Lace-up shoes are, despite the onward march of innovation, definitely here to stay, with the likes of Giro and now even Specialized offering a laced option. Beyond the obvious style reasons, laced cycling shoes are proving to – surprise – offer a highly adjustable fit that leads to great comfort.
Ratchet, Velcro and Boa closures deliver two or three points of adjustment, but laces offer up to seven. Giro set the benchmark with its Empire shoes, which became immediately popular among BikeRadar staff, with two models achieving top marks. While they share the same closure concept, Bontrager's Classiques are a distinctly different pair of shoes.
While keeping true to the old-skool look, Trek’s in house brand has a distinctive take on the lace-up aesthetic. The Classiques would be at home in a L’Eroica event among the down tube shifters, wool jerseys, and leather stack hats.
Despite the retro exterior, the Classiques feature a 12k-weave carbon sole, synthetic microfibre upper and a non-slip heel lining, and weigh in at a respectable 459g a pair (EU44). Although lighter than the 504g Giro Empire ACC (EU44), they are hit out of the park somewhat by the more expensive Giro Empire SLX at 374g per pair (EU43.5) and all-new Specialized S-Works Sub6 at 340g (size unknown, claimed weight).
The first thing I noticed after slipping my feet into the Classiques were the gaping vents over the toes. Only covered with a very thin layer of chicken wire-style mesh, I could actually see my brightly coloured socks through the vent. As you'd expect, plenty of air made its way into the front of the shoe, while vents along the sides and within the soles allowed my feet to breathe nicely.
The inForm Pro Last sees the Classique flare at the business end to create a wide toe box
Based around Bontrager’s inForm Pro last, the heel cup construction is basic but solid. The shoe is snug through the ankle and midfoot before flaring at the toe box to provide breathing room for your toes. We're fans of the wide toe box – it allows plenty of room for those little piggies to spread out comfortably.
The upper is made from a synthetic material Bontrager calls Premium Clarino, the same synthetic material used in its range topping XXX road shoes. Designed to imitate kangaroo leather, which is known for its suppleness, the fabric shouldn't lose its shape over time.
No buckles in sight
One of our testers' feet are mangled from years of ski racing, so he suffers from bone spurs, with an especially big one right where the ratchet system on most shoes sits. Initially he had some pressure right over this spot, but after a few rides the upper moulded around the lump for a comfortable fit. With no hard plastic or fasteners to be found on the upper at all, there was nothing to press up against it and create an uncomfortable hotspot.
While the Premium Clarino material is much more pliable than cheaper synthetics used in other shoes, from day one we noticed some wrinkling around our arches, which actually took the inside of the shoe out of contact with our arch. This, in combination with a rather basic insole, doesn't provide as much arch support as we'd have liked.
With seven eyelets up both sides of the shoes, the Classiques have plenty of range for adjustability. Despite this, we struggled a bit to find the right lace tension. This is in part down to the upper which, while supple, is not quite enough to deal with the swelling that comes as a result of hours of riding. The real culprits however are the included rope laces, which tend to slip back through the eyelets as the shoes are being laced up.
Following a recommendation from a friend, we swapped to a pair of flat laces – the spare pair that come with Giro’s Empire shoes, in fact – and wrapped them under the sole before tying them up, much like you would with soccer boots. The flat laces lock into the eyelets much better than the rope style, and improved the fit, while also providing a surprising amount of arch support.
We are seeing more shoes making use of this one-way sliver thread
One tester found the Classiques were most comfortable when only laced through the first six eyelets, with the top eyelet putting too much pressure on his ankles. While he thought this would cause heel slip, the one-way silver thread and deep heel cup kept his feet securely planted.
Another plus is the well-padded tongue, which our testers found distributed the pressure from the laces evenly over the top of the feet. Even with the laces pulled way too tight, we didn't feel like they were cutting into our feet. We used the snap closure of the tongue to hide the bow from catching in chainrings; while this system does the job, Giro’s lace garage is a cleaner solution.
The Classique is not the stiffest shoe in Bontrager's line-up – but it's no energy waster either
The 12k weave carbon sole is given a stiffness rating of 12 out of 14 according to Bontrager’s scale. In contrast to Bontrager XXX road shoes – which receive a maximum 14/14 on the brand’s scale – the Classique soles are made from a mix of carbon and fibreglass.
That said, we couldn’t detect any loss in pedalling efficiency in these soles. Indeed, there’s a certain level of compliance in the units that helps quieten road buzz; it’s something we didn’t realize the extent of until we swapped back to a pair of Giro Empire ACCs.
If you're seeking a performance laceup cycling shoe, there aren't a lot of options out there – but we also don’t think there are any bad options. The Classique is a welcome addition to the landscape: it's well designed, made from high quality materials, and is one of the best looking shoes on the market.
In the end, shoes are a very personal piece of kit, so although one of our testers didn’t get along with the fit, these shoes are still well worth trying on if you're into the style.