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Bontrager shoes are new to me. Until now, I had never used any of their road or triathlon shoes. They tout light weight, stiff carbon soles, and ergonomic last designs, and I was eager to see how this all fleshed out. After all, Trek/Bontrager have a lot of products on their menu; can they truly compete with shoe-only companies such as Sidi? Let’s find out.
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Bontrager RL Road Visibility (2014)
As usual, let’s hit the basic specifications.
Bontrager RL Road Visibility specs:
MSRP: $179.99 USD
Weight: 268g per shoe (measured for size 44.5)
Whole sizes: 40, 47, 48
Half sizes: 41 – 46
Sole material: Silver Series carbon
Cleat compatibility: 3-hole Shimano/Look; adapter required for Speedplay
When the shoes arrived and I opened the box, I was immediately struck by the (very) loud appearance:
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Similar to most other high-visibility products, the color is somewhere in the yellow-but-kind-of-greenish neon hue. It’s really, really bright.
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The sizing for the RL Road seems to run consistent with industry standards. I normally run in an 11.5 US running shoe for brands such as New Balance, Saucony, and Brooks. I’ll occasionally wear an 11 or 12, depending on the brand and model. In Specialized and Shimano, I seem to feel good in a 45 for autumn riding with thicker socks, or a 44.5 for summer riding with thin socks.
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These 44.5’s felt dead-on perfect riding on the trainer with thin socks. The toe box feels somewhat reminiscent of New Balance shoes – rounded and wide enough, but not too wide. Bontrager only offers the Visibility color in standard widths; black RL Road shoes can be had in extra-wide for those that need it.
The RL Road supports standard 3-hole cleats, such as Shimano and LOOK. Speedplay cleats may be used, but require an adapter plate (available from Speedplay).
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Cleat placement on the RL is towards the ‘more-forward’ end of the spectrum. Of the shoes that I’ve tried, Shimano offers the best rearward placement (e.g. towards the heel), due to their sliding bolt holes. Previously, I thought that Mavic had the most forward cleat placement, but that has now been replaced by Bontrager. Of the recent-model shoes I’ve tried, this is the order of cleat placement from furthest-forward to furthest-rearward: Bontrager, Mavic, Specialized, Shimano.
I was able to hit my preferred cleat position, but I had to slam them all the way back. This photo shows the RL (left) compared to the Mavic Tri Helium (right), both with Shimano blue cleats:
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The cleats bolt in to what Bontrager calls their Silver Series carbon sole. Similar to many other companies, they also have a ‘stiffness scale’ – and these score a perfect 10:
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The RL Road also has a replaceable heel tread:
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Overall, the fit of the shoes felt very good. As previously mentioned, the toe box felt sufficiently wide, and the soles were solid. They don’t feel ‘Mavic-stiff’, but are likely a good middle ground for the average triathlete or road cyclist. The upper seems to hug my feet well, and I don’t slide around in the shoe at all.
I’m generally a fan of road shoes’ ratcheting mechanisms, which usually feel more substantial than a Velcro strap. The RL’s didn’t disappoint, with good micro-adjustment and secure feel.
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My only complaint about the shoe is that it isn’t offered in a women’s version. As well, I’d love to see a high-vis version of the Hilo triathlon shoe. If you can find your size in the RL, I think it deserves a very hard look. The price is downright cheap compared to many competitors’ shoes, and they’re covered by Bontrager’s 30-day Unconditional Guarantee – if you don’t like them, you can return them at the original point of purchase.
Personally, I’m going to be adding these shoes to my standard summer wardrobe. With my superior sense of fashion, I think they’ll be a nice complement to my existing color scheme.
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Above photo © Eric Wynn / Shimano