Review: Bontrager RXL Mountain Bike Shoes
The first pair of Bontrager shoes I received a couple years ago had a bulky plastic size adjustment for the main strap protruding from the inside edge, which rubbed through several layers of carbon on a brand new set of X0 cranks in just one ride. This was quite unfortunate, because the construction and materials were otherwise good, and they were quite comfortable. They ended up resigned to being worn only when riding with alloy cranks, and this feedback was relayed to Tom Kuefler, Bontrager’s soft goods product manager.
When the new version came out, I was happy to see that the sizing adjustment had become quite a bit more streamlined while also adding a broader range of adjustment. It’s still plastic, but it hasn’t seemed to rub my cranks the wrong way. It does seem that some of the bulk, though, is hidden inside between the upper and liner, though, which I felt just below and in front of my inside ankle bone.
So, did the new RXL shoes simply trade one problem for another, or did they redeem themselves? Read on and see…
We weighed these and laid out the tech specs in this post, but the short of it is this: They use Bontrager’s silver series carbon sole built around their InForm Pro last. The upper is a microfiber material all the way around but with various thicknesses and textures as needed to provide a little protection from scuffs and bumps. The outsole is well lugged with removable toe spikes. The tongue is well padded and comfy. There are two Velcro straps on the forefoot with a padded micro-adjust buckle for the main strap.
The micro adjust buckle uses two separate release levers, each with teeth slightly offset allowing you to press one at a time to slightly open up the strap in small increments. To fully release, depress both simultaneously. It’s easy to use, even for full removal with just one hand.
The lugs have held up well. They’re very firm, but have worked well enough on the few hike a bike sections I’ve had to do in them, and the two main ones are replaceable should your pedals wear through them. The carbon sole is plenty stiff for racing, but are still walkable. On a couple of occasions I had to soft pedal before clipping in and the diamond pattern on the carbon did a surprisingly decent job of not slipping around until I could get locked back into position.
Now, about that buckle adjustment. This could have very easily been the deal killer for these shoes. The first time I wore them, it dug into the side of my foot pretty hard. Not break the skin hard, but uncomfortably hard. The kind of uncomfortable that if I had tried them on in the store, I probably would have looked elsewhere and not bought them. But, being that my cleats were already installed and I tend to be a) a creature of laziness for short spells, b) I figured I should give them at least a few rides before calling Tom and c) most of my rides start with me rushing out the door because I’m already late to meet up with friends and there’s no time to swap cleats, they ended up with quite a few miles on them before long.
And then a funny thing happened. All of a sudden, I was riding along and realize there wasn’t anything pressing into the flesh in front of my ankle anymore. In fact, the shoes were downright comfortable!
The included insoles have a small “button” pad that’s replaceable/swappable, which is part of the arch support cushion. The insoles are heat moldable to custom fit to your foot. Whether this made a real difference in the comfort or not, I don’t know.
The toe box is spacious without being overly roomy. I never felt any hot spots or discomfort caused by too tight a fit.
The heel cup is very nice. Not only is it vented, but the metal band is easily bent to fit your Achille’s tendon. Combine that with the directional, non-slip material on the inside and your foot feels very secure. I didn’t feel any heel slippage, even when pulling up on the pedals or hiking a steep section.
My testing has been through the late fall, warmer winter days and up to this post, so there haven’t been any scorchers to test if they will get too hot in the summer. I suspect not, but wanted to mention it.
The white microfiber upper has deflected our local orange clay, mud and scuffs well. It hasn’t stained, and they wash pretty clean with a simple hose scrub.
Overall, they’ve become one of my favorite shoes. Mavics are the others at the moment, if you’re wondering. They’re holding up well, are reasonably lightweight and I’m able to put the power down without sacrificing comfort or walkability. Now that the inner bulge seems to have gone away, there’s really nothing I dislike about them. Plus, it’s hard to argue with white.