Supreme stiffness with custom fit comfort, all at a price that puts other shoes to shame
Weight: 668g Contact: www.saddleback.co.uk
If you were watching closely, you may have spotted a pair of natty yellow Bont's gracing the feet of a certain B. Wiggins in July this year. Wiggins no doubt likes their customisability and stiffness, and these less expensive Bont A-Three road shoes perform just as well, albeit for a few grams more.
Known for their bathtub style soles and alternative design philosophy, Bont have brought the A-Three to market promising to bring the performance that have made their top end shoes a favourite among many top pros, down to a more affordable price point.
In order to hit this price point, the A-Threes come with fibreglass soles instead of top end carbon fibre. Don't be jumping to the conclusion that these are in any way 'soft' however, as the stiffness is right up there with anything I've ever experienced.
I'd always thought claims of shoe stiffness were something that reviewers only mentioned to justify their own existences, but these Bonts really did blow me away – the difference was immediately noticeable.
I've found myself choosing the A-Threes over a number of more expensive carbon-soled options due to their shear solidity under power. Aggressively stomping on the pedals has never felt so great.
Not only does the bathtub style sole deliver terrific stiffness, but the A-Threes are also very supportive with the fibreglass extending right up the arch providing a solid platform to push down on.
I tend to suffer with collapsing arches under power and have to resort to customisable E-Sole insoles in other shoes, but found the thin stock insoles to be more than adequate.
Through the custom moulding process, which takes just 20 minutes in a standard oven and can be repeated any number of times, you can even increase the support provided by pushing the sole inwards at this spot.
This also lets you adapt the shoes to any particular oddities your feet might possess; and let's face it, we all have some. (An added benefit of the custom fit procedure, is that you can dry your shoes in the oven after a wet ride - just remember to remove cleats and insoles beforehand.)
A stack height of only 4.8mm, just 1.2mm less than the range topping Vaypors, also helps to reduce any rotational loads around the pedal leading to increased stability. It's likely that you'll have to lower your saddle height to compensate for this.
When fitted with cleats, the cleat is fully supported across its entire surface no matter how far inwards it is positioned. There's no point having a super stiff sole if half the cleat is hanging off the edge and can flex freely.
The tight grid spacing is another welcome touch and speaks to the performance intent of these shoes. Too often, cleat placement takes a back seat in shoe design, but here you can tell that Bont has made it a priority with well positioned bolt holes and the aforementioned grid.
The uppers too are significantly different from traditional shoes. On first use, they can seem very stiff and unyielding – Italian race slippers these are not – but the counterpoint is that heel retention is great.
The Bonts are very wide across the forefoot and particularly in the toe box which more closely follows the shape of an actually person's feet than more symmetrical and pointy shoes. This can lead to a feeling of 'swimming' about in the shoes, especially for someone with low volume feet such as mine, but once I'd stuck them in the oven and cranked the straps down, my feet felt much more cosseted.
Instead of the more traditional tongue+sides construction, the A-Threes forgo the tongue completely with one of the sides wrapping over and around the top of the foot. This forces the foot back into the heel of the shoe and is one of the keys to the lack of heel lift when using the A-Threes.
The main ratchet strap is very broad and acts in the same direction as this wrap of material, further helping to lock the heel in place. The middle Velcro strap acts more across the foot, to hold the forefoot in place. The front strap is pretty redundant and could easily have been omitted for further weight savings.
A side effect of the lack of tongue is that Bont shoes in general really free up the front of the ankle to flex and bend without restriction. This will be music to the ears of those who pedal with a more heal-down action and have suffered from tongues biting into the front of their ankles. It does initially make you feel quite 'naked', and you would have thought that heel retention would suffer as a result, but not so.
The A-Threes feel a lot more comfortable out on the bike than when you first put them on. The stiff uppers, which seem unyielding when standing or walking, provide outstanding support when really laying down the power, while the super stiff wraparound sole distributes the pedalling forces over one's entire foot, eliminating hotspots.
At £125, the A-Threes can hardly be termed 'entry-level', but in a world where top end shoes are pushing over the £300 mark, these A3s start to look like an absolute bargain. No other shoe that I've come across comes close to providing the features (custom-fit etc.) and sheer performance that these do in this price bracket.
Yes, other shoes of similar price may come with carbon fibre soles, but ultimately, performance is what counts, and not the use of any specific materials.
If there's one thing you can knock the A-Threes for, it's their lack of ventilation built into the uppers. There are no areas of mesh to speak of, just a few sets of holes punched into the synthetic material on either side of the forefoot.
In typical UK conditions, overheating feet has never been an issue for me and indeed, the extra warmth could be seen as a selling point, but on a eight- suffer fest through the Pyrenees in temperatures approaching 30 degrees, my feet did suffer from the heat.
Granted, this discomfort is par for the course on such a hard ride, and I'm not sure I would have been truly comfortable in any pair of shoes.
If you're after performance on a budget then look no further. The Bont A-Threes combine supreme stiffness with custom fit comfort, all at a price that puts other shoes to shame
road.cc test report
Make and model: Bont A-Three Road Shoes
Size tested: Size 47
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
According to Bont's website:
"The Bont a-three brings new meaning to the term 'value for money' for a cycling shoe. This is a fully heat moldable, hand made, light weight fiberglass racing shoe that is loaded with features."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Chassis material: Monocoque fiberglass base
Resin: Epoxy Thermoset Resin
Upper Material: Choice of Black or White Matt Microfiber
Liner Material: Non Porous Microfiber
Stack Height: 4.8 mm
Air Vents: 40 air vents on frontal area of shoe and air gills in arch area
Innersole: EVA thermo moldable Innersole
Sole Guards: Replaceable
Padding: Memory Foam
Heat Moldable: Fully Heat Moldable Monocoque Chassis
Cleat Mounting: MM grid plus grip, 3 Hole Look Configuration
Closing Options: 3 Velcro Straps
Weight: 295grams - 3 Velcro Straps
The A-Threes seem sturdy and well made. A few less than perfect glue marks indicate that each of these shoes is hand made
The A-Threes feature among the stiffest soles out there even though it only made from lowly fibreglass. The support and stability the shoes provide when really cranking is also exemplary
So far, so good. The lack of any real mesh makes these a doddle to keep clean and looking like new
Impressively light for such a stiff non-carbon shoe
Initially, these didn't seem like the most comfortable, but out on the bike, you really don't notice them unless you're marvelling out how good they feel under power.
You'd be hard pushed to find a better set of shoes at this price range
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Stiffness and support
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
About the tester
I usually ride: Giant TCR Advanced 2 My best bike is: Canyon Ultimate CF7
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, sportives, mtb,