Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lake MXZ 303 Winter Boots

If you are a winter rider, you know it can be hard to keep your toes warm when temps get below freezing. Over the years, I've mostly relied on my traditional leather riding shoes with wool socks, and covering the whole package with insulated "overshoes" or "booties." As a commuter, I still think there's something to be said for that approach - particularly on those days when the morning is cold, but the afternoon warms up to the point where the extra warmth and bulk aren't needed. In November, for example, it isn't unusual to have a morning around 30°, with afternoon temperatures rising to 50° - in which case, it's an easy thing to stow the booties into a pannier or seatpack for the ride home. But when it's really cold, and expected to stay that way throughout the day, having some serious dedicated winter footwear can be a welcome luxury.

For my birthday this year, the retro-wife really came through, and I got a pair of Lake MXZ303 winter riding boots. I've had the chance to wear them on some awfully cold commutes in the past month, and so far have found them to live up to the billing. My coldest morning in this time was 20°, with a wind chill making it feel closer to 10° and my feet never felt a chill, even after an hour of riding. I feel pretty confident they'd be good for even a little colder, though to be honest, I don't see myself riding below 10 - 15°, so they'll definitely meet my needs.

For sizing, I've seen a number of reviews that recommend going up a size from your normal cycling shoe size, and I agree with that. In most cycling shoes I wear a 44, and in these I got a 45. Don't ask me what that is in US sizes, because the conversion charts seem out of whack to me. Most charts I've seen say that Euro 44 is equivalent to a US 11, and yet I've never been able to wear anything larger than a US 10 in my life. Go figure. Anyhow, with a 45, I can wear these with extra thick wool socks without feeling constricted in any way. For those who have wider feet, or who maybe want to double up on socks, Lake also makes these in a "Wide" version, that I understand adds quite a bit of room in the toe-box. Mine are the "regular" and fit me fine.

The sole is thick with large lugs for sure footing when it's slick. I have found them to be decent for walking at least for short distances.

You'll notice that the Lakes have a very modern non-retrogrouchy "BOA" closure system. That seems to be the latest thing in cycling footwear. I've found that it works well, though I've yet to see any problem with traditional laces. Seriously - what's the hangup with normal laces on cycling shoes today? I suppose one doesn't need to worry about laces getting caught in the chain. OK, score one for BOA. But I do wonder what happens if that BOA thing eventually breaks. Can it be replaced easily? I don't know the answer. If any readers have some experience with that, leave a comment.

Regular readers know that I still have a preference for traditional toe-clip and strap pedals. One thing about the Lake boots is that they don't really lend themselves to use with a traditional pedal. The thickness of the toe-box and the lugged sole make getting into a toe-clip pedal difficult and awkward. I tried (briefly) switching my pedals to a pair of flat/platform pedals for winter riding, but I find that I don't really like using those on my commute. I don't mind flat pedals when riding around the neighborhood, shopping, or with my kids when the pace is kept casual. But on longer rides, especially if there are some hills, I just really prefer to have a better "connection" to the pedals. I don't need to be "locked in," but even with toe straps, I generally keep them just tight enough to keep my feet from coming off the pedals inadvertently, without being so tight that I can't get a foot out quickly if need be.

The Lake boots are designed for an SPD-type 2-bolt cleat. I know there are lots of choices in compatible cleats and pedals out there, but I found these Crank Brothers pedals on clearance for only $29 from Nashbar that seemed like they'd be a worthwhile choice as a winter pedal - and cheap enough that it would be hard to go too wrong. They have the easy-to-engage "egg beater" system on one side, and a basic flat platform on the other. I've found that in traffic, if for some reason I have trouble "clicking in" on the first try, the full platform still makes it easy enough to get pedaling from a stoplight. They seem to be working out well with the winter boots, and come spring, I can easily switch pedals if I wish.

In case anyone's wondering about what socks I'm using this winter, I'll mention that I'm a big fan of the socks from SmartWool. Though not actually marketed for cycling, SmartWool's Slopestyle PhD skiing socks are awfully nice on those extra-cold mornings. Being extra tall (they come up almost to the knee) they keep the lower legs warm and keep the cold winds out even if one's tights or riding pants leave a gap above the ankles. And they are extra thick, including at the toe and on the bottom of the sole. That last detail is good because I frequently hear people say that cold sometimes seeps in through the soles of some winter cycling shoes/boots (the cleat interface is often cited as a trouble spot). As thick as they are, they still fit into my boots comfortably (remember - up one size). Like a lot of SmartWool socks, these come in some pretty outrageous colors and patterns - but I believe they also come in plain black. I don't mind the patterns. Shop around, but the going rate seems to be in the $15 - 17 range, which I think is quite reasonable.

Back to the boots - of course there are plenty of options out there today. I've also heard good things about the boots from 45NRTH. I couldn't possibly give a functional comparison between them (unless they'd like to send me a pair to try out). The 45NRTH Japanther boots, which seem to have a slightly milder mission to these Lakes, have a listed temperature range of 25 - 45° with online prices ranging from about $195 - $225. The 45NRTH Wolvhammers, which seem a bit bigger and bulkier, have a listed range of 0 - 25° and sell for $325 or more. I cannot find a claimed temperature range for the Lake MXZ303 boots, but as I've already pointed out, they have worked well for me at 20° and I suspect they'd be good safely down to 15°. Prices online seem to range between $175 - $250.

I don't know if expensive 1-season boots are the thing for everyone out there - but for my needs, I'm feeling good about them.


  1. "Retro-wife." Ha!

    Looking at a BOA closure, I expect it would take a lot to get through that thin, NASA-ready material, whatever it is, but if one were to become detached or severed, it looks like you could wrap the shoe closed in a pinch with some thin string or wire, like inter-office manila envelopes. Evoking that closure has the additional benefit of giving BOA closures a retrogrouch origin.

    I like BOA closures and cleated shoes in general more than I ever expected I would. Part of what makes the BOAs effective is that they isolate the securing mechanism to one section of your foot, whereas laces sometimes require a strategic loosening here to allow firmness there, a hit-or-miss prospect for some of us. This section isolation is exploited by the structure of the shoe designed for them. Then, during a ride, they allow for loosening or tightening more precisely than you could with laces, and without untying and retying. I have fairly odd-shaped duck feet, very wide at the toe box and very high at the instep, but the stock Specialized SPD shoes I use allow me to adjust fit in ways I just can't do with laces on many street shoes, even athletic shoes. I'm surprised the closures aren't used for basketball shoes.

    Laces additionally can be soaked, caked in mud or frozen, each with its attendant inconveniences. Ironically, the danger of lace entanglement is the least concern, at least to anyone with enough foresight to tuck the excess between the laces.

  2. I ride with the MXZ 303 in the wide 50 size, as I have big feet with wide toes, making for blown out toe boxes in less than wide shoes. I was so relieved that these fit and had ample room for a wool liner and Smartwool socks, although not quite the thickness of your pair. I still get cold toes, but also wonder if adding the SPD cleat allows some cold into the toe area, since the mounting holes are partially exposed (and the metal cleat conducts heat away). I don’t have reynauds, but I do get cold toes and fingers rather easily (I spent 12 years working with ice cold water, so that may have something to do with it), even in the Lakes. Much better than my other non-insulated shoes, so it extends my riding, making me happier. Also, we don’t get much cold below 15F, which is pretty much the limit for my commute.

    After Look deltas on my road bikes made me give up toe clips, several years ago I splurged on a discounted set of Ritchey SPDs from Nashbar for my mountain bike. While I loved the power grips I was using, the Ritcheys just made all the difference. When I took up commuting a few year ago, I knew I would stick with mountain SPDs, so I now run Shimano XTs on the commuter and mountain bike. Never going back to clips.

    I am pretty certain the BOA system can be replaced. My pair of Lakes (also from Nashbar on one of their old coupon deals — which I miss!) came with a mini screw driver of some sort and printed instructions I probably tossed. I like the BOA as it also alleviates an issue my big feet have with laces causing compression on the top of my feet, and pain. I can easily dial in the amount of tension, unlike having to stop and unlace and relace. Also, like Handymedia notes, no worries about laces getting trapped in the crank! I would not mind BOA on my next pair of shoes.

    1. I went to BOA’s website and they list replacement instructions for the line, although there appears to be a number of models.

  3. Nice review! I wasn't aware Boa was being used in cycling. Boa has been in use for years in snowboard boots. I believe most ski/snowboard shops carry replacement cables and other parts, although I don't know if they are exactly the same used in these. I believe they last fairly long. Even the rental boots at my local hill use Boa lacing so I imagine they must be pretty reliable. Often, snowboard boots use two (or even three) Boa systems, for independent tension of different areas of the boots.

    I'm too cheap to buy the Lakes, but I like the idea of Boa lacing in cycling footwear since I have a nearly irrational fear of laces stuck in the chain. I frequently wear slip-ons, and my only cycling-specific shoes are velcro. Today I commuted in the snow wearing leather work boots, but I tucked the laces carefully.

  4. Been selling Lakes for years, great boots.

    What I like about BOA, is it's its own company.

    Rare in todays proprietary world indeed, but makes life much easier.

    Your (fill in the proprietary blank) shoes ratchet breaks? Good luck after a year or two, finding it (Sidi being the exception here). But if your BOA breaks, call them, and for a few bucks, you're rolling again. Their interest is keeping YOU going, not Trek or Louis Garneau.

    And yes, anyone with a bit of patience and a modicum of mechanical ability should have no issues swapping out a busted lace. I've done one myself in maybe 10 years, and a few for customers, it happens, but it's not a common thing.

    The Wolvehammers are the 303's equal, no warmer, no colder. Tried a pair after my last 303's just for fun, now rocking 400's as the Wolv's were a bit tight in the throat, so getting my foot in and out was a PITA.

    The Lake MXZ400's came out last year, and are a bit warmer, but a lot taller. Better for MTB than road, but if you live in the tundra and still want to commute, they are proper gear for said battle.

  5. Hey All!

    My name is Carlo and I run the social media/digital at Boa.

    Let me address some of the questions. :)

    1. Yes the system is easy to replace if something were to go wrong. (things happen, we get that sometimes you are riding and your shoe slams into a rock/stub/bush).
    2. We offer a lifetime guarantee on our system. If you ever have an issue or start to see signs of wear, please visit our website, complete the form, and we will send you a free repair kit as quickly as possible.

    If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us/me on Facebook and I would be happy to talk further!

  6. I have discovered through many years of road biking to use my summer road shoes, neoprene booties, and a pair of rag wool socks (with a cut-out for cleats) over the booties. This combination is good for riding in the upper teen temperatures.

  7. I second your mention of tall ski socks for cycling. I have a couple of pairs of them myself and they get regular use through the winter (for cycling, not skiing). My boots are a decidely retro-grouchy pair of unlined LL Bean boots. They do come with a liner if you buy new, but mine is a very vintage pair sans liner. I compensate with a very thick pair of wool socks. The boots are probably older than me and yet a very warm. They show no signs of breaking. I've replaced the laces once, but that's expected. And it's quite easy to tuck the laces into the boots, if you're afraid of them getting caught in the chain.

  8. Ran across this while preparing to replace my second set of Boa laces. It is not tough. Just requires patience and some fine motor skills. I got five winters out of the Boa laces on my MXZ303 boots. I wear these boots roughly mid-October to mid-April for a daily 13- to 18-mile ride. Great boots, love the Boa system. Nobody has mentioned the ease of manipulating the Boa knob while wearing a liner glove. Easy to operate even with numbed fingers. Also as already mentioned, tightens uniformly. And, no worries about laces caught in chains, which has happened to me more than once. So here's the deal on Boa wear: This is the second pair of Lake cycling footwear on which I need to replace the Boa laces. Long before the coated mini-wire-rope lace actually broke, the coating peeled and exposed the (stainless?) rope inside. That's my signal that, yeah, there is some wear involved, and I need to start thinking about replacement. But naturally I don't think about it enough so ... this morning when my Boa lace broke while lacing up, I was still able to ride normally, because the Lake boot has a separate buckle at the top that holds the boot in place well enough, although not perfectly. On the downside, there are many different knobs on the Boa warranty replacement ordering site, and NONE of them look exactly like what I've got. So, I will call them, and they will help me promptly and courteously, like they did a couple of years ago, with my shoes.