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The Ballista Knit Road Cycling Shoe is Bontrager's new close-fitting, highly breathable and super-comfortable version of its standard Ballista model. The fit is great, and the black version is easy to keep clean, but I'd prefer a slightly stiffer sole for race duties.
Back in March last year I tested the standard Ballista shoes and really enjoyed wearing them. The majority of that review stands true here, with the Knit being basically the same shoe, just with a different upper.
The Ballistas, like a lot of cycling shoes, use a Boa wire tensioning system for foot retention, but rather than place it on the top of your feet, Bontrager has positioned it on the heel, with the wire running around the sides beneath your ankles before criss-crossing over the top of your foot like normal.
I mentioned on the original Ballistas how this worked really well, as the extra tension around the side of the feet gives a more secure fit and really pulls the upper in all around the foot.
The knitted material used on these works even better, though, as it feels more supple and allows more movement, so the whole shoe wraps around with slipper-like comfort without any tension hot-spots.
We've seen a move to knitted uppers by quite a few brands and to be honest I was a bit sceptical, but after wearing the Ballista Knits I am totally converted as the fit and comfort is like a second skin.
In the summer months they are going to keep your feet very cool, as breathability is impressive. Winter hasn't been the ideal test period really – even on the mildest days with temperatures around 12°C my feet were cold with the breeze whipping through them.
If it does happen to rain, the Knits come with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish to them, which also makes them easy to wipe clean should the roads be dirty. Well, the black version at least – I can't vouch for the yellow ones.
These are likely to be kept for summer best, though, so that shouldn't be a huge issue, but if you want to use them through the winter Bontrager has included a pair of overshoes in the box, with a cutout at the rear specifically to fit around the Boa dial.
They're good quality booties too, and keep the worst of the weather out. They're pretty robust, too, which goes a long way to justifying the extra £69.99 you'll need to find for the Knit shoes over the standard Ballistas.
Bontrager rates its soles from 1 to 14 for stiffness and the Ballistas' full carbon sole comes in near the upper end at 12. On the whole it is very good, and for the majority of fast-paced riding they respond well, but when I was really powering up a steep climb or sprinting, I did find some flex around the mid-sole which was a little disconcerting.
I do like the shape of the sole, with its supple arch feeling supportive, and there isn't a huge amount of vibration being transferred from the road through to your foot.
The sole will work with any three-bolt road cleat and there are alignment markings to help get your position right.
Venting is taken care of by an opening below the toes and another to remove the warm air beneath your mid-sole.
Another neat touch is the fact that the heel bumper is replaceable should it get worn down.
When it comes to sizing, be aware that they come up a little small. I am a UK 10 which equates to anywhere between an EUR 44 and 45 judging by all of the different brands of shoes I have in my collection. These test versions are a EUR 45 which Bontrager marks up as a UK 11, but I found that they fitted me absolutely fine with no sloppiness at all.
When it comes to value, the Ballistas are up against a bit of opposition in the knitted market.
The Giro Empire E70 Knit road shoes had an rrp of £199.99 when tested in 2018, although looking at Giro's UK website that has now crept up to £219.99.
That leaves 50 quid spare over the Ballistas, but don't forget you are getting the overshoes included, which will wet you back around £59.99 for the non-Boa versions.
The Ballistas are much cheaper than the DMT KR-1 shoes, though, which cost £310. Liam wasn't too impressed with the Boa positioning either, as it caused some pressure points.
Pushing the bar even higher are the Fizik Infinito R1 Knit shoes at a cool £349.99 – although Ash couldn't really fault them when it came to comfort and performance.
Taking everything into consideration, the Ballista Knits deliver a pretty good all-round package. The comfort is excellent and I'm a big fan of how they wrap around the foot. The overall quality is also very good, and when you include the overshoes, they aren't that extreme on the price front.
Powerful riders might find the sole a little on the flexible side when putting out maximum watts, but for 95 per cent of the time there will be no issue.
Supremely comfortable, highly breathable race shoes that are stiff enough for most
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bontrager Ballista Knit Road Cycling Shoes
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for
Bontrager says, "The Ballista Knit road shoe is for athletes who demand the pinnacle of performance. It's extremely efficient, super breathable and designed to wrap your foot in slipper-like comfort. The durable water-repellent (DWR) coating and a rear-mounted Boa Fit System give you a high-performance advantage wherever your race course might be. Step into the new faster you."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Cleat compatibility SPD SL 3-bolt
Closure type Dial
Sole fibre content 100% Carbon
Fibre content - upper 58% Polyester / 30% Thermoplastic Polyurethane / 8% Nylon / 4% Polyurethane
Liner fibre content 100% Polyester
The way the upper wraps around your feet gives a great fit.
The Ballistas I wore are a EUR45 which Bontrager says matches up to a UK11 but I found that they were a good fit for my UK10 feet so I'd say they come up a little small for size.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
The DWR coating means the knitted fabric is easy to keep clean just by wiping over with a cloth.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Extremely comfortable and when the temperatures are warm the breathability will keep your feet cool.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The upper just moulds itself to your foot.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
A little sole flex at top-end efforts.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Against some of the best knitted shoes we've tested from the likes of Giro, Fizik and DMT, the Bontragers are priced competitively – especially when you include the overshoes you get in the box.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, purely for the comfort.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Personally I would prefer a slightly stiffer sole for hard efforts but the sheer comfort of the upper here outweighs that much more than it did with the standard Ballistas, which is why the Knit gets four stars.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
As part of the Tech Hub here at F-At Digital, our senior product reviewer Stu uses the knowledge gained from putting well over a 1,000 products through their paces (including hundreds of bikes) to write in-depth reviews of a huge range of kit. After first throwing his leg over a race bike back in 2000, Stu's ridden more than 160,000 miles on road, time-trial, track, and gravel bikes, and while he's put his racing days behind him he still likes to smash the pedals rather than take things easy. Although, as he spends a fair bit of his time reviewing ebikes these days he's becoming an expert in letting the motor take the strain. He's also waiting for 23mm race tyres to make a comeback!