Reviewed: Mavic Zxellium Ultimate Shoes
Mavic has been making shoes for several years now. Mavic’s Zxellium Ultimate Shoe, when seen in Mavic Service Course Yellow, is probably the most recognizable shoe in the pro peloton. While it shares the one buckle with two Velcro strap retention scheme with most other top shoes, it is very much a unique offering. It is those differences, and the yellow, that make the shoe interesting to us.
The ‘ultimate’ in the name refers to Mavic throwing all their best technology at the shoe. For example, they claim the shoe is both stiffer and lighter than earlier iterations because they’ve put more material into stiffening beams on the underside behind the cleat, and cut out excess material under the toe and in between the beams. They’ve also updated their straps. The Velcro-and-cable tabs now pivot off guides in the upper, rather than the top. The buckle is bigger and easier to work. They’ve added some denser padding at the top of the heel cup for better lock-in. Most significantly, they’ve added carbon-fiber reinforcing material to the arch side of the shoes. This is supposed to complement the energy frame on the outside in making the upper much harder to stretch; both are fairly soft, but neither seems to stretch at all.
As with anything pro and ‘ultimate,’ weight matters. The shoes pretty much come in as advertised. The right shoe is 254g, the left 252. The right insole 34g, the left insole 32g. They claim a size 8.5 shoe with insole is 270g. Mavic includes low profile titanium bolts for any three-hole mounting cleat that they fit on. The bolts weigh 16g. The shoes also come with a nice black mesh bag for travel.
While this is our first ride with Mavic road shoes, we’ve been using their cyclocross/mountain shoe, the Fury XC, for several years. We’re on our second pair, having upgraded to the latest iteration last fall.
Sizing for Mavic shoes is a bit different than with other shoes. In several makes, we fit a 44.5 shoe. With Mavic we’re at 45 1/3. In both cases, this seems to be called 10.5 in American sizing. The fit from the road to the ‘cross shoe seems about the same. In both cases, we found the included insole didn’t provide quite enough support for our high-arched feet and felt more comfortable with our own insoles, though we had to select carefully, as it turned out one pair of insoles we have is too thick in the heel and makes it hard for the heel cup to grab.
A big difference between the Fury and the Zxellium Ultimate turned out to be the upper. While the Ultimate looks pretty soft in shiny microfiber and the mesh is often indicative of a stretchy upper, clamp down on the buckle and you’ll find out otherwise. The upper is quite stiff and took some getting used to. While we’ve found ourselves tightening down the upper on shoes from DMT and Sidi, this one doesn’t seem to stretch at all. On early rides, it sometimes felt uncomfortably rigid, though that sensation went away as we eventually stopped clicking down so far on the buckle.
The mesh-looking material in the upper does not seem terribly breathable. It breathes, though it isn’t a thin open mesh. This makes the shoe a little warmer than some other shoes we’ve tried. The plus is that this material contributes to the upper being super stiff.
The upper is microfiber bonded to the mesh, and together, the upper is virtually seamless on the inside. It also does a good job of conforming to feet. When we over-tightened, our feet eventually felt like they were in some kind of straitjacket; even pressure keeping anything from moving.
The Velcro straps are what Mavic calls the Ergo Strap Carbon. On earlier iterations, with the Kevlar laces being fed through a housing that sat on top of the upper, the straps didn’t feel like they had much purchase. With the lace guides in the shoe, the pull is much better feeling; it seems to be more consistent and pulls more of the upper. It’s a notable improvement in both retention and comfort.
We can’t tell you if the sole has gotten any stiffer thanks to the redesign, but it doesn’t feel to be lacking in stiffness anywhere. We also can’t tell if the sole is really 5.5mm thick at the ball of our feet. However, switching around from several shoes that claim a sole thickness within a millimeter of this number, we could tell little difference in the saddle.
Another place where Mavic separates itself from the pack is cleat bolt placement. After extensive research, they put the bolts forward of what seems common. How forward is up to debate, though compared to the Giro shoes we tested, the Mavic position on the shoes we tested is approximately 1.6cm forward. But, Giro seems to put their cleat bolts a bit to the rear of where others place them, so the difference could be a good bit less than 1cm in many cases.
To accommodate those who like a somewhat rearward position, they’ve built in 6mm of fore-aft adjustment on the cleat bolts. This is something to note, as those with both long toes and a rearward position might have a harder time getting their cleats to a happy place. We set the Speedplay cleats as far back as they could go, and that wasn’t enough.
We got the Speedplay Cleat Extender Base Plate Kit, which moves the cleat back up to 14mm. This aluminum extender plate is 0.16mm thinner than the standard plate, even with the Stainless Wear Protector shim, and is only 7g heavier per plate. With the extender, we could get our cleat into the proper position. Even with our rearward placement, the centerline of the cleat still sat on the sole itself.
Speedplay cleats also presented a problem in that with both the front and rear snap-shims in place, we cracked a plastic base plate. We called Speedplay and they were fine with us not using any rear snap-shim in the mounting, so we solved this issue by taking off the rear snap shim on both cleats.
One of the many places where manufacturers can cut on material to reduce weight is on pads for walking. A heel pad doesn’t help with shoe performance, so it can be minimized. The problem is that many people walk a fair amount in their shoes. We were worried that the 2cm wide, 7mm deep heel pad would wear out quickly. It seems much more durable than we feared. And it’s fairly stable, despite the small size. The one thing to get used to is it sometimes feels squishy when walked upon.
For all the technology, for all the differences of the Mavic Zxellium Ultimate, you might as well get the yellow version. We got the black, thinking the understated touch would work better with more socks, clothes, bikes. People certainly made a point of praising the stealthy black color. At the same time, this shoe stands out in so many ways that the yellow, especially with the contrasting black carbon reinforcing material stitched into the upper, is a bolder statement and more indicative of the shoe’s soul. It’s a Mavic in the way that their best wheel offerings are unique to the company. To us, it’s similar to when they debuted the Helium wheels, and the red anodizing was a statement.
That a component is recognizable can cut both ways. If it’s good, it’s a great calling card, if it’s bad; it’s an indelible visual reminder of things gone wrong and an albatross to the creators. Mavic’s Zxellium Ultimate is the former, a component that not everyone is going to feel comfortable with but offers pro-level performance for those who want it.