Specialized S-Works Torch road cycling shoes: A sign of good things to come?

Whatever press embargo there was on Specialized’s new, range-topping S-Works Torch road cycling shoes, got lifted May 25th. Predictably, many cycling media outlets have talked about the underlying tech and changes from the S-Works 7 shoes of 2018, at least, or given their own reviews after logging saddle time on review samples.

Now, no new S-Works shoe of any sort is cheap, and these Torches follow that tradition at an MSRP of US$450 (~PhP23,570). Unless I dive into the bargain bins for these things a year or two later, they are just too rich for my blood. That said, Specialized has gone on record that the S-Works Torch shoes herald changes that will eventually trickle down to their cheaper models – which is why I think they’re worth talking about. It helps that I have their S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoes as a point of comparison.

So, what changes are Specialized introducing to their shoes going forward, starting with the S-Works Torch models?


Photo credit: BikeRumor.com/Specialized

Perhaps the headline item with these shoes is the added 4 mm of forefoot area, whereas previous “wide” shoe models kept the same sole and just added more upper material to accommodate wider feet. Manufacturers of road cycling shoes are finally recognizing that their wares need to match the actual feet of their customer base. Previous S-Works models were already quite good in this regard, but this improvement is welcome.


Photo credit: BikeRumor.com/Specialized

Once one of the big-ticket items on older S-Works shoes, the non-stretch synthetic fiber called Dyneema is now being phased out due to manufacturing and environmental concerns. Dyneema’s material properties made it impractical or even impossible to give shoes ventilation, so that is a direct benefit consequence to the S-Works Torch. The stretchy materials now used on the upper also give fit benefits for riders with bunions.

Somehow, Specialized is also better fine-tuning the fit and reducing upper material bunching with revised cable routing for the two Boa S3 dials per shoe, while throwing out the stubby Velcro strap on the forefoot used for volume control.


Left: S-Works 7 heel cup. Right: S-Works Torch heel cup.
Photo credit: James Huang/CyclingTips.com.

One of my favorite features on the S-Works 6 XCs was the unimpeachable heel hold at the back. That said, it was not universally liked, and basing off the data from their Retul bike-fitting service, it appears most riders benefit from the heel hold on the inboard side of the ankle. So Specialized basically sliced the heel cup in half.

Combined with a lower cut ankle, this should retain heel and ankle support without necessarily constricting. This is the part I’d like to test out for myself the most.


Impressively restrained branding even in this “Oak” colorway.
Photo credit: BikeRumor.com/Tyler Benedict

I am so hoping this trend extends outside of these shoes. The loud “S-WORKS” print and huge stylized S logos on many of Specialized’s footwear are embarrassing, bordering on juvenile at times. On these Torches you don’t necessarily have to resort to an all-white colorway to “hide” the garish branding.


So the S-Works Torch shoes are great and all, and it bodes well for the rest of the shoe lineup, but there are a few things I wish they can improve on.

It’s at this point where I will bring in a status update of my S-Works 6 XC shoes. I bought my pair heavily discounted after almost two years on the market, and proceeded to put on three years of use on them.

That very stiff carbon fiber outsole is still a great companion on rides and indoor trainer stints, so much so that Specialized still uses them in their current off-road-focused Recon line of shoes…pretty much unchanged from late 2017. Add that 4 mm forefoot width extension and it should be peachy.

Unfortunately the rest of the shoe hasn’t been quite as robust. Not that you would be able to tell from the outside; the S-Works 6 XCs arguably look used but not terrible…until you put them on.

Fitting these shoes on my feet betrays the lack of longevity. The leather-like material on the padded ankle collar has flaked off pretty badly where it faces my Achilles’ tendon. It’s a similar – maybe even worse – story on the tongue, which was the weakest point on this shoe to begin with. With the Boa dials tightened around my foot, the thin material on the tongue makes walking on polished tile floors and going down stairs an uncomfortable affair, further compounded by the hard tread blocks’ lack of grip. After three years of use, its inner lining layer has started to peel off in large swaths, which just exacerbates whatever issue is taken against the shoe’s tongue. It’s quite disappointing that it’s happening to these top-dog shoes, whereas a humbler, much cheaper offering from Shimano wears many more years of use much better.


How well the S-Works Torch’s design translates to other shoes from the big S remains to be seen, despite the trickle-down promise. Personally, their shoes are always worthy of serious consideration – not least because they are one of the few remaining holdouts that believes in a straight last design for their shoes.

I just hope the things last longer.

Specialized S-Works 6 XC shoes: Boa dial replacement

The Specialized S-Works 6 XC shoes have been part of my cycling shoe rotation for about a couple of years, and they’re my first pair with Boa dials as a retention mechanism. Over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed the top right Boa dial move through its travel with more resistance and less of its trademark ratcheting noise. One day, after concluding a ride on RGT Cycling, this particular Boa dial just gave up the ghost, refusing to release any more cable after giving me just enough slack to get the shoe off my foot.

“She’s dead, Jim.”

Further movement of the dial yielded no movement at the cable from this point on. This Boa dial was well and truly dead.

The previous day, I read on Steve Tan’s Hands On Bike blog about his own experience with replacing the Boa dials on his own pair of Shimano RX8 gravel kicks. Talk about timeliness!

While we both had Boa dials on our shoes, they used different types. His RX8 uses the much newer IP1 type, which has micro-adjustments in both tightening and loosening, and the pull-to-release function that removes all cable tension for easy removal of the shoe. My older S-Works 6 XC shoe uses the S2-Snap design, which doesn’t have the pull-to-release function but otherwise works the same way.

I make mention of this discrepancy in Boa dial types because this will become a factor in ordering replacement units from Boa themselves. As Steve mentions in his blog post, Boa dials have a lifetime warranty. If your shoe’s Boa dials malfunction or sustain damage, you can request free replacements. And they are indeed free; all you need to pay for is the minimal shipping cost if you order direct from them.

One thing to note: while the S-Works 6 XC has four Boa dials in total, two per shoe, Boa sent me just one pair of replacements – one for each shoe. Memory fails me and this might have been an oversight on my part. You might want to double-check your warranty order before proceeding.

After arriving at my doorstep, and having read through Steve’s post, I was mentally preparing to perform the “surgery” of replacing the malfunctioning Boa dial. On the IP1 dials, the procedure involves disassembly of the actual Boa dials with a tiny T6 Torx key that ships with the replacement kit. When I opened the instruction leaflet for the S2-Snap replacement knobs, however, there was no need for any tools apart from a flat-tipped screwdriver. The dials themselves don’t require threading and knotting of the cable either, having come pre-cabled and only needing the cables to be uncoiled from around the dial body.

On the S2-Snap Boa dials, replacement is much simpler and quicker. All you need to do is unhook the cable from its loops, and push down on this tab with the flat-tipped screwdriver. Doing so releases the entire S2-Snap dial from the shoe, cable and all. It’s all self-contained. Unlike with the IP1 dials, no part of the Boa dial mechanism is left on the shoe; all that remains is a plastic tab on a special round divot where the S2-Snap dial snaps into (pun intended).

That’s definitely not the normal kind of release for a Boa dial.
The doohickey you’ve been pushing with the flat-tipped screwdriver is the retaining tab for the Boa dial. It’s the only part that remains on the shoe.

Detail-obsessed folks perhaps won’t like how different the replacement dials look.

The S-Works 6 XC’s original dials have a smoke gray clear plastic layer showing the little springs and pawls working as you tighten or loosen the dial. These replacements are opaque, hiding the mechanism completely. Given that I had just one dial for each shoe, I figured the slight asymmetry is fine. I’ll save the left Boa dial for when I actually need it.

Correct alignment of the S2-Snap dial before it gets mounted.

Replacement is just the reverse of removal. Making sure that you have the correct side dial for the shoe (in this case, an “R” dial for my right shoe), you place the new dial into the divot, locating it with two tabs. One of these tabs nestles into the deeper side of the divot, while the other clicks into place on the shallower side and becomes the point you push the screwdriver tip with. Reroute the cable through the tongue and over its loops, and you’re done.

The clipless diaries, part 12: How incorrect cleat position on good shoes can be a painful lesson

I’ve already waxed lyrical about the Fizik Terra X4 Powerstrap gravel shoes on this blog, and they’ve been an easy favorite in my current shoe rotation due to their more relaxed and versatile design.

Unfortunately, the praise I had for these shoes was countered by the shooting pain I found on the ball of my left foot two days after my last ride at the time.

Friends suggested it might have been gout, but I quickly ruled it out based on the description of the symptoms and onset of pain usually associated with that dreaded disease. As the nights passed one by one, I noticed it was a very specific, peculiar sort of pain, the kind that manifested itself only when I tried to move my left big toe upwards. With more information at hand, I was able to narrow down the list of foot conditions until I found one that matched perfectly: sesamoiditis.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.org/Mikael Häggström


Describing this condition to another friend, his reply was that it was literally the first time he had “heard about our sesame seed bones.” Jokingly or not, this is an apt description of what sesamoid bones are, as they take their name from the Arabic word for sesame seed, and a reference to their general small size. These bones are usually embedded within tendons or muscles, and tend to act as pulleys, increasing the ability of tendons to transfer muscular forces. The largest sesamoid bone and the one most familiar to us is the kneecap, or patella, but most sesamoid bones are located in our hands and feet.

In the case of sesamoiditis, it is the sesamoid bone and its tendons under the ball of the foot (the metatarsophalangeal or MTP sesamoids) that become inflamed, or worse, fractured. In this sense, it’s mainly a form of tendinitis. Outside of cycling, it’s an injury common to ballet dancers, runners, and baseball catchers.

Within our sport, sesamoiditis can be exacerbated due to the repetitive motion of pedaling, coupled with the biomechanical “locking-in” of the feet which is characteristic of clipless pedals and shoes. The real flareup triggers, however, are a change in cycling footwear and cleat positioning. As it turns out, my case was a classic one that followed this exact trend.


The first consideration is in the shape of the shoe – particularly the shape of the last that it uses. In shoemaking jargon, the last is the foot form that determines the basic shape and structure of the entire shoe. In terms of cyclist fitment, you want to see if the shoe uses a straight last or a curved last.

The Specialized S-Works 6 XC shoes I use are constructed based on a straight last shape. How do I know this? You can trace a straight line from the heel of the shoe to its cleat pocket. I can confirm that this shoe works well biomechanically with my feet, and despite my complaints about the shoes, they are a pair I have not suffered sesamoiditis in.

By contrast, the Fizik Terra X4 Powerstrap shoes are built around a curved last. Trace one line from the heel, then another from the cleat pocket; notice how they meet in an angled junction in the middle of the shoe? This means these shoes are predisposed to cant your forefoot and toes slightly inward.

As a fundamental part of shoe construction, there’s not much you can do with the last shape of your shoes if you’ve already bought them. Going forward, last shaping will be important to check and compare before you buy your next pair. However, for shoes you have on hand, last shaping will play a role in how you determine your cleat positioning, which is the next thing to check – and arguably more important.

All cycling shoes are built to give the cleat a limited range of adjustment – fore and aft, and side to side. When setting up cleats on shoes by ourselves, we will tend to copy the cleat placement of any existing shoes onto our new shoes, which is usually a conservative and safe way of doing things. Unfortunately, if this is done without taking the shoes’ last shaping into account, this is where you can potentially consign your feet to the pain of sesamoiditis.

Your cleats may look correctly set up when viewed close-up…
…but a more holistic view says otherwise.

In my case, I failed to take into account just how far inward the cleat pocket was shifted because of the Terra X4’s curving lasts. Simply copying the S-Works 6 XC’s cleat position onto these shoes, I had actually set my cleats too far inboard – or too medial, in physiological terms. The Terra X4’s outsole tread design and cleat pocket positioning did not help things, either, as it was offset quite a ways inward as well, with wider tread blocks on the outboard (lateral) side.


I was sidelined from cycling and indoor training by sesamoiditis pain for a total of ten days. During that time, I noticed that as the days passed, I could walk and move about with a little less pain than the day prior. I was lucky my case was relatively mild; some people suffer with sesamoiditis pain for months or even years. In the meantime I was careful to shift my weight such that it was borne more by the outside of my left foot, instead of on the ball and big toe.

By day nine, the pain was pretty much gone. I was a little apprehensive getting back on the saddle though, as I could feel a little unsteadiness where my left foot’s sesamoid bones were. While the training furlough was appreciated at first, I had spent too much time idle at this point, so I took hex key to shoe and readjusted my cleat position.

This is about as close to the “known good” S-Works 6 XC cleat positioning as I can make it. Note how much straighter the cleat is now, relative to the entirety of the shoe.

This time, I looked at cleat position in a more holistic manner. Instead of just looking at the cleat pocket and matching things between shoes, I looked at how my feet would sit on the pedals instead, and used that as basis for adjusting the cleat position. To account for the peculiarities of the Fizik’s outsole, I pushed the cleat to the right pretty much as far as it would go, in order to center it on the actual shoe as a whole. As a final fix, I removed the Terra X4’s stock insoles with their fancy foam pads, and replaced them with the much stiffer Ergon Solestar IP3 units.

One thing I forgot to mention in the Terra X4 Powerstrap review: its stock insoles have this foam pad on the forefoot. In hindsight, they may have hidden the negative effects of my incorrect cleat position.

Then I rode the next day.


My maiden ride on the new setup was a 35 km stint on RGT‘s pancake-flat Tempelhof Airport (aka 8bar Criterium) course. I stopped once or twice to dial in small adjustments to the cleat position, but afterwards I finished this ride without any pain at all. I had even put in a few sprints and out-of-saddle efforts. Monitoring for pain the next day yielded zero pain, either.

As of this writing, I’ve had four days of riding on the improved cleat setup. I’ve ridden through both hillier routes and harder efforts on Tempelhof Airport, putting down more power and going longer, and the pain underfoot is nowhere to be found. Long may it continue.


  • If you can afford it, get yourself a bike fitting session. With some luck, you can avoid the painful shenanigans I had to go through, because I was feeling around in the dark dialing in my cleat setup and getting used to new footwear without a second pair of eyes to watch me.
  • When shopping for new cycling shoes, study them as much as you can. Look at the last shaping of your candidates, and make comparisons to a known good pair of your older shoes. On shoes built for two-bolt cleats, study the cleat pockets and how they’re shaped.
  • Set your cleat position in a more holistic manner, taking into account how your entire foot will sit on the pedals while clipped in. In my experience, it’s best to have cleats set up as central to the width of the foot as possible.