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Bontrager Ballista Knit shoes review

3 Jun 2020
Verdict:

The Bontrager Ballista knit shoes hit all the right performance notes although are not the most practical

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£269.99
For 
Comfortable on the upper foot • Breathable on summer days • Suitably stiff sole
Against 
Not fully suited to UK conditions • Trouble wrenching Boa Dial tight enough

The Bontrager Ballista Knit shoes are the latest in a growing line of cycling shoes off the conveyor belt that are turning their backs on synthetic leathers and plastics in place of something a little more natural.

Knitted cycling shoes are in en vogue, so much so that the likes of Geraint Thomas, Lachlan Morton and Elia Viviani have all been rolling around the professional peloton in sets of kicks that could have easily been woven by their dear grandmothers.

Off the top of my head, I can think of the Fizik Infinito R1 knit, Giro Empire e70 knit, DMT KR1 knit and Rapha Pro Team powerweave shoes that have all hit the market fairly recently employing some form of knitted technology.

But why is it that all these shoe manufacturers are jumping aboard this woven bandwagon?

Knitted technology

To my mind, it seems that the biggest benefit of using knit over synthetic material, and why so many shoemakers are falling over their size 11s to use the material, is that knitted material is much more versatile.

If you want better ventilation and movement, use a looser weave. If you want support, notch up the thread count. If you want to get colourful, just use a dye. All possible with one piece of material without any irritable seams. Synthetic leathers are versatile but not to this extent and it shows with these latest Ballista Knit shoes.

Buy the Bontrager Ballista Knit shoes from Trek for £269.99

Bontrager uses a tighter knit weave around the heel and shoe lower for the necessary support while using a more open weave around the bridge and toe box, allowing for movement and comfort.

And boy, do you get comfort. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying these are among the most comfortable road shoes I’ve tried in a long time and I’m practically the Imelda Marcos of the cycling world.

When the shoe tightens, unlike that of a synthetic shoe, the knit on the shoe’s upper forms around your foot in a truer fashion with noticeably less pressure.

There’s none of the usual pinching or heat build-up of a synthetic shoe, especially on longer days, just a constant feeling of fluid movement and stretching that allows your foot to express itself while being kept secure.

Knitted materials offer natural ventilation meaning that on hot days with cool air passing through the shoe and onto your foot freely, from all angles. A particular delight considering the unusually warm weather the UK has had this spring.

The shoe is almost entirely knitted barring some polyurethane patches that help to guide the Boa dial wire from the heel to the bridge and a section across the toes to protect from falling timber, metal or tools.

At 250g per shoe - size 44 with cleats - they are a bit heavier than their synthetic counterparts, by the tune of about 25g per shoe, but that’s not enough of a gain to lose sleep over, in my opinion.

As for the shoe’s bottoms, I’ve seen the OCLV carbon sole used by Bontrager played down by some as not being stiff enough to provide ultimate power transfer between the rider and the pedals. Without blowing my own trumpet, I’m quite a powerful rider (parp, there it goes) - mainly because I weigh north of 90kg - and whenever I stamped down on the pedals I was met with complete rigidity.

The shoes also use a single Boa dial for closure - a single dial mounted on the shoe’s heel, the only cycling shoes currently to do so.

While this undoubtedly offers aerodynamic benefits and a neater looking upper to the shoe, I found it detrimental when trying to sufficiently tighten the shoe off the bike. I found it hard, once the shoes were on, to get the necessary purchase needed to wrench the shoes shut.

One benefit of the rear-mounted dial, however, was that making micro-adjustments while on the move was much easier.

Buy the Bontrager Ballista Knit shoes from Trek for £269.99

Fair weather wear

The obvious reservation around the Ballista Knit shoes for any prospective buyer, especially those in the UK, is that knitted products are not the best at keeping you dry nor are they the easiest to keep clean.

Now Bontrager has used a water-repellent DWR finish on the shoe but realistically it is limited in how effective it can be. The coating can hold drizzle at bay but fails to keep your feet dry during longer downpours and once the road gets wet and spray starts hitting you from all angles, then there’s really no stopping the shoes from becoming permeable.

Yes, you could say ‘well don’t use these shoes in the wet’ but I live in the UK and ruling out rain on even the hottest days is something you usually do at your own risk.

Also, you may just ask ‘why not always use the Ballista-specific overshoes provided by Bontrager?’ Again, good point, but I’m not too sold on always having to wear overshoes just in case it starts to rain.

And beyond just keeping your feet dry, knitted products get grubby quite quickly, especially the pristine white ones I had on test.

Even on the driest, warmest summer day in Kent, it seems that a whole raft of grit and dirt is kicked up from the road and after a month or so of riding, the Ballitsta Knits looked a bit worse for wear. And due to being pure lazy and not keeping my bike suitably clean, I even got a slight chain mark on the shoe's heel that just will not come out.

And, as of yet, the only solution I have found to clean them up a bit is by chucking them in the washing machine, much to the warranty-voiding despair of Bosch. Alternatively, you could also just buy the black pair but they don’t make you ride as fast!

Cost 

Ok, so price. No prizes for guessing that the Bontrager Ballista Knit shoes are not cheap. They cost £269.99 which is what I would happily label a ‘small fortune’.

Although, isn’t this the craic with high-end cycling shoes these days anyway?

Aren't prices north of £200 about average? I mean, Mavic happily retails shoes for a monkey. It’s like football boots. I remember getting a pair of Adidas Predators back in the day for £50, now I’m weighing up dropping £200 every autumn before the season starts.

So while £269.99 sounds like a lot of money (because it is), it’s not necessarily extortionate, at least, it’s not out of kilter with the market.

Buy the Bontrager Ballista Knit shoes from Trek for £269.99

Let’s just compare them to the rest of the knit market, after all. The Ballistas are on par with the Rapha Pro Team Shoes (there’s less than a tenner in it), £60 cheaper than the DMT KR1 option, £90 less than the Fizik Infinito R1 knit but £40 more than Giro’s Empire e70 knit shoes. So, about par at the clubhouse, not the cheapest but by far not the most expensive, either.

I guess the question is, for us average cyclists, is spending £269.99 on a pair of cycling shoes that are not the best in adverse weather conditions and, if you choose the white pair, susceptible to looking dirty quite quickly worth it?

Well yes, in a weird way, because the overall performance benefits of the Bontrager Ballista shoes are much superior to those of its synthetic counterpart. They’re markedly more comfortable, suitably stiff and secure plus, aesthetically, look a lot better.

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

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