I get it. I feel you.
I use the #rideoutside hashtag whenever I notice that conditions captured in a photo I’m posting might disincline folks to brave the elements. It’s not an injunction. It’s not me trying to signal that I’m harder than anyone else. It’s a reminder that riding outside is good. Is it always better than inside? No. Often? Yep.
There’s a whole constellation of material, experience, and expertise required to enjoy riding outside in harsh conditions. This constellation cannot be purchased in one fell swoop. Component parts can indeed be bought off the shelf, but experience and expertise take time and effort to develop.
From what I’ve observed, winter cycling footwear – let’s call them ‘boots’ – occupy a position low on most cyclists’ wish lists. I’m talking about riders living in climates that have cold winters and shoulder seasons. The thing is, normal cycling shoes can be layered up with booties, plastic bags, waterproof socks, inner tubes and duct tape to extend their use-range. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people race cyclocross with booties over their shoes. But, when it’s snowy, muddy, or both, this is a problematic approach, because booties almost always limit the exposure of shoe lugs to the ground, which matters when running off the bike. And they often flip up; weak sauce.
But that’s generally a racing thing. Because winter boots are different from shoes in degree, not in kind, they often get pushed to the bottom of the list. ‘If it’s crappy enough to need winter boots, I’ll just ride inside. Or not ride. Or whatever.’
I get it, especially when we’re talking about folks who simply don’t have budget for another pair of cycling clogs. I’ve been there. Whether you’re in this boat or not, what follows will be of interest to you if you ride outside in cold, wet conditions, want to, or want to want to. I’m coming at this review of Lake’s MX145 winter boot from a ‘return on investment (ROI)’ perspective, which I think most readers will appreciate.
Thus, one might say, Matt, what about those SealSkinz waterproof socks you’ve reviewed and always talk about? Those offer a great ROI, right? Yes, insulated waterproof socks are an excellent option, but we need to understand their limits and how they fit into our constellations of kit.
If one isn’t sitting around with money burning holes in their pockets, but wants to increase their proportion of ‘go’ versus ‘no-go’ moments, waterproof socks will help, and they will be cheaper than boots. The limit will often be the amount of volume shoes can accommodate when adding such socks into the mix, which is always rather important when it’s cold and wet; a restricted foot is often a cold foot. And when volume is in ample supply the limiting factor of waterproof socks is their ability to allow vapour to escape. Over extended durations feet become cold simply because they are too wet within waterproof socks, and this moisture can come from our skin, or run down our legs into the socks. In the most severe conditions, we might even need to run waterproof socks within waterproof shoes like the MX145s to handle extreme wet and cold. In cases like this I’d likely duct tape the cuffs of my socks to my legs. Seriously.
Since there is so much room for the typical cyclocross rider to improve, and cyclocross season is generally wet and cold, foul-weather kit we are comfortable in and like to use becomes highly valued and valuable. I struggled with frozen feet for many years before getting my first pair of winter shoes, classic Shimano SH-MW81s, which were never warm enough for sub -10C unless I wore dual booties over them. Clunky and thick at the ankle, these boots were always a last resort for cyclocross, and for training their lugs and overall feel was never appealing. Their stack height was greater than all my shoes, so I wore them when I had to, rarely wanted to. I never didn’t ride outside for cyclocross (fatbike and snirt are a different story….) because I didn’t have footwear that would work. But I certainly raced numerous times in my regular shoes with waterproof socks instead of my winter shoes, and wound up pretty cold, and was limited in inspecting courses properly with the Shimanos on, because their grip was inferior to that of the shoes I’d later race in.
If you don’t have any winter boots at your disposal, but you want to do cyclocross (not to mention spring classics, MTB, fatbike…), I encourage you to prioritize getting a good pair as a priority over lighter bike parts. If these shoes enable you to go outside to ride your cyclocross bike in conditions you’ll race in more often than not, they’ll ‘pay for themselves’. If such shoes eliminate a reason to avoid the rain and the mud, conditions you know you’ll race in, they will help you pursue your goals. And if such shoes make it easy for you to decide to get onto your bike and spend time training on the track at a given race instead of hiding under a tent because you don’t want to get your feet wet and cold, they’ll really ‘pay off’ when you race and actually know what you’re doing on the course!
There, that’s the rationale part.
Now, you’re still reading, so let’s get to the question of Lake: why them?
In Lake’s MX145 I saw a great deal of potential. But despite decades of knowing Lake as a company that made quality winter boots, dating back to my early years as a mountain biker, I’d never owned a pair. Lake was kind enough to send me a pair of size 47-wide MX145s to test and review, just in time for the nasty-weather phase of the cyclocross season. The questions I most wanted to answer were:
- How does Lake’s fit system work?
- Would the MX145s feel too clunky for cyclocross and ‘long’ rides?
- Could the MX145s be comfortably used for cyclocross, snirt, and spring classics?
‘Build philosophy’ is the aspect of Lake’s work that most intrigued and interested me. As you might have gathered from other posts I’ve written, I am most drawn to people who take pride in their craft, in the art of making. How many cycling shoe companies can you think of that pride themselves on making shoes to fit all feet?
Lake is a company of shoemakers. They deeply understand feet, shoes, and cycling, and are passionate about each of them.
If we think of cycling shoes and boots as analogous to bikes, the ‘frame’ of footwear is its footbed, and its ‘geometry’ is its ‘last.’ Each rider will harmonize well with particular frame materials and construction (think compliance and responsiveness), built with particular geometries, which dictate both the fit of the body to the bike and its riding characteristics (Ex., steering). The bike’s tires are designed, constructed, and mounted to meet the anticipated demands on grip, durability, rolling resistance, clearance, and weight. All these elements are composed around a particular vision for how the bike will be ridden: where, when, for how long, and how hard.
Lake approaches the design and construction of the shoes and boots that deliver power to our bikes with a similar eye to detail. Just as with bikes, these details matter to our performance and enjoyment of the sport. While most cycling companies use a small number of lasts for their footwear, rarely talk about them, and often limit wide and high volume lasts to entry-level and recreational models, Lake builds their footwear from 6 lasts, each available in more than one width, multiplying the total number of foot volumes covered. Lake provides detailed information about each of last, and doesn’t push riders with wide feet into basic options. With so many variations on offer, the main challenge for riders new to Lake lies in determining correct sizing without being able to try shoes on. I hope to help demystify this process in this post. I also hope to convey how impressive and effective the MX145s are as a versatile, race-worthy boot with an excellent ROI.
Sizing: Measure Twice
Lake are all about fit, and they know more about how to achieve proper fit than I do. So how to go about sizing my first pair?
I followed Lake’s recommended sizing process, and learned a few things along the way. I wasn’t trying to exactly replicate the fit of my most comfortable shoes (Giro Empire SLX, 46), because they are sized for summer use, primarily; thin socks. They do accommodate medium-weight socks, as do my Giro VR90s, along with medium-weight SealSkinz (tightly). I was hoping to size the MX145s for a typical fall/spring weight sock, while also leaving room for the heaviest socks I’d wear in the winter, or even double socks (liner + outer). I didn’t know whether their retention system, BOAs, would provide the foot hold I’d want with the thinner socks during cyclocross and spring classics use (the latter can involve epic running….), which I do consider something of a tall order.
Following Lake’s protocol (found here), I started by tracing my feet. This took a couple tries to get right, or as close to right as I could. Turns out this isn’t easy.
After carefully measuring my tracings, I came up with the following dimensions:
I then referred to Lake’s sizing chart, bearing in mind that it is recommended to add 5mm to the length of your foot, but not the width. So, 295 + 5 = 300. You can see this corresponds to size 47 below. My width at 115mm put me into the ‘WIDE’ column. I corresponded with Bob Maas, co-owner of Lake, and he recommended I run with the 47 Wide, in concordance with the chart.
As I developed this post, measuring my footbeds so I’d have dimensions to relate to the chart above, I discovered I’d made a mistake with my width measurement. I transcribed 115mm for my width, but based on my tracings, 100 or 105mm would have been correct. This is almost a relief, as I was somewhat surprised to wind up in a wide boot, given I’m a ‘narrow’ in Birkenstocks, and never had width issue with shoes. But my mistake has proven informative, because it has allowed me to learn about the conformity of the MX145’s last, and its ability to accommodate a broad range of foot volumes.
Reviewing the images above and the process I went through, I have to think that having a helper trace one’s feet would be ideal. I’m not totally happy with my tracings. But I also used my existing footbeds as points of reference, because my Giro road shoes are extremely comfortable, and my mountain bike ones are quite comfortable.
I’ve learned that Lake’s footbeds’ length will be something like 5mm shorter than their table’s length specification for a given size. The footbed forms the platform – the ‘last bottom gauge,’ in technical terms – upon which your foot rests, but it is also supported by the ‘upper’ of the shoe, the leather or whatever other material wraps around the foot. Rather than extend vertically like a wall from the outer edge of the footbed, the shoe’s upper curves out from the bottom, and rounds up around the foot, cradling it like the hull of a ship. This adds both width and length to the footbed, effectively.
If you are trying to replicate the fit of an existing shoe, measuring your footbed and adding 5mm in length when corresponding with Lake’s chart should get you very close. If your existing footbed measures 105mm at the widest point of the forefoot (assuming its from a well-fitting shoe, and your foot extends a bit beyond the edges of the footbed), that will correspond to 115mm width in the Sport last; there is a 10mm difference in volume provided by the shape of the boot’s upper.
Thus, if I wanted to replicate the width of my Giro shoes (which I like for racing), I’d seek a specification from Lake at 98mm + 10mm = 108mm. BUT, I’d have to factor the difference in materials. My Giros are built with synthetic material, which does conform over time to the shape of the foot, but doesn’t expand much over the course of a long ride. The leathers Lake use are, I believe, chosen with conformity in mind as a top priority. This means we might wish to choose a shoe with a snug fit to start, expecting it to stretch and take our shape better than a synthetic upper shoe. Thus, as I look at sizing for a race cyclocross shoe, specifically, the MX 332 Supercross, I have to wonder whether I might be fine with the 103mm width of their Competition last? This is a bridge I will cross through discussion with Bob Maas, and I’ll report back on what I learn.
My first impression of the MX145s was that the boots are made with a high degree of attention to detail. Various small things caught my attention. Despite their ample lugs, the boots are light, much closer to shoes in weight than I expected. Subtle reflective accents provide a little extra visibility to the understated boots while out on the roads during the dark season. Slipping into them, I felt a more spacious toebox than I’m accustomed to, particularly vertically, a little more camber (curve) to the outsole in toe than I’m used to, and a large amount of volume adjustment accommodated by the BOA closures.
As I went to install my Birkenstock footbeds (pictured below) I discovered they were unnecessary, a first. The stock footbeds shocked me, being of stout and supportive construction, with nearly identical arch support to my trusty Birkenstocks. Wow! I’ll elaborate on them below. After a few minutes wearing the boots around the house, I was looking forward to putting them to the test outside.
Across their range, Lake’s 6 distinct lasts (foot forms) cover the spectrum of cycling disciplines, and each last is optimized to match up with a certain type of foot shape – such as long, narrow, low volume – and riding style. High cadence pedaling, for example, doesn’t load the foot as much as slower cadence or running, so a lower volume toebox would be desired to keep the foot from lifting up while pedaling, and wouldn’t need to allow for as much foot flattening as a low cadence style. During winter, a high volume toebox offers extra room for thick socks while retaining some air space, and a bit of foot lift might even be desirable from a circulation perspective.
The MX145 is built upon the CX/TX Sport Last. This last is also used for the CX176, CX161, CX145, CX1 and TX213 models.
The higher cadence & longer ride times which characterize road cycling require excellent foot control to avoid hot-spots & numbness. With a much closer fit than any of our off-road lasts, our Sport last cradles the foot securely to prevent any unwanted movement. This last features a precisely fitted toe-box, high arch & mid width ball girth.
Moving up, the MX145’s midsoles are constructed with nylon injected with glass fiber, built around Lake’s ‘Sport Last’. Lake’s attention to detail regarding their lasts is one of the things that made me keen to experience and learn more about their shoes and boots.
Foremost, the MX145’s lugs are made from a softer durometer (hardness) rubber than any other cycling footwear I’ve worn. The keen reader will note they are the same as those used by 45Nrth for their all-conditions shoe, the Ragnarok; the two brands procure their outsoles from the same supplier.
Rubber covers the underside of the MX145s completely to ensure at least some traction on the pedals while unclipped. Very aggressive, but clearly well thought out, the lugs have an interesting feature I’ve never seen before: diamond-shaped rubber ‘pillars’ are suspended on the forefoot lugs, which are designed for extra conformity to the ground. I was able to feel the microglass embedded in these pillars while off the bike, and the grip overall was exceptional. The confidence I had on stone and concrete steps, for example, was high. In comparison, the Vibram rubber on my Giro VR90 shoes is a little more firm and less grippy. Two toe-stud inserts are incorporated into each boot, well positioned. They come with flat covers mounted, and don’t include studs. The cleat slots offer slightly more fore-aft range than other cycling footwear I’ve used, and offer two threaded positions for each cleat.
Rather than using one of their winter-specific lasts for the MX145, Lake opts for a more versatile form that is well suited to a broad range of riding, from long spring and fall training rides to cyclocross training and racing. The foot control referenced above is absolutely necessary for cyclocross, where running on uneven surfaces makes keeping the foot from shifting inside the shoe/boot challenging.
The boot’s upper is constructed from waxed canvas, Clarino Microfiber, and a waterproof membrane for a high degree of water resistance. The boot is not insulated, so relies on these materials to retain heat. In order to renew the water repellency of the canvas, one need only apply some oil-finish-wax, which can easily be procured. Simple.
Two boa closures provide fine tuning of retention for each foot, and the upper BOA line detaches fully at the top, should you need extra slack.
Lake ships the MX145 with Syksol THERMOSOL insoles, which are really nice quality. The feature:
- High rebound footbed foam
- Firm sole cradle for stability and capturing insulating air pockets
- Wicking felt with natural antimicrobial properties
- Radiant reflective aluminum barrier
As I mention above, the Thermosols have such ample arch support, I didn’t need to add my Birkenstock units. Their honeycomb pattern underneath helps create a layer of air for insulation, and their reflective material and felt covering work well to retain heat.
I was keen to determine whether the MX145 could serve double, if not triple duty, covering a broad range of demands. Thus, immediately after arriving I packed them for the Pan-American Cyclocross Championships in Midland, Ontario, and proceeded to train in them through atrocious conditions on the Friday, and again both Saturday and Sunday before my races. The course was very demanding, as was the following weekend’s course at Canadian Cyclocross Championships in Peterborough, Ontario, which was equally foul-weathered.
Simply, I was completely comfortable in the MX145s through hours of training at both races, and subsequent races around Ottawa. It wasn’t difficult to dial in my retention for comfort, and the snow and mud of each venue was easily handled by the boots. I’m able to secure them enough, despite running a size a little larger than required, sufficiently to keep my feet planted as I scramble off the bike, and it’s not as though the boots are over-tightened when I need them to be really snug; the upper still has room to close on itself.
Even with thin summer socks, I can use the MX145s over demanding terrain. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I tried two pairs of socks for a cold (-15 C) snirt ride, which was very snug. My feet were cold, but it was difficult to tell whether that had more to do with tightness than anything else. I also wore them around -10 C without being cold, along with 3hr road ride around -5, during which I was 100% toasty and dry. For an really windy snirt ride at -5, I used chemical warmers and medium weight socks, and my feet were perfect over 3 hours.
The boots’ grip is the best I’ve ever had. There’s something fantastic going on with the outsole, and I could actually feel their microglass ‘Ice Lock anti slip lug inserts’ working. The tread forms a very secure platform against Shimano pedals, posing zero issues with engaging or disengaging in the nastiest conditions.
Lake’s MX145 hit a sweet-spot for riders interested in extending their riding season and/or taking some of the suffering out of cyclocross. Every aspect of the boot’s design and construction suits its intended purpose, rendering the MX145 a highly versatile option for riding in wet and/or conditions from around -12 C to +12 C. Their lightweight construction, minimal bulk around the ankles, and secure fit render them well suited to anything from long gravel rides to mucky cyclocross races.
If I’m to nail down a specific range where the MX145s are in their element, I’d put it at -5 to +5 C, wet or dry. This happens to be the sort of temperature range many folks face through their cyclocross seasons, and wet weather hovering around the freezing mark is the hardest to dress well for. I’ve yet to experience water ingress in the boots, but this will occur in due time, as they are not waterproof. That’s fine, waterproof shoes for cycling are a bit like waterproof vests. Unless you’re planning on duct taping the cuffs of your waterproof shoes to your legs, they will fill with water. The same applies to waterproof gloves. Yes, I’ve duct taped both! The MX145’s cuffs are snug enough to do well in wet conditions, but for truly hideous days you might indeed want to go with a waterproof sock sealed at the leg with duct tape.
On the ROI front, if we situate the MX145 against other purchases at a similar price ($250 USD), I think we’d be hard-pressed to find alternatives that offer a better value, because these boots enable effective training and fun riding in conditions that would often keep people indoors. Fancy bling for the bike can’t do that; it might do the opposite! And, frankly, $250 for a pair of high quality cycling shoes or boots is awfully good these days.
From a durability perspective, the only wear of note on the MX145s after about 20 hours of hard use is a friction spot on an ankle from my crank-arm. I’ll solve this by adding thin pedal washers, as I should only need a millimeter or so to create the space required. Mud tends to accelerate wear!
From all indications, the MX145s should last a solid 5 years of foul-weather use. I plan to acquire one or two spare BOAs to pack while traveling, to ensure I can replace them quickly if needed (as I’ve done with BOA shoes in the past).
I’m comfortable recommending the MX145s heartily. I feel Lake have left no stone unturned with this model, the sole thing I’d change being totally personal: a bit of bling colour!
If the MX145s are not quite the solution you’re looking for when it comes to cold riding, check out the two full-blown winter models, the MZX 303 and MZX 400. Both are very well regarded, and will cover the cold-riding needs of most riders. If I have opportunity to ride the MZX 303 for snirt and fat biking, you can be certain I’ll review them here.
If you are in the market for something special, check out Lake’s custom shoe offerings here. If you have something else in mind beyond their 332 and 402, don’t hesitate to drop them a line to enquire about possibilities.
If you have any questions, don’t be shy!