Every shoe in this roundup is plenty stiff and efficient at transferring power to the pedals. The Bont Riot MTB is by far the stiffest in the bunch – notably stiffer than its rivals. The Bontrager XXX is another very stiff shoe, with Bontrager rating it as a 14 out of 14 on their own “Stiffness Index.” Fit issues helped rob some of that stiffness while pedaling, but if the shoe hugs your foot shape, making it is an excellent choice. The least stiff shoe is likely the Giro Empire, but it conforms so well to the rider’s foot that there is almost no power loss while pedaling.
There are a number of stars in this category. The Giro Empire, Specialized S-Works XC, and Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro are all incredibly comfortable shoes that fit our tester’s feet well. They all felt like a big sock, and when not specifically thinking about it, we completely forgot about them while riding, which in the end is the best you can ask for. The Specialized ships with a variety of inserts to further customize the fit. On the other side of the coin, our testers were not crazy about the fit of the Bont Riot MTB or Bontrager XXX. The cut of the Riot is very low, and the toe box seemed oddly shaped. Granted, they are heat moldable so the fit can be fully customized.
The star in this category was the Giro Empire. The lace-up design allows for infinite fine tuning which cannot be achieved with a BOA dial. Granted there is no quick adjustment, but the stiff upper of the shoe held the fit once they were tied, so it was not an issue. The Bont Riot lagged far behind it’s competition, using only a single BOA dial and Velcro strap.
Every shoe in this roundup is built to the highest standards, and we had no issues with any of the shoes during our testing period. We would expect that any of these shoes would last for many seasons.
The LG Copper T-flex is the star here. They were comfortable in a wide range of riding conditions, somehow consistently hitting the Goldilocks spot of never too hot nor too cold no matter the weather. The Coolmax insert is a wonder. The weakest performer here was the Giro Empire, which, given the thick upper to help keep the laces adjusted, is not very breathable. During summer riding days, the shoes would get fairly warm, especially given our black test pair. Every other shoe performed adequately in this category.
The world of high end mountain bike shoes has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. As the crop of shoes featured in this testing roundup shows, it is entirely possible to have a shoe that can do it all and do it all quite well. Stiff, efficient, comfortable, breathable and capable of standing up to years of abuse? Check.
There are certainly differences between each of the shoes, but we would be happy to ride any of them. The Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro stood out as the best of the best due to its ability to excel in each category.
Shoes are tested by riding a lot. Footwear is an often overlooked or forgotten part of the riding experience but it can have a huge impact on the enjoyment of any ride. Two of the most important testing criteria are fit and comfort. If a shoe fits poorly or is uncomfortable, performance will suffer. It is immediately apparent if a shoe fits well. The next most important criteria is stiffness and power transfer. Quality shoes are one of the best upgrades you can make to your ride. The stiffer and more efficient a shoe is, the less energy is wasted during the pedaling motion. The closure system (BOA, lace, Velcro, etc.) has a massive impact on efficiency and comfort. If the shoe does not stay adjusted or hold the rider’s foot in place, power is wasted.
Each shoe is assessed for any construction faults like poor stitching or bonding. The shoes are pushed hard during the testing period to see if they are durable enough to stand up to tough and demanding riders. Finally, breathability is assessed by riding in a variety of conditions.
To conduct this test the shoes were tested over a season of riding in Western Montana, on all types of trails, including plenty of hike-a-bike slogs and long days in the saddle. All of these shoes are very high quality and would serve people well for day-to-day riding, but after a season on the bike, we discovered a number of subtle differences noted in the summary below as well as the individual reviews.