Comfortable and incredibly stiff, the S-Works EXOS are the lightest Boa-equipped cycling shoe ever made
Impressively stiff and light
Non-slip replaceable heel tread
Thin material prone to scuffs and damage
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The lightweight road cycling shoe war has become an increasingly heated space over the past few years with Giro and Specialized regularly trading blows in search of the featheriest road shoe on the market.
The S-Works EXOS is Specialized's latest offering - designed to mesmerise and equip its wearer with almost gravity-defying levels of performance, and a clear edge over its rivals. It's available in two distinct guises, differing by way of retention system - in this case the choice of Boa or lace-up. The limited-edition lace-up version is naturally the lighter of the two models weighing in at just 99g per shoe but they're all sold out. What we've got here, however, are the Specialized EXOS Boa-equipped model (150g) which is essentially the same thing sans laces, the extra 51g coming from the retention system and marginally heavier carbon outsole.
This shoe has been widely employed in the pro peloton all year, having first made headlines when we spotted them on the feet of Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-QuickStep at the Tour Down Under. But just how comfortable are they to live with on a daily basis?
Design and aesthetics
Visually, the Specialized S-Works EXOS appear almost slipper-like at some angles, but they're incredibly alluring shoes nonetheless - sleek and minimalist. A prominent white S-Works moniker adorns the outside of each shoe, putting paid to any doubts about its performance merit. Pictured here in a black/gunmetal combination colourway it's hard to dispute the family resemblance it shares with the S-Works 7 road shoe.
Constructed from a meld of four-way, non-stretch Dyneema and a mesh-like inner fabric, Specialized was able to considerably reduce weight while still providing a solid structure. Doubling up to provide impressive ventilation, the Dyneema fabric - the strongest, lightest, and most versatile fibre in the world - is reinforced by a durable yet stretchy, WarpSleeve material which provides additional protection and support around the toe and heel area of the shoe.
This fabric structure does appear somewhat thin - almost too thin upon closer inspection - but it's incredibly strong and supportive, especially around the instep and flanks. Shoes of this nature are designed to squeeze out every inch of performance and fit is naturally going to be a very important aspect. In this case, it's highly recommended that you test fit a pair before purchasing or possibly even downsize, as the fabric uppers are prone to crumpling and folding if they're too big.
Performance, stiffness and comfort
In terms of weight the Specialized S-Works EXOS shoes are incredibly light - 150g per pair according to Specialized,156g on our scales. In fact, they're the lightest Boa-equipped road shoe in the world. Once you bolt on a set of cleats the weight will climb to 186g, which is still 76g lighter per shoe than the Giro Imperial size 42 equivalent with cleats. The low weight, however, is just one of many impressive attributes aimed at harnessing power delivery and comfort.
Retention is taken care of by a single, top-mounted Boa IP1 dial. While it does take some getting used to, particularly in terms of on-the-fly adjustability, (most shoes have dials mounted on the outside) you'll soon get to grips with the new location. And the fit? Well, I initially had my doubts, especially considering the lack of structural but the inclusion of several soft fabric lace guides, as well as a padded tongue, have helped distribute an even spread of tension across the top of the foot, resulting in a secure and cossetting fit.
The EXOS shoes have been engineered from the ground up for performance - that's clearly evident after just a couple of rides. With a stiffness index rating of 13, the soles are incredibly stiff but never err on the side of discomfort. Our testing comprised several short two-hour rides and longer four-hour rides as well as some interval work and power sessions to establish a feel for the shoes' all-round performance. One thing that stood out was the overall comfort - something we didn't quite expect from such racy kicks and even on the longer rides the shoes provided excellent support. Much of this stems from the Body Geometry insoles which feature provisions for forefoot angulation, longitudinal arch and metatarsal support.
Like the Giro Imperials, the Specialized S-Works EXOS will only work as a summer shoe here in the UK. The mesh fabric means they're very thin and while this ensures exceptional ventilation, the reality of sub-5-degree riding won't appeal to many.
It truly is incredible that something as light as the Specialized S-Works EXOS shoes can be so precise, stiff and resilient. They're also pretty comfortable might I add. Of course, this may not be the case for everyone but you need to put these shoes into context before making a decision - these are not for group rides or coffee runs, they've been designed for competition.
No matter your inclination, be it road racing, criteriums or hill climbs, the Specialized S-Works EXOS shoes will undoubtedly serve as a bonus arrow in your quiver. They're light and remarkably supportive given their no-frills appearance, and I'd go as far as to say they provide class-leading on-the-road feel and precision.
Will they last and hold up as well as their rivals in the event of a crash? Probably not, but in this regard, the S-Works EXOS shoes are better suited to competitive road racers looking for a marginal edge over their rivals. This 'edge' however does come at a premium - £450 to be precise.
- Price: Starting at US$500/ £450/ AU$600
- Weight: 150g (claimed), 156g (actual, size 42.5 without cleats)
- Outsole: FACT Powerline carbon
- Retention: Boa IP1
- Colours: 2
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Aaron was the Tech Editor Cyclingnews between July 2019 and June 2022. He was born and raised in South Africa, where he completed his BA honours at the University of Cape Town before embarking on a career in journalism. Throughout this career, Aaron has spent almost two decades writing about bikes, cars, and anything else with wheels. Prior to joining the Cyclingnews team, his experience spanned a stint as Gear & Digital editor of Bicycling magazine, as well as a time at TopCar as Associate Editor.
Now based in the UK's Surrey Hills, Aaron's life revolves around bikes. He's a competitive racer, Stravaholic, and Zwift enthusiast. He’s twice ridden the Cape Epic, completed the Haute Route Alps, and represented South Africa in the 2022 Zwift eSports World Championships.
Rides: Cannondale SuperSlice Disc Di2 TT, Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Rim, Cannondale Supersix Evo Ultegra Di2 Disc, Trek Procaliber 9.9 MTB
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