Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Product Review: Bontrager XXX MTB Shoes

Although the main focus of my blogging is to provide race reports from a racer's view, along with some training tips, I was keen to add another area to the blog this year: product reviews.  I've been using some of the same nutrition, clothing and equipment for years, and also get the chance to try new stuff every now and again.  I therefore thought it might be useful if I provide my honest views on some of these products, whether that's first impressions or to explain why I always go back to the same products.  Whether it's for their performance in races or their durability in the many hours of training I do, I hope this is of some use to other mountain bike riders out there, whether or not you race.  If there are any products I use that you'd particularly like to hear about, just let me know.

One thing I want to make clear though is that these reviews are absolutely not biased just because I ride for a Trek Bicycle Store.  I obviously use a lot of Trek and Bontrager products because of that, but it won't just be Trek/Bontrager products I review.  Where it is, like this first review, I can guarantee it will be my honest unbiased views and they won't just receive 10/10 because they have the word Trek or Bontrager printed on them!

So, onto this first review of . . . 

Bontrager XXX MTB Shoes

Never have I seen a pair of cycling shoes more befitting of the term "disco slippers"!


The Bontrager XXX MTB Shoes sit at the top of the Bontrager range.  They describe them as their "fastest, most advanced mountain shoe ever".  Well, I can't guarantee they made me faster, but they definitely look fast!

Styling

Let's get the superficial bit out of the way first!  I'm not exactly shy of the fact I like to make sure I'm coordinated on the bike.  Whether it's my red and white helmet matching my red/black/white kit or the red/white of my Oakley sunglasses frame, I'm not going to deny I couldn't resist the bright red!  

I think they look fantastic, but the shiny bright red may not be everyone's cup of tea, so they are also available in black or white.  You may not think white is the best choice of MTB shoe colour, but if they clean up as well as my red ones do, then you've nothing to worry about.

This is how they looked after my first race in them at the BCXC Series Round 1 at Sherwood Pines, and they cleaned up looking brand new afterwards with a bit of soapy water and a good spray with the hose.  It's also worth pointing out that they dried very quickly too, as there's not much material in them to get soaked through with the water, whether during riding or cleaning.

The Clarino microfibre upper probably helped with this quick drying as well as the light weight and hopefully will prevent them being too smelly after a good bit of use on my feet!

Fit and Sizing

I've lost toe nails from wearing tight cycling shoes in 24 hour races, and I don't feel I have the widest feet or toes.  When I'm measured up for ski boots I'm usually a medium width.  These shoes have loads of room in the toe box, which admittedly some people with narrower feet may not like, but it suits me perfectly.  If you've ever had that horrible crushing feeling in your toes from wearing cycling shoes for too long, then I don't think you'll ever experience that with these.  I've moved from Northwave shoes to these and I find the toe area far more comfortable.  As with most MTB shoes, there's a strap for the toe section, but you don't need it too tight thanks to the dials on the uppers.

Although there's plenty of room in the toe box, this does not sacrifice the fit elsewhere in the shoe.  The two Boa IP1 dials on each shoe help you get the perfect fit over the top of the foot and the adjustment is easy on the fly if you feel you need to adjust them either way while pedalling - they click in and out like the dials you find on the back of most helmets these days.  


I find them a snug, high performance fit but without being uncomfortable.  I didn't feel any seams digging in anywhere.  The heel is gripped incredibly well, to the point that I genuinely can't move my heel out of the shoe no matter how hard I try (when it's fully fastened up with the dials).

The InForm in-sole also provides a surprising amount of support considering it's not too thick.  I tend to pronate in both running and cycling shoes and need a good bit of support to prevent a recurring calf injury from years ago coming back.  At first I didn't think these shoes had enough support for me but after a few rides it's clear that they do.  I will report back once I've done some longer (4 hours plus) rides on them, but so far so good.

In terms of sizing, I'm usually a UK size 8 in most shoes and this equates perfectly in the EU 42 size from Bontrager.  I wouldn't recommend going up or down a size as is often the case with some cycling shoes to get the right fit.

Performance

This is absolutely where these shoes excel.  Assuming you're happy with the fit and the looks, I just can't fault the performance.  They come with the stiffest carbon sole available from Bontrager (stiffness index 14).  I can't bend the sole at all (and no, it's not because I'm just a weakling! :-)

I thought my previous shoes were stiff, but I feel as if my leg and foot are actually just part of the pedal and crank with these on.  You can feel the power transfer so smoothly from your leg, through your foot and onto the pedal.  I've tested these in MTB training, MTB racing and on my turbo trainer so far, and in all circumstances, they just feel so secure, stiff and powerful.

I'm not going to claim that they make me faster, but when it comes to power transfer on a steep climb, I'm absolutely certain they do make a difference - especially if you're into your marginal gains!

They're also extremely light (317g per shoe with a size 42) so you hardly feel like you're wearing them.  Despite the lack of material to lead to this low weight, they are still comfortable, and as mentioned above this helps them dry out quickly too.  They have good venting at the toes but I've yet to use them in very hot weather so can't comment on how hot my feet might get in them.

I had to run through a lot of gloopy mud in some of the unrideable sections at Sherwood a couple of weeks ago and the soles gripped well, despite the lack of toe spikes provided in the box.  They take a set of spikes but for some reason Bontrager no longer provide them with their shoes.  At the price (RRP £259.99) I'd expect a small thing like this to be provided.

The only other area I would fault is I'm not sure how durable the rubber sole will be.  In the Tour de Ben Nevis later this year, there's a section where I need to "hike a bike" over rocks for about 30 to 40 mins and it's making me consider whether or not I'll wear them for this race.  I'm not sure the rubber sole will take that kind of abuse.  But I guess it's a compromise between performance/lightweight and durability.


So, to summarise, they are the stiffest, best performing mountain bike shoe I've ever worn and I would highly recommend them for any XC racer.  The only things preventing me from giving them full marks is skimping on the toe spikes and the question I have over the durability of the rubber sole.

Overall rating: 9/10


1 comment:

  1. The rubber sole is not very durable. I wore my XXX shoes for one prior season of US CX racing, with relatively little running compared to Europe. The treads looked fine when I lined up for my third race in these shoes this season, but the tread on the outside of the left shoe came completely off during the race, which had one soft run-up and a 6 barrier running section. No replacment tread available and no warranty repair, so now the shoes are unusable for CX, but maybe could still be used for trail riding on the MTB.

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