Lake have excitedly lauded the MX331CX as the first cyclo-cross specific shoe. Sunday hour racers of a finer vintage will remember that there were a couple of cyclo-cross shoes available way back when, from Sidi and Duegi if our rose-tinted memories are correct. But that was before cyclo-cross was all trendy and when this was all football fields and clips and straps, and they didn't stick around for long. So let's say this is probably the first clipless pedal cyclo-cross specific shoe eh?
It's not on its own now as Northwave have their Hammer CX shoe and Shimano have just released the XC90 which although it's a high end cross-country mountainbike shoe they're marketing at cyclo-cross riders as well. It appears that a cyclo-cross shoe is petty much A Thing now. To be fair you could use a pair of Dunlop Green Flash as a cyclo-cross shoe if you wanted, or any of the thousands of mountainbike shoes, but these are the days of specialization and marginal gains, so you absolutely must have a specific shoe for cyclo-cross.
The standout feature of the MX331CX is the modular stud system in the sole. Most off-road shoes have holes in the front for a pair of replaceable studs, but the Lake shoes have upped the ante by having six of them dotted around the bottom of the shoe; four at the toe and two in the heel. The majority of 'cross courses feature a bit of running with your bike and the Lakes exclusively cater for this with a series of half dozen replaceable studs of varying sizes that you can swap around according to the course conditions, much like you might change your race tyres to suit the conditions. Add studs for grip or remove them completely if there are no shouldering sections. The aggressive metal blades that come already installed in the toe are designed for digging in steep grassy or muddy banks and are perfect for showing off to friends how awesome your new shoes are.
This is no mountainbike shoe with fat lumps of tread wrapped around the sole for pushing a bike up hills and clambering over rocks, it's more like a road shoe with a few bits of grip stuck on and some studs screwed in. This is a sole designed for racing cyclo-cross, where getting off the bike is minimal and the need for tread isn't crucial.
Aside from the switchable studs, grippy features on the naked carbon sole are kept sparse because you don't need them, and skipping them keeps the weight down. The cleat sits in the middle of a replaceable island of rubber and is bracketed by two long thin slugs of tread in a large open space to minimise mud clogging. Extending out the back is a small toothed tongue to offer a little bit of grip on the pedal should you fluff a clip-in, and to protect some of the expensive midsole from your stumbling ineptitude.
That sole shape comes from Lake's CFC Race Last which is specifically shaped so there's optimal foot to pedal power transfer and with a 100% carbon fibre sole it's also designed to be as stiff as possible.
As well as being rigid the mid-section of the sole is also mouldable to fit your foot, in conjunction with a pair of carbon inserts in the upper at the heel. Pop the MX331CXs in the oven for five minutes and both the instep and heel cup will be warm and soft enough for about fifteen minutes to be malleable to the shape of your foot for a custom fit. You can do this yourself, get the help of a second pair of hands for a more accurate fit while you're on a bike or trot down to your local Lake dealer and get them to help.
I did it myself and it's easy enough, although putting a £250+ pair of shoes in the oven is a nervous experience. It requires a firm hand to mould carbon-fibre to your foot, as you might expect, but persevere and you will slowly feel it cupping your sole. Squeezing the carbon sections at the heel is considerably easier and you can really feel it as it hardens to hold the back your ankle. If you're not happy with it first time round simply pop the shoes on the oven rack again and give it another try. You can do this as often as you like. It would probably be easier overall to get someone to help with this procedure. Someone with big hands.
The smashing orangey upper is the same material as the Lake MX331 mountainbike shoe, a tough yet supple kangaroo leather. Lake say it's the lightest, strongest and most durable natural leather. There are stout and not-too-airy mesh inserts looping over the toe and angled down the sides. Those mouldable carbon sections rest either side of the heel. Reflective inserts sit on the back of the heel and down either side of the shoe, too, which is an interesting addition to a race specific shoe. Maybe it's for the hardcore racer that rides home.
The heel and tongue liner use Outlast temperature-regulating material to keep things warm, or cool. It's a bit like a Thermos for your feet. It says here that it uses microencapsulated Phase Change Material that works on a microscopic level to maintain a constant skin temperature. It's hard to comment on the efficacy of this when a pair of cyclo-cross feet are being sprayed in icy water and freezing mud but the Lakes seemed to be bearable for longer in cooler temperatures than any other not overly winterified shoe.
Despite the MX331CX being designed for a sport that's performed mostly in the cold it's not an especially wintery shoe. Granted it's not the most airily-vented model out there and the mesh panels are sturdy but it's a low cut shoe without any of the extra thermal protection or ankle cuffs or baffles that usually appear on a shoe designed for the wetter months.
You'll have to do without the usual winter frippery as it adds weight and cyclo-cross is meant to be hard '' there's no time for crying about your cold feet princess '' but a little bit of something for both ankle protection and to stop mud ingress might have been thoughtful.
The trouble with the kangaroo leather is that, despite what they say, it's not the most robust of materials, especially when used in a shoe designed for sixty minutes of wet, cold, muddy, gritty-stumble, clumsy-thrash cyclo-cross. There are wrinkles, scuffs and tears all over the shoe, and the exposed carbon bits of the sole are getting tatty from errant pedal strikes and whatever blunt and pointy things were hiding in the mud.
Retention is via one large BOA dial on the side of the foot. Lake have been using this system for a decade so they're confident in its application. It works well. The dial is big enough to use with gloves, and easy to find while pedaling should you need to ratchet the tension up a bit just before the sprint, and it hasn't ever gummed up with mud. Release is just as easy by simply pulling the dial out, more straightforward than dealing with reluctant laces or clogged clicky ratchet buttons with unfeeling, cold, wet hands, the little tab on the cable so you can give them a speedy loosening tug is a nice touch.
The cable criss-crosses over a well-padded tongue and passes through a loop at the top to keep everything tidy. While just that one tension dial doesn't have the fastening finesse of multiple tightening devices that grace most other shoes it keeps a good even tension over the foot with no hot-spots even when cranked up to trying-hard tight.
With the lack of tread gracing the sole and a vast swathe of carbon you'd expect the Lake to be a lightweight racing slipper, but at 688g for a daintily sized 41 it's not the sveltest of high-end racing shoes out there. On the plus side it does feel very solid under toe.
The races this shoe is designed for only last the briefest time so day-long comfort isn't an issue, and a comfy flexy sole for walking up hills or round the shops in isn't a requirement: stiff, efficient and fast is. If you use your cyclo-cross bike for commuting or dawdling along signed gravelly bike paths stopping for beer and crisps then these Lakes aren't the shoe for you. To be fair they're not the shoe the majority of dedicated 'cross racers either, and that's not just because of the price.
The carbon sole is certainly stiff enough. Walking off the bike for any distance is a clumpy and awkward affair any time you need reminding. On the bike it's impressively rigid under foot but not uncomfortably so. Although they're only designed to be ridden for an hour or so, the Lake MX331CXs were taken out on considerably longer rides and there's was no foot pain or general discomfort at all from those unyielding soles. This extends the use of the shoe significantly from its marketed niche. If you're a cyclo-cross or mountain bike rider or racer who wants a stiff shoe and doesn't intend on getting off the bike any time much then these would be suitable performance booties.
The cleat holes feel like they're set quite far back compared to other shoes. I couldn't get the cleats as far forward as I normally like but the sole is so rigid it didn't make any difference and led to no unfamiliar pressure points. After a short while it felt completely normal and I could stomp away with indifference.
Despite its racing credentials it's not a slim narrow pointy shoe as is traditional. The forefoot is roomy and the toe-box is comfortably square compared to your Italian disco-slipper. If that's not exactly your foot shape the mouldable sole takes up any slack and the malleable heel cups that wrap on to your heel will halt the dreaded heel lift.
And the unique selling point of the studs? To call them genuinely useful would be merely polite, they're mostly a gimmick. With those unique goofy-looking metal teeth in the front it is indeed noticeably easier to stride up a muddy or grassy bank; they really do dig in as long as you remember to adopt an aggressive toes-in stance.
A pair of tall football studs or pointy running spikes would have a comparable effect in a standard pair of mountain bike shoes, though. And are you necessarily going to bother swapping toe-studs out or remove them completely to suit whatever course you're on each weekend, or maybe shave a few grams? I'm not so sure. One plus side: leaving the metal teeth in or the bigger studs up the front protects the naked carbon end of the shoe a little bit from everyday knocks and scuffs as there's no protective toe-bumper on the MX331CX.
Maybe if you're the sort of person dedicated enough to the sport to spend £270 on a cyclo-cross shoe you'll buy these Lake shoes. Maybe if you race cyclo-cross and on the weekends you're not doing that you race mountain bikes to a level that demands a £250 shoe, then the MX331CX will be a worthwhile investment because they're a good stiff shoe for going fast in.
And they're orange, which lets everyone else know you're quick.
The Lake MX331CX is an aggressive, heart-on-sock top-end shoe for fast off-road action, be that cyclo-cross, or mountain bike racing where you going to spend most of your time clipped on the bike.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Lake MX331CX Cyclo-Cross Shoe
Size tested: 41
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The Lake MX331CX Cyclo-Cross Shoe is a top-end shoe designed specifically for cyclo-cross, the tread lite carbon sole and replaceable stud system highlight its specific role.
It's quite a unique shoe, it's stiff for racing, yet still comfortable for longer jaunts, not necessarily on a cyclo-cross bike. The stud system is a debatable concept.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Klite Kangaroo leather and mesh upper. Internal Thermaform Carbon Fiber heel counter, Lake Race 100% Carbon Fiber Sole with rubber cleat pocket, replaceable toe and heel spikes. Outlast temperature regulating heel & tongue liner. Side mounted BOA Push/Pull lacing system with powerzone in the forefoot. CFC Race Last: The CFC race last is specifically shaped for optimal power transfer, putting the foot in a position that allows the energy to be focused to the pedal.
The full carbon sole and kangaroo leather upper with carbon inserts are top of the line but the finish is a little shabby in parts.
This is a no compromise shoe for going fast and then running up muddy banks.
The kangaroo leather isn't the most durable for the discipline, scuffing and tearing in places and the exposed sections of the carbon sole are looking battle-worn.
Lake have done their best to shave weight off the shoe by removing grip but you can buy lighter.
The pliable sole, kangaroo leather upper and wide toe-box all combine to make a shoe that can be comfy for more than just a Sunday morning.
That's a lot of money for a shoe designed for an hour a week for 6 months of the year. You could increase the value if you raced it off-road the rest of the year.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It's a good shoe, stiff as you'd like but still comfortable. Not so sure on the necessity for the modular stud system.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The mouldable sole, the comfortable upper, the stiffness, those metal toe spikes.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing really, it's a nice shoe, the stud system might be unnecessary though.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? At that price and with that naked carbon sole exposed to day-to-day battering, probably not. It's a little too pricey and too specific for my needs, even if I used it as an MTB race shoe as well.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Only that uber-serious cyclo-cross or mountain bike racer one.
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun