the dials. This means, each time we take the shoe off or put it on, the BOA dials have to be spun completely out, which is much more of a pain than the quick release system. This may not seem like a major issue, but on a shoe of this caliber, it is a puzzling decision.
The Specialized S-Works is a top-notch shoe made of high quality materials. The stitching and bonding appear to be excellent, and we haven’t noticed any issues or degradation of materials throughout our testing period. The rubber tread on the sole of the shoe has held up well despite a good bit of walking around. There is no reason to suspect that these shoes would not last for years with proper care.
The Specialized S-Works XC breathes well enough. It never felt too hot or too cold, despite testing in various weather conditions. There is a mesh vent over the toe box and the upper is vented with numerous holes. These combine to keep the shoe from overheating, even with a full black model as our testing pair was. They are not quite as breathable as some of the other shoes in this test, but were certainly adequate. We did not try them in any cold weather, but suspect that would be a bit lacking, even with thicker socks.
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HOW WE TESTED
To conduct this test the shoes were tested over a season of riding in Western Montana, on all types of trails, including plenty of hike-a-bike slogs and long days in the saddle. All of these shoes are very high quality and would serve people well for day-to-day riding, but after a season on the bike, we discovered a number of subtle differences noted in each of the individual reviews.