Blink and you might miss it. These are not the same shoes. Other than the different colored tongues, a quick glance at the uppers and it would be very easy to confuse the two – which is kind of the point. Pictured above is the Specialized S-Works 6 Road and S-Works 6 XC mountain shoe. Together, they represent the pinnacle of S-Works light weight shoe design regardless of where your ride will take you.
Just like the bikes themselves, riding shoes are going through some interesting evolution. With the rise of gravel racing and mixed terrain riding, suddenly super light XC shoes are appealing again (at least to me). Many of my rides these days on “gravel” bikes consist of long miles on the road, interspersed with single track excursions. I might not be looking for shoe like the S-Works 6 XC for racing cross country, but it appealed to me for road riding where I still needed some real traction. And then there’s the potential of using them for CX….
While there are some critical differences between the two, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a road and mountain shoe that were so much alike. Both shoes are designed with speed and connection to the bike in mind and feature a very lightweight upper. The grey portion of the shoe is made from Dyneema Cubic Tech which is a sort of super fabric that uses directional fibers that are thermo bonded in place (if you’re a tech geek, the Dyneema site is pretty interesting. Dyneema fibers were even used to power the Stringbike!). The result is a stretch free fit, no matter how much you sweat, pull, or pedal. In front of that is a perforated toe which features one of the few distinctions between the two. The 6 XC adds a bit of abrasion protection for the toe box while the 6 Road goes without. Fit is adjusted through dual Boa S2 dials with a lower velcro strap. The other difference on the upper is that there is a bit more padding around the PadLock heel for the 6 XC. That’s good news because that was really my only complaint with the 6 Road – the opening around the ankle can be a little uncomfortable, though it gets better as they break in.
Of course, the other huge difference is the sole. The road version sees a FACT Powerline 3 bolt SPD-SL compatible sole while the MTB version uses a non-Powerline FACT plate, but still has the same 13.0 stiffness index. For the road, the sole has a replaceable rubber heal tread and also offers titanium alloy cleat hardware that can be flipped to positions the cleats another 5mm rearward. Over on the 6 XC, the minimalist rubber tread is augmented with replaceable toe studs, and a two bolt SPD cleat pocket with extra fore/aft adjust ability. Note that the carbon sole of the XC uses a woven pattern, likely to increase impact resistance where the Road shoe uses unidirectional fiber.
Inside, the two shoes use the same Body Geometry footbed which is pretty minimalist, but does the trick.
How much weight will that tread cost you? Just 48g per shoe. That makes the S-Works 6 XC as light as a lot of road shoes, let along mountain bike shoes.
At those weights, the benefits of such a light shoe are quickly apparent out on your bike. One mistake I made with both of these shoes – compared to others I didn’t need to tighten the Boa dials nearly as much. The PadLock heel cup does a great job of keeping your heel from slipping, and the upper really doesn’t seem to stretch which gives you plenty of power even backed off a few clicks. Give ’em a thorough break in period, and then you’re off to the races. Or not.