The Bontrager RXL Hilo

This triathlon cycling shoe has the best breathability of all shoes I’ve so far tested. The large amount of mesh used in the upper of the shoe makes this like riding with the air conditioning on full volume.

The shoe closes using 2 Velcro straps that seem to be a bit short, but truth be told, I tested the women’s version due to the lack of stock on the men’s version in my size. I’m lucky to have rather small feet (men’s US size 7), so it’s pretty easy to test the women’s model. Maybe the men’s model has longer Velcro. In any case, while a tad short, on my feet the Velcro did close the shoe satisfactorily.

The sizing seems on the short side because I had to go up 1 full size to get the right one (even correcting for women’s sizing). I expected to see a lot of the old Nike features and fit since Trek used to be the distributor of Nike cycling, but that was not the case.

The fit of the forefoot is roomy, but not extremely wide. Some of you who read my previous cycle shoe reviews know I don’t like shoes that close high around your foot and this shoe is closing much lower in comparison to the Specialized TriVent and the Northwave Tribute.
For me, this is great.

But you would expect that this lower fit, which frees up the ankle, is also a fast entry and that’s not the case. Rather, it’s on the slow side. You need to open both Velcro straps, and wide, to get your feet in the shoes. But as I mentioned earlier the straps are a bit short, so when I open them wide my straps are almost slipping out of the opening at the other side of the shoe. But I need to give Bontrager the benefit of the doubt, as the men’s version might feature longer straps. Just check this for yourself before you settle on the RXL Hilo.

These shoes do have a great rubber heel loop which is not really a loop, but more a device to grab, so you can pull the shoes on. As a long distance triathlete I really don’t care if it takes just a bit more time to slip onto the shoes, but when you are a short courser and you ride out of T1 with your shoes already attached to the pedals make sure they work for you.

When you develop a shoe with a lower closure system around the ankle you need to produce a heel counter that fits very securely. I would use a thermoplastic heel counter, so that the customer can mold this to the heel. The Bontrager RXL Hilo does have a plastic heel counter molded at the outside of the shoe but it’s a bit wide and flexible—too flexible and not moldable. The fit of the shoe is just a bit insecure on the backside of the pedal stroke, and it’s the only aspect of this shoe I’m not happy about.

The RXL Hilo is made on a carbon reinforced platform which offers more than enough stiffness. It’s made with the 3 hole cleat pattern. It retails for $169, which I think is great value.

[Editor’s note: Our capable editor-at-large for footwear Jeroen van Geelen owns Total Running, one of the more important running and triathlon retail establishments in The Netherlands.]