Since Nike and Trek Bicycles divorced Trek has been developing a line of cycling shoes of their own under the Bontrager label. Now this spring, Bontrager has aggressively launched a comprehensive range of shoes that cover both mountain and road cycling.
Bontrager’s launch is supported by a complete website that offers a product tour through the “science of comfort” and the research that’s been invested in the new line. Like everything Trek sells they break it down into a slick presentation to make you feel like you’re in a classroom instead of a sales pitch. Then based on what you’ve “learned” you feel empowered that you are an expert and confident enough to buy what they’ve taught you.
Each model has respective features to its price level. The high-end Bontrager RXL model has carbon outsoles and uppers made from a unique last, but the first impression is underwhelming and boring. Seeing the shoe next to a pair of Shimano’s reveals a difference in quality from appearance alone. Bontrager’s entire line looks more like old tennis shoes from the 1980s rather than cutting edge cycling technology we’ve come to expect.
Most of Bontager’s shoes come in a black color, but the retail version of the top-end RXL road is also offered in white with yellow trim and adjustable buckle. The result looks like a cheap knock-off of the popular Sidi Ergo.
You can certainly get more style from other shoes that cost $229 or even less. The Bontrager Race Road shoe is their entry-level offering but from the looks of the synthetic leather and tired graphic design you would be surprised to pay more than $80. Even the Street Shoe, an SPD-compatible loafer with Velcro straps for commuters looks cheap.
Bontrager shoes reflect growing consumer interest in custom sizing. They feature custom insoles provided by eSoles, a name brand in the growing world of custom orthotics. This feature is appealing but in order for the eSoles to be fully customized the bike shop must own a freestanding self-service machine to do the fitting. Several pro racers have been outfitted by eSoles. Levi Leipheimer rode his all the way to a third Tour of California championship along side riders like Geroge Hincapie and Team Ouch.
Making the kiosk available to bike shops is a neat idea, but some customers may not choose to upgrade because an extra fee will probably be applied to use it. Besides that presently only the largest cities in the United States have purchased the self-service machine and there’s only one place in the UK with a kiosk.
So the stock footbed insoles that come with the shoes may only be of added benefit if you take time to adjust the removable arch. But if your local dealer has purchased the freestanding self-service machine then you will have the option to upgrade and customize your insole to the ePro level.
The fit of the shoe was comfortable with a roomy toe box thanks to an extra-long “derby” tongue. This is good news to those who find Sidi too narrow, but then why not try a Specialized or any other high-performance shoemaker that makes a wider shoe. Then you will benefit from better styling along with the comfort and stiff carbon soles. After all $229, even $129 a big commitment and cyclists expect the most from a purchase as significant as their shoes.