Bikerumor Review: Specialized S-Works Mountain Bike Shoes

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Specialized sent us their top of the line S-Works mountain bike shoes in May, and I’ve been riding them through every imaginable type of trail condition since: rain, mud, dust, dirt, skunk spray, cold and heat…you name it, they’ve probably seen it over the last six months.  And, other than cosmetics, they’re still performing as good as new…perhaps better.

While this is a review of the 2009 Specialized S-Works MTB shoe, there are a lot of similarities between the 2009 and the forthcoming 2010 model, so if you’re considering either, here’s what’s the same: Micromatrix upper, breathable/padded tongue, BOA Powerzone lacing system w/ Velcro toe-box adjustment, Body Geometry insole and 2-bolt cleat pattern.  They both use Specialized’s FACT carbon on the soles, but the 2010 model gets Specialized’s new torsion-box outsole design with replaceable treads. It also drops (a claimed) 30g and costs $50 more.  The mesh vent panels are relocated, but cover approximately the same amount of surface area.

Since your local Specialized dealer is likely to still have the ’09s in stock, and they’re still available on Specialized’s website (plus, the ’10s aren’t available yet), I’ll tell you why they rock after the break…

WHAT’S IN THE BOX:

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The shoes come separated and include a mesh/fabric storage bag, plus some info on the Body Geometry design philosophy.

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They also come with love.

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Fresh outta the box, the White ones are very bright.  2009 was also available in Team Red and Black, 2010 is only White and Black.

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Both models retain the single BOA Dial (2010 Specialized ROAD S-works moves to a dual-BOA system).

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They have a carbon sole and sturdy but effective tread.  On a few walking or hike-a-bike sections, they never slipped, and despite an efficiently stiff sole, they are surprising comfortable to walk in.  I wasn’t immediately jonesing to get them off my feet after a ride.

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The insoles are Specialized’s BG design, which includes the “Metatarsal Button,” a slight bump in the center of the insole (at the white strip that says Metatarsal Button) that’s supposed to help spread your foot bones apart for a more natural feel.  While it’s noticeable when looking at or touching it, once inside, you don’t really notice any bump under your foot.  The toe box is roomy enough to keep your toes from getting smushed together, but not so big that your feet slide around.  (I know you’re wondering, so here: 47 = 13.  And they seemed to run pretty true to size.)

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The tread is deep enough to provide ample traction, but the deep, wide spaces can grab and hold rocks and a bit of mud.  They knock clean fairly easy, though.

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They have a symetrical design, with vents running along the entire side of the forefoot.  Even on the hottest Summer days, my feet never overheated.  It could be partially due to the fact that they’re white, so they weren’t baking in the sun, but on the trails under cover of tree, the color of the shoe shouldn’t make too much difference anyway.

OTHER FEATURES:

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These pictures are from early October, after about 5-1/2 months of use.  They’re still white, but the stitching and some detail bits show the accumulation of dirt, and the insides show a bit of rubbing from the cranks.

Note the different lacing at the top of the tongue on each shoe.  The BOA system on these shoes was designed to allow you to run it more open (at left) or with an additional strapping across the top of the foot (at right).  I preferred the more open setup. Not only was it easier to get the shoes on and off like that, but it was more comfortable and held every bit as securely.  As far as I know, my feet aren’t any wider or narrower than normal, but it’s easy enough to switch it around and see what works best for you.

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To loosen the lacing, simply pull the BOA dial knob out, then pull the plastic strap to add slack to the line.

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After half a year of riding, the BOA system, stitching and construction are all perfectly intact and functional.  I did have a couple of minor issues with the dial, which I’ll cover in the next section.

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Tread has held up well.  I run Crank Brothers Egg Beaters pedals, and unless a shoe has a metal contact plate, I recommend their add-on metal piece to keep the pedals from grinding into the sole.  Not only does it eat away at the sole, but the more they eat away, the more play you’ll get between the shoe and the cleat.  You can see the darkened area on the right side of the shoe where it rubs the cranks.

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The heel cup and sides of the “foot hole” are supremely comfortable.  Some shoes I’ve worn dig into the heel or the side of my foot against and under the ankle bone.  No such thing with these shoes…and they held on securely even when I tried to pull my foot up as hard as I could.  My foot was locked in for the ride, allowing me to focus on pedaling hard without worrying about if the shoe would come off.

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The padded tongue is extremely comfortable, and the mesh side panels are highly breathable.  Not only does this make for good cooling on hot days, but it helps drain moisture on rainy days.  On one occasion I got caught in a downpour (down. freaking. pour.) and the water quickly moved out of the shoe.  I never had that feeling of sloshing around, and the shoes never felt like they took on any water weight.

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About those side vents.  This (above) is the 2010 model.  The vents on this move from three side panels (per side) to a toe vent and single side vent.  Without having ridden these, I can say that the current model does a great job of keeping my feet cool on hot days, but doesn’t freeze them on cooler days.  We rode yesterday in 57º weather (but sunny) for about 3.5 hours.  With thicker sports socks on, my feet were cozy all day long, and at the end of the ride, my socks weren’t soaked with sweat.  They wicked out the moisture well, meaning the shoes let them breathe, but there wasn’t ever a point where my toes got cold.  So, for what it’s worth, the current (2009) design might be better for cooler weather riding than the 2010 where front vents will funnel cold air directly over your piggies.  I suppose (in the name of science, of course) we’ll have to test some of these new ones, too.  Darn.

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Specialized claims a size 42 shoe (single shoe, not a pair) weights approximately 335g.  Mine, albeit a bit dirty, weighed in at 449g for size 47 with a Crank Brothers Egg Beater cleat, shim and screws.  While this may sound heavy, it’s pretty darn light when you’re holding it in your hand or spinning it around the cranks for several hours.  Claimed weight for the 2010 model is 305g (approximate, size 42).

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS:

In addition to the comments above, here are some points worth mentioning:

  • After six months of riding in wet, dry, dusty, muddy and dirt conditions, the shoes don’t stink.  I do hang them up in my garage after each ride (they’re never left in a bag or enclosed environment), but still, that’s pretty good considering I’ve maybe only hosed them off intentionally once. Maybe.
  • On one ride, a skunk took target practice as I railed around a corner.  He nailed the side of my shoe, and it smelled pretty bad for the duration of the ride (and the drive home).  But after a few days of airing out (without being washed), the smell was gone.  Conclusion:  S-Works shoes are skunk-proof.
  • Some shoes I’ve had are so stiff they put my feet to sleep.  Some are too flexible, which makes them feel inefficient.  The S-Works mountain bike shoes seem to strike the perfect balance.  They’re all-day comfortable, light and race-day efficient.
  • I own a pair of Specialized Pro mountain bike shoes that are about five years old that have held up extremely well.  Given the utter lack of anything breaking, fraying, ripping or malfunctioning on the S-Works, I suspect they will exhibit the same durability, which is good, because…
  • They’re expensive.  The 2009 model retails for $300.  The 2010 will retail for $350.
  • On the first few rides, the BOA system popped loose and the lacing released, letting my foot almost fly out of the shoe.  I wrecked once because of it while trying to pass a couple of riders at the BURN 24 Hour Challenge.  And after a particularly wet, muddy ride, the release mechanism on the right shoe didn’t want to release.  It took a few more rides and lots of “forced” pulling on the quick release tab to get the cable to fully unwind, but it’s moved freely ever since.  (It’s worth noting that BOA Technologies warranties their lacing system for the life of the product, so if yours did break or stop releasing, you could warranty it through BOA.)

BIKERUMOR RATING:

Supremely comfortable, seemingly durable, light, efficient, no pressure points or hot spots, and sweet looking…what’s not to like about the 2009 Specialized S-Works Mountain Bike shoe?  The price?  Yeah, they do cost quite a bit, but top-of-the-line models from other major cycling shoe manufacturers are comparably priced (and in some cases considerably more…as in $150 to $180 more!).  But like your saddle/bum combo, if your shoe/foot combo ain’t doin’ it for you, your ride is never going to be as good as it can be, so in my opinion this is one area worth spending a little more on. They didn’t make me as fast as Christoph Sauser or Rebecca Rusch, but I was comfortable racing and riding in them for hours on end.  For that, I give them Five Thumbs Up!

bikerumor-thumbsup-5OTHER NOTES:

Specialized offers aftermarket BG footbeds ($47.00) with various levels of arch support and metatarsal buttons to accommodate riders with higher arches.  They also have forefoot shims ($37.00) to help customize leg, hip and knee alignment by altering the Varus and Valgus angles in the foot.  The shoes come with their standard red footbeds for people with relatively flat feet, and that’s what I used for the duration of this test.

They do not make a women’s specific S-Works shoe model, but the next level down (Pro) is available with the same full-length FACT carbon sole and a ratchet-type mechanical/velcro strap closure for both men and women.

Comments

Darwin - 10/26/09 - 7:24pm

I have the Road version of these shoes since I don’t ride those new fangled mountain bikes. I’ve been riding since the late 70′s and they are the best shoes I have ever owned. I don’t say that lightly. I have them in a 48 Wide.

Deanoh! - 10/27/09 - 11:57am

Picked up a set of these in July and have done almost as much hair-ball hiking in them as riding. Great platform for those who pedal a lot and the soles have remarkable durability considering the talus and scree slopes that they have been subjected to. Have had a couple of un-commanded releases of the BOA system but nothing that caused any grief. Would concur with Darwin that having owned many shoes over the years that these are the best so far.

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