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Bontrager XXX Road shoes – review

Bontrager's footwear line-up is made up of no less than 13 shoes, kicking off with the £89.99 Hilo and rising to this, the £259.99 XXX Road. And it performs as you'd hope a flagship racing slipper with that kind of price tag would: light, with a close, easily adjustable and even fit, and a very stiff sole.

First let’s run through some of the features, then we’ll take a look at how they fare on the road. The upper is made from what Bontrager call Clarino microfibre, while the sole, as you’d only expect on a shoe of this price, is made from 100 per cent carbon fibre and gets full marks (14 out of 14) on Bontrager’s ‘Stiffness Index’. It’s the American firm’s lightest, stiffest sole to date.

Inside the shoe there’s an inForm footbed, which Bontrager say is engineered for all-day comfort and support, but they would, and there’s a no-slip heel lining. Closure comes by way of two BOA dials on the tongue and an additional velcro strap just above the toe box.

The XXX Road is the shoe you’ll most likely see on the feet of Bontrager’s sponsored riders – there are a fair few out there – and those riders typically demand three things from their footwear: low weight, a stiff sole and a comfortable fit. The performance-focused factors are all very well but are no good if the fit doesn’t work, particularly over the course of a three-week Grand Tour.

But Bontrager have got the XXX Road pretty much sorted in that regard. The Clarino upper is supple and so moulds to the foot well once it’s broken in after about 100 miles, if not as well as my go-to shoe, the Gaerne G.Chrono. This is mostly because the Clarino material, which is a little susceptible to scuffs if you’re not careful when putting a foot down, is a bit thicker. Because of that, I wouldn’t say the XXX Road is absolutely the most comfortable cycling shoe I’ve worn (Gaerne still win on that front), but it’s certainly up there. The XXX Road’s upper also has a single-piece construction, so there are no seams to potentially cause irritation. The tongue has enough padding to keep things comfortable, without unduly digging into the front of the foot if you crank up the BOA dials.

Speaking of which, the BOA dial seems to have established itself as the preferred closure mechanism on high-end shoes and that’s no bad thing. If you’re not familiar with the system, the dial offers a superb level of adjustment, tightening or loosening a wire which wraps around the front of the shoe. The micro-adjustment offered by the dial ensures you can really get the fit, erm, dialled in, and it’s easy to tighten things on the fly. The XXX Road’s BOA dials tighten clockwise on the right shoe, and anti-clockwise on the left shoe, which basically means you turn either dial towards the outside to tighten, and it’s all very intuitive. The BOA dials ensure an even fit across the front of the shoe and, to be honest, the velcro strap feels a little redundant given the close and finely adjusted fit that can be achieved with the dials, but it’s there all the same.

The inForm footbed has a fair amount of cushioning and I found it to offer a good level of support. However, Bontrager don’t supply the XXX Road with any alternative footbed options, as Giro and Shimano do on their top-end shoes. Still, I found the supplied footbed to be perfectly comfortable – contributing to the comfort of the shoes as a whole – though, as ever with shoe reviews, there is a degree of subjectivity to that as while our feet all look roughly the shape, there can be a fair amount of variation from one person to the other. The final thing to mention on fit is that the XXX Road comes up a little wider than normal, but not enough to warrant investigating another size. Oh, and there’s an anti-slip material on the inside of the heel cup to, you guessed it, stop your heel slipping, but it’s not something I’ve necessarily experienced with other shoes and shouldn’t really be a problem if the fit is right. On the outside of the heel the Bontrager logo is reflective, which is a neat touch.

On to the sole and it’s exceptionally stiff, achieving the top score on Bontrager’s in-house scale. Put the power down and the XXX Road won’t let you down. After all, if it’s stiff enough for Fabian Cancellara and Frank Schleck, then it’s certainly stiff enough for the rest of us, as long, of course, that you like and want your sole to be as rigid as can be. The sole also has three vents, to go with the two vented panels on the toe box, and these five vents combine to ensure the XXX Road offers a really good level of air flow, which is appreciated on warmer days. There are also heel and (replaceable) toe bumpers on the sole for when you’re walking off the bike.

As for weight, Bontrager claim 220g per shoe for the XXX Road in a size 42, and our size 43 samples came in at just under 500g for the pair, so they’re pretty much on the money. The XXX Roads aren’t the lightest shoes on the market – for example, the Giro Empire SLX weighs a claimed 175g per shoe, though laces are inevitably lighter than BOA dials – but they’re plenty light enough. The XXX LE Road shoes are the lightest in the Bontrager range, dropping to a 195g per shoe, thanks partly due to the fact they swap the BOA dials for three velcro straps. The final things to mention about the XXX Road is that the shoes are also available in white, as well as the white option here.

Conclusion

The Bontrager XXX Road shoes tick the key boxes as far as flagship footwear goes, thanks to a combination of low weight, a super-stiff sole and a close, comfortable and easily-adjustable fit. This is a pro-level shoe – and that comes with a pro-level price tag.

Pros

– Low weight
– On-the-fly adjustment
– Exceptionally stiff sole

Cons

– No footbed options

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