Mountain biking may be sliced into a million different niches, but at our core, we’re all trail riders. And trail riders need a good trail shoe. A trail shoe needs to balance comfort with performance, and durability with weight. I’ve been testing the latest version of the Bontrager Rhythm mountain bike shoes over the past several months, and I’ve found they strike a near-perfect blend.
The latest Bontrager Rhythm mountain bike shoes build on the model’s heritage as a rugged option for trail riding. This new model ditches the strap and buckle closure used previously in favor of a single Boa dial. A single strap allows a rider to tighten up the toe box if needed.
Bontrager raised the collar on one side of the shoe to keep your ankle from banging into your crank arms or stays. Additional protection features include a burly toe box and a series of interlocking hexagons that Bontrager calls GnarGuard. Essentially, they’re small dots made from an abrasion-resistant rubber.
The sole is carbon reinforced nylon, which Bontrager ranks as a 7 out of 14 on its stiffness scale. That sole is wrapped with a chunky tread pattern made from Bontrager’s Tachyon rubber. It’s not as sticky as 5.10’s Stealth rubber, but then again, what is?
There’s good ventilation through the tongue and sides of the shoes, but the toes are covered completely with the GnarGuard material. One more thing to note about the tongue — it’s stitched to the inside of the shoe, which prevents it from sliding around while riding.
I tested the “Black/Roarange” colorway, which is very bright. The hue is more red than orange, just in case you’re thinking about getting these to match your bike or kit. Bontrager also offers a black/gum color option that’s not so flashy.
Testing the Bontrager Rhythm Shoes
Like so many of my tests, my first ride on the Bontrager Rhythm shoes ended up being a doozy. I received the shoes just a couple days before I headed out on the Cohutta Cat bikepacking route. In hindsight, riding 300 miles and climbing 36,000′, on a loaded bike, over the course of 68 hours, in a brand new pair of shoes was probably not the smartest decision. That said, it could be argued taking on such an endeavor would be silly in any pair of shoes. Regardless, I became very well acquainted with the Bontrager Rhythms over our first long weekend together.
First up, the fit was perfect for my feet — relatively slim from the heel to midfoot with a little bit of wiggle room in the toe. Compared to the Shimano shoes I typically ride, the fit was very similar. For reference, I ride a size 46 in Shimano so that’s what I ordered from Bontrager. I like the idea of Boa dials, but I’ve had mixed experiences with the execution on various shoes, particularly on models that opt for a single dial. However, Bontrager smartly placed the Boa dial on top of the foot in a central location. Putting the dial there keeps it out of harm’s way.
The lacing pattern is simple, unlike the Shimano XC7 shoes I tested last year. I was able to get a snug — but comfortable — fit across the top of my foot without issue.
Maybe it’s just the shape of my particular foot, but I found the toe strap on the Rhythms to be absolutely useless. In Bontrager’s defense, I can’t think of a pair of bike shoes where the toe strap did impact the fit, though.
When clipped in, the Rhythm shoes felt plenty stiff — I never got hot spots in my feet even after several hours in the saddle. For a dedicated trail shoe, the power transfer is quite good.
Off the bike, however, is where the Rhythms really shine. Bontrager incorporated a great deal of flex just behind the ball of the foot so walking feels almost normal. You won’t totally forget you’re wearing bike shoes, but it’s close. The Tachyon rubber compound also impressed me with its blend of traction and treadwear. Grip over wet logs, rocks, and muddy hills was excellent. I did plenty of hike-a-bike on the Cohutta Cat both on and off road, so I expected to see significant wear at the end of the trip. But no: the lugs held up extremely well and are still going strong after a few hundred miles.
Really, the only downside to the Bontrager Rhythm shoes is their weight. At 1,090g (2.4 lbs) for my pair of size 46 (with cleats installed), the Rhythms are heavier than similar shoes I’ve worn. But, considering the excellent design, fit, and durability, the extra grams aren’t a deal-breaker in my book. Ringing in at $180, they are competitively priced compared to similar shoes in this segment, and based on my experience the Rhythm offers great performance for the money.
Thanks to Bontrager for providing the Rhythm shoes for review.