Making Winter Mountain Biking Suck Just A Bit Less – Mavic XA Pro GTX Shoe Review
Did you know that on average, it rains one in every three days in the UK? I didn’t, but having resided here for 18 months now, I could have sworn it was higher than that.
Then again, Singletrack Towers IS based in the Pennines, which along with Snowdonia and the Highlands of Scotland, is officially one of the wettest regions in the UK. According to the MET office, some areas of the Pennines get in excess of 1500mm of rain each year. That is literally three times the average annual rainfall of my hometown in Australia! To say it’s wetter than a jellyfish’s breakfast around here would be the understatement of the century.
During my UK acclimatisation period, I’ve been mostly relying on waterproof overshoes to add some splash protection and winter warmth for my regular riding shoes underneath. They seem to work alright and have kept my tootsies warm, but with big holes on top and below, you’d be a fool to deny that water will eventually creep through. The undersides have also been torn to shreds after being used with larger platform-style SPD pedals, as well as from all the moorland death-marching I seem to be doing so much of lately.
As those booties have gotten more haggard over time, the idea of trying out some dedicated winter footwear has been creeping into the forefront of my mind – no doubt eased along by Chipps’ vocal, and somewhat unhealthy love-affair with winter riding boots. Then again, he’s been riding all over the UK for a long time, so I’ve learned to trust his advice on winter riding kit. If not his fashion sense…
You may have already seen that we reviewed 8 winter boots in an online group test not long ago, which I was invited to be a part of. I ended up shirking that opportunity though, as all the boots in my size were all of the hardcore military/dominatrix variety – a little too heavy duty and intimidating for this Australian.
However, after testing some of Mavic’s latest Deemax Pro shoes, our contact at Mavic was uber-keen to send out a pair of these XA Pro H2O GTX boots for winter testing. I can’t say I was immediately drawn to the idea – their bulky hiking boot appearance is exactly what turned me off getting involved in the winter boots grouptest in the first place.
But then again, if there was any appropriate time in my life to be considering waterproof riding footwear, it would surely be now.
Mavic XA Pro H2O GTX SPD Shoe Features
- Lace-up closure with additional velcro strap
- High-top design with ergonomic ankle design for walking comfort
- Wide fit for use with thick winter-weight socks
- Reinforced toe and heel caps for protection
- Waterproof GORE-TEX® membrane
- Energy Grip Terra+ Outsole
- Index Energy Transfer: 40
- Open cleat channel fits all standard SPD cleats
- Contagrip® Premium wet traction rubber
- Ortholite cushioned footbeds
- Colours: Black (tested)
- Sizes: EU 39 through to 47
- Confirmed weight: 511g per shoe (size 10 UK)
- RRP: £176
Using a tall upper that wraps up high around your ankles, the XA Pro boots bear more of a resemblance to hiking footwear than they do cycling shoes. That makes a lot of sense when you read Mavic’s blurb on them; “If you’re off on a big adventure like the Trans Alp, which involves hiking, camping and biking, then you want to save weight with one shoe that can do it all.” I can’t say I’ve ever done the Trans Alp, and I haven’t done a whole lot of bikepacking either, so I wasn’t going to be fulfilling all of Mavic’s intentions. Regardless, I was interested to see what these would be like purely for straight-up winter mountain biking.
The black XA Pro boots are pretty low-key aside from a yellow blob at the back, but there’s no denying it – you’re unlikely to see any of your cherished enduro-brahs rocking a pair of these in this year’s hottest shreddit. Get over the daggy looks though, and you’ll find there’s a lot going on here that’ll make your winter riding a lot more pleasant.
The padding is soft and generous around the ankles, though like the Deemax Pro shoes, Mavic has ensured that these don’t bulge out too much. Crank rub or chainstay contact was never an issue with these thanks to their low-profile, which I wasn’t expecting for a pair of winter boots. They also retain good flexibility, with the dropped section at the back allowing your ankles to bend and move freely. This also provides good comfort for off-the-bike pushing – something I’ve been doing a lot more of as the weather has gone further to pot. One thing to note on the dropped back – it does mean there’s more chance for mud and small rocks to enter the inside where they’ll pinch and prod in all the wrong ways. Wear these boots underneath properly-fitted riding trousers though, and you won’t encounter such an issue.
To allow for the use of thicker winter socks, Mavic has given the XA Pro boots a bit more volume internally. Compared to the Deemax Pro shoes, I ended up downsizing to a UK 10, which to my feet feels very similar to the UK 10.5 Deemax Pro. The closure system itself uses the same concept of pairing a single Velcro strap with laces. The laces are round like you’ll find on a hiking boot though, which combined with the metal eyelet hooks, allows you to dial in the tension really well over the top of the foot. They also seem to be impervious to the clutches of the Velcro fabric. You do get a bit more ankle security by reefing up the Velcro strap, though its lower placement means there’s less restriction on the ankles compared to some other winter boots.
In the winter boots group test, Sanny tested a pair of Mavic’s racy-looking Crossmas SL Pro Thermo shoes. These XA Pro boots actually utilise the same Contagrip rubber outsole, which makes use of 16 aggressive, claw-like tread blocks underneath each foot. The rubber itself is noticeably squishier than you’ll find on most regular trail shoes, and it is designed to provide traction in the conditions where those harder, more summer-oriented shoes won’t.
In those situations where I’ve been forced to dismount the bike and push, the angular tread is effective at cutting through the leaf litter and boggy mud to search out for traction underneath. On a recent ride up to Whinlatter in the Lake District that involved a very long push up a fireroad covered in crispy snow and sheet ice, I was particularly appreciative of the levels of grip on offer. You can still slip on ice of course, but on compacted snow, the XA Pro boots were impressively steadfast. They’re also usefully sticky on shiny, glistening logs and wet slate, and while there is a small section of bare rubber underneath the arch, it’s only a small patch – thankfully there’s still enough texture to keep your foot in place if you accidentally slip a pedal. For clambering down steep and wet grassy slopes to snap a photo of a rider coming down the trail, these have provided more grip than any other mountain bike shoe I’ve worn, giving me confidence that I won’t end up sliding on my arse halfway down a mountain.
So far I’ve paired the XA Pro boots with small-bodied Shimano Deore XT Race pedals, as well as larger platform pedals including the Time ATAC DH4, Xpedo GFX and Funn Ripper. All have fitted without issue, and the long cleat channel provides positive and reliable pedal engagement. I did have to add shims underneath the cleats with the GFX and Rippers, and because of those aggressive rubber tread blocks, there is more chance of catching the edge of a pedal body as you twist to disengage – I had that happen on a couple of random occasions, which put me on my arse in one of the most embarrassing manoeuvres you can pull off as a mountain biker. Because of that spiky rubber sole, I’d recommend using smaller XC-type pedals to eliminate the chances of interference.
Insulation is good on the XA Pro boots, but these aren’t exactly deep winter kicks for snow biking. I’m still yet to ride in anything colder than -4°C, which for many mountain bikers would be considered ‘balmy’. Personally, I’m at ease with that though, and more often than not my typical riding conditions hover on the just-positive side of freezing. At those temperatures the XA Pros have been plenty cosy with the addition of a nice thick woollen sock. However, if you’re more of a sub-zero fat biker, then I’d consider looking at something more heavy duty than these, such as the Bontrager OMW boots or 45NRth Wolvhammers as featured in our winter boot group test.
I’ve also had no problems with wet feet either, with the Gore-Tex membrane keeping water out very effectively. I’ve plopped my feet ankle-deep into mud during awkward dismounts, and I’ve submerged each boot in stealth puddles, but each time the XA boots have done the job and shielded me from outside moisture. As you’d expect, water ingress can still occur through the upper ankle though. And because the boots bulge out away from your calves, some trousers have a habit of migrating upwards and being caught on this shelf. This happened to me halfway on a sopping three-hour ride, where my waterproof trousers progressively channelled a whole load of icy cold water straight down into my socks – unbeknownst to me until it was too late. Avoid that however, and it’s possible to finish those splashy rides with dry socks underneath, which is surely one of life’s true luxuries.
Although the rambler-aesthetic didn’t win me over to begin with, I have been pleasantly surprised by Mavic’s XA Pro H2O GTX boots. They provide useful waterproofing for riding on wet days, or just on wet trails, and the aggressive rubber sole digs into soft and squidgy trails when you’re forced to dismount and trudge.
What’s impressed me most though is that they deliver this weatherproofing with minimal bulk, meaning it doesn’t feel like you’ve got a heavy and inflexible motorbike boot attached to you. Which for this previously boot-phobic rider, has been much appreciated.
|Product:||XA Pro H2O GTX|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for 2 months|