The lowdown: The most comfortable mountain bike “race” shoe I’ve ever used.
Pros: Stiff carbon sole, heat-moldable insole, replaceable lugs, and good value
Cons: White may not be the best color for a mountain bike shoe
If you come from the road side of cycling and you’ve had a precise fitting on your bike, jumping on a mountain bike can feel rudimentary. See, on the road I ride Speedplay pedals, some of the friendliest pedals made for riders with particular biomechanical needs. I like a bit of float, ride more heel-in on my left foot and use a lift between my right shoe and cleat. Accomplishing this using mountain bike pedals can be tricky. But with Bontrager’s RXL Mountain shoes, I’ve found comfortable, high-performance shoes that also allow me to meet all my fitting needs.
The most important feature for me, after the RXL’s comfortable fit, is the replaceable shoe lugs. Because I use a lift between my cleat and shoe, I was able to also lift the lugs the same amount and retain an excellent pedal/shoe interface. It took a bit of cobbling, but with longer bolts and some rubber gasket material, I raised the lugs to the perfect height.
Fit and Comfort
The inform insole’s arch support is removable and heat moldable. I never took the time, though as I had to add a bit of support. But the shape and placement of the stock arch support was perfect for me.
I like the buckle with its large range of adjustment and easy, on-bike micro release. On the anchor side, the whole buckle can shift into the shoe for smaller volume feet or extend for those of the larger feet persuasion. Two small buttons, when pushed simultaneously release the buckle, or can loosen the shoe when only pushing one.
The heel cup features a piece of aluminum to reinforce the area, but it can also be crimped by hand for a snugger fit or opened for a roomier feel. Bontrager calls it “Heel Trap.” I call it clever.
I’ve ridden my pair a lot this spring and summer with several 100-mile days and at the Dirty Kanza 200. I recently returned from a rainy three-day bikepacking trip in Utah and even with miles of hike-a-bike the shoes worked well. I did get a blister on my left heel, but that’s to be expected when pushing a loaded dualie up scree fields for hours on end in cycling shoes!
The RXL is available in black or white (I ordered myself a black pair to store away when I finally kill the white pair I’ve been wearing this year). While the white is starting to show use, they do wash easily and I routinely scrub them down when I wash my bikes.
I also like the robust material used over the toe, along the sides of the upper and over the heel cup. It protects the softer portions of the upper without adding too much weight.
Happily, Bontrager also offers a 30-day fit guarantee (on its shoes as well as its saddles and clothing). If you aren’t sold on the fit or function, return it to the location of purchase for an exchange or store credit (no refunds).
Pricing isn’t bad really, when you consider that this is Bontrager’s top-of-the-line shoe and runs $275. Specialized’s S-Works MTB are $360 and a pair of the ultra-chic Sidi Dragon 3s are a whopping $450.
According to Bontrager, updates are coming to make the even less expensive RL Mountain shoe ($150) fit more like the RXL. On the other end of the spectrum, Trek-sponsored mountain bikers have been spotted wearing what look like RXXXL road shoe uppers attached to mountain bike lasts. So a new high-end shoe is probably just around the corner.
For now, I’ll stick with the RXLs as my go-to offroad shoe. They are light, comfy and best of all, they accommodate my biomechanical needs, keeping my body happy for mile after mile of singletrack.