Bontrager RL Road shoes review£139.99

Improved fit and function for 2010

BikeRadar score3/5

Bontrager's first-run RL road shoes were appealing on paper, what with their novel upper construction, stiff full-length carbon fibre plate and reasonable pricing, but we found the original version to fall well short of its promise.

An incorrect sole curvature resulted in warped cleats, fit around the heel cup was sloppy and loose, and the add-on customisable bits for the stock eSoles eFit footbed weren't even available yet. That's thankfully all been corrected for 2010 so now we can instead concentrate on its generous list of positives.

Just as before, the novel Derby-style upper (whereby the split extends nearly all the way to the front edge of the shoe) is impressively accommodating of different foot widths while the ratcheting main buckle and twin forefoot Velcro straps securely lock you in place despite the latter's curiously short length.

Heel slip with the revised heel cup shape is virtually nil now, too, and the overall feel is more solid and positive than before – if a tad wooden given the upper's somewhat stiff materials.

Full-carbon sole plate construction makes for a very stiff pedalling platform and plenty of mesh in the upper makes for pretty good ventilation, too. The sole sports two pairs of vents each as well, but as is often the case, they're obscured by the footbed so they're only marginally effective.

Ample arch support is provided by the included eSoles eFit modular footbeds with their interchangeable plastic arches and foam metatarsal pads. Buyers will still need to get a US$49.99 'Bontrager eFit Upgrade Kit' to get the complete set of alternate arches and pads but if your feet are anything other than perfectly average in shape, it's a compelling purchase since full-custom insoles are often much more expensive.

This tester's rather flat arches found the standard configuration to impinge too aggressively but swapping to the lower insert alleviated the discomfort while retaining the impressive level of support – and adding the metatarsal pads kept the toes nice and happy on longer rides.

At time of writing, Bontrager were in the process of outfitting select shops with bulk 'dealer kits' so you'll soon be able to purchase individual footbed pieces instead, thereby dramatically decreasing the cost.

There are still a few niggles on this latest version of Bontrager's RL Road shoes but they're fairly minor given the value-oriented £139.99 ($179.99) asking price. The chunky plastic buckle still feels a bit cheap and lacks a partial-release function for loosening the fit on the fly, the main strap isn't adjustable for length, riders with especially wide feet might find the toe box's inboard taper to crowd their big toes a little, and the metallic silver aesthetics definitely won't suit everyone (all-black is optional). 

For under £150, though, the Bontrager RL Road shoes still pack in a lot of value and some solid race-spec features and now that the issues have been resolved, they finally now actually fit and function pretty well too.

James Huang

Former Technical Editor, US
James was BikeRadar's US tech editor from 2007-2015.
  • Age: 40
  • Height: 173cm / 5'8"
  • Weight: 70kg / 154lb
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA
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