Clipless or flats? This is absolutely the most popular question I see on all women’s mountain bike forums. Back in the old fashioned (as my children like to refer to my childhood) clipless pedals were the latest and greatest. In fact, when I purchased my first “real mountain bike” the sales associate didn’t even bother to tell me about the flat shoe options. In the area where I live, where a rider pedals exclusively uphill for five or more miles, then downhill for the same distance, this makes sense. Attaching my feet to the pedals allows me to utilize and maximize energy from the up-stroke of a pedal rotation.
In some parts of the US and the rest of the world, I’ve noticed more people learning on, or switching to flats for greater foot pressure and control and the ability to bail easily in sketchy situations. However, there are still plenty of riders who prefer clipless for consistent foot placement and secure feet, which leads us to the ION Racal Select Boa (clipless) mountain bike shoe.
Materials and construction
The ION Rascal Select BOA is designed with gravity mountain biking in mind, which is not to say you can’t pedal in them as well. My testing mostly consisted of enduro-style riding, where pedaling is required, but downhills are paramount. When I first took these shoes out of the box, my immediate thought was “oh no, these look like they’re going to be hot.” Upon further use, however, I found the polyurethane upper material is breathable and appears to be almost see-through, despite the all-black color. That’s partly due to the light tan material underneath the mesh, which provides adequate cushioning and moderates temperature quite nicely.
The Rascal Select provides the breathability of an XC shoe, is sturdy in its overall construction, yet somehow stiff through the length and laterally flexible at the same time. The SUPTraction Rubber Soul, combined with a visually attractive and functional traction pattern makes walking around or extreme hike-a-biking easy breezy. This is one of the stiffest shoes I’ve personally ridden in, likely due to the reinforced shank inside.
The inner lining feels luxuriously soft and the EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate) midsole, combined with the stiff lower, absorbs impacts nicely and aids in efficient power transfer from equipment to rider. The rubberized heel and reinforced toe cap absorbs and dissipates forces when the foot hits a rock or roots, and the asymmetrical ankle guard helps protect the foot and ankle, reducing the likelihood of injury and adding a touch more safety to every ride.
The key feature, of course, is the BOA® Fit System L6. Renowned for its high standards, rigorous field testing, and durable materials, the BOA® lacing ensures even pressure from both sides of the shoe and allows for effortless adjustability, resulting in a precise fit that also helps minimize pressure points on the foot. That being said, these shoes aren’t exactly made for individuals with extremely narrow feet; unfortunately I am one of those individuals.
On the trail
Setting up of the Rascal Selects is straightforward. The sole has numbered tick marks in the middle, making it easy to match the cleat placement on both shoes, front to back and laterally.
I love these shoes for long and short rides. Though they are made for DH, they really shine while pedaling down the trail as well. The overall stiffness really aids the pedal efficiency both ascending and descending and makes me feel completely attached to the bike. The large surface area of the soles, combined with the long cleat channel makes for a pretty fast pedal connection, and in the event you don’t connect right away, the SUPTraction sole allows you to securely stand on the pedal until a connection is made. In situations where hike-a-bike is necessary, these shoes make walking up and over loose dirt, large rocks, and really everything in between easy.
There’s quite a bit of padding throughout, which makes them super comfortable as soon as you put them on and when walking around. Thanks to the EVA midsole, I didn’t experience any hot spots or foot fatigue, even after an all-day pedaling adventures. The asymmetrical ankle padding is key for us “ankle strikers” (there has to be some out there), and I am personally thankful I didn’t bleed as much wearing these shoes. Speaking of protection, the rubberized heel and toe protection made pedal/foot strikes and “oppsie” impacts seem less significant, and I definitely hit some obstacles in these bad boys.
The Boa system is quite frankly the only “lace” that makes sense to me at this point. It’s fast and easy to slip on and off and provides a secure fit for almost every type of foot. For narrow footers out there, these shoes could offer a little less room inside. Even tightened to the full extent, the Rascal select didn’t get as tight as I would have liked, allowing a bit more foot movement and a less secure fit than some of the other Boa-equipped shoes I’ve tried. However, my feet are impossibly narrow and most shoes feel wide to me. I doubt this will feel like a problem for most.
Even with a little more wiggle room, I chose to wear the Rascal Selects over the other shoes I own on a consistent basis. That’s partly because the toe box isn’t exceptionally wider than the rest of the shoe, so there is at least an even amount of room throughout, and my toes aren’t just nebulous floaters inside. Also because the heel cup is fairly narrow and secure, my heel stays put even in the chunder, which was the saving grace for me. I suspect most people with “normal people feet” will find these shoes to be amazingly comfortable and secure the moment they slip them on.
Aside from my narrow foot problem, the only negative is the color of the shoe; it only comes in black. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of black and the ION Rascal select does have subtle tan “surf inspired” details on the outside that make the color a little more spicy than plain black. And yes, I know, black goes with everything, so it may hit the mark for most people. However, black also attracts a fair amount of solar heat, and in hot sunny environments, even with spectacular ventilation, these shoes can get a touch hot. I suspect I will love these shoes more and more in the winter months, especially with a thicker sock to help fill the voids of the narrow footed.
The Ion Rascal Select BOA shoes retail for $200 (sold at Backcountry and other online retailers) which is a bit pricey, but the bang is worth the buck. They are extremely well constructed and unbelievably comfortable right out of the gate. They require little breaking in time and create zero hot spots or foot fatigue. The Boa system is easy to adjust and secure, the sole is as stiff as you’ll ever need, and you can still walk around in them without feeling like you’re in a tap-dance routine.