Bontrager RXL Hilo 2012

This is a shoe that I wanted to test for some time, but impossible 'til now since they were released in the US than in Europe where I'm based. I was afraid to order online because Bontrager shoes do not seem to fit reliably according to their given size. Whereas the old Hilo just barely fit me in size-41 the current 41 is on the roomy side and I can fit into a size-40 (although I must say that I like the 41 a little better because it gives my forefoot just the right amount of width).

The name Hilo is the only thing that remains the same. The new Hilo is a completely different shoe than the old. Almost everything they could change or update they did. I like it when a company learns from its shortcomings and Bontrager did.

I can understand why Bontrager took the risk of advertising big with their ads, and the 30-day guarantee. They didn't have to worry. Why?

First, when you take the shoes out of the box you feel the remarkably light weight, at 225 grams per shoe. The old Hilo closed from the outside to the inside the new Hilo doe exactly the opposite, a trend which to me seems to reverse what seemed an upgrade but now shoe makers are having second thoughts. I've tested several new shoes this year with the same closure system. The new Hilo closes like the Specialized Trivent and the Scott TriCarbon.

When you open the large Velcro strap it gives you more than enough room to get your foot in while its mounted on the pedal. The Velcro strap closes just a little lower on the ankle than, for example, the Specialized TriVent. To accommodate such a mounting system there is a special loop on the medial side of the shoe where you can attach your rubber band to keep them level on the pedals. The heel loop is large and solid so you can hardly miss it in the rush of T1.

Bontrager designed this shoe with heat in mind. Its large mesh panels at the arch and lateral side of the shoe, as well as with the toe area, mean it's one of the most ventilated shoes on the market. They are made with the open upper so there will be some bare feet exposed when you ride without socks; this can be cold in some climates.

The most striking change to me is the difference in fit when compared to the old Hilo. It's not that I didn't like that shoe, not at all, but the new Hilo fits like, well, a running shoe. It's snug without being tight in the midfoot and gives ample room in the forefoot. Mate this with the super soft and flexible upper material that is seamless at the most sensitive points, like the joint of the big toe and at the pinky toe.

The forefoot can be adjusted with a second, smaller, Velcro strap that does its job well. Adjust it once and you can leave it there without opening it to get your foot into your shoe.

The carbon sole is stiff, not exceptionally so, but more than enough to get the power to the pedals. It's ready for 3-hole cleats.

What I do see as a negative point in comparison to the old Hilo is the insole. It's not that it's bad, but it's very basic. There is a metatarsal pad on it but this doesn't do much due to the soft material of the insole. The old Hilo came standard with the very nice insoles of eSoles, which are far better quality in terms of support and adjustability versus the basic ones now are in the shoes. But this is something you can change aftermarket if you like.

Overall this is one very good shoe at a solid price point. I hope you like the shiny white appearance, because this is a trend among many making shoes in this category.

The Bontrager RXL Hilo is available in specific men's and women's versions, selling for $179. The women's shoe is identified by its blue accents.