Bontrager's new GR2 Gravel Bike Shoes are a tough and highly durable option with a medium level of sole stiffness and loads of grip for when you're off the bike.
I've been using the GR2 shoes from February to April. It barely stopped raining for the first few weeks of testing, then it was completely dry for the final weeks. I've worn these shoes on everything from gloopy mud to dusty gravel roads, and I like them a lot.
The upper is made from synthetic leather. It's not the most supple material ever but it is strong and durable. Looking at the shoes in front of me now, the uppers are pretty much in perfect nick – filthy, admittedly, but undamaged by stones pinging up right, left and centre, or close encounters with thorns and brambles overhanging the various tracks I've ridden. I'll give them a quick wipe over and take a couple of photos so you can see for yourself.
Even if you do scratch that upper, you'd have to go some to cause anything other than cosmetic damage. I'm not saying it's impossible, but the material is pretty thick and tough.
The most exposed areas at the toe and heel are covered with what Bontrager calls GnarGuard, which it already uses in its mountain bike shoe range. This is a rubberised coating, but don't think of soft, tacky rubber, think of hard, plasticky rubber. This stuff flexes, but it takes a bit of persuading. Again, I'm not saying you'll never damage this material, but it provides really good protection against scratches, scrapes and flying debris.
Closure is handled by laces, metal eyelets at the top avoiding any damage if you like to do them up super-tight. You tuck the ends into an elastic lace keeper, a simple system that works just fine. The tongue is deeply padded and I've never noticed any particular pressure from the laces across the top of my foot. Of course, you can't adjust the fit on the fly like you can with a dial closure or a Velcro strap.
These certainly aren't the airiest shoes ever but ventilation comes in the shape of perforations on both sides of the upper and just above the toes. Obviously, on a wet ride a small amount of water can get in through those holes too – that's the thing with holes! I can't say it ever affected me, but it's a possibility.
As you can see in the picture, those holes can get plugged with mud and dust, depending on the riding conditions. Just wiping over the upper with a damp cloth will sort it; there's no need to get busy with a brush or anything like that.
Flipping the shoe over, the sole is made from nylon composite. It feels reasonably stiff when you're riding (not nearly as rigid as a high-end road shoe, of course) yet flexible enough to allow you to walk. You definitely know you're wearing cycling shoes when you're off the bike – you're not going to want to go hiking in these – but you can move about okay. For that reason, these would make decent shoes for urban use as well as gravel/adventure riding.
The Tachyon rubber outsole gives loads of traction on all of the surfaces I've encountered. The material isn't the toughest ever, hence the depth used here, but it doesn't slip on wet stone and the tread really helps on softer ground. I've had stones occasionally getting stuck in the heel tread but... pfft! If that happens you flick it out.
As you'd expect, the sole is compatible with two-bolt recessed cleats – Shimano SPD and the like – and there's plenty of space for getting the exact cleat position you want. Splash through a load of puddles and water could get in through the holes in the sole, but it's not something I encountered during testing.
Loops at the rear – at the top of the heel counter – are designed to allow you to hang the shoes up for drying.
The GR2s are built using Bontrager's inForm Race last, which might mean something to you if you've bought the brand's shoes before. If not, you get quite a roomy toe box here – not mega-broad, but I have medium-width feet and I had plenty of wriggle room. I didn't find the heel counter especially grippy but, on the other hand, I didn't get an uncomfortable amount of heel lift either.
The Shimano RX8 SPD Shoes that Stu reviewed recently were priced £219.99 and the Rapha Explore Shoes that I reviewed last year were the same price (well, 1p more expensive, if you want to be pedantic).
Both of those models are a little lighter, a bit less clumpy, and a bit more tippy-tappy roadie than the Bontrager GR2s. On the other hand, the GR2s are really sturdy – they'd beat either of those other two in a fight! – and they're 90 quid cheaper, so the best option for you depends on what you're after.
The Bontrager GR2 Gravel Bike Shoes are super-tough with a sole you can walk in and grippy tread. They're a good buy if you're after something that's going to last.
Durable gravel shoes that'll stand up to all kinds of abuse, with a grippy sole and a reasonable price tag
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bontrager GR2 Gravel Bike Shoes
Size tested: 46
Tell us what the product is for
Bontrager says, "The Bontrager GR2 Gravel Shoe is perfect for a long adventure, endurance race or even cyclocross race with a more contemporary look accustomed to the modern-day gravel rider. It features the infinite adjustability of laces and includes a useful lace catcher to clean up clutter. The GR2 can also scramble through rough terrain with ease thanks to the outsole's unmatched grip and traction allowing you to stay stable on a variety of surfaces."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Bontrager lists these features:
- inForm Race offers a slightly roomier, high-performance fit
- Nylon composite Bronze Series sole provides stiff yet walkable performance
- Classic lace closure system with convenient elastic lace keeper
- The Tachyon rubber outsole allows great grip in all terrains
- Stiffness index 6 of 14
- Durable, GnarGuard rubberised coating protects against abrasions and fights debris
- Compatible with 2-bolt SPD-style cleats
- Locker loop on rear allows hanging for quick drying
They're not the most supple or subtle shoes, but they're built to last.
They have a fairly roomy toebox and the laces provide easy adjustment off the bike.
I nearly always use size 46; I reckon I could have got away with a size smaller here.
The focus is on durability rather than a light weight.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
You only need to give them a wipe over with a damp cloth from time to time. The perforations in the upper can get clogged with mud on wet rides. Getting that out is a bit more difficult, but a damp cloth will still do it.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The shoes do a good job with durability a major strength.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Durability, grippy sole and good price.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I did find them a bit clumpy.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The Shimano RX8 SPD Shoes that we reviewed recently were £219.99 and the Rapha Explore Shoes that I reviewed last year were £220. The Bontrager GR2s are a whopping £90 cheaper.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Possibly
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
These are good shoes, especially if durability is your priority. They're an easy 7.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.