Shoes are a recent addition to the Bontrager line, with the Trek-owned component brand picking up where the Trek/Nike partnership left off. Bontrager has a range of three MTB shoes, with the RL Mountain being the middle one. Despite the fairly race-shoe looks, Bontrager describe the RL as “more about epic adventures than all-out speed”.
It’s not lacking in high-end features, though. You’re getting a carbon-reinforced sole, ratcheting top strap, optional toe studs and sturdy external heel cup. They’re also notably light for a mid-range shoe. The uppers are a combination of synthetic leather and nylon without too much water-admitting mesh in evidence. The tongue is slightly padded for extra comfort. Underneath there’s the usual arrangement of tread blocks, threads for studs up the front and two-bolt cleat attachment.
Inside the RL shoes are a pair of eSoles footbeds. eSoles is best known for its custom insoles that accommodate the unique idiosyncracies of individual feet, but the Bonty shoes come as standard with “universal” footbeds. The eSoles system works by scanning people’s feet and making footbeds accordingly, but that process also gives eSoles probably the world’s biggest database of foot dimensions, making them well-placed to come up with a pair of standard footbeds that will work pretty well for most people.
If you have particularly wonky feet, then it’s worth noting that a pair of custom eSoles footbeds will drop straight in to any Bontrager shoes without any worries about there being no room left for your foot. You’ll need to be quite keen to go custom, though – only CycleFit in London have the necessary eSoles foot-scanning gubbinses and a pair of custom insoles will cost about twice the price of the RL shoes. Certainly worth bearing in mind if you know you need them, though, or indeed if you already have them.
Shoe fit is all about the “last”, which is the foot-shaped thing that shoes are made around. These vary from manufacturer to manufacturer (although obviously they all say that theirs suit the largest proportion of the population), making shoes a definite “try before you buy” item. For what it’s worth, though, Bontrager’s inForm last is on the wide side, with a pleasingly roomy toebox.
We certainly found them comfortable, in a “forget they’re there” kind of way. We’re still big fans of Specialized’s various Body Geometry cants/wedges/bumps, but Bontrager’s offering is light and good value. The Velcro doesn’t seem as grippy as some (and there’s not a huge area of it), but that’s about all we don’t like. Time will tell how long they last…