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In this high visibility yellow, the Bontrager Specter road shoes sure catch the eye (other colours are available). Aside from the brightness, which is off the scale, these are superbly comfortable shoes with a good fit and enough sole stiffness for everyone but the most committed racers.
Bontrager's Specter name is given to the US company's mid-range products and includes previously tested kit such as the Specter helmet. Essentially, you're getting a lot of performance without a massive price tag. And after riding these new Specter shoes, there seems to be very little compromise in that aim to keep the price to a reasonably affordable level.
What do you get for your £129.99 then? The Specter shoe features a 'Bronze Series' composite nylon sole with a unique 'PowerTruss' design. Because the material doesn't provide the same level of stiffness as a more expensive carbon fibre sole, Bontrager has developed a rather clever central supporting ridge to boost stiffness.
It works, too. Evidently these shoes aren't as expensive as some full carbon fibre jobs costing twice as much, but the difference isn't as noticeable as you might imagine. There's less noticeable flex than with the similar priced Fizik R5B shoes I tested a while ago. Unlike some super-stiff shoes, though, you're not left with sore soles after a bout of serious pedalling.
The sole is appointed with non-removeable rubber bumpers at the heel and toe to aid walking. There's a choice of 3- or 2-bolt cleat attachments. That's useful if you prefer SPD pedals for commuting or audax rides, but still want the performance and appearance of a road race shoe. The SPD cleat sits proud of the sole, though, so walking is a little precarious.
If you intend to use a 3-bolt Look-style cleat, you'll need to remove the metal plate for the 2-bolt cleat option. If you don't do that then it'll rattle around inside the sole. Removing it is a case of lifting out the sole and peeling back a pre-cut flap above the cleat area, and pulling out the redundant metal plate. It's a tricky little job, I suggest some caution if you reach for the kitchen knife, as I did.
The upper uses a synthetic material with mesh panels which, in unison with the vents on the sole, do help to prevent overheating. A Velcro strap is used at the front of the foot and a single Boa IP1 dial is used to tension a cord across the rest of the shoe – Bontrager's more expensive shoes use a pair of Boa dials so you can fine-tune the fit with more precision.
Despite this difference, I found the single dial worked very well. The Boa dial is pleasingly easy to use: tighten with single click adjustments one way, rotate in the other direction to loosen. Pop the Boa dial up to slacken off the cable and remove the shoe. Simple. And you can adjust them even with oversocks or overshoes on.
The Specter provides a really good fit. Bontrager uses an inForm Race last for these shoes, which it describes as a 'slighter roomier high-performance fit'. I have pretty regular size 45 feet and most shoe brands fit me well. These offered a close but not restrictive fit, on a par with recent shoes I've tested from Giro, Fizik and Sidi.
That just leaves the colour to talk about. The shoes are offered in black, white/black and the so-called Visibility Yellow tested here. Yellow shoes certainly aren't for everyone, but cycling has been going through a colourful phase for a couple of years, and it's now cool to be seen sporting some brightly coloured fluoro clothing and kit. I'll let you draw your own conclusions, but I will just say that I've been glad of these bright shoes for the past couple of weeks, as the nights are drawing in and visibility is reduced during early morning and evening rides.
Comfortable, easy adjustment and reasonably stiff performance shoes. And bright, but other colours are available
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Make and model: Bontrager Specter Road Shoe
Size tested: Visibility yellow/black, size 11
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Bontrager says: "Luxury enthusiast need not compromise. The Specter road shoe was specifically designed for you."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
inForm Race last - Slightly roomier high-performance fit
Bronze Series Composite sole - Nylon composite sole
PowerTruss - Sole design improves stiffness without adding significant weight
Boa IP1 dial for precise two-way adjustment
Stiffness index 8
Synthetic uppers with flow-thru mesh panels
Compatible with both 2-bolt SPD-style and 3-bolt cleats
Top quality construction considering the price tag.
For anyone wanting a reasonably stiff shoe with good fit and easy adjustability, these are an excellent choice.
I've been really impressed with how durable they are. The smooth upper cleans up really easily after a muddy ride, and they dry out quickly after riding in the rain.
They clearly can't compete with top-end shoes but they're not exactly heavy.
The fit is generous and very comfortable.
You're getting a lot of performance here for a lot less cash than forking out for a high-end shoe that offers minimal extra performance.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
For sporty cyclists wanting a shoe that offers good performance without a big price tag, these are without major compromise.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Excellent fit with easy to adjust Boa dials. And I even liked the yellow.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The rattly metal SPD cleat, and it's not too easy to remove if you're not going to use it.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
A really good shoe with a lot of performance that, for many performance cyclists, will be more than enough.
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.