Product review: Mavic Zxellium Ultimate road shoes

The bottoms of Mavic's flagship Zxellium Ultimate road shoes are emblazoned with the fancy-sounding names of no fewer than eight separately identified features. The combination yields a good shoe overall but one that's saddled with a somewhat disjointed fit and a feel that will be overly stiff for most users.

Add in the extraordinary US$449.95 asking price and it's tough for us to recommend the Zxellium Ultimate shoes for anyone but the most diehard Mavic fans.

Features galore

To Mavic's credit, there are a lot of promising concepts at work here. The semi-rigid Energy Frame+ exoskeleton and ratcheting main buckle provide a secure and supportive fit around the base of the foot. Add in the Energy Lock external carbon fibre add-on that pinches around the sides of your heel, the deep heel cup, the densely padded wraparound tongue, and the 5.5mm-thin full-length carbon outsole and the result is an impressively solid hold and efficient power transfer.

Mavic supplements this system with its unique Ergo Strap SL forefoot straps, which sub in Kevlar cords and alloy guides in place of a traditional wide-format straps and D-rings. According to Mavic, the thinner cords are easier to tighten, don't take a set like folded-over straps, plus offer better ventilation. We honestly didn't notice any of those benefits during testing but the adjustable length (along with the two-position main buckle) does conveniently accommodate riders with varying arch heights and foot volumes.

Speaking of ventilation, the uppers are laced with generous amounts of mesh that would normally suggest plentiful airflow. But in reality, that mesh is dual-layered and backed with a much more densely woven material that doesn't let as much cooling air through as we'd like (unlike the single-layer mesh is Mavic's far airier but less supportive Huez model). While this was a pleasant surprise for mid-autumn training – no booties needed – we suspect these shoes might be uncomfortably warm come summer.

That dual-layer mesh also gives the Zxellium Ultimate uppers a rather stiff feel in general, especially when combined with the additional layer of more supportive material bonded on top of it. That lack of suppleness isn't a deal breaker in and of itself as we've been happy with plenty of high-end shoes with fairly stiff uppers but the Zxellium Ultimate's overly tapered and narrow toe box doesn't help matters; there's no heat-mouldable feature to help tune the fit if the last doesn't perfectly suit you out of the box.

Mavic says this stiff feel was intentional, though.

"Zxellium Ultimate was introduced as a response to those that actually prefer a more robust, unyielding upper," Mavic communications manager Zack Vestal told us. "Professional racers and more powerful riders had in fact requested from Mavic a shoe that had less 'give' in the upper compared to the original Zxellium. So they’re intentionally built to be more substantial and stiffer in the upper than our other, original shoe options."

Riders with sensitive arches will also note the near-total lack of arch support in either the carbon outsole or multi-density insole. It's no worse than Sidi though, and at least in this case there's enough volume in the last to more easily accommodate an aftermarket insole with more support if needed.

Finally, there's that exorbitant US$449.95 asking price, which puts it on par with Sidi's highly refined Genius 6.6 but well over Specialized's superb S-Works model or even heat mouldable options from Shimano and Bont. While the Mavic Zxellium Ultimate shoes are pretty good, there simply are too many better options out there for less money, including models in the company's own catalogue.

Alternatively, the standard Zxellium offers a softer and more supple feel – but also less support – at a less offensive US$299.95, while the ultralight Huez model is far more airy for US$399.95. While we applaude Mavic's decision to offer different types of feel to its consumers, we wish the stiffer-feeling option didn't come at such an extreme price premium.

Price: US$449.95
Weight: 571g/pair (size 9.5)
Available sizes: 4.5-12 (whole and half sizes)
Pros: Stiff carbon outsole, secure heel fit, adjustable main and midfoot strap length, well-padded tongue
Cons: Far too expensive, stiff upper materials, overly dense mesh weave, finicky buckle, not actually all that light, oddly shaped toe box, minimal arch support
More information:

Cyclingnews verdict: 2 ½ stars

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