There’s something perennially attractive to me about brightly colored cycling shoes. The cherry-red appeal of the Bontrager RL MTB shoes was too much for me, and now my cross bike is kitted out with a matching red water bottle cage. That said, aesthetics aren’t enough to win races or get through fifteen muddy miles – do the Bontrager RLs have the chops?
Bontrager RL MTB Shoes Features:
- inForm Pro last – Ergonomically optimized high-performance fit
- Bronze Series Composite sole – Nylon composite sole
- Micro-Fit II buckle – New low-profile version of the original Micro-Fit buckle
- Stiffness index 6
- Dual-injected TPU lugs with removable toe spikes
- MSRP: $149
Trail fast, wallet friendly
There’s something undeniably space-age about the RLs – their smooth, glossy materials and laser-cut straps remind me of how far bicycle shoes have come in the last five years or so. The basics, however, remain the same: a secure fit and a stiff sole are all that’s really needed for a winning combination.
We may as well start with the sole. It’s Bontrager’s third-tier, Bronze level nylon composite sole. You can find a carbon soul one level up in the RXL’s Silver series sole, but that comes at an additional $135 to the MSRP. Is it worth paying nearly double the cost of the RL just for that c-word beneath your foot? Well, in a sense, yes. I went from a carbon sole to the RL and there is a noticeable decrease in stiffness. When I say ‘noticeable,’ though, I’m doing it with qualifications – it’s only really apparent when I’m really hammering on my XC bike or, indeed, my new cyclocross bike.
If you’re a racer, then, you’ll appreciate the added stiffness of carbon. However, if I were buying shoes for myself right now, the RLs would be the sweet spot. Taken in and of itself, the nylon composite sole is more than sufficient for my normal rides. I can feel it supporting my foot throughout the arch and it’s comfortable for the long haul. This is, no doubt, thanks largely to Bontrager’s inForm Pro last which is shared between Bontrager shoes all the way up to the premium XXX line. I was really pleased with the toe box, which is nice and roomy for my rather wide feet. Note that I sized up quite a bit – I normally wear an 11, but I’m testing a size 12. Other than that, though, the shoes fit very well and it’s easy to get a secure fit to my foot with the ratchet and strap combination.
A recent 17 mile day on the cross bike really proved the RL’s chutzpah to me. The fit is especially important, and the RLs do a good job at dialing things in. The Micro-Fit II buckle is really great. It offers a precise fit that really clamps down on slop. The velcro straps are doing a good job for now and the laser-cut backing will hopefully ensure that the strap will stay in one piece well into the future.
The shoe does well off the bike, too. In terms of pure traction, the RLs are probably the best in Bontrager’s lineup. They feature big, knobby outer lugs and the option to add (included) traction spikes. This combination makes the RLs an ideal shoe for cyclocross riding, with all of its speedy mounts and dismounts on slick grass and other cruddy surfaces. These knobby lugs do have one shortcoming, though. When the cleat is in its furthest back position, the knobs interfere with the cleat/pedal interface. And, actually, there’s some interference when the cleat is further forward. I was able to alleviate it by using shims. The pedals I’m using are Crank Brothers’ Candy’s.
One closing critique that I might make is the shoe’s ventilation. It hasn’t been a problem since I’m testing these shoes in the PNW’s characteristically wet and cold autumn, but once the summertime heat comes around I think that I’ll wish these shoes had more ventilation. They have some mesh at the top of the foot, but that’s about it. I’ve seen shoes with considerably more ventilation, but at least the RLs have the advantage in shoulder-season riding of keeping the muck out.
Good Bontrager RL:
- Micro-Fit II buckle, with straps, helps provide a great fit (even on my awkward feet)
- The last is comfortable over long differences
- Big lugs on the bottom help you claw past your competitors off the bike
- The cherry red color looks awesome
- A more forgiving (ie, less stiff) sole
Bad Bontrager RL:
- Perhaps ventilation will be an issue in warmer temperatures
- The Bronze level nylon sole isn’t especially stiff
- Cleat/pedal interface is a bummer
The Bottom Line: Bontrager RL MTB Shoes
I really like the RLs. They’re a solid shoe at a good price point, and I have to say that they do really well at cyclocross. The sole isn’t the stiffest but it’s definitely sufficient for most riders seeking, say, an upgrade from another non-carbon sole. I was especially happy with how easy it is to get a secure fit using the simple arrangement of straps and a buckle. The fact that they look sexy doesn’t hurt, either. Red makes you go faster, after all.