I have weird feet, apparently. It’s not really something you normally come to realize without asking questions that one rarely has reason to ask. I might have asked them, though, had I ever had any notion that feet don’t always have to hurt in a cycling shoe. Hurt might be a strong word – more like “squished” or “numb”. I’ve also had this weird thing where my feet tend to roll towards the outside of the pedals, as if all the awesome power dispatch from my righteous guns is concentrated on the outside of the foot, which is also the part of my foot that tends to go numb right away.
I say my feet are weird because they are apparently wide but also low in volume. To put it in technical terms, I have flippers for feet. You might think that would make me a good swimmer but my talents where swimming is concerned are more accurately described as “not drowning” than “swimming”. As far as fish’s grace goes, I’m more like the “free candy” fish than one of those sexy colorful fish that swim up in the good water.
Over the years, I’ve ridden in loads of shoes, to varying success. The Sidi Ergo 2 was possibly my favorite shoe, with its sufficiently stiff shoe and the delightful combination of three different kinds of buckles, which always served to fascinate me. The f”iz:ik white R1 is possibly the most beautiful shoe I’ve ever seen and the dead baby kangaroos were wildly supple and comfortable. The problem for me with those was not the width, but the volume; at one point, I had two pairs of insoles in them (at the same time) in an effort to reduce the volume to the point that my feet stopped sliding around whenever I let the cannons off the leash. Sometimes, no matter how badly you want to love a product, you have to recognize the reality that it simply doesn’t work for you, and that was the case for the fi'zi:k line of shoes and me.
Bont shoes caught my attention at the Beijing Olympics and I became immediately fascinated by their approach to making a cycling shoe; fully heat-molded and a toe box designed to allow the foot to spread out into its most natural position. While most shoes are basically designed to constrain the foot in order to hold it in place, Bont takes the approach that a foot is actually very good at finding its most optimal position naturally, and designed their shoe to allow this to happen.
The result is a bit of a funny looking shoe; it doesn’t have the usual pointed toe box we’re used to seeing, but instead continues to expand until it reaches the end of the toes. Basically, it looks like a foot rather than a torpedo. And since feet aren’t shaped like torpedoes, it seems a sensible approach.
Bont also doesn’t fool around when it comes to the construction of the uppers; whereas cycling shoes generally have supple uppers with stiff areas placed strategically about the shoes for buckles and such, Bonts have stiff, unforgiving uppers which are also intended to be heat molded to form to your foot. The idea being that a stiff upper is more efficient than a sloppy one, and you can afford to have an entirely stiff upper when it is shaped precisely to the form of your foot.
Lastly, Bonts soles are also made of completely heat-moldable carbon fiber. I’ve never seen a sole so stiff and thin. The stiff sole is great for power transfer and the thinness of the sole improves pedaling efficiency by bringing the foot closer to the pedal axle. This also has the consequence, however, of requiring the shortest screws that come with your cleats or possibly even specialty short screws if necessary as they can stick out through the sole and poke your foot. Which is uncomfortable, assuming you have feeling in your feet.
I started riding the Bont Vaypors in July and spent about a week experimenting with heat molding them before I got them perfect. But once I got them right, I was absolutely amazed at how good these shoes are. At this point, I can’t imagine going back to a “normal” cycling shoe. In fact, I commuted a day last week in my old Sidis, thinking I’d use them in the wet and save the Bonts for dry weather. Nothing doing, pal – once you’re used to Bonts, there’s no going back.
For one thing, the stiffness of the sole is staggering and the resulting power transfer is amazing. The molded sole and uppers mean I have zero hot spots anywhere in the shoe and the numbness I’ve always experienced has gone away completely. Riding with feeling in my feet is not entirely unpleasant, as it turns out. The shoes have also managed to somehow resolve the pressure distribution in my foot; all the force of the stroke now comes down straight through the ball of the foot and into the pedal, fully supported by the length and width of the entire sole.
I’ve also been riding the Vaypor XC off road, and the shoe is similarly impressive. Bont basically took the Vaypor road shoe, added just a bit of extra padding to the uppers for comfort, and added some rubber grippers to the sole for those pesky occasions when you find yourself running with your bike, which everyone knows should be avoided if at all possible. Personally, I try to ride any climb, but after I crashed and monkey-jacked my chain, I was forced to find alternative means to complete the CX course; I was much more hindered by the broken bike and gash in my knee than I was by the shoe’s performance in a cross-country running application. On the bike, the shoe is nearly indistinguishable from the road shoe in terms of power transfer and pedaling efficiency.
These shoes aren’t for everyone, though; Marko tried a pair of both the road (Vaypor) and off-road (Vaypor XC) shoes and wasn’t able to get them to work for him. G’rilla, on the other hand, had complained on several occasions of a baby’s arm growing from one of his feet which made cycling shoes uncomfortable. The heat molding on Marko’s rejects did the trick for him and initial reports indicate these shoes work very well. You would think that as a courtesy for giving him a pair of shoes he’d not drop me on the hills, but some people simply have no manners.
Fitting & Heat Molding Tips
I had the opportunity to speak with Bont’s CEO, Steven Nemeth, on several occasions to discuss molding the shoes and I’ve outlined my recommendations below. Remember that these are high performance racing shoes and, while they are very comfortable after molding, they are unforgiving and stiff. If you’re looking for something of an evening slipper in your cycling shoe, you may want to pass over the Bonts and see about having a pair of cleats nailed to an old pair of oxfords.
Fitting & heat molding tips (please watch the official video on the Bont site first):
- Take out the insoles that came with the shoes. Throw them away because they are useless. Bont is working on making a better insole, but for now fi'zi:k makes the best heat-moldable insole. I have used the Specialized blue foot beds myself and have been very happy with them. Keep that between us; if asked, I will categorically deny using any Specialized product full stop.
- Don’t worry about making mistakes, you can re-mold them as many times as you need to or want to.
- Ideally, you’d wear the shoes on a ride or two before molding them in order to get a feel for what parts of the shoe need to be worked on most.
- If you have particular hot spots, you can use gauze and athletic tape to build out those areas. Typical areas would be the Achilles heel or any protuberances on your feet. Tape the gauze to your foot and put your socks on over it before stepping into the shoes when molding them.
- Before chucking the shoes in the oven, remove the cleats.
- Don’t chicken out when heating the shoes; you want the soles to become fully pliable; they should be really soft by the time you take them out and put them on.
- The sole can be pushed out by as much as a half centimeter; don’t be afraid to push it out to give your foot room in places where you need more. If you need room in the toe box, push the toe box out with the handle-end of a screwdriver.
- When the shoes come out, put the new insoles in and put the shoes on. Stand in place, don’t walk around as you may crack the softened carbon in the sole.
- The cleat holes are mounted further back on the Bonts than most shoes; keep that in mind when placing your cleat.
- Bonts are designed to allow your toes to move, which is almost certainly contrary to the shoes you’re used to. Don’t let this freak you out; take a week to get used to being able to wiggle your toes. Despite this, when the shoes are fitted correctly, they hold your feet firmly in place.
- You can use the Bont fit chart for sizing; for me, the sizing transferred directly to Sidi (I wear a 46.5 in both). You should have a little bit of room in the length of the shoe to allow your toes to spread out when dishing out The V.