I’m what you’d call a recovering shoe nerd. Since I started cycling as a teenager, gear and technology have always been an interest of mine, but I’ve had a particular fascination with the touch points – saddles, handlebars, and shoes. After all, if you’re not happy with these elements of the bike, you may as well forget about everything else. In other words, all of the aerodynamic technology in the world won’t undo the pain caused by your aching butt, hands, and feet.
That said, as I’ve gotten older, my priorities have evolved. Specific to touch points, I’m even more stubborn and impatient. I place the highest importance on three things: 1) comfort/health, 2) value, and 3) the “it just works” factor. If the product can’t satisfy these things, I’m not interested.
With that in mind, I was excited to try two pairs of shoes from Bont Cycling. Bont is new to me, having spent most of my time in shoes from Shimano, Specialized, Bontrager, Mavic, and even an old-old pair of Lake triathlon shoes. Bont is better known for their custom shoes and high price points, so I specifically asked to try their lowest-price offerings – the Riot+ road shoe and Riot TR+ triathlon shoe.
I wanted to see how they stack up against other reasonably priced shoes aimed at “the rest of us”. The customer who buys Shimano 105 or SRAM Rival. The type of shoe that someone might buy along with their first “real” road or triathlon bike. Can Bont’s entry level stack up against the competition – and live up to their own reputation for outstanding high-end shoes? Are they comfy? And do they satisfy my desire for worry-free operation?
Let’s find out.
Bont Riot TR+ - $159, 230 grams
First up, we have the Bont Riot TR+ triathlon shoe. Interestingly enough, this is the only triathlon-specific shoe in the Bont lineup. In contrast, their road line has five different shoes, topping out at $450 per pair.
Note that, like other Bont shoes, the Riot TR+ is heat moldable – a crazy feature at this price point. I felt quite happy with the shape of the shoes and didn’t feel the need to mold them further – but this is a great option if you’re picky. Given my desire for an easy ownership experience, I was glad to find out that the stock shoes worked just fine.
If you were wondering about color, they have several options ranging from black all the way to my “Totally Lime/Charcoal” test pair:
What makes a triathlon shoe a triathlon shoe? They typically feature Velcro straps rather than any sort of ratcheting buckle or other mechanical closure system. This makes it quicker and easier to get your feet into the shoes while you’re moving down the road (i.e. having pre-clipped your shoes into your pedals and jumped onto your bike while exiting the race transition area). If you’re not up to the flying-bike-mount, you’re just as fine using any standard road shoe.
It’s worth noting that the execution of these Velcro straps isn’t equal on every brand of shoe. Specifically, I’m usually not a fan when there is only one large strap. Such a system leaves my foot feeling less secure in the shoe, and like I’m losing power transfer (note that I’m 100% aware that this could be my imagination). Two straps allow for better fine adjustment, and make the shoe feel more like a traditional road shoe.
Triathlon-specific shoes also typically feature a loop at the back to help push your feet inside quickly. These can be a source of frustration for some on long rides – if the loop hits the back of your ankle (and that bothers you). I could feel the loop while riding, but it didn’t seem to cause any issues or significant annoyance.
You’ll also notice in the photo above that the carbon fiber base of the shoe wraps high around the back of your foot. This lends to the shoes having a stiff feel, but thankfully they didn’t feel too stiff. As a comparison, some of the Mavic shoes are rigid to the point where it feels strange to some folks due to the lack of any movement whatsoever.
Triathlon shoes often feature some type of venting or drainage system in them to aid in water evacuation and keeping your feet cool in very hot conditions. Mind you, I’m not aware of any testing that shows these features actually make a substantial difference for most of us, because the shoe insoles typically get waterlogged anyhow – and many races occur in cool conditions. I mention this because Bont’s Riot TR+ doesn’t have any vents or drains, save these faux vents in the front of the shoe (they don’t actually go through to the inside):
Bont is known for their nice grid system on the bottom of the shoe, to aid in accurate cleat placement. As far as the placement of the bolt holes themselves, I found that they seemed to be a little closer to the toe than the Shimano and Specialized shoes I used most recently. I simply adjusted the cleats further back (but not all the way back) in their adjustment range – so it was a non-issue. If you happen to prefer a cleat position that’s very far back, I suggest measuring your old shoes and comparing them to the Bonts before buying.
In terms of fit and sizing, Bont has done a good job here, adhering to industry standards. I ordered my typical size 45, and they seemed to be consistent with other big brands. They felt great during my test rides, with an anatomical footbed and wide toe box.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the Riot TR+. They have the features you’d expect in a triathlon shoe (minus the extra vent holes). The price point is very good – beating several competitors’ entry level shoe prices. Add to that the fact that these shoes are heat-moldable, and you have an outstanding value. If I was buying new triathlon shoes, these would be on my short list.
Bont Riot+ - $169, 280 grams
The Riot+ is the road equivalent to the Riot TR+ reviewed above. I wanted to see how the two compare, and whether they live up to the normal hype that road shoes feel more secure than triathlon shoes.
Having chosen a ridiculously loud color for the TR+, I opted for a much more understated plain-black for the road version.
The overall design and base of the shoe for the Riot+ appears to be very similar to its triathlon brethren. They have the same heat-moldable carbon base, which wraps high around the rear of the shoe.
You’ll also find the same faux vents…
…and grid-style cleat placement markings.
The cleat holes felt to be in the same location as the triathlon version – which is to say – a bit more towards the toe than some other brands (but still allowing me to adjust my cleats in the right spot).
The key difference with the road version is that it uses the popular BOA retention system to keep your feet locked in place. In order to loosen it up and get your foot inside the shoe, you must first pull up on the round dial and pull the shoe open.
Once your foot is inside, push down on the dial (you’ll hear it snap), and turn it to tighten down to your desired position.
While riding the Riot+, I noticed that they did indeed feel a bit more secure than the triathlon-focused Riot TR+. This isn’t a knock on either shoe – they have different design and use priorities, and ultimately a different end user.
How do you decide what’s best for you? It should go without saying that if you’re exclusively riding on the road (i.e. not participating in triathlons), go with the standard Riot+. It’s a great value with heat-moldable capability, a secure feel, and the BOA system that you typically only see on much more expensive shoes. For the triathletes among you, the Riot+ is also a great choice if you’re doing long course racing or otherwise value a little bit of extra comfort and security over the fastest transition times. If you’re a true triathlon Speed Racer and plan to pre-clip your shoes into your pedals, the tri-specific Riot TR+ is your better choice.