Specialized S-Works EXOS shoes review

Verdict: High performance and low weight combine beautifully with the EXOS

Pros: Unique design performs very well, amazingly light too

Cons: That’s a lot of cash for shoes that are at their best on hot days

The new EXOS shoe from Specialized is a very different beast to anything we’ve seen from the company before. While the current S-Works 7 shoe is impressive in terms of fit, feel and weight, the EXOS project takes the weight issue to a new level.

My test pair of 45s weigh in at 347.2g (173.6g each) — 347g is an acceptable weight for a single shoe — so the EXOS is a stunningly light design. Although Specialized, at the same time as introducing the EXOS, has made an even lighter shoe called the EXOS 99: a lace-up version of this shoe that weighs 99g. The downside is that they are even pricier than the standard EXOS at over £600.

Specialized has achieved this low weight by using a fabric called Dyneema (also used on the S-Works 6 shoe). The fabric is non-stretch and features a four-way weave that is bonded to a flyweight backing mesh – the Dyneema provides support and structure to the body of the shoe, while the toe box uses a material similar to the overshoe-like ‘warp sleeve’ found on the S-Works 6 shoe.

The heel is also surprisingly soft and supple, so you really need to use the bonded-on rubber strap on the shoe to pull the heel into place without wrinkling it.

The sole is also paired down, like the upper, but it still attains a high stiffness rating of 13. That number comes from a test in which Specialized applies a 40kg load to the sole’s cleat plate and measures the amount of deflection, which in this case was between 1.32 and 2.11mm.

Compared to the stiffness index of the S-Works 7 (15 = 0-0.61mm of deflection), there is a little more flex here, but the 13 rating is the same as the S-Works 6 shoe.

For a shoe built to be minimal, Specialized, thankfully, hasn’t skimped on protecting the carbon sole, with a substantial heel bumper keeping the carbon away from the ground. The heel bumper is replaceable too, with a single hidden bolt accessed from inside, underneath the foot bed.

Specialized S-Works EXOS impressions

In use, the EXOS is an airy shoe, the minimal upper has plenty of breathable holes. My testing included a week’s riding in Girona with 20+ degree Celsius temperatures and the EXOS were brilliant.

On the long climbs of Els Angels and Hincapie my feet didn’t cook and the temperature regulated very well. More surprisingly, on the descents after both climbs I actually got cold feet as the wind started to chill.

The fit is far freer than most race-optimised shoes, so the EXOS feels like a well-balanced design: supportive where you need it and forgiving where you don’t.

I was impressed that the EXOS holds your foot in place, and combined with excellent Body Geometry insoles there was no sliding sideways, yet your toes and forefoot feel much freer so you can spread your toes.

For all but summer in the UK the highly breathable and minimal upper wouldn’t be my ideal choice, but for hot rides and long climbs I wouldn’t want to put my feet anywhere else. You decide whether you deem the price worthwhile for a shoe that you won’t be using all of the time.

Specialized S-Works EXOS specifications

  • Uppers:  Dyneema fibres
  • Sole: Carbon Closure: BOA IP1 dial
  • Cleat: Three-bolt cleat
  • Available colours: White, black
  • Price: £450 / $500 / AU$600


- Bikeradar