Road shoe brands have been in the middle of a weight war. The lightest designs with ratchet closures from the likes of Bont, Sidi and Fi’zi:k have nudged just under 600g (size 45), while Velcro-only models from Giro and Mavic are closing in on 500g. This shows how impressive the new Bontrager RXXXL shoes are – at 520g they’re the lightest ratchet-closure shoes we’ve tried.
Using their ‘ZeroXS’ approach – trimming weight and reducing material where possible – Bontrager have redesigned the whole of the shoe’s upper as one piece, with just one seam at the back of the toe box, and the tongue integrated into the instep side.
The mesh toe top aids cooling, as do the punched perforations throughout the upper, but even more ventilation is achieved through the unique mesh matrix translucent heel cup.
It’s obviously super-light, but we had reservations about it being a bit too cold for our mild climate. However, part of the test included a trip to the south of France and climbing a couple of cols in late February, and even with low temperatures and snow-capped summits, we found the RXXXLs were fine.
As the mesh is pretty much rear facing it’s almost immune to wind chill, and though we wouldn’t necessarily recommend them for the depths of winter, we were pleasantly surprised by how well the Bontragers coped.
The weight loss only really extends to the uppers, as Bontrager have stuck with their proven Platinum level carbon sole: a highly rigid platform with a stepped-down cleat plate flowing into three mid-foot bars (called Powerwave).
A decent sized bumper protects the toe, and the heel cup flows into two big heel protectors. The stiffness of the sole is apparent as soon as you start to ride – as impressive as any we’ve tried. We also like how much protection the heel and toe sections provide when you’re off the bike.
The ratchet and twin Velcro straps offer plenty of adjustment, but we did need to take more care on tensioning the ratchet – because of the offset tongue it’s easy to create a pinch point by over-tightening. Once we got the knack of it, though, it’s as comfy as a traditional shoe, with the ‘cat’s tongue’ material inside the heel cup making it as secure as it is cosseting.
The ratchet does have a little side-to-side play at the handle, but it hasn’t got any worse and works perfectly – we would just expect a little better from a premium product.
This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.