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More and more I find myself having a difficult time with cycling shoes. It doesn’t matter whether road or dirt, the off-the-shelf dimensions have never gelled with what many call “caveman feet.” The same holds true for traditional sneakers and soccer boots. I always opt to go up a size or two to account for the width. Truth be told, I wear an 8.5 (US), which can be anything from a 41 to 43.5 (Eur) depending on the shoe manufacturer. Of course, the width is where things go sideways. I blame it on genetics as my dad has wide feet, as does my Uncle Jimmy. In most cases I go to size 44—normally a 10 to 10.5 (US). With swelling and heavier winter socks it tends to hit the sweet spot for my feet. And, yes, I have tried the wide sizing of certain models, but even those lack in certain dimensions; and since every shoe company seems to have its own method for sizing, nothing ever fits right. Finally, I decided to try some semi-custom Bont Vaypor Gs with hopes of finally finding that “glove-like” fit.
Bont has been in the business of making custom boots for years. The history is that Inze Bont was a recreational ice skater and in 1975 decided to stiffen the heel of a boot he was using with fiberglass. As time progressed, he ventured into Kevlar (1986) and then carbon fiber (1989). Eventually Bont entered the cycling market and, in 2008, eight riders in Bont shoes captured gold medals on the track at the Beijing Olympics. Today, Bont still make boots for skating, and shoes for rowing, but cycling appears to be its biggest market with a wide range of triathlon, road, gravel and mountain bike shoes.
The process is simple and involves nothing more than downloading the Bont sizing graph paper and tracing both feet carefully. It’s wise to have someone perform the task as any small hiccup will affect your shoe construction. After that, take detailed measurements of the length and width of each foot with attention to the longest part of your foot, which in my case is the second toe in. Scan it and send it in but be sure to include any problems or quirks you may have with your feet and issues with the current set of shoes you wear. This will help the process of fabrication as Bont can adjust problem spots.
STYLE AND DESIGN
I went with the Vaypor G model because I wanted versatility, something good for the dirt, walkable and burly. The fun starts when you start choosing colors and details. The color choices are abundant and every bit of the shoe from nose to tail can be modified including the stitching and BOA dials. For the most part the result represents what I designed with slight color differences, which I attribute to the process being on a screen and the result being applied to dense material. Out back, the carbon wrap keeps the heel section stiff and protected, while up front thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) provides plenty of protection against rocks and grunge. The whole process from design to finished product took about three weeks.
HOW DO THEY FIT?
This is where things were a bit agonizing at first but got better with some tweaks. Out of the box and on to my feet and cinched down, wearing just traditional Merino wool daily socks, the Vaypor Gs killed my feet. I instantly thought I submitted the wrong measurements or maybe production messed up. Okay, go for a ride. Kit up, pull on some ultrathin socks and they felt slightly better. Width was fine, and overall length, too, but the toe box gave me pain as if the overall height of that area was just not tall enough.
I ground through the ride with constant adjustment to the BOA dials. Stop, reposition the shoe, carry on. I was determined to make this virgin run work. It got better but I was not convinced. Will they stretch out with time? Can Durolite material stretch? Ride No. 2 through No. 5 went the same way. “Can I mold these?” I wondered. I scrolled to the bottom of the Bont website and found the “Heat Molding” menu item. I could have eliminated all the suffering from the get-go had I known this.
Reality is that the shoe will likely fit your foot just fine without it, but the option to do so changed everything for me. I took off the cleats, pulled out the inserts, turned on the oven to the recommended 160 degrees Fahrenheit, placed the shoes inside and “baked” for 20 minutes. After that, I let them sit until the heat was manageable enough to place the inserts back in the shoe and immediately put my foot in. I decided to wear thicker socks for this with hopes that the molding process would provide more space in the shoe. With the BOA dials cinched, I stood still for a few minutes to allow the process to run its course.
The heat-molding process worked for every aspect of the shoe. It “opened” up the width in the middle and toe box and tightened up the heel area for a true form-fitting shoe. What I love most about the Vaypor G is the stiffness. Often, super-stiff cycling shoes will cause pain on long rides for me and render them unwalkable when gravel-mountain bike shoes should have generous walkability. These are stiff in all the right places like the heel and the outer edges of your foot. Bont’s shoe-last design is clearly at the heart of the fit and it’s felt on the bike. These shoes aren’t sloppy, and I can tell when putting down power to the pedals there isn’t any wasted energy. For some, this will take getting used to, but for me, I love that “strapped in” feel.
Forty rides in and the Vaypor Gs have held up perfectly. I’ve only heat-molded them once and they have maintained their integrity perfectly. Already they’ve seen sloppy Pacific Northwest conditions of mud and grit and have wiped down to like-new condition. The soles have stood up to rocky terrain with minimal wear and because the replaceable treads are spaced out perfectly, they shed mud without issue. Cleat clearance is spot on, too, for my set of Crankbrothers and the BOA dials have had no problems.
We all know cycling shoes are expensive. We are preaching to the choir on this one! But because it’s such a vital touchpoint and one that could make or break a ride, and because my feet are “oddly” sized, I think the price point matches the final product. And I must admit it was fun to choose the colors! At $600 they are on the high-end of shoe prices, but you can get a standard size and color for $400. If you want to go next level and full custom, expect to pay $1,099. If you have foot and sizing issues it might be worth considering the next time you need shoes.
Approx. 310g (size 42); bontcycling.com