Bontrager components have been around for decades, but shoes are relative newcomers in their expansive lineup of products. The RL is the middle offering from a range of three models, but it still boasts an impressive spec. The soles are carbon reinforced, and despite a very rugged, sturdy look they feel very light. As a point of difference, the RL features the unusual looking eSole footbeds. eSoles produces a range of custom footbeds, but the version used in the RL is the ‘universal’ model, intended to provide more support and less wasted power than a typical foam footbed. Shoe fit will vary so much from one rider to the next, but their shape suits my feet (which are wider than average) very well. They’re well structured with no wasted space, and the stiff cup around the rear of the shoe wraps right up and around the heel area, providing a very secure hold. The ratcheting strap contributes to this locked-in feel, and I have to admit it’s one of the most robust, well thought out straps that I’ve come across. Ratcheting buckles are a potential weak point in any shoe, being exposed and prone to damage, but so far this one has taken the knocks well and is easy to use with a very positive feel.
The moulded plastic arch support of the eSole footbed feels a little unusual when you first try them on, though this quickly disappears. I’ve become so accustomed to riding with custom moulded footbeds that I’m wary of going without them, but the support this footbed offers is excellent, eliminating the cramping and hotspots that I’ve experienced in shoes with standard foam insoles, even on longer rides.
Though it’s not marketed as a race shoe, the soles on the RL are very stiff and feel similar to other ‘performance’ shoes that I’ve come across. The aggressive tread and the option of being able to run sprigs on the front make this a great shoe for year-round use, and so far they’ve lived up to their robust looks, holding up very well in muddy, wet winter conditions. These shoes offer fit and performance that compares well against models in a much higher price bracket. JOSH WRIGLEY