Review: Bontrager XXX Shoes

“Not only do these shoes ‘feel’ fast – in the sense that you can indeed feel them not flexing – they also give you a very secure and connected feel on your pedals.”

When it comes to XC riding and racing, it’s all about getting the power transferred from your legs, through your feet, and into the pedals. But – there’s a critical link in that chain that can make a massive difference: shoes.


Having a stiff shoe that won’t flex under the massive power that you’ll be generating as you sprint off the line, is vital to achieving good results. But there’s more to it than just a stiff platform – the whole shoe needs to be comfortable too, so getting the form and shape of the shoe ‘last’ is essential when creating footwear around the additional goals of being both lightweight and flex-free.

The XXX shoes are Bontrager’s top-of-the-line XC race shoes. And kind of like their name suggests, they are a bit racey. The XXX’s key features include a 100% OCLV carbon sole – that is extremely lightweight and stiff for efficient power transfer; dual independent BOA dials for precise, zone- specific fit adjustments; and their ‘inForm Pro’ last that delivers an ergonomically optimized and high-performance fit.


Out of the box, the Nautical Navy/ Radioactive Pink version that we tested was, well, eye-catching, to say the least – perhaps a little too much so for some, but they are also available in a plain black on black. Slipping them on and dialing up the Boa retention system, they felt just right in terms of sizing, and the Boa system gave a nice even tension across the top of my foot. I run a size 44 shoe normally, and these felt true to that. I would say I have a wider than normal foot and, somewhat surprisingly, these still felt spot on.

Walking around, it was clear that these shoes are meant to do business; they are extremely stiff. Bontrager rate their shoe’s stiffness on a scale of 1 to 14 and, as you might have guessed, these are a 14. Having never owned or tested an XC race shoe of this calibre, I was really impressed with how they felt to ride. Not only do they ‘feel’ fast – in the sense that you can indeed feel them not flexing – they also give you a very secure and connected feel on your pedals. On the bike, I was really impressed by just how comfortable they were.


My expectation of a shoe like this was that they would be light and stiff at all costs – maybe even at the expense of some comfort – but that wasn’t the case at all. They have ample padding in all the right places.


At the same time, there isn’t padding where you don’t need it and the shoe uppers themselves feel thinner than other more casually oriented shoes; I found this makes them breathe well, as well as dry out rapidly.


After a few rides, I had an opportunity to really put them through their paces on the Old Ghost Road. Surely 86km would be a real test for these! By the end of the day, I truly had put them through their paces, and did find just one or two areas worth noting. The underside of the shoe has a very thin layer of what I assume to be paint, on the carbon sole. After the numerous times we had to get off and walk on the OGR, as well as descending the significant rock staircase of the Skyline Steps, the paint on the sole was fairly trashed. Not only that, walking down the rock stairs I became aware that these really are indeed not walking shoes. The centre area under your arch, on the outer sole, is the aforementioned painted carbon and this offers very little grip. There is a little patch of rubber in this area, but walking down the rock staircase with my bike on my shoulders, over uneven ground – often standing on this carbon patch – the underneath of my arch felt fairly treacherous. Also, the rubber Tachyon tread on the front half of the sole is OK but, if I could have my way, it would be a softer, grippier compound to give you some more confidence in these situations. Obviously, these shoes are meant for XC racing which, generally, doesn’t involve a lot of hike-a-bike, so to be fair I was probably using them outside their intended use. But the reality is, a lot of consumers will use these for much more than just racing. Speaking of rocks, what I was happy about was the GnarGuard coating that surrounds the toe box, after the OGR and a number of other rocky rides, the toe box still looks in great nick – so, even though the soles are well scratched, for the most part you don’t see that and the uppers look great. Our ride was 10+ hours and at about the nine hour point I started to get some pain in the centre of my foot but, again, that was probably due to using these beyond their intended use. The inner soles are quite thin, so better insoles with a little more support is something I would look into for the longer term. On the whole, I was really impressed with their comfort over the whole day.


At $599 the XXX’s are a premium price, but they are also – undoubtedly – a premium shoe that will be appealing to a lot of riders looking for a stiff, light, fast shoe to tear up the race track this summer. •



REVIEW: LANCE PILBROW

DISTRIBUTOR: TREK NZ

RRP:$599