Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Review: Lake MXZ301 (CXZ302) Winter Cycling Shoe

Bottom line: these are great winter cycling shoes for sub-freezing winter conditions. They're not great for super wet/all-weather commuting.

I've been holding off on buying SPD winter boots/shoes for years. And every year I have at least one ride that is ruined or cut short because my toes have frozen. So this year I decided to drop some coin on real winter riding shoes.

The MXZ301s are the 2007 model. They retailed for about $250. I got them last summer on close-out for $175 from Spoke-n-Sport. This year's comparable model is the CXZ302, which retails for $270.

The Lake Winter Cycling Shoes seem to be the standard, and for good reason. They're warm. My coldest ride was a few weeks ago when it was about 4 F with a good wind. I was riding for about 30 minutes and my toes were fine. I wear these boots with two pair of "liner" wool socks.  Liner socks are the ultra thin ones. These boots kick booty in serious cold. I've never had such happy feet in those conditions.

In extreme wet and not-as-cold conditions these boots are not as great. They have neoprene cuffs that basically absorb water. You must run flaps on your full fenders to keep the water from kicking up on the cuffs of these boots. Otherwise, the water will soak in and then drip into the boot. 

Over the last couple days, where gobs of snow has melted, I am riding and tromping through deep slush and puddles over a layer of ice. These are just sucky conditions, and these boots don't keep out the water, and I'm being mindful of not tromping through the deep stuff. For the cost of these boots, I would expect them to keep my feet dry in this muck. 

One thing that has always bugged me about these boots are the lacing mechanisms. They don't work any better than normal laces, but they introduce a level of fussiness and point of failure that renders the boots unwearable if the laces or the mechanism breaks. After a couple weeks, one of my knobs popped off. It's held in place with a tiny screw that requires a special tiny pin spanner, which is not included with the boots. So after reassembling the little mechanism, I tightened the screw down with the point of my knife. It failed a couple more times. I finally put some blue loctite on the screw and that's held it for the last month. Cheesy.

These laces are like dental floss. And they will break. The good news is that Lake is very quick about getting new laces to customers. Mr. Blaine had one break on him and they over-nighted laces to him. That's great, but I think they should include an extra set of laces when you buy the boots, so you don't have to potentially miss a ride or two waiting for the Lake proprietary laces to arrive. I also think they should include the impossibly small pin spanner tool to open the knob too. Actually, I think they should just use traditional laces and forget all this fussy over-engineered knob lacing system. 

In the end, if I were buying again, I think I'd get the Lake MX265 Cycling boots

They are billed as 3-season, but I'm thinking if you bought big you could put some beefy wool socks on, and lather them up with some Proofide and be ok. They won't solve the crazy muck wet scenario, but they retail for about $100 cheaper. And they look relatively normal. Which I like. The MXZ301's have a Jetson vibe going.


Hank Greer said...

As many close calls as I have riding in the winter I think it's best for me to keep using good boots and platform pedals.

Heck, I fell out of my chair while typing this. ;-)

Anonymous said...

My snowboard boots have that Boa lacing system as well. I do like the system much more than standard laces but have run into the same issue with the knob as you have. I emailed their customer support with the link to this blog post - they are nice to work with. The email is listed here.

John Speare said...

Hey Luke, good to hear more happy news about Lake's customer service. I'm curious: why do you like the Boa lacing system more than standard laces?

Anonymous said...

John, it's really nice for snowboarding boots because I could never get my regular laces tight enough, plus regular laces get looser as the day goes on.

The Boa laces stay as tight as I want all day. I've never had a lace break, just the set screw/knob issues. A guy at the Alpine Haus recommended the blue lock-tite like you used as a fix, but I haven't done that yet.

Great blog! I keep meaning to introduce myself since I see you and your wife riding around downtown all the time.

John Speare said...

Hm. Thinking on it a bit, the Boa lacing system would make sense for something like skiing or boarding -- that's where all the pushing, pulling, twisting, lifting, shanking is happening: down there at the ankles and feet. But on a bike, there's almost no ankle/foot movement.
Be sure to jump out in front of Liza and me and introduce yourself next time you see us tooling around downtown.

Unknown said...

I'm very pleased with the cheap winter boots I ended up buying from Fred Meyer (something like $37 after discount). They have a zipper rather than laces, seem to be 100% waterproof, and fit many layers of thick wool socks; I've yet to have my feet get cold (I use two layers). The longest ride I've done was probably around an hour at ~6F. Cold enough that my beard froze over completely.

I've had no problems riding platforms on my fixed gear, and have ridden through many puddles without concerns about my feet being submerged. Ultimately I'm glad I skipped out on the Lake boots, since my entire wardrobe of winter gear costs less than a pair!

Anonymous said...

I had a great experience with Lake customer service as well. I needed a new buckle(non-emergency)for my shoes and they sent back a really nice email and promptly mailed out a replacement. W

John Speare said...

TLP: that is nirvana. Cheap and warm. I've been known to talk the talk about going not clipped in, but I've had issues slipping with boots on platforms. And the bmx pedals with spikes tear up my shoes. Powergrips now have a version with longer straps, so those may be an option when these boots die. But I'm not that crazy about powergrips either. My buddy Joe rides in normal boots this time of year and does fine. Maybe I'm the weak link of fuss in this deal.

MathDadd said...

I use platforms in winter. The North Face's new Storm Peak II winter boot, MSRP $130 (look for winter-gear clearance sales in Feb and Mar) is the bee's knees for platforms and clips. If TNF ever decided to do cycling gear and installed a cleat mount, the SPIIs would own the winter cycling boot market in short order.

Why? It's rated to -25F, because it's designed for winter mountain use. It looks like a hi-top basketball shoe, and barely weighs more, 2.1 lb per pair size 10. It has new-tech Primaloft insulation (sorry, Lake, but Thinsulate is so 80s). Totally wind and waterproof construction. A D-ring for anchoring your gaiter (if you go through puddles, every boot short of a 10-inch PAC needs a gaiter).

For DIYers who prefer clipless, it wouldn't be hard to cut out a cleat slot, have a local metalworking shop cut sheet-metal insoles using your SPIIs footbeds as templates, seal the hardware with shoe goo or silicone caulk, buy a pair of aerogel footbeds to cover the cold metal insole, and you're set to ride anywhere south of Fairbanks.

Unknown said...

The choice of winter boots to keep me warm AND dry has been the biggest quandry for me with winter riding. I am out there every day, 16-mi RT commute (trot trot to Boston, trot trot to Lynn, you never go out the way you go in) and to date, I have been riding Shimano velcro lace sandals. I lost my old pair, or at least one of them on a bar crawl one friday night, and cried when I found out they don't make them any more. Shimano has made a huge step forward in the SH-66 super awesome sandals--I wear them everywhere every day. When the weather gets bad, I wear two pairs of wool socks and plastic bags with rubber bands around the taursals, which I friggin hate doing 'cause it looks so dork, but damn it works. The plastic bags don't interfere with the SPDs. I ride fixed gear with Shimano SPD cleats, and this set up has been good to 4 degrees F. I was feeling pretty good about myself until I rode along side a woman in her fifties looking all sporty in $29 mucking out boots you could get at the tractor supply co. Cool thing was, her rain pants just draped over the 18" boots, and she was high and dry. go figure--simple out of the box solution. Seems to be a pretty good option, 'cept I use alot of ankle and would think plain old farm boots wouldn't give me the range of motion a cyclista uses. But still, it's another great example of keeping it real on the cheap.

Sooo...the DIY solution I am working on right now, so I don't have to look like such a dork with plastic bags, is to make gore-tex socks (actually Ultrex 3-ply from Seattle Fabrics) to sit inside my sandals and go up to mid-calf over my wool socks. The trick is ironing in all the sealing tape to keep the seams dry. If anyone knows where to buy such a beast, I'm all ears.

This is my third boston winter, and we get a LOT of slushy 28 to 32 degree weather so waterproofness (is that a word) is really the key for me. I really enjoyed everyone's comments, particularly the voice of reason on how much to spend. I have been getting so frustrated that I was about ready to say eff-it and drop $260 on a pair of Lake Boots. With y'alls comments here I am going to redouble my efforts to try and work out the gore-tex sock solution. If not, then the North Face WPB boots, and BMX platforms pedals (with studs) is the way I'm going.

Thanks again for all of your comments. Great Thread.
The Ziegster, fixedgearhead,

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