In November of 2011 I received my Bontrager RXL Mountain Bike shoes. Their arrival was officially about 2 weeks following the close of the summer riding season on the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails. This meant the RXL's would have their first test during the winter fat bike riding season.
Let's back up a bit. These are the first cycling specific shoe I've ever purchased. My expectations of the shoe comfort and quality at the time of purchase was a rigid, tight, and uncomfortable shoe, much like an alpine ski boot.
I'm glad to report this was not the case. Right out of the box these shoes fit comfortably. Not too tight, not too loose, and never once did my feet start feeling numb due to pressure points.
Prior to purchasing these shoes I rode with summer hiking shoes. I had no idea the ride would be this much better just by changing shoes and pedals.
Back to winter riding.
From December 2011 through March 2012 the RXL's were tested as my winter cycling shoes. Thankfully my feet were always warm and toasty, all the way down to 20 degrees F. Only once this past winter did I ride when it was colder than 20 degrees. That night it was 5 degree F. Tingly toes 20 minutes into the ride. I needed to keep wiggling my toes to keep them from become frozen toesicles. The other item to note is if you stand on the snow pack, your feet will get cold much more soon. Stay off the snow, feet stay warmer.
My reason for purchasing these shoes wasn't for winter cycling, that's just what happened as I wasn't impressed with the lack of winter cycling shoes currently on the market. My hope for winter 2013 is that 45NRTH comes on strong with a new release of winter specific cycling shoes. My theory with 45NRTH is, if you're going to make fat bike winter tires, make the shoes to ride the fat bike. Bring it 45NRTH, bring it. (I'll gladly test a pair too, call anytime...)
A great benefit of wearing these Bontrager RXL shoes first in the winter was the 3 months of snow (soft) riding to become familiar with clipping in, and clipping out. Literally, it took every day of the 3 months for me to understand how to clip out. I remember once when I was going up hill, I ran out of speed, my Big Fat Larry tire slipped on the snow, I went down, my foot didn't clip out of the pedal, my shoulder hit first, and I tucked my shoulder and barrel rolled my bike over the top of my body and rolled the bike almost back to the upright postion. I was thankful for the snow pack to soften that blow and make it pain free, and laughable.
During a winter ride I also learned one weakness of the shoe in my opinion. The micro tension buckle. I broke the buckle the first time this year when myself and Nick Statz rode the Yawkey Unit right before the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout. This was a morning where we had 4+ inches of fresh powder. On the way down Bobsled my tires slipped on a burm, my side of my shoe grazed the face of a rock, the buckle on the shoe shattered. This made the shoe ineffective as from that moment on the only two straps usable were the two velcro straps, which basically only kept the shoe on my foot.
Just last week I broke another buckle while riding Chute on the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails. This time, no fall, just brushing up against the rocks with my shoe in a tight spot on the trail. I was starting to wonder, either a rider is to never fall, or touch anything with their feet, or these plastic buckles are not long term minded. Either way, I thought I would send Bontrager a note to let them know about the situation. Below is their response.
Thanks for writing. Yes, the binder buckles on the shoes are made of plastic for weight savings and cost, but also this piece is designed to break off if it is impacted against a rock - a metal part may dig into and cause damage to the shoe or your foot, and a permanent one may render the shoes unusable in such an incident. The basic buckle replacements are about $4.99, but we also have the Micro-release ones that are about $19.99 if you prefer these. If this continues to happen frequently, it would be our recommendation to pick up a spare or two to carry in your hydration pack or saddle bag so you do not need to limp home should it happen again.
William Rand | Trek Bicycle Corporation | Technical & Customer Services Representative | 801 W. Madison St, Waterloo, WI 53594
After reading the response I understand, I'd rather have a buckle break than destroy the shoe, or injure my foot. But part of me still says "really?" The questioning side of me comes from my alpine skiing days. On a ski boot you have at least 4 buckles, they get bashed on rocks all the time but still keep trucking along. Granted, no one wants the bulk of a ski boot or a full metal clasp on a bike shoe, but this concept of the micro tension buckle still feels pretty cheap to me on a $275.00 shoe. Purchasing $20.00 replacements each time starts to add up as well, odd, not sure I'm on board with this design.
As for stiffness and power, I have zero complaints. My power and strength pedaling in this shoe is night and day from everything I have experienced prior. I can ride up hills that last year kicked my tail. Part of this is better conditioning this year, but the other factor is I can pull up on my pedals on the uphills instead of just pushing down.
I'm pretty sure I need to move back the adjustment on the bottom of the shoe though, after 3 or 4 hours of riding my right knee starts to hurt. I'm thinking with the adjustment so far to the front of the shoe I'm placing more stress on my knee. Moving the clip back will allow my calf and hamstring to take more of the burden. This is my theory, if the clouds go away tomorrow I'll give it a try on my ride. As you can see from the picture below, the hills of Cuyuna leave a mark on a cycling shoe.
The sole of the RXL MTB is carbon, all I know about this is these shoes are light. Which I suppose is good, however, when I have about 40 pounds to loose to be my ideal weight I always question how much weight reduction really matters on components.
The other nice feature of these shoes is the interior rear of the shoe, where your achilles tendon and heal rest. The material is super tacky. Not tacky wet, but tacky dry, like the pokey side of velcro, tacky that keeps the shoe stuck to your sock. Meaning the shoe stays attached to my heal really well when riding. A fun material, works good too.
My advice to anyone who rides a few times a week is to purchase mountain bike specific shoes designed for clipless pedals. Well worth the investment considering what else you could purchase for under $500.00 in this sport. (pedals and shoes included) I can't think of anything else component wise that will give you this big of a performance bang in terms of return on investment. Well worth it, do it now.
Unmatched Local Bike Shop Customer Service
Today I dropped in to Easy Riders in Brainerd today to pick up a new micro-fit buckle for these shoes that I placed on order last week. To my surprise the owner, Kenn Shepherd handed me two new micro buckles and said, "No charge Aaron." Totally unexpected and totally undeserved. Thank you Kenn! Awesome to be surprised by customer service, completely blew my mind, once again, further proof of why I love riding Trek and Bontrager all summer long in the Cuyuna Lakes.
Strengths: Stylish, Lightweight, Comfortable and easy to customize with the In-Sole that is heat moldable at home without a special oven.
Weaknesses: None that I have found yet.
This is my first high-end mountain bike shoe and I get what the hype is about. If you are looking for a comfortable, light shoe that performs very well this is the shoe for you.
a All Mountain Rider
from Port Townsend, WA, USA
Date Reviewed: February 23, 2012
Strengths: Weight, strength, stiffness, ease of use.
Weaknesses: eSoles availability
I purchased the 2011 version of the RXL on close-out through my local bike shop so they were heavily discounted. For 2012, Bontrager has redesigned the shoe slightly, adding several replaceable parts and a pretty sweet little bit that allows the heal to be custom formed around the rider's ankle. It looks like the main strap remains the same, which is good because it's a very user-friendly system.
This is my first shoe with a carbon sole, but it didn't take too long to see what I was missing. The shoe fits really well, is easily adjusted, and has stood up to abuse for 3 months of riding 5 days a week through some pretty nasty conditions. My main concern was the durability of the main strap, but it has continued to perform flawlessly.
While it isn't a big issue if your foot instantly feels great in the shoe, the eSole system isn't exactly a great system for a mass marketed shoe. The system requires you to have your feet scanned at a certified center, the closest of which is 3 states away for me. While for me the shoe fit great out of the box, I'm wondering if I'm missing anything every time I put them on. Still, since they work well for me, money well spent on the close-out deal.
If you're looking for a great shoe on close-out, go for the 2011 model. If you're the kind of rider that really likes the latest bells and whistles, I'd go for the 2012 if you can swing the price tag. Word to the wise: my black ones still look nice and fresh after a cleaning, my buddies white ones aren't so fortunate.
Similar Products Used: Sidi shoes, Shimano shoes, Diadora shoes
Bike Setup: Stumpjumper FSR using Crank Brothers pedals.
a Weekend Warrior
from Raleigh, NC, USA
Date Reviewed: January 15, 2012
Strengths: Fit, Comfort, Weight
Good, comfortable road shoe for Weekend Warriors (Light weight but good tred in case you end up off road). I have a few scrapes from some minor falls so I can understand some concerns from those doing some serious mountain biking.
These shoes are comfy but they aren't holding up well at all. On the second ride with them, we had to do a long hike-a-bike section that was really rocky. I've done this ride before with other shoes so I have something to compare it to. They were ok for walking (something I can't say about all carbon soled shoes) but they were really ripped up from rubbing rocks by the end of the day. I've never had a pair so shoes do this on this trail. Since then I've continued to used them and they are falling apart at the front. I think this is a case of Bontrager using the same upper on the road shoe as the mountain shoe and for mountain biking other than your typical XC circuit where your shoes never touch the ground they just don't stand up.
Similar Products Used: diadora, sidi, answer, specialized, vitoria
Bike Setup: they're shoes so who cares what my bike setup is
from StLouis, MO
Date Reviewed: May 26, 2009
Strengths: Stiff as all getout, no goofy buckles, light, cheaper than others
Weaknesses: with my low volume feet, these are like wearing galoshes! Sidis always fit very well...narrow last, low volume shoe...these are much bigger. I added an insert underneath the footbed, and i still have the velcro pulled to the limits.
Great shoes, careful about the fit for narrow/skinny feet. If they fit well (think generic shimano fit) these are superb mtb shoes.
Similar Products Used: Sidi, DMT, Northwave, Shimano
Bike Setup: Kona Kula Supreme, XTR, SID
a Cross Country Rider
from Rochester, NY, USA
Date Reviewed: April 28, 2009
Strengths: Super stiff, adjustable
Weaknesses: Tread pattern
I got these to replace a pair of Sidi Dominator 5's I misplaced. When replacing parts (I'll consider shoes a "part"), I almost never downgrade. While these were nearly $70 cheaper than the Dominators (msrp, I needed shoes THAT DAY!), they are in no way a downgrade. Super stiff soles are considerably stiffer than the Dominators--these feel more like high-end road shoes with some tread on the bottom--mostly a good thing, but some bad (see below).
My only complaint thus far is with the tread. Under the ball of the foot, there are two rail-like treads that have almost no texture to them. These treads are very stiff, and without texture, they are pretty slick--think skis. The rails also serve to trap mud right where it matters most--around the cleats. I rode the Dominators for 3 years, so I know what stiff-treaded MTB shoes are like--the RXL's unfortunately are worse in this area. I may take a dremel to my "rails" to make some home-made texture...
To summarize, I'm p*ssed that I lost my Dominators, but consider the RXL's to be an upgrade.
from Menomonee Falls, WI
Date Reviewed: April 4, 2009
Strengths: Weight,Fit, Stiffness,comfort right out of the box
Weaknesses: Somewhat short velcro straps.
I was a bit skeptical of such a new shoe and have been very happy with Sidi. Even side by side I still thought I like Sidi better. 3 hour hammer ride and after 5 minutes I forgot these were on my feet. When I started paying attention I realized they are more comfortable and stiffer than the Sidis.
Well done first effort durability is of course yet to be determined however, I am very pleased so far.
a Cross Country Rider
Date Reviewed: March 29, 2009
Strengths: weight,looks,comfort,super stiff
Weaknesses: road shoe feel when walking.
The shoes are great for a 1st-time mtb rider like me. Feet didn't hurt while I was wearing it. I'm purely a roadie-maybe I'm bias about the comfort. Love the looks when I first saw it. Love the sole! Doesn't look bulky when you wear it just like road shoes. Not sure about the traction when walking--too little spikes compared to other mtb shoes and it feels like a roadbike shoe when you walk it. But value & everything else is awesome.