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With the growing popularity of bikepacking, enduro, and all-around fun on the trails, it seems like a lot of mountain bike gear is trending away from its roots in cross-country racing. Not so with the new Specialized S-Works 6 XC shoe. These red-and-black foot rockets are purebred racing shoes; if you’re looking for something stiff, minimal, but generally comfortable, this pair will match that carbon 29er race bike lurking in your garage.
The construction will be familiar to anyone who has worn the S-Works 6 road shoe. In fact, the mountain bike version of the 6 uses the same upper. That means you get a pair of Boa’s excellent S2-Snap dials on each foot, which allow you to carefully tweak the fit or completely release the cable tension by popping out the dials. The upper material is a futuristic-feeling, perforated synthetic material that breathes relatively well and has no noticeable seams or ragged edges.
Specialized did provide a bit of extra toe protection for the XC shoe, but the forefoot is a bit narrow, and we sometimes had to loosen the Boa dials as our feet swelled on big days. The heel cup has a secure fit — no heel lift here during run-ups in the local cyclocross races. However, in particularly long gravel races, we felt a bit of uncomfortable pressure on our heels.
Speaking of ’cross, we aren’t entirely sure if the S-Works 6 XC would be the best pick for racing skinny tires on dirt. While we loved the minimalist upper and secure fit, the outsole doesn’t have particularly aggressive lugs. Out of the box, the shoes also have fairly diminutive toe studs, but those are replaceable, fortunately.
That said, the S-Works outsole was perfectly capable when we traipsed about on hard-pack dirt trails or slickrock. Specialized gets bonus points for wrapping some grippy tread rubber onto the arch of the shoe, also improving walkability.
Compared to other options, it’s hard to beat the S-Works when it comes to weight. At 270 grams, they’re about 50 grams lighter than the new Shimano S-Phyre XC9, which is also priced at $400.
As suggested at the beginning of this review, we’ve grown accustomed to a more laid-back style of mountain bike shoe in recent years. The S-Works 6 XC might not be the best shoe for any and every off-road adventure, but it is certainly what we reach for when it is time to tie on a number and do some racing. Heck, the carbon FACT sole is stiff enough that you’d be fine riding these shoes on a road bike as well, provided you don’t mind mountain bike pedals.