Reviewed: Bontrager Classique shoes, the latest in laces
Shoes, this year, are stepping back in time.
Bontrager’s latest borrow their silhouette from classic cycling shoes, laces and all. The new Classique model was first leaked by Orica-GreenEdge’s Christian Meier on Instagram, and will be available to consumers in September.
The Classiques come on the heels of Giro’s popular Empire line, which was launched just over two years ago as a spin on cycling footwear not seen in over two decades. The Empires have soccer cleat design cues and a classic lace-up closure, a design inspired by Taylor Phinney that was never intended to be the commercial success it has become.
Laces have been an unequivocal hit. Though decades of Velcro and buckles meant many were initially opposed — laces can pose a serious problem for people who fiddle with their shoes during a race or ride — the design has proved comfortable and incredibly light. Of course, anyone riding for more than a few decades already knows this — laces offer more contact points, and a better custom-tuned fit, than any Velcro-and-strap system can. Since the launch, Giro has released two additional versions of the Empire, the ACC and then the SLX, each lighter and stiffer than the one that came before.
The Bontrager Classiques have laces, just like the Empires, but the similarities end there. The overall fit and finish of the Classiques are completely different from Giro’s shoes.
The Classique’s uppers are a synthetic material that Bontrager calls Premium Clarino, a material shared by the new XXX Road shoes. Premium Clarino is intended to function as synthetic kangaroo leather, known for its suppleness and ability to conform to the foot. This characteristic is not lost in the transition to synthetic. At first, the Classique’s toe box was squeezing against my outside toe, but by the end of the first ride, the upper had conformed around my foot and there was no discomfort at all.
Tom Keufler, Bontrager’s shoe product manager, said the Clarino material’s “stretch is nice and even, unlike true kangaroo leather, which loses shape over time. Clarino is engineered to be a superior version of kangaroo leather.”
The uppers breathe quite well, with a large mesh section on top of the toe box, and plenty of venting in the sole. The Empire ACC shoes have little ventilation, though the new SLX version appears to fix that particular problem.
Like the Empire line, the Classique has seven holes for laces. However, the upper lace holes will be too high for some feet (including mine). Laced all the way up, the shoes added pressure to the front of the ankle. Instead, using six holes and wrapping the laces around the bottom of the sole, for added support, solves the problem. If the laces are wrapped around the foot, be careful not to make them too tight; it’s easy to cut off circulation to the end of the foot.
The rope laces on the Classiques are a bit of a disappointment. Their aesthetics are spot on, but they don’t hold as well as flat laces would. Once tied, we had no issues with the knot coming untied, but the process of tightening them is more tedious as the laces continually slip back through their eyelets. They simply don’t hold as well as the Empires’ stock laces, or aftermarket laces we’ve used. We’ll be ordering a couple pairs of narrow, flat laces from Laced Up.
The snap closure on the tongue is excellent, and another point for the Classique’s classic styling. It also helps position the tongue when lacing up the shoes.
My size 42 Classiques, which will carry an MSRP of $270, weighed 223 grams. That puts the Classiques within spitting distance of size 42.5 Giro Empire ACCs, which weigh 227 grams and retail for $275. The new Empire SLX will weigh a claimed 175 grams.
On the road, the Classiques offer a stiff pedaling platform. The Classique sole is the same mold as the new Bontrager XXX Road shoes, but is made of a carbon-fiberglass composite, rather than the XXX Road’s full carbon sole. Bontrager has a stiffness rating system that ranks the XXX Road as its stiffest sole with a rating of 14, while the Classiques have a rating of 12 — the same as Bontrager’s RXL shoe.
The heel cup uses an anti-slip material, similar to the Shimano XC90 mountain shoes. A good amount of padding in the heel cup gives the Classique a comfortable, finished feel. Just be sure to give the uppers a couple hours to break in.
The new Giro SLX shoes are touted to be stiffer than the current ACC model, but with a price tag of $350, even if they are as stiff as the Classiques, they are still quite a bit more expensive.
The Classiques will hit stores this September. They will be sold with a limited edition shoe bag that’s worthy of the Classique name. Bontrager intends to build a more complete line of Classique clothing in the coming year.
Suggested retail price: $270
Pros: Breathable upper, stiff sole, nicely conform to one’s foot after break-in period
Cons: Off the shelf, the volume may be too low for some, but it will fit better after a ride or two. Laces don’t hold tightly when lacing up.
Sizes: 40-47 in half sizes, no 40.5 or 46.5 options.