Review: Bontrager's Incredibly Stiff & Expensive XXX MTB Shoes

Oct 10, 2019
by Daniel Sapp  
Bontrager Triple X MTB


Bontrager's Triple X mountain bike shoe is their top of the line and most high-performance XC shoe. It's the shoe that their elite XC and cyclocross teams use in competition and it is available to mere mortals like us as well. The shoe is designed with light, stiff, and fast in mind and, according to Trek, offers a "no-compromise" performance.

However, we know that there's always a compromise. The Bontrager XXX shoes cost a wallet burning $400. They are available in sizes 36-48, including most half sizes and in an all black, white/azure, or the extra-loud nautical navy/radioactive pink shown here.
Triple X MTB Shoe Details
• OCLV Carbon outsole
• Boa IP1 Dials
• Reinforced toe box
• Ultra stiff (14/14 stiffness index)
• "Gnar-guard" toe box reinforcement
• Colors: black, white/azure, navy/radioactive pink
• 605g (pair, size 43.5)
• $400 USD
www.trekbikes.com


Bontrager Triple X MTB
The reinforced toe area is referred to as a "gnar-guard" and provides extra protection for kicking random rocks or a cyclocross barrier. It's also semi-flexible and doesn't feel overbuilt.
Bontrager Triple X MTB
The heel cup is externally molded and there's a "no-slip" heel lining to keep your foot in place.


Construction

The Triple X MTB shoe gets a 14 out of 14 on Bontrager's stiffness index, a number that's achieved thanks to the 100% OCLV carbon sole. The shoes have a reinforced toe and heel area, and there are Tachyon rubber lugs for traction and toe spikes for deeper mud and muck. The tongue of the shoe is an asymmetrical design that wraps around and over the top of the foot, from the medial to the lateral forefoot arch, for comfort. Additionally, there are neoprene flex points at the top of the tongue and the back of the shoe to help reduce pressure points.

As a high-performance shoe, the Triple X MTB is designed to fit snugly, and use Bontrager's inForm Pro last. Two Boa IP1 dials secure the shoes, with the Boa lacing routed in a way that distributes the pressure evenly, and not just on the top of the foot.


Bontrager Triple X MTB


Performance

The Triple X MTB shoes are undoubtedly stiff. They are on par with some of the stiffest road bike shoes I've ever used, and the power transfer from them into the pedals is very apparent. What stands out with them is how well they fit and how little they slip. With my foot being slightly narrow and a little bit lower volume, finding a shoe that forms and contours to my foot can be a challenge, but the Triple X worked well, although I did end up swapping out the stock insoles in order to increase the comfort level - more on that in a bit.

Stiff shoes also tend to slip more than a less stiff shoe due to the rigidity of the sole, but I had no issues with that while wearing the Triple X. The sizing of the shoes is spot on in comparison to other shoes I've worn, and the size 43.5 I tested is comparable to a 43.5 from Specialized.

The shoes offer up ample toe protection, and I never felt as if I was going to have an issue from any rock strikes or toe hits on the trail. The tread spacing on the shoe presented no issues in clipping into a Shimano SPD pedal and walking/hike-a-biking in the shoes is tolerable, although I would probably not opt to run a marathon in them. The shoes offer a decent amount of ventilation and are comfortable to wear on short and long rides alike. They do not tend to get soggy or retain water more than they should and dry fairly quickly after becoming soaked.


Bontrager Triple X MTB
The insole from the factory (left) and Bontrager's inform BioDynamic Superfeet collab insole (right).

Bontrager Triple X MTB
The Superfeet insole (left in this photo) is available in different levels of arch support. The "2" is ideal for my foot and similar to the mid-support insoles offered by other brands such as Specialized.
Bontrager Triple X MTB
The difference in quality of construction of the two insoles is huge. Including a higher quality insole from the start would be a big step up and something that should be standard in a $400 shoe.


Issues

The stock insoles in the shoes are pretty basic and uninspiring, but Bontrager does make an aftermarket insole in collaboration with Superfeet. Fortunately, I had a pair on hand and threw them in after a number of rides and some discomfort. That did the trick, and once the switch was made I had no further issues.

It's understandable that a shoe insole is a personal choice and a lot of riders, especially those using a higher-end shoe such as the Triple X, are already going to have an insole that they are happy with that they may transfer over. I do believe, however, that if you're spending even half of what these shoes cost, they need to come with a little bit higher quality insole as it can make a huge difference in ride quality out of the box. Yes, it's a small thing to complain about, and it's not a deal-breaker, but it's important.

According to the team at Bontrager, "We recognize most riders at this price point prefer their own custom solution, similar to the running industry, for that perfect fit. For those that don’t have one already, we offer the Superfeet aftermarket option since they are the best. Plus it’s hard to determine the most common foot type is (high arch vs low arch) out of the box."

The only other qualm I have is that although there is pretty good traction from the lugs on the tread, it's lacking when it comes to grip on rocks, especially when they're wet. A softer rubber would offer a lot more traction and confidence when dealing with hazards.
Bontrager Triple X MTB
A different rubber compound on the bottom of the shoe could provide better traction when off the bike.


SW Recon
Specialized S-Works Recon
Bontrager Triple X MTB
Bontrager Triple X MTB


How Do They Compare?

Trek vs Specialized...a long time favorite match up. Both the S-Works Recon from Specialized and Bontrager's Triple X MTB shoe are top-notch performers. The Bontrager shoe is slightly stiffer, but it's lacking in the off-the-bike traction department, and the stock insoles could be better.

Specialized's Recon shoe has a lot more traction off the bike and a better rubber for getting about without feeling as if you're skating on ice, but I found its overall comfort, while good, isn't up to the same level as Bontrager's Triple X. The Recon also comes with a better insole and is pretty wearable right out of the box for most riders.

Which shoe is for you? Weigh the benefits of each for yourself and your riding style while remembering that it's going to be difficult to go wrong with either if you're looking for a top of the line, minimal compromise XC shoe.


Pros
+ Ultra light
+ Ultra stiff
+ Excellent fit and comfort
Cons
- Poor off the bike traction
- Budget insoles need upgrading
- The price



Pinkbike's Take

bigquotesThe Triple X MTB shoes deliver an extremely high level of stiffness, along with a surprisingly high amount of comfort. If you're looking for a shoe that's designed for racing and long days in the saddle where you want the maximum amount of efficiency, the XXX is one of the very best options out there. Just bring your own shoe inserts or plan to spend $40 on Bontrager's right off the bat.Daniel Sapp







55 Comments

  • 113 1
 Someone tell them to fix their Roman numerals... with that price it's more like CCC... wait, still not enough...
  • 6 4
 Who down voted you that was pretty funny
  • 7 1
 @Chilliwacker: some people have no chill
  • 1 0
 My ankles hurt.
  • 3 1
 Nerd. I like you.
  • 37 2
 Incredibly stiff XXX...
Subtle, aren't they? Get out of the office and get some air marketing boys.
  • 11 1
 Should've comparison tested them to the woefully limp shoes.
  • 17 2
 No pictures of the sole?
  • 1 0
 Well since they added one now....

It's not a compound problem with their traction, it is primarily a lug design problem.

All of the lugs are super skinny and long with long tapers (ie not squared off) to the web. That presents a very small rear biting edge, and the draft angle on the lugs make them want to "bite" even less than if they were squared off in the back. Also the surface area of the lug is low.

Just about the only thing they could have done to make them grip worse is to make cut outs in the face of the lug that don't extend/ drain to the edge of the lug. That way the lug would also want to trap mud and water and hydroplane...

It's pretty evident those lugs are designed to wear slowly and protect the cleat and not do much more well.
  • 1 0
 You burn it when you buy a pair, you take on the persona of a doctor’s receptionist
  • 4 0
 Keep your receipt, i have had 2 of the other versions for MTB and both of them had the rubber completlty peal off the bottom of the shoes, they look like wird mtb spd road shoes now
  • 4 1
 I want someone to make a stiff and light shoe with toe protection and a more rearward cleat placement for enduro/DH. I have no idea why anyone would prefer the flexy and often extremely heavy shoes marketed towards gravity riders today, but the cleat placement on XC shoes is too far forward for a good gravity position on the bike. Flexy shoes make my feet hurt and arches start to cramp on long DH runs. I want a 400 gram shoe for pedaling up + stiff as hell for going down and good cleat position.
  • 3 0
 Shimano me7 ? Good shoe not that heavy and stiff
  • 1 0
 Giro chamber 2
  • 1 0
 @enduroFactory:

Yup I’ve been enduroing the hell out of my me7’s
  • 1 0
 @bvd453: I have Giro Chamber 2s now. They are boat anchors and not as stiff as I'd like, although better than some other enduro shoes. Mostly don't like their weight, bulk, and lack of ventilation.
  • 3 1
 What is more incredible about these shoes? Stiffness or price?

In my experience with various spd shoes, I found that Shimano offers by far the most incredible wearing comfort, but incredibly low quality outsole that gets destroyed by just thinking about walking in them.
  • 1 0
 SIDI has that nailed with replaceable soles on some models. Unfortunately their toe boxes are too cramped for me in comparison with Specialized or Shimano.
  • 2 0
 I got a pair of these last Christmas... Hands down, the best clip shoe I've owned in the last 20 years... Expensive, yes... Worth it? After wearing them for a while, I think so... Now, if I wasn't working in a shop, it would be harder for me to get these, but after a short time riding in them, it becomes understandable why they are worth the price.
  • 8 7
 Daniel Sapp, your comments on a $400 shoe needing a better insole, while valid, is never going to happen. Take a look at high end ski boots. You will easily pay $800+ for a pair of boots that will have an insole flimsier than a moist noodle. I think on average I spend 150-200 for a pair of high quality insoles for my ski boots. Do the math, that's tying up $1k just in footwear. Unfortunately cool ain't cheap and if you can afford $400 bucks on a pair of kicks, a couple hundred on a pair of insoles is a drop in the hat.
  • 39 12
 Anyone who drops 150 on insoles isnt stable
  • 14 1
 @pargolf8: I spent $150 on a proper footbed. They have outlasted several pairs of footwear over the last 6 years, and still going strong. Some of the best money I ever spent.
  • 9 0
 @pargolf8: Well, they are actually probably really physically stable, especially in the lower halves of their body. Custom foot beds are one of the best performance gains you can buy, especially as you age. Dad-joke aside, on the surface I can see how they appear to be expensive.
  • 3 3
 @rideyobike86: cool dude. Ive been running 45 dollar superfeet insoles for years.
  • 3 2
 @blast-off: performance gain???
  • 3 1
 @pargolf8: Then it's clear that you've never used them and don't know the comfort and performance benefits of them. Having a super stiff, rigid shoe but a flexible foot that twists and turns under pedaling load is a waste of money- you're not getting the benefit of the stiff shoe if your foot is flexing/elongating/shearing inside. A custom footbed creates the proper interface between flexible foot and rigid shoe creating the ideal set up.

And it's for this reason that Bontrager nor any brand should waste too much money on the stock insole. No stock insole is as good as custom and invariably is taken out anyway. They should come with something ok, but nothing better than that as it will be a waste. Stock insoles are either the wrong arch height, or arch length, or stability or all of the above for most feet anyway.

Plus, a proper custom insole will last 2 or 3 shoes at least (provided your foot hasn't changed much during that time).
  • 5 0
 Giro shoes - even models a third this price - come with the SuperNatural insoles with adjustable arch height / volume. Not $200 insole quality, of course, but nicer than some $40 aftermarket insoles. Bontrager should've done a lot better than this for a flagship model.
  • 2 0
 @werts - I don't disagree with you, however, a slightly better out of the box insole (Specialized shoes are a good example of this) would be a huge upgrade for a lot of riders who buy a $400 shoe and want it to be more "turn-key."

Custom footbeds aren't cheap but, as you know from ski boots, they can be a huge upgrade and are worth it for a lot of people.
  • 2 0
 @pargolf8: At least not stable in the foot / ankle / knee / hip. Smile
  • 3 4
 @ka-brap: no, im not a runner. As i see it the only plausible explanation for 100 dollar orthotics. Other then that, you’ve mostly been an everyday marketing hype victim
  • 1 1
 You don't always need to buy a footbed. I just stuff solid plastic insoles under the footbed until my boot is tight as hell, with a crappy insole at least.

Snagged a pair of the Lange XT 130 insoles from a buddies boot(he got footbeds) and this is actually a solid oem insole.
  • 1 1
 @pargolf8: True! Plus custom footbeds, while supportive, can raise your foot up inside the shoe and cause comfort issues, especially if you have a high instep. Tried it with my cork footbeds for skiing in MTB shoes.
  • 1 1
 @werts Not everyone needs custom insoles. Id argue most don’t. So for £400 you should get a reasonable one in a shoe. All my work boots, hiking boots etc come with ok ones. My last work boots (£200) got resoled 4 times and were on the original one all those years over what probably was thousands of miles of mixed terrain work.
A good friend of mine is a multiple Olympic long distance runner and uses what ever comes in the shoe.
So for £400 you should get a decent start point.
  • 5 2
 @ilovedust @pargolf8 - as a bike fitter and as a ski boot fitter, I can absolutely tell you the importance of supportive insoles in RIGID footwear. As the shoe you are wearing becomes more rigid, the more important it is to create the proper interface between rigid footwear and flexible foot. It's actually LESS important to have a supportive insole in flexible footwear (like a running shoe) because the support/guidance is actually built into the shoe itself. Your flexible foot has evolved for walking, not being stuffed into a plastic cast or placed on top of rigid carbon shank. Even if you don't suffer from discomfort, your shoe/boot combo without a footbed will be very inefficient and you will not reap the benefit of the fancy ski boot or fancy bike shoe that you just bought. It's not hype, it's not marketing - it's biomechanics and physics.

Can you ride or ski without a proper insole? Yes, of course. Is it better? For the vast majority of flexible human feet, no. Can exceptions be found? Yes, of course. This is an area of general rules and lots of variables but if you have ankle/knee/hip pain and/or care about alignment/efficiency/power transfer then you should be looking into proper insoles for biking and for skiing. Not doing that would just be a waste of your time and money.
  • 2 4
 @ka-brap: yup, you’re definitely in sales
  • 1 1
 @pargolf8: Product development actually, and I don't work in the bike industry
  • 3 0
 It's expensive, but not incredibly expensive. Shimano S
  • 4 0
 ... Phyre is the benchmark at the moment (look at any WC XC race) and cost more. Top line Giro are also a similar price. Both brands come with different thickness arch supports. Carbon costs more plus the carbon premium. This is a normal price for high end race shoes.
  • 8 1
 @iamamodel: Good point, WC XC racers definitely pick their footwear and are not paid to ride them or given them for free.
  • 3 0
 @FisherFreerider: Fair point, but they are still the benchmark shoe. I'd say half the elite pack here are wearing them. And few people will be paying retail for such high end shoes.
  • 1 1
 Throw in in some BOA tax (the things cost $12 shipped and you can replace them yourself, yet they charge you at least $50 more. So it probably costs them $2), weight tax, carbon tax, brand tax... all known as wank tax. But then they are called XXX...

US $400, that's almost AU $600. It's not unheard of. But neither is paying for a can of "mountain" air.
  • 1 0
 @iamamodel: Phyres are about $450 AU
  • 3 0
 Make it turq and they will sell like hot cakes...
  • 2 0
 Great shoes. Pro Tip: The Bontrager Cambion provides nearly the same performance at around half the price.
  • 3 1
 $400 USD, Psh.
  • 1 0
 Nice looking soccer cleats
  • 1 0
 XXX is "Incredibly stiff"... wonder why XD
  • 3 3
 Oclv carbon means garbage to me
  • 1 3
 stiffness index on 14th, and how about All Bikes from AP Boots from a elastic rubber? wkwkwkw
  • 3 4
 Boa oclv xxx ip1 sounds stiff indeed
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