The star of the show is Dyneema which is becoming a popular ‘wonder’ material in the cycling world. In essence, the material is a form of plastic with the trait of long chains (think of it as fibres) that make it extremely tough. Last year Specialised introduced this material in their S-Works 6 Road shoes and part of the upper included this new material. The following animated graphic shows the section with ‘thermobonded’ Dyneema that creates ‘no-stretch’ areas.
The S-Works 7 also used Dyneema but though the product description suggests it has been integrated in a different manner, “Dyneema® Mesh is trapped between layers of four-way stretch mesh and TPU to create no-stretch zones for the ultimate connection and comfort.”
In other words, stretch… but no stretch. Is that a contradiction? The intention behind a non-stretch upper is obvious, when you have a super-stiff sole coupled with a flexible upper, it may be more comfortable but competitive cyclists will loose efficiency in power transfer while pedalling.
Both of the S-Works 6 and 7 however still resemble road cycling shoes but the EXOS is a more notable shift away from regular cycling shoes.
This year, the new Specialized EXOS cycling shoes were spotted at the Tour Down Under and recently have become available for purchase. I got my first look at at VeloBerlin bike show and although the product photos (example below) show a smooth surface, in reality, these super-light shoes appear crumpled…
The S-Works EXOS have one Boa dial and the complete upper now uses the Dyneema. The technical name of the material is Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene and the manufacturer (DSM) describe as 15 times stronger than steel while being light enough to float on water. To the touch it feels thin, like a tarpaulin and also crumples and creases a bit like a tarpaulin.
Optically, these shoes ooze High-Tech and would be at home as footwear from a sci-fi movie. The crumpled effect is therefore not a negative rather it adds to the appeal.
Cycling shoes that weigh less than 250 grams (per shoe) are generally considered light-weight. To date it is only possible to get near or below 150 grams with tailor-made shoes though this usually comes with some performance compromises.
The S-Works EXOS appear to give performance orientated road cyclists the best of all worlds; the light-weight and no-stretch Dyneema material fit with the light and super-stiff carbon sole, titanium alloy nuts (for the cleats) and design with Body Geometry Fit.
But the catch is that on top of the $600 (AUD) price-tag, you also have to rely on the shoe fitting your foot perfectly. If your foot is to wide, too narrow or too… anything, the fabric won’t stretch to accommodate your foot. The Boa dial provides some adjustment but if they don’t fit perfectly, this will cost performance.
The durability traits of Dyneema suggests that these shoes will survive scuffing and remain easy to maintain. Unknown is the breathability and the material appears to be impervious to water. In the sole of the shoe there are generous air-vents however breathability and comfort can be a trade-off if performance is more important.
Like the trend of the knitted Giro and Fizik cycling shoes, the insatiable thirst of cyclists for the new look and the newest tech will certainly continue to draw other brands to introduce adventurous materials and designs. As always, the trickle-down effect also means that the good tech eventually reaches the more affordable price brackets.