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Photo: Brad Kaminski | VeloNews.com

First Ride: Specialized S-Works Exos Shoes

The superlight Specialized S-Works Exos shoe is a dream for gram-shaving climbers. It also happens to be very comfortable.

Price: $500
Weight: 150 grams per shoe (size 42) 

It wasn’t long ago that Giro made a big splash with its Prolight Techlace shoes. At 150 grams per shoe it was incredibly light while still managing to be a functional shoe meant for racing.

Now Specialized has its own 150-gram shoe, and it does something the Techlaces didn’t: It adds a Boa dial.

Boas are heavy, relatively speaking. That’s why Giro ditched them to make the Prolight Techlaces, and that’s why Specialized had to find other ways to cut weight, if the end goal was a superlight shoe that still included a Boa.

So the Exos shoes rely on a single Boa IP1 dial to adjust snugness, rather than the standard two Boa system. But that’s not the real secret here. There are plenty of single-Boa shoes out there that don’t come close to 150 grams. To get all the way down there, Specialized used Dyneema.

Specialized S-Works Exos

You’ve likely heard of this material before if you’ve bought some superlight backpacking equipment recently. Climbing ropes are also sometimes made from Dyneema, as is certain fishing line. That’s because this superlight material is also considered one of the strongest in the world. Not bad for something that’s basically polyethylene.

That material is wrapped around your midfoot, even as far back as your heel. So when your Boa dial starts pulling at the upper, it’s pulling on one of the strongest materials. That means despite the fact that the upper doesn’t really hold a shape like other shoes, you still get an incredible amount of support throughout the power zone of the shoe.

Specialized S-Works Exos

The toe is made from the same material as the S-Works Sub6 Warp Sleeve, which is essentially a compressive sleeve that fits over the S-Works Sub6 shoes to cover up the laces. The toe box does not hold its shape. Press the toe and it will collapse inward. Our test pair has already developed some weird wrinkles, which may be the result of stretch from my toes pressing upward, though I’m only guessing.

The upper is mated to the Fact Powerline carbon sole, an extremely stiff carbon plate with strategically placed vents that pull double duty: keeping your feet cool and keeping the sole as light as possible without sacrificing strength where you need it.

It’s a unique shoe design, to say the least. But in terms of fit, there’s nothing too outlandish about it.

Specialized S-Works Exos

That said, it’s also perhaps the most comfortable Specialized shoe I’ve ever worn. The Dyneema wraps around the bulk of your foot so that possible pinch points or rubbing is all but eliminated. And while there’s not much material to bulk up the heel cup, there didn’t seem to be any slippage.

The single Boa Ip1 dial works where it needs to work. It won’t snug up super-tight on your forefoot since the Boa cable doesn’t reach down that far. But that turned out to be okay. It meant there was room for the forefoot to expand and breathe. The Dyneema holds exceptionally well around the midfoot, offering all the stability you’ll need on long climbs. Micro adjustments have a big impact here, and since there’s only one dial to mess with, it’s a super-quick process too.

The Dyneema is by all accounts bombproof, but I’m worried about the toe material in terms of durability. It has already shown signs of stretching, which certainly shouldn’t be the case after only one ride. And you can feel the carbon sole moving under your foot because the upper doesn’t have enough structure to help hold it in place. That’s less a function of the materials used, and more a function of how much material is used. The forefoot is generous, as I mentioned. Perhaps if it was slimmed down slightly it might hold the forefoot more solidly in place.

I’m excited about these shoes because they’re super comfortable, and the inclusion of Dyneema makes the Exos shoes unique in the sense that they’re burly without being bulky. But I have reservations about the forefoot material and some excess movement between the upper and lower. It will take several more rides, and some tweaking, to see if these shoes can stand up to the rigors of daily use, or if they’re more of a boutique racer.

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