After many decades in the apparel and protective wear game, Fox Racing decided to complete a head to toe approach and jump into the footwear game for mountain bikes. For now there are three offerings in the general purpose Union line – a flat shoe, a clipless lace shoe and a clipless BOA shoe. Fox was kind enough to fire out the Union BOA for testing and I’ve had a little bit of time to sneak in a few rides before the big news went live. While this is no means a long term review, read on for some initial thoughts.
- Dual BOA dial closure
- One piece rubber upper
- “Ultratac” high grip outsole
- $249.95 USD
While it’s worth mentioning that there is a more affordable option with laces and a velcro closure, Fox sent me the flagship BOA version, which features two dials for their lacing system. In addition to how quickly you can put them on and remove them, other benefits to BOA are the nice, evenly distributed tension and the fact that you can adjust them on the fly.
Fox did their homework and got the cleat pocket shape and design right. The entrances fore and aft are ramped so as to make it easy for your cleats to find your pedals, plus there is plenty of room for adjusting the cleat position forward or backward.
There is ample padding around the ankle area at both the cuff and the tongue. This padding itself leans toward the slightly thinner and denser end of the spectrum but I still found it quite comfortable.
The insoles feature an ergonomic shape plus a metatarsal button and some perforation toward the toe to improve breathability…
One of the standout features of the shoe is that Fox designed the insoles to have a swappable arch support. Some other brands offer multiple insoles with varying levels of arch support. That’s all well and good but not everyone is stoked to shell out $50 on insoles for a pair of ~$200 shoes they just bought. As someone with high arches I went straight to the Red set and my feet have been happy so far.
The toe area features a decent amount of ventilation and a full wrap rubber toe protection as part of the welded one piece upper. This means you shouldn’t have any peeling, delaminating or loose threads.
At 504 grams per shoe for my pair of size 11s, these are right about what you’d expect for a do-it-all MTB shoe in terms of weight.
On the trail
Starting with fit, I opted for a size 11 US. More often than not, I wear a size 10.5, so if you’re in between sizes you may want to consider leaning toward going up a half size. I found the toe box to be slightly narrower than some MTB offerings – Specialized and crankbrothers come to mind and both tend to run roomy in the toe – but I wouldn’t rate these Unions as narrow per se. Out back the heel cup fit nice and snug, as it should. The lacing system works wonderfully, as expected, and it’s easy to use, with grippy dials. I have only had a handful of rides so far but I haven’t really experienced any hot spots and the shoes are breaking in nicely.
The power transfer is excellent and I’ve found that the shank leans on the stiffer side. With that in mind I still found their off-bike walkability to be excellent. In this area I must say that the rubber compound on the outsole is likely a helpful contributing factor. It’s super grabby and comfortable to walk around in. In any case, the rubber compound alone made me curious how their flat pedal shoe would fare…
While in general I found that it was second nature to have my cleats and pedals find one another in these shoes, I do have one minor gripe with them thus far…The location of the cleat sits slightly far away from the inside edge of the shoes, which places the shoes closer to the crankarms once you’ve clipped in. Granted, these shoes are hardly even broken in as I just got them a few days ago, but in my first couple of rides I had a couple of instances where I had an awkward late release with my non-leading foot as the toe box would bump the crankarm when I twisted my heel out. As I was curious about the placement, I measured from the center of my cleats to the to the edge of the shoe and the Unions’ cleat location sat between 1/4″ and 1/2″ further away from the cranks as compared to two other sets of shoes I measured. Some of this is compounded by the fact that my Time cleats don’t have any side to side adjustment, so if you’re on Shimano or crankbrothers – which are horizontally adjustable – this may be a non-issue, but it’s worth pointing out.
As far as breathability is concerned, I’ve mainly been riding in very cold conditions so it has been tough to gauge. Sometimes full rubber topsoles can have a tendency to make shoes run a bit warm, but the lining material is quite nice and there ample perforations above the toe to keep air moving. In any case, I’ll have to report back…
While my time in the Union BOAs has been limited thus far, all signs indicate that Fox is off to a great start considering that this is their first foray into MTB shoes. The fit, materials, and design are all excellent. I particularly like the smart solution of having multiple arch profiles for one set of footbeds at no extra cost. On the topic of cost, ~$250 is a bit on the steeper side, even for a high performance MTB shoe, but consider that you can score the same features with a lace/velcro closure on the Union Lace for $70 less. All in all, it’s good to see another brand enter the footwear category and shake things up. We’ll keep you posted on how these fare in the long term…