|For years I’ve been searching for the ideal mountain bike shoe to use for adventure racing. One that can get the right compromise between a stiff sole for efficiency on the bike, with one that has enough flexibility to make hike-a-bikes a little less unpleasant. One that has a sole that is grippy on wet rock and mud, as well as durable enough to avoid disintegration midway through a race. One that is easy to slip into especially with swollen feet, but secure enough to hold the foot properly. One that has enough mesh to allow water to drain, but not too much to freeze my toes in the winter. One that has a secure closure that won’t come undone in snow, mud or heather, but will easily come undone when I need to get them off in a hurry.
You get the idea; it’s all about finding the perfect compromise and at first look the Lake MX190 seems to tick a few of the right boxes.
The most notable feature of the MX190 is the Vibram branded sole, more often found on hiking boots and which instantly brings to mind connotations of grip, durability and cushioning. The rubber compound is just like that found on a hiking boot and offers a good compromise between durability and traction even on wet rocks. It’s not brilliant but it is definitely better than other shoes around with a hard plastic sole. For walking duties the big lugs of the heel and along the sides of the forefoot, give great traction on slop and snow and are definitely a bit more cushioning than normal style mtb shoes at this price point. There are positions to mount two football boot type studs for extra walking grip on steep terrain but I only ever end up kicking these off on rocks so never installed the supplied studs. The drawback for all this nice rubber is the weight. The sole is packing some serious lard and each pair weighs in at 1060 grams (including cleats), a good three hundred grams more than other offerings on the market and some serious weight to lug around a long race. There’s an old adage that says 100 grams on your feet is worth 1kg on your back, so in this case that’s comparable to carrying an extra 3 litres of water! Now I’m not some lightweight gear freak, (I now swear by Paramo and the like), but I really don’t see enough performance advantage to justify the extra weight – it just felt slow in fast races and energy sapping in expedition races.
The midsole is a fairly standard plastic affair with intermediate stiffness – not as stiff as a carbon soled race shoe, but not as flexible as a trainer style casual SPD shoe. It was ok to walk in and had a pre-formed curve to allow the foot to roll forward with each step. On the pedal it felt efficient but not uncomfortably stiff and was thick enough that I didn’t feel a pedal pressure point even after many hours of riding. So all good in that department. I found the last to be very narrow and in fact sizing in general was on the slightly small side, I had to go one size bigger than normal to fit in and they were still very tight with thick socks on during winter races. The Lake website suggests that these are available in a wider last but UK shops don’t seem to list them so availability may be poor.
The upper is leather with some small mesh vents in the toe box. It is a comfortable, supple fabric and the vents were reasonably sized to do what vents are supposed to do, without deep freezing my digits. It is held on the foot using a combination of two velcro straps and a ratchet buckle. This is the first set of shoes that I’ve used extensively with a buckle and I had looked forward to trying it as the velcro straps on my older shoes continuously came undone in heather or snow. It certainly worked well at holding my foot firm and was very easy to get into, unfortunately on occasions I couldn’t get out of them again! After an Open 5 race I had to seek help from a ‘farrier’ to de-shoe me, the problem being that any debris that gets inside the buckle mechanism can cause it to jam and for obvious reasons this is not very desirable mid race. You can unscrew the buckle from the shoe with a screwdriver to get out and hopefully enable a closer examination to release it, but you don’t want to be doing this in race time. Unfortunately, my test pair then went on an accelerated wear program when my young dogs decided to try and eat them, and managed to damage the teeth on the strap that the buckle engages with. The damage is little more than I would expect from scrapes and bangs on rocks while hike-a-biking, or a bit of crash damage, but it is sufficient to pretty much throw these away now. The buckle section can be replaced but the toothed strap that it engages with cannot and I can’t get out of these shoes now without the aid of a screwdriver and a lot of force. The strap could do with being a bit thicker and having some deeper pitch teeth, with the buckle designed to accommodate these too. This would be more durable and the buckle could do with a bit more lift on the release latch to disengage from the teeth better. I liked the secure fit a buckle closure provided but in light of these durability issues perhaps all velcro closures remain a safer bet. Lake produces the shoe with just such a setup for £20 less – the MX165.
On the bike these felt comfortable and off the bike they worked well for walking, but the excessive weight and durability issues of the buckle and the high price mean they’d not be my first choice of shoe for AR.