Bontrager's first-run RL road shoes were appealing on paper what with their novel upper construction, stiff full-length carbon fiber plate and reasonable pricing but we found the original version to fall well short of its promise: an incorrect sole curvature resulted in warped cleats, fit around the heel cup was sloppy and loose, and the add-on customizable bits for the stock eSoles eFit footbed weren't even available yet.
That's thankfully all been corrected for 2010 so now we can instead concentrate on its generous list of positives.
Just as before, the novel Derby-style upper (whereby the split extends nearly all the way to the front edge of the shoe) is impressively accommodating of different foot widths while the ratcheting main buckle and twin forefoot Velcro straps securely lock you in place despite the latter's curiously short length. Heel slip with revised heel cup shape is virtually nil now, too, and the overall feel is more solid and positive than before – if a tad wooden given the upper's somewhat stiff materials.
Full carbon sole plate construction also makes for a very stiff pedaling platform and plenty of mesh in the upper makes for pretty good ventilation, too. The sole sports two pairs of vents each as well but as is often the case, they're obscured by the footbed so they're only marginally effective.
Ample arch support is provided by the included eSoles eFit modular footbed with their interchangeable plastic arches and foam metatarsal pads. Buyers will still need to get a US$49.99 'Bontrager eFit Upgrade Kit' to get the complete set of alternate arches and pads themselves but if your feet are anything short of perfectly average in shape, it's still a compelling purchase since full-custom insoles are still often much more expensive.
This tester's rather flat arches found the standard configuration to impinge too aggressively on the arches but swapping to the lower insert alleviated the discomfort while retaining the impressive level of support – and adding the metatarsal pads keep the toes nice and happy as well on longer rides.
As of press time, Bontrager was in the process of outfitting select retailers with bulk 'dealer kits' so you'll soon be able to purchase individual footbed pieces instead, thereby dramatically decreasing the cost.
There are still a few niggles on this latest version of Bontrager's RL Road shoes but they're fairly minor given the value-oriented US$179.99 asking price. The chunky plastic buckle still feels a bit cheap and lacks a partial-release function for loosening the fit on the fly, the main strap isn't adjustable for length, riders will especially wide feet might find the toe box's inboard taper to crowd their big toes a little, and the metallic silver aesthetics definitely won't suit everyone (all-black is optional).
For under US$200, though, the Bontrager RL Road shoes still pack in a lot of value and some solid race-spec features and now that the issues have been resolved, they finally now actually fit and function pretty well, too.
Our review scoring system has changed in 2010. Therefore recent reviews may have comparatively lower scores than past reviews. Click here for a full explanation of our ratings.