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Peloton Service Course: Bontrager GR2 Gravel Shoes

Words/images: Tim Schamber

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I’ve figured out the perfect time of day to get out on the open road and gravel during this time of Covid-19. It’s either real early in the morning (6:00 a.m.) or around dinner time (6:00 p.m.). It’s a challenging time and since everyone is home these days, it makes it tricky to hit spots that are normally desolate for me, thus the preferred schedule of  6 o’clock. So with a mask in hand for when I happen to encounter people, I set out and got in some miles on the Bontrager shoes. It was the perfect mix of terrain and conditions (road, dirt, mud, and muck) to get a full understanding of how these shoes worked.

Let’s face it, sizing can be a tough one. A size 44 with one company can be something entirely different than what you may be familiar with. Often, 44 means size 10, 10.5 or 10.6 (yeah, that’s a size) in the U.S., but Bontrager’s 44 is a size 11 U.S., so just know that before you order online.

There is plenty of room in between the beefy “knobs” for your two-bolt cleats, so don’t worry about problems with clicking in, and don’t fear falling over trying to escape in a sticky situation. And, unless it’s raining frogs and you’re slogging through a bog of clay, you’ll have enough room for the mud to escape.

Sometimes, lace-up dirt shoes can be a little wimpy in the heel, but these aren’t. There’s enough “GnarGuard” (rubberized coating) in the rear to keep it stiff and protected, too. Speaking of that, the front has a generous portion of coating to fight against pesky rocks, mud, sludge, water…anything. The GR2 also has one of the beefiest soles we’ve seen on a cycling shoe. Most likely you will never wear-out the rear segment of the sole, but with enough mix of terrain and walking the front will decline. I have a hunch that because the front section of the sole is as substantial as the rear, it will take an incredible amount of wear to lose material or break down the two screw-in “cleats” up front.

Sometimes the trick with dirt shoes is how to make them durable enough to withstand the rigors of Mother Nature, but not too stiff to make it feel like you have a 2-by-4 piece of lumber strapped to your feet. It’s a tricky balance, because on dirt your feet are all over place doing different things in various positions—dismounting, walking, you name it. Too stiff and the ride becomes laborious and painful and affects other things like hands and lower back. Not stiff enough and you’re losing power, especially when negotiating a tight, steep single-track ascent.

Bontrager has taken this aspect very seriously and the design reflects it. While the sole is at the heart of it, the upper also plays a key role. Though the synthetic leather is supple, it is wrapped at the crucial edges with a generous helping of rubberized coating, which stiffens up the power points of the heel, arch and toe-box area. Effectively, the coating serves two purposes quite well: protection and stiffness.

Inside, there’s a standard, removable insole that is thin, but comfortable. On the insole near the toe-box you’ll find 25 ventilation holes. While this may seem insignificant and a borderline OCD (obsessive-compulsive-disorder) observation, they do play a role in ventilation, as do the 292 outer shoe holes (yeah, I counted!). And while the outer 292 don’t go all the way through the material (which is good) they do offer airflow to the inner liner material (which is great).

Because they aren’t 2-by-4-lumber stiff, they really are walkable. Yeah, I know, all dirt shoes are walkable, especially since they provide beefy sole knobbies allowing you to walk with a normal stride, but the GR2s react more like a real comfortable low-top hiking boot than a cycling shoe. So, if it does rain frogs or you have a major, unfixable mechanical issue on the trail, you can walk for a while without a problem.

It’s important. We know that. Like socks and glasses, shoes play an key role in the overall style setup. It’s hard to argue with the GR2’s throwback, lace-up look. We chose the “Old Style Gold” color as opposed to the black and love the look. The color is perfect. Like the color orange, gold is tough to get right, but Bontrager has succeeded. It’s less gold and more tan (is that a color?), but it does have a hint of old-world, earth-tone yellow in the mix to warrant the color name. The laces are black with specks of red that match the Bontrager logo that appears on the outer front of each shoe and the legendary lowercase “b” logo on the tongue and heel. The Bontrager branding is placed perfectly and not in your face and overdone.

Sometimes, laces, like insoles, can be an afterthought, but Bontrager has supplied really good laces for the GR2s. Round and long enough for even the widest of feet they are sealed well at the ends and cinch up as tight as you need and tuck under the band, and easily un-cinch when you want to get out of the shoe. Laces may seem insignificant but they come under great stress and you’ll soon realize how important they truly are. It’s like putting a shitty zipper on a rain jacket or jersey. You get the point.

We like the GR2s, as they offer everything you need and want in a dirt shoe: comfort, style, performance and stiffness. Not everyone likes lace-up cycling shoes. You can’t adjust them on the fly, they may limit the power on the true thunder-thigh, power-hungry riders, but for the everyday person out for a ride they tick all the necessary boxes. In a sea of $200-plus shoes the GR2s at $140, with all the technology and comfort characteristics they offer, are at the price-point where you won’t feel “obligated” to love them because they were so expensive! If I told my wife I spent $399, let alone $140, on a pair of cycling shoes, she would lose her mind. But shoes, like saddles (among other things) can enhance the love of riding bikes or make you hate it. Seems cheesy, but try playing a 3-on-3 basketball game in a pair of slip-on Vans!

Size reviewed 44 (11 U.S.); 353g per shoe (size 42); available in Black or Old Style Gold; two-bolt pedal pattern; $140;