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Review: Louis Garneau Montana XT2 shoes

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When speaking with Louis Garneau at Interbike last year, I asked their media representative what products she was most excited about.  While it’s not uncommon to hear in response to that question about a $200 jersey or $6,000 road bike, I’m especially interested when a company’s proudest achievement is a product obtainable to riders with more normally-sized budgets.  One of her highlights for 2010 (which carries unchanged into 2011) is Garneau’s Montana XT2 shoe.  Within a month, a pair arrived- and have stayed in heavy rotation ever since.  Click “more” to find out why.
At least south of the (Canadian) border, we really don’t see that much Louis Garneau gear. The pieces that I have owned (jerseys, shorts, helmets and shoe covers) have ranged from good to excellent- but it wasn’t until spending some time with the company at Interbike that I realized the breadth of the line. Even without the bikes that are sold in Canada or their ski, snowshoe, or running lines, the company’s cycling catalog runs to 140 pages- ranging from clothing to helmets and shoes to gloves and luggage. Garneau make a lot of gear- and many of their soft goods are sewn in Canada or the US.  Though they do build for the high end, the company’s mid-range is really attractive and shows that attention to detail and good quality construction need not be out of reach for everyday riders.

Like many cyclists, I found a brand whose shoes worked for me early on- and have largely remained faithful ever since.  While I have occasionally suffered from hot spots and numbness in my toes, my brand has worked well enough for my low-volume (but otherwise average) feet that I hadn’t felt the need to change.  On paper, the $130 Montana XT2s have everything I look for in a riding shoe.  While not particularly light, the nylon soles are nearly as stiff as my high-end race shoes and are plenty stiff for singlespeed mountain biking.  The two Velcro straps and top ratcheting strap are as expected on shoes above a certain price point.  The lower portion of the uppers are largely absent of vents and, combined with a sturdy toe bumper, suggested durability on long hike-a-bikes and ‘cross run-ups.  The optional toe studs are a nice touch (I have gone without), as is the grippy-when-pulling “one way stretch Lycra” material inside of the heel.  Their 380g (claimed for size 41) weight will put off some buyers and the uppers aren’t as soft as some high end shoes’ can be, but at this price it’s hard to complain.  Altogether, the XT2s come across as a very solid, handsome trail shoe.

Thanks to a hidden Velcro adjustment under the ratchet strap, I was easily able to adjust the XT2s’ fit to my feet’s relatively small circumference and the shoes were largely comfortable from the beginning.  The cutout on the inside of each heel did feel as though it was positioned too far back to start and rubbed my inside ankle bones uncomfortably while riding, but the shoes did break in within a couple of weeks so don’t let that be a major deterrent.  Moving the inside notches forward by as little as 1/4in would alleviate the problem in my case and be a good idea for the model’s next revision.

When I first clipped in while wearing the Montanas, the shoes’ soles seemed noticeably and oddly canted toward the outside. Though several companies, Specialized most notably, have advanced the idea of canted riding shoes, this was my first experience wearing any. By canting the soles so ever so slightly, the shoes’ stiff soles seemed able to more completely and evenly support my feet (though I couldn’t find any claims along these lines from Garneau online or in their catalog). It certainly felt weird for the first few pedal strokes, but the oddness went away within a mile or so. Though I found the cant extremely comfortable, as soles have worn, the effect has become less pronounced.  Seeing as Garneau are not advertising any cant in their shoes, I have to think that this sensation was the way in which these shoes interface with Eggbeater pedals and as the soles wear, the effect goes away, making any cant less noticeable.

Still, over the past year, I have almost always chosen the Montana XT2s over the other shoes in my closet.  Their stiffness is more than adequate and they are very comfortable for all-day rides.  My shoes came with a spare pair of ratchet ladders, which seemed odd until the first set’s teeth failed within a couple of months’ riding.  With damaged teeth, the straps would slip when tightened and prevent easy shoe removal.  Thankfully, the spare set were relatively easy to install.  In the ten months since, these have held up very well, making me think that the first were a fluke made of a softer material.  The only other real issue I have with the XT2s is their lugs’ traction on rocks- or rather their near total lack thereof.  While the firm lugs have worked great for sandy and muddy ‘cross racing, they proved downright frightening in Sedona where they were unable to find purchase on smooth (and exposed) sandstone.  In loamy or muddy areas, the Montana XT2s’ lugs will work great and should wear well.  If your riding requires emergency dabs on rocky terrain or walks on exposed ledges, however, it might be wise to look for something a bit grippier.

After a year of heavy use (6-10 hours/week) including cross country and trail riding, cyclocross, and 24-hour racing, the XT2s have performed far, far better than their price tag would suggest.  The one-way stretch Lycra material isn’t nearly as grippy as it was new, but I haven’t noticed its absence while riding.  The only visible wear is where the stitching around the lower uppers’ only window has let go, making for a flap that my duck-footed stance rubs against the crankset on every pedal stroke.  A bit of Shoe Goo should set them straight, though- beyond that, the Garneaus have held up great.

I can’t really come up with any reason for riders in loamy areas not to try the Montana XT2s.  They are an excellent shoe at a great price- Louis Garneau and company should be proud.  For the everyday mountain biker, commuter, or Sport class racer, they should last ages.  They’d be a perfect ‘cross choice too- there’s really little reason to spend any more on shoes only worn a few months every year.  It takes a lot for me to reconsider my equipment loyalties, but the excellent performance of the Montana XT2s has done just that.



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