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Good scores are more common than bad, because fortunately good products are more common than bad.
Bontrager's Circuit Road Shoes offer great looks and features at a price that will appeal to many on a more modest budget than some high-end shoes demand.
The first thing you notice with these shoes is how great they look. The vibrant red exudes class and style and suggests a shoe costing twice as much, following the lead of top-end S-Works and Giro designs. Obviously, the bright red isn't to everyone's taste, but I think it looks great.
The shoes are secured by both a Boa dial and a Velcro strap, fusing new and old technologies. The Boa secures the top two-thirds of the upper, giving the flexibility and adjustability of fit that makes this system so popular. There is only one dial to adjust two of the three fitting 'portions' of the shoe, though – some higher-end shoes feature a dial per portion. Having just one dial means there is a little less flexibility in the adjustment than you might want.
The very bottom of the retention system is via a Velcro strap. This system feels a little dated, but having just the one strap at the toe end is no big deal, as the lower half of the shoe is always harder to adjust for fit no matter what system used.
The overall fit is Bontrager's 'InForm Race' style, which is intended to be slightly roomier to fit those with a wider foot, and provide a little more comfort on longer rides. My feet tend towards the slimmer end of the spectrum, and I did notice the extra space. The shoes weren't massive on the foot, but a little roomier than I'd like, meaning I had to tighten the Boa almost to the maximum to obtain a secure fit.
I tested a size 43, and length-wise they were spot on, fitting just as I've found other size 43 cycling shoes do. The cut of the upper around the ankle and upper foot is quite high on the inside, meaning there can be a very small amount of rubbing on your skin as you ride. This isn't a huge deal thanks to the padded tongue and inner, but it was noticeable at first. Over one test ride of around 100km I generally found the shoes pretty comfy, with no numbness or blistering.
The sole is stiff, although – as you'd expect for a £100 shoe – it's not the best out there. When trying to really put the hammer down on some of my test rides I really noticed the difference between the Bontragers and a really top-end carbon sole. The sole is a nylon composite made up of 85% nylon and 15% fiberglass, which Bontrager says offers a stiffness of 7 out of 14 on its own index. Bontrager has applied its 'powertruss design' to the sole, which it claims adds stiffness without any extra weight. While the power transfer through the feet to the pedals didn't feel as effective and efficient as a top-end shoe, for the price it certainly isn't bad.
The sole is suitable for two and three-bolt cleat systems, so you can ride them with a set of SPD pedals or more traditional road pedals such as Look or Shimano SPD-SL, making them a versatile option that will suit all riders.
At 310g per size 43 shoe (without cleats), they're certainly on the heavy end of the scale, though you wouldn't expect featherweights given the price.
It seems there's a direct correlation between the price of cycling shoes and gourmet sausage rolls nowadays: it increases every time you look. Many cycling shoes are priced around £150 per pair, and it's not uncommon to see some retailing nearer £300. As such, finding a pair for 'just' £99.99 is refreshing. With that in mind, and the host of great features on these shoes – notably the Boa dial, great looks and relatively stiff soles – they're really good value for money and an attractive option for a newer or more casual rider.
What are the alternatives? A very similar pair are the Fizik R5Bs, which have the same Boa and Velcro strap combination, but weigh a claimed 50g per shoe less (602g a pair in size 46, according to the road.cc Scales of Truth), albeit for around £30 more. It's worth thinking about, as shoes are one of the most essential parts of your wardrobe in terms of boosting performance and comfort on the bike, so are well worth investing in. As these Cube C:62s illustrate, increasing your spend by £70 or so – which, if the shoes last a few years, ultimately works out as relatively little – means you can get a lot more for your money.
With all this in mind, I'd conclude that the Circuits are a great option for the money. There are a few little niggles – the wide fit and high cut don't suit my particular foot shape – but for £99.99, these shoes offer good value and performance.
Great value entry-level shoes that offer both looks and performance
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bontrager Circuit Road Shoe
Size tested: 43
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?
Bontrager markets the shoe as being equal parts stiff, comfortable, and ready for anything. They are compatible with both 2-bolt SPD-style cleats and 3-bolt systems.
Bontrager says: "Efficient, full-featured road cycling shoe with roomy design for all-day comfort.
"Unlock your potential and go farther with the Circuit road shoe. Equal parts stiff and comfortable, compatible with both 2-bolt SPD-style and 3-bolt cleats, this shoe is ready for anything."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
The shoe offers a slightly roomier, high-performance fit, with a nylon composite Bronze Series sole. The PowerTruss sole design improves stiffness without adding significant weight, whilst a Boa L6 dial offers precise adjustability.
Bontrager lists these features:
inForm Race offers a slightly roomier, high-performance fit
Nylon composite Bronze Series sole
The PowerTruss sole design improves stiffness without adding significant weight
Boa L6 dial for precise adjustment
Stiffness index - 7 of 14
Compatible with 2-bolt SPD-style and 3-bolt cleats
Liner Fibre Content 100% Polyester
Fiber Content - Upper 56.9% PU / 10.5% Polyester / 32.2% Nylon / 0.4% Steel
Sole Fibre Content 85% Nylon / 15% Fiberglass
The shoes are a little heavy and not the stiffest on the market, but for the price they perform admirably and are a great option for a newer rider.
After around 500km, there's no sign of damage or wear. The upper shows scuffs quite easily, the inevitable result of having bright red shoes.
The shoes are designed to offer a slightly roomy fit, and come up a little wide on my narrow feet. The cut around the top of the foot and ankle is a little high and so there is some rubbing, though this does not cause notable discomfort; it just feel a little odd at first. The Boa dial is excellent for obtaining a good fit, though it would be nice to have two dials. The Velcro strap at the bottom isn't so flexible and adjustable, although as this is based at the toe end, where adjustability is always limited, this is less important.
A size 43 fitted as other size 43 cycling shoes do, though as mentioned above, they are a little wide.
The 310g weight per shoe is quite hefty, but for £99.99 it's acceptable.
The shoes certainly deliver on the comfort part of the marketing claim. The upper is soft and flexible, helping to keep you comfortable over longer rides, even though the soles aren't that stiff.
Getting a shoe with a Boa closure, a solid and reliable construction, and great looks for under £100 is great value.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
The upper scuffs and dirties relatively easily, but it can be wiped down easily and kept reasonably clean.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
For a lower-end shoe (relatively speaking) they perform well, though there's room for improvement in the fit and weight.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The shoes look great, and the Boa closure offers precise adjustability.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The shoe isn't particularly light, and the sole not very stiff. If these were improved these shoes could really compete with other more pricey options; but then the price would probably go up...
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? If I was looking for £100 shoes, yes, I'd certainly consider these.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
When rating these shoes, it's important to put them into the context of their great value. For £99.99, these are an excellent option for those on such a budget, or newer or more occasional riders, offering a reasonably stiff sole and good adjustability, along with eye-catching looks.
About the tester
I usually ride: Giant TCR / Cannondale Supersix My best bike is: Giant TCR
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, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding