First Look: S-Works EXOS Road Cycling Shoe

Words by Kathryn Dickinson

on 26/02/2019 17:01:01

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Made for going fast, Specialized have added some fresh kicks to range - the staggeringly light S-Works EXOS. Using a brand new, lighter weight, carbon outsole combined with an exclusive blend of Dyneema upper material Specialized have created a race shoe with massive weight savings without sacrificing ultimate performance. But that's not all...with the special edition EXOS 99, Specialized have created the first sub-100g shoe in the bike industry.

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Set to become the go-to pair of race shoes for some of the world's very best road cyclists, the new S-Works EXOS might just be the skinsuit of footwear.

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The lightest shoe in cycling

So, what makes the EXOS so special? Straight out of the box, the weight is almost unbelievable. The standard EXOS weighs in at around 150g in a size 42 which already puts it in the very upper echelons of road cycling shoe weight weenie-ness, and that's before considering the EXOS 99 - more on that later.

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Most of the weight saving comes from two places; the upper and the sole. Specialized have used an exclusive blend of four-way, non-stretch Dyneema, a fibre which is 15 times stronger than steel, and applied a backing mesh which transforms the fibres into a very strong, lightweight and adaptive material which doesn't require any reinforcement. Turning that fabric strength to their benefit, Specialized have been able to do away with the traditional heel counter and toe box structures to save weight. These have instead been replaced with a soft heel and a stretchy, adaptive material based on the Sub6 WarpSleeve to cover the toes. Despite the light weight of this shoe there shouldn't be any worries about durability which, after tens of thousands of hours of testing, matches up to the durability of the S-Works 7.

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At the heart of the shoe is a redesigned carbon outsole developed by the same team behind the Rider-First Engineered Tarmac road bike. Making use of pressure mapping, weight has been removed from the sole without sacrificing stiffness, leaving cut-out holes which provide plenty of ventilation and an airy, lightweight fit. Despite going on a diet, the outsole is still plenty stiff enough, scoring 13.0 on Specialized's �stiffness index�. This number is generated by measuring the amount of deflection that occurs under a 40kg load - a stiffness index score of 13 means that there is slightly more flex than the outsole of the S-Works 7 (scoring a mighty 15), but matches the stiffness of the S-Works 6 shoe.

For closure, the EXOS uses a single Boa IP1 dial mounted on the tongue, preferred to the zonal closure system (and those nice shiny metal dials) on the S-Works 7. This dial pulls laces from both sides, allows for incremental tightening and loosening, has pop-release and a high-lace capacity which all means that the entire shoe can be closed with just one dial, letting you find your perfect closure tension at a fraction of the weight.

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All of these new features are great but mean little if the shoes not comfortable - but don't worry, Specialized have got that nailed too. The fit of the EXOS is very similar to that of the S-Works 7 in terms of both shape and internal volume and still offers excellent foot hold and power transfer, as well as maintaining all three of Specialized's Body Geometry features; Varus angulation, longitudinal arch support, and metatarsal button. The shoes come with a BG+ foot bed and are compatible with all of Specialized's aftermarket custom and semi-custom foot beds and forefoot wedges.

It's there that the similarities end though. Removing the heel counter and toe box means that the EXOS has much less structure in the uppers and provides a comfy, conforming fit to your foot, while the Dyneema upper and stretchy, soft vamp across the toes creates an adaptive, second-skin fit that feels barely there when you wear them. Despite appearances, your heel is still locked in on the EXOS. With the injection-moulded heel cup of the S-Works 7 gone, the EXOS instead makes use of Dyneema's properties to create a strong, but comfortable, heel hold by patterning the heel and adding a CubicTec overlay which allows the material to adapt to all the small contours in your foot for phenomenal, yet lightweight, hold.

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EXOS 99

The EXOS is one very special shoe. The EXOS 99, however, is even more special - the very first cycle shoe to tip the scales at less than 100g.

Yes, you read that right. In a size 42, the EXOS 99 weighs just 99g. To achieve that insanely low weight there are a couple of key changes from the standard EXOS. The most obvious change is the switch from a Boa dial to laces which saves weight in both the closure system and tongue construction. There's also a special heel lug and some TPU removed from the quarters to save a few more grams. The bulk of the weight saving on the EXOS 99 comes from the specially constructed outsole which in appearance looks almost identical to the standard outsole, but comes in a whopping 20% lighter. Making an outsole that light, with such tight tolerances, means an extremely difficult manufacturing process and as such, Specialized will only be releasing 500 pairs of the EXOS 99 around the world.

First Ride Review

Rutland Cycling Graphic Designer Mike was lucky enough to slip on a pair and test them on the hills of Rutland.

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Boasting a 150g weight figure the Specialized S-Works EXOS shoes are phenomenally light, and when put to the test on the road the comfort of these shoes is like no other.

You may think that with such a lightweight shoe like the EXOS there are compromises that must be made to achieve so much saving in weight, but Specialized have engineered these shoes so well that they feel and perform just like any other road shoe... if not better.

The sole - it's stiff, really stiff. Specialized have mapped out where on the sole riders need the stiffness, and where material can be removed to reduce weight. Put simply, same stiffness, less weight! The upper has been constructed from a space-grade reinforced Dyneema mesh which moulds to your foot and heel to hold it in place securely. A Warp Sleeve vamp replaces the toe box to further reduce weight and allow your toes to move freely and stay highly ventilated, providing comfort right where you need it.

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The single Boa dial on the top of the shoe does the job of keeping your foot hugged and locked in place. I like to have my shoes nice and tight to feel secure, but if you like a bit more space the Boa dial can easily be dialled in to exactly how you want the shoes to fit, whilst allowing on the fly adjustments with a single click to tighten or loosen.

If the stats don't win you over, then the looks certainly will.

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The S-Works EXOS range

Specialized S-Works Exos Road Shoes White / Grey

Specialized S-Works EXOS Road Shoes

  • Form Fit last with a Warp Sleeve vamp for the ultimate in connectivity, comfort and speed
  • Three-bolt cleat pattern fits all major road pedals
  • Approximate weight: 150g (1/2 pair, Size 42)
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