The Bontrager Circuit is a high-performance shoe at a great price. It looks good and it's comfortable with the option to mount either three-hole or two-hole cleats. They should last a long time and perform well the whole time.
- Three-hole or two-hole cleat mounting
- Bold colours
- Single direction BOA adjustment
- No cleat adjustability
Since being founded by former motocross racer Keith Bontrager in 1965, the Bontrager brand has come a very long way from its original roots in mountain biking and frame building. Today, the Bontrager name represents the accessories side of Trek Bikes. Its range of products spans wide with a little bit of something in nearly every category of cycling components, accessories and apparel.
While Bontrager has plenty of top-of-the-line gear, they also have gear for the masses. The Bontrager Circuit Shoes fall under the gear for the masses category as shoes that perform dutifully while not costing a fortune.
Keep reading to find out the details and see why we think they're worthy of inclusion in our guide to the best cheap cycling shoes.
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Design and aesthetics
The Bontrager Circuit Shoes are available in five colour options. Black, White, Radioactive Red, Radioactive Yellow, and Nautical Navy/Radioactive Coral. The version I spent time with is the Nautical Navy/Radioactive Coral and it also happens to be the colour that most often shows up in the promo images. It's a gorgeous shoe. The blue is both bright and bold whilst not being overpowering. It's not what you would call an electric blue but it's got an energy to it. At the rear of the shoe, the lower heel cup gets a very bright orange with a hint of pink in it. Like the name, Coral, think of the colours under the surface of a tropical beach and you'll have an idea of what to expect. It's not going to fit with every collection of kit and bike, but it's worth re-arranging things a bit to make it match.
Under those colours is a synthetic mesh and TPU upper construction. Despite the marketing copy breaking those two details out you should consider them one. Almost the entire upper, all of the blue coloured area, is TPU. Under all that TPU coating there is a mesh material but you can't see it anywhere. The effect of the mesh is that in the areas where the TPU has perforated holes, over the toe and on both sides of the ankle opening as well as the tongue, you'll find exceptional ventilation.
The only part of the upper that isn't covered in TPU is the contrast section at the back of the heel. The material there isn't specifically mentioned but it feels a bit like ripstop nylon. It's not a functional choice though as the solid heel cup is underneath and the fabric choice is only an aesthetic.
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The feel of the TPU isn't something you might consider high end. There's no luxury to it in your hand but it's very functional. Despite an almost solid aesthetic, the shoes breathe very well. They also hold their shape well, have proven durable and cleaned up well with dirt and grease easily wiping off.
Closure of the Bontrager Circuit shoes comes by way of a two-zone system. The upper zone is a BOA L6 dial while the lower is hook and loop, allowing you to snug it up or loosen as required. Of course, the upper-zone and the Boa dial acts as the main closure system.
The placement of the upper closure is perfect. It's a very traditional style of Boa system that you've seen on a lot of other shoes. A looped wire runs through three channels and the actual dial to leave four anchor points. Bontrager has it in just the right spot so that there are no hotspots and it's easy to tighten up as much as you want. Compared to more expensive shoes, you do lose a bit of zonal adjustment with this design, but it's not something that is likely to be an issue for most people.
The one thing about the whole system that's worth mentioning is in relation to the L6 Boa dial. This particular Boa product is one of the lower profile dials that Boa makes but it only adjusts in one direction. You get the precise tightening of a Boa system but no ability to incrementally loosen the shoe. If you over tighten you have to pop the Boa system open and start retightening again.
Under the Bontrager Circuit shoe is a nylon composite, Bronze Series, sole with a seven out of 14 stiffness rating. There are definitely stiffer soles out there and you can grab the shoe and flex the sole in your hands, but on the upside, it's well vented and easy to walk in. There's no adjustability in cleat mounting. Even with the cleat as far back as possible it's under the ball of your foot. You'll have to decide if that works for you but if you prefer a two-hole cleat and pedal system, that works for these shoes as well. There's a £6.99 / $10 adapter needed but the option is there if you want it.
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Putting the Bontrager Circuits back-to-back with some high-end carbon-soled shoes, it was great to see just how well they held their own. On a hot day, the venting is exceptional and there's a lot of space in the midfoot area. I knew all the downsides before ever swinging a leg over the bike and the question I looked to answer was do they actually matter?
Bontrager has a collection of four different last designs. The Circuit shoes use the Inform Race last. It's described as a "high-performance toe spring with a slightly roomier fit from the ball through the midfoot." That means you get plenty of curvature and shaping but also plenty of room around the ball of your foot. For a lot of people, this is a design that's going to be fantastic. It means you can curl your toes and generally stretch your feet without any noticeable loss of performance.
Back to the question though, is there any real loss of performance compared to an expensive shoe? There are definitely some price choices in these shoes but performance loss is minimal and you actually gain a lot as well. I can feel the sole flexing in certain situations but when it was time to focus and push whatever power I'm capable of that disappeared. The feedback I got from the shoes was how comfortable that space in the mid-foot is, how light they are, and how well ventilated they are. On top of that, you get flexibility for two-hole or three-hole cleats, a very walkable shoe, and lots of durability.
Not everyone wants to spend $500-$600 on shoes and that doesn't mean you can't have something great. The Bontrager Circuit shoes run £129.99 / $134.99, the performance is there when you need it, and they look great as well. At a weight of 280 grams (per shoe) for a size 43, they are on the lightweight end of road shoes and the ventilation is top-notch.
There are two things that hold these shoes back. Small details that aren't deal-breakers but important to understand. The single direction Boa dials are disappointing. It would be nice to see one of the more expensive dials that allow the same adjustment for loosening as you get for tightening. You do still get the same Boa guarantee though, so if you ever have an issue, the parts to repair your dials are free.
The other detail worth mentioning is the lack of adjustment for cleat mounting. This may not ever come up for you but if you like the cleat a bit farther back, these shoes might not work for you.
Remember that while the cleat mounting is one of those things you have to try, there's no commitment. Like all Bontrager products, the Circuit shoes carry the "30-Day Unconditional Guarantee." That means you can try them, even on the bike, and you don't have to worry about being stuck. "If for any reason you're not satisfied with a Bontrager aftermarket purchase, return the item, along with the original sales receipt to the original place of purchase within 30 days for an exchange or refund. Think of it as a 30-day test ride."
Tech Specs: Bontrager Circuit road shoes
- Weight: 280g per side, Size 43 (Actual, without cleats)
- Outsole: Nylon composite Bronze Series sole
- Upper: Synthetic mesh and TPU
- Retention: BOA® L6 dial with a Hook-and-loop toe strap
- Colours: Black, White, Radioactive Red, Radioactive Yellow, and Nautical Navy/Radioactive Coral
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