When it comes to cycling shoes, how do you know if what you’re going to buy and wear is genuinely high-performance kit? Amongst the myriad of potential features, there are a few tell-tale signs. For example, carbon soles are one indication of informed technology, but they can vary massively in quality. Mouldable footbeds are another, but not all top-end shoes come with them.
As far as we can see, there is only one tech element or specification choice that proves a shoe manufacturer has gone to the lengths needed for ultimate performance: the BOA®Fit System.
Here we look at how this innovative shoe closure technology has revolutionised the cycle shoe world – and is continuing to do so.
For a brand so familiar to cyclists, it’s rather strange to think BOA has its roots in the not-obviously-related worlds of medicine and snowboarding.
After selling his previous company, BOA founder Gary Hammerslag moved to the Rocky Mountains to take up snowboarding. But Gary felt he could drastically improve the fit of snowboarding boots by using ideas he had learned in the medical equipment industry. After testing a succession of prototypes that used a wire ‘lace’ and an innovative dial wheel tightening device, the first BOA® Fit System was born.
That fledgeling technology was adopted by BOA’s original two partner brands – K2 and Vans – who launched the first BOA-powered snowboard boots to consumers in 2001. Now, more than two decades of constant innovation later, BOA Fit Systems can be found well beyond just snowboarding – they recently appeared in Ariat cowboy boots — and even beyond footwear, with more than 300 different manufacturers all trusting in BOA technology when it comes to ensuring the most effective fit and closure systems.
In the world of cycling shoes, BOA’s most exciting current development is the Li2 dial platform. First appearing in late 2020, this innovative technology features a small, durable and sustainable dial. With cyclists being among the most demanding sportspeople when it comes to compact form and function, Li2 offers a sleek, lightweight, low-profile design while maintaining the precise, incremental micro-adjustability BOA is known for.
The Li2 platform’s multidirectional tightening and loosening helps to accommodate foot swelling on long rides, and a more secure fit helps on steep climbs and sprints. And in terms of longevity, the dial offers unprecedented durability against impact, abrasion, and contaminants such as dirt and debris, while providing ultra-reliable grip in all weather conditions.
It's certainly good enough for BOA’s two sponsored professional cycling teams. BOA has been Canyon//SRAM Racing’s official footwear partner for the past six years, and BOA’s partnership with the BORA-hansgrohe team is now in its fourth year. Both of these UCI Worldtour Teams have set ambitious goals for 2022, and throughout their campaigns they will be using cycling shoes equipped with the latest BOA Li2 platform and double dials.
In line with BOA’s company-wide drive to improve sustainability and reduce its carbon footprint, Li2 was designed to reuse and reduce material waste. This has resulted in a system that is easy to repair, where individual BOA Fit System component parts can be replaced rather than a whole new shoe being required. In short, everything else on your shoe will probably wear out long before there’s an unresolvable problem with the Li2 system!
The new Li2 platform has been designed as a bayonet and cartridge system, which means that, on severe impact, the cartridge will be released from the bayonet. If this happens, you can insert the cartridge back into the bayonet and the system will continue to function properly.
As part of the BOA Guarantee, you can even claim a free repair kit for your specific BOA Fit System. And then, if you want to know how to use the free spares that BOA has sent you, the company has a host of system-specific repair guides and instructional videos.
So BOA Li2 isn’t just about instant, on-tap comfort, fit and performance; it’s also about long-term footwear reassurance and security, too. So where can you find this breakthrough technology? Let’s look at some of the most exciting cycle shoes on the market that boast the BOA Fit System Li2.
If BOA’s Fit System is an example of shoe lacing technology brought right into the 21st Century, DMT’s KR0 is the ultimate example of traditional knit manufacturing developed to offer the zenith of lightweight, fast and extremely comfortable cycle footwear. Working with state-of-the-art knit technology, DMT has created an extremely light shoe that offers excellent energy transfer thanks to its new generation anatomic carbon SL outsole and an integrated upper construction that adapts perfectly to each rider’s feet. A key component in that construction is the double BOA Fit System: the KR0 uses double Li2 dials to achieve a peerless fit. In fact, it’s so good, it's the favoured shoe of Canyon//SRAM rider Ella Harris.
But you don’t just have to just take Ella’s word for it: you can read the road.cc review of the DMT KR0 here.
BOA Fit System: Double Li2 dials and CS1 lace
Sizes: EU 37–48 (half sizes from 37.5-45.5)
Weight: 210g (per shoe, size 42)
“The biggest advantage of the BOA Fit System for me is being able to dial my shoes done up really tight when I want to have optimal efficiency and zero wriggle room, but also have the option of going for the other extreme when it’s really hot or your feet need to relax.”
Perfect for: Riders looking to make uncomfortable, sweaty feet a thing of the past.
Fizik knows how to make an ultra-high-performance shoe, so its decision to fit the market-leading Vento Infinito Carbon 2 with the BOA Fit System should come as no surprise. In this case, the Li2 BOA platform is used to precisely adjust the fit of a dedicated Microtex upper piece that wraps around the plantar arch, pulling the eyelets inwards consistently from all directions for a fast, effortless, precision fit. But this is no one-trick pony – the double BOA Li2 dials allow for multidirectional, differentiated fit adjustments for both the instep and forefoot areas. That means forefoot volume can also be controlled separately via Infinito: a signature BOA Fit System configuration that balances tension and eliminates pressure hot spots with textile lace guides. Altogether, it’s a new benchmark for precision fit.
BOA Fit System: Double Li2 dials and CS1 lace
Sizes: EU 36–48 (half sizes from 37-47)
Weight: 227g (per shoe, size 42)
“Having well-fitting and performing shoes maybe won't make you win a race, but not having them can make you lose one. So, for me, precise fit is the most important thing. Hearing the very recognisable BOA sound when tightening the dials really tells me that I’m prepared to go into ‘full-power-mode’.”
Perfect for: Riders who want custom fit without the hassle and cost of custom manufacture.
Innovation, race performance and comfort are all present and correct in Gaerne’s awesome Carbon G.STL shoe, but the most striking thing is what those ingredients have made collectively: unmatchable power transmission and control. The upper is made of one-piece microfibre with laser drilled holes to provide heat dispersion. The revised anatomic heel cup and internal non-slip treatment – along with the tarsal support system – provide fantastic stability, optimal foot control and pedalling efficiency. The ultra-light and ultra-thin EPS full carbon sole ensures every watt of power is transferred to the pedals. Add the BOA Fit System’s eight fixing zones that provide infinite adjustment and you have the perfect recipe for ultimate performance.
To read our review of the Gaerne Carbon G.STL, click here.
BOA Fit System: Li2 dial and CS1 lace
Sizes: EU 39–47
Weight: 274g (per shoe, size 43)
“My Gaerne Carbon G.STL shoes feel great. They are tight and stiff yet very comfortable. When tightening the shoes with BOA dials you have the feeling that every watt you push is going straight to the pedal. When you hear someone dialling in their shoes for a sprint or hard climb, you know she is really going to give everything in a moment.”
Perfect for: When stiffness and power transfer are paramount.
As beautiful as high-end cycling shoes are to look at, their true beauty lies in the practical ability to transform your pedalling input into the kind of on-road performance that thrills and excites. When it comes to the practice of converting effort into forward momentum, few brands have as much knowledge as Specialized. So it comes as no surprise to find that Specialized’s S-Works Ares shoe is a study in efficiency: the combination of the ultra-stiff FACT Powerline carbon outsole with the Dyneema-reinforced tongueless sock eliminates foot roll, reducing pressure on tendons and transferring every ounce of power to the pedals. Factor in the BOA Fit System with Li2 dials that can be easily micro-adjusted – even with only one hand while riding – and you’ve got a shoe that is practically perfect.
To read our review of the Specialized S-Works Ares, click here.
BOA Fit System: double Li2 dials and CS1 lace
Sizes: EU 36-49
Weight: 220g (per shoe, size 42)
“The possibility to adjust my shoes while riding makes a big difference for me, especially at races. This is where the BOA Fit System comes into play. At the start, for the first part of the race I wear my shoe very tightly. Later, when it’s getting more relaxed, I like to keep the fit a bit looser. Then, for the final sprint I tighten the shoe again.”
Perfect for: Riders who want to adjust on the fly.
We said at the start of this article that there are a few tell-tale signs when it comes to spotting true high-performance shoes. However, when it comes to the Nimbl Exceed, those tell-tale signs don’t subtly suggest sporting ability, rather, they positively scream performance. Nimbl’s proprietary ultra-stiff carbon sole allows for optimal support of the entire foot as well as providing superior stiffness for maximum power transfer. The high-density micro-fibre upper ventilates superbly and is water repellent. The all-up weight is just 215g per shoe. And of course there is the double Li2 dial BOA Fit System, which creates even pressure distribution around the foot, eliminating pressure points to ensure you can make the most of all that latent performance in complete comfort.
BOA Fit System: Double Li2 dials and CS1 lace
Sizes: EU 36-50
Weight: 215g (per shoe, size 42)
“I like how stiff but also how light my shoes are. Having the ability to make such small adjustments is a huge advantage when using the BOA Fit System, as throughout a ride or race it makes it easy to be as comfortable as possible.”
Perfect for: Getting the power down without compromise.
What do you do when you have created a cycling shoe that ‘exceeds’ every performance expectation that you had for it? Well, in the case of Nimbl, you ask pro racer Greg Van Avermaet for his input in making the ‘ultimate’ cycling shoe. And it certainly lives up to its name. The Nimbl Ultimate uses an extra stiff carbon-fibre chassis and handmade construction to deliver unparalleled power transfer. But, at just 200g per shoe, all that performance ability doesn’t come at the cost of weight. The spec is finished with two BOA Li2 aluminium dials, providing superior purchase and allowing zonal adjustment to give the rider their personal perfect fit. With such effective grip, it’s also easily adjustable on the fly. So, whether you are preparing for a final sprint or want to release some tension to be comfortable during a long climb, the adjustability of the BOA Fit System makes your shoes feel custom-made in every situation.
BOA Fit System: Double aluminium Li2 dials and CS1 lace
Sizes: EU 36-50
Weight: 200g (per shoe, size 42)
“At each new test sample, I felt my feedback was truly translated into improvement. When visiting the factory, I witnessed the passion and craftsmanship that the Nimbl crew put into the manual production of each pair of shoes. I truly believe that the Nimbl Ultimates present a new level of cycling shoe performance.”
Perfect for: The ultimate in cycle shoe performance.
We’ve looked at the very best in high-end cycle shoe design here, but don’t think BOA technology is just for elite racers and can only be found alongside high price tags. The truth is that BOA Fit Systems can be found throughout the cycle shoe market and would help to invigorate the ride of all cyclists, not just those competing on the world stage.
Here’s a trio of more affordable cycle shoes that we’ve ridden and rated which all use BOA Fit System technology:
Classy all-round road bike shoe with excellent comfort and efficient performance. Read our full review here.
Well-designed, high-quality shoes for all-day comfort and performance, with the ability to take two or three-bolt cleats. Read our fell review here.
Great value entry-level shoes that offer both looks and performance. Read our full review here.