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Bontrager Classique cycling shoes – review

Old school, retro, ‘classique’, call it what you like, there’s definitely a market in cycling for throwback style kit that combines new technology with classic looks. Giro cottoned on to this with their Empire lace-up shoes that have become very popular and other companies have brought out their own answers to the Empires, some better than others, and one of the latest being Bontrager with these Classique shoes.

Bontrager have gone full throwback with the Classiques, and the design is definitely reminiscent of Adidas’ Eddy Merckx Competition shoes or a set of their Beckenbauer football boots. Unlike, say, the Empires, that marry their old school design with a much more modern finish, the Classiques really have made an effort to look authentically 1960s. Although the caveat to that is they also come in a bright blue version.

But that apparent lust for retro hasn’t caused Bontrager to compromise on the materials used in the Classiques at all. Neither are they designed to be ridden gently on a recovery ride – these are a full-on set of race shoes. The carbon sole scores a 12 on Bonty’s own stiffness index – 14 is the top – and even though the numbers are somewhat arbitrary, the point is that these shoes are very stiff indeed, and far from worrying about whether they’re stiff enough it’s likely more the case that you should think about whether they’re too stiff for you. Really stiff soles can be uncomfortable, so it’s worth trying some out and seeing if you get on with them if you’ve not owned a top-end set of carbon-soled shoes before.

The upper is a premium ‘Clarino’ microfibre which Bontrager say is designed to be lightweight, durable and supportive. The overall 235g weight per shoe suggests lightweight is pretty much on the money, and in the durability stakes they’ve survived very nicely while we’ve been testing them, although this has been during summer so we haven’t exactly been exposing them to ice, snow and all that weather-related business. But they do seem pretty tough thus far, and certainly won’t look ruined after a few rides – always a bonus for a £200 pair of shoes. Support-wise they’re pretty good as well and strike a nice balance between supportive and comfortable. In fact, it’s another (and arguably far more relevant for the masses) way stiffness manifests itself in a bike shoe.

Finding the right balance between an upper material with enough stiffness to hold its shape and support your foot but enough give that it’s not constrictive and uncomfortable is more difficult than you might think. When your feat heat up, they expand, and if your shoes can’t accommodate that expansion that’s when the problems start. Having ridden in these on a few pretty hot days during testing, and having had issues with shoes in that regard before, I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable they were even when I was working hard and even at the end of a three-and-a-half-hour ride in 25 degree weather I wasn’t itching to get home and whip the shoes off to let my feet relax.

The Classiques are well ventilated, too. While they might not look like much on their own, the small vents all over the upper do a solid job in conjunction with the two larger vents on the top of the toe box. You won’t be reaching for the shoe covers in the height of summer with these, but you won’t be thinking of going sockless in a attempt to cool your feet down, either.

Closure is, obviously, handled by laces. The great thing about laces is that they offer a smooth, progressive closure across the whole of the foot. Other than the best Boa systems, they are, in my opinion, in a league that straps and ratchets just can’t match and that’s why they’re becoming popular again on cycling shoes. The idea that they may come undone mid-ride might put some off, but honestly, how often do the laces on your normal shoes come undone every day? Even though you’re obviously putting different stress on the laces when you’re riding hard, if you’ve done them up properly and fastened them down using the extra flap on the top, then you wont have any issues. Throughout the whole testing period I didn’t have the laces come undone while riding at all so I guess the honest answer is that they’re as secure as you’re capable of tying them.

Also, as a nice optional extra and a nod to France, you get three extra sets of laces with the Classiques in red, white and blue. It may not be the deciding factor when dropping £200 on a set of cycling shoes, but it’s a lovely little touch and means you can personalise the shoes to a degree.

Conclusion

With substance to match the style, Bontrager’s Classiques are a very good set of bike shoes. Whether or not you’re fans of laces on cycling shoes will be a purely personal thing, and not everybody is going to want a set of throwback looking shoes, but personal preference aside, these very much hold their own at the £200 price tag so there’s nothing to worry about in terms of performance out on the road.

Pros

– Very good blend of comfort and stiffness in all the right places
– Classic good looks

Cons

– Laces will probably remain an opinion-divider

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