With gravel blowing up, I’ve often wondered if we really need all these gravel-specific versions of so many products that have existed for years – shoes being a perfect example. Bont quietly rolled out a gravel-specific Vaypor G version of their core carbon road shoes a couple of years back. Now we wanted to see what it meant to turn a road shoe into a gravel shoe, instead of what we see more often, starting with mountain bike shoes.
Bont Vaypor G ultra stiff, carbon gravel road bike shoes
The core of the Vaypor G is the same full carbon monocoque construction that started with Bont’s original flagship Vaypor, and eventually developed into their even newer Helix road shoes. More than just a stiff carbon sole, the bathtub style construction extends the same carbon sole that usually sits under your foot, into a shell that curves up to the side from your toes, down the sides, through the arch of the foot, and into a large cup that wraps around the heel. By not simply using a flat carbon sole, Bont builds a shoe that is incredibly stiff, lightweight, and with a low stack height.
What makes a gravel shoe & why do they even exist in the first place?
Fundamentally, a gravel shoe needs to be capable of efficient pedaling for long rides – think road bike distance rides – while offering enough traction when you have to put a foot down and more often than not a hike-a-bike section – think XC mountain bike shoe. The reasons (almost) no one uses road shoes for even the longest gravel rides & races are that without a lugged outsole, they are at best sketchy when you have to walk across rocks or in the dirt. Plus, they accelerate wear & tear on your road cleats, not really meant for walking. And at worst, especially if you ride Speedplay pedals, any mud, dirt, or debris that you step in can diminish your ability to safely and reliably clip in and out of the pedals.
I spend a good bit of time riding road bikes off-road, and as much pushing cross-country mountain bikes over their limits as well. As I see more gravel-specific products like shoes, I’ve questioned why top-level XC shoes won’t suffice?
Why don’t we just ride gravel in mountain bike shoes?
Well, that is pretty much what everyone does actually. XC race mountain bike shoes tend to be light, stiff, and are of course more walkable that road shoes. Paired with lightweight MTB pedals, this is pretty much the current gravel standard.
But Bont thought they could do better…
Much like when they created their Vaypor XC out of the road shoe, Bont figured they could adapt the road shoe for gravel road riding, creating the highest strength to weight ratio of anything close to a gravel shoe. Walking wasn’t really a priority for Bont this time around (unlike the XC shoe which needed to climb a bit more on foot). They decided to deliver ultimate, uncompromising stiffness, then just give it a MTB pedal compatible bolt pattern, and stick on some aggressive tread so you won’t fall on your butt when you have to put a foot down.
Bont Vaypor G gravel shoes – Tech Details
The Bont Vaypor G uses a Durolite synthetic upper that is lightweight, strong, and both resistant to abrasion and stretching. The have an asymmetric design with a padded regular tongue overlapped by an extended flap that pulls tight across the midsection of the foot with a Boa IP1 dial. A second Boa crosses over itself dialing in tension over the forefoot.
The premium $400 shoes are available in all black, or a second version that swaps in red detailing where our test shoes have glossy sections. Ventilation is handled only by perforations in the toe & across the tongue, while the rest of the upper is solid. The lining of the shoe is a soft faux suede that fits comfortably against a sock and does not slide around.
A huge part of what sets Bont shoes apart is a cycling specific last that they say is very different to other bike shoe companies. Bont devoted significant research to perfecting their
pedaling active sport-specific lasts since 1975, specific to cycling since their first bike shoes in 2007 developed with Olympic cyclists. And the result is a noticeably different fit at first – with wider space for the toes, plus side support for the entire front of the foot from the wrap around carbon bathtub sole. The shoes also have more support through the middle arch of the foot, which they say was developed to counter the common over pronation (knees in) that causes a lot of knee injuries in cyclists.
They claim this is why Bont continues to be “a leader in providing the most functional and correct anatomical support to cyclists than any other brand on the market.” It also fits in line with prioritizing pedaling comfort & performance over walkability. As they put it, “We make shoes for cycling, not walking.”
Onto the carbon outsole, Bont has bonded and screwed on a set of aggressive, soft rubber tread lugs. The main tread sections are said to be replaceable, and do include Phillips head screws that hold them securely in place. But they are also clearly glue to the outsole, so it will likely be a multiple step process when it comes time to replace them.
Bont’s lugged sole has some relatively unique sections, specifically in front of the cleat area and at the back of the instep. These small rubber ramps help keep the pedal stable & centered under foot when not clipped in. Additionally, the shoes have studs to thread in removable toe spikes for grip in worse than normal conditions (if you plan on walking that is.)
Along the heel of the Vaypor G, it’s more obvious how far up the structure of the monocoque carbon tub/sole extends. This helps with heel retention, as well as providing unparalleled stiffness from front to back. You can also see here how the Durolite upper is glued to the outside of the main carbon structure.
Looking at the front of the shoes, the rubber from the midfoot tread wraps up around the shoe for side protection. And the tread block under the toe does the same to act as a toe bumper. (Quick note: while the Vaypor G isn’t made for walking, it does climb walnut trees pretty well. Good grip, great stiffness.)
The inward facing sides of the shoes are effectively smooth (aero dimpled?) and closed off to keep out dirt, gravel, and road spray. But looking here, we can also see that the height and width of the toe bumpers is pretty limited. Almost every time I’ve worn the shoes there has been some mud or dirt evidence at the end of the ride extending past the bumper. So far the Durolite fabric doesn’t show any signs of wear, but a bigger bumper would have been nice to protect this $400 pair of shoes.
Bont Vaypor G gravel shoes – Actual Weights
Interestingly for a shoe claiming to be lightweight with the best stiffness:weight ratio of any cycling shoe, Bont doesn’t readily list an official weight claim. Our EU size 44 shoes weighed in at 648 for the pair with in soles but without cleats (324g per shoe), making them somewhat light, but nowhere near the lightest gravel or XC race mountain bike shoe available.
Bont Vaypor G Initial Setup
The first step in setting up a new pair of Bont shoes is throwing them in the oven.
Since Bont uses a unique low temperature thermoset resin in their full carbon construction, the shoes are fully heat moldable (with the Boa system still there. Don’t worry.) That’s a good thing as the prominent shaping of Bont’s supportive last isn’t totally for everyone. The stock shape of the high instep support was uncomfortable for my feet when I first pulled the new shoes on. But a short time in the oven at 70°C, and I was able to reshape that offending point to perfectly fit my feet, while retaining the support of the full carbon construction once it cooled again a few minutes later.
The only other setup peculiarity I had was with the super thin sole. With just a 3.6mm stack height, the shoe was actually too thin for even the shorter version of cleat bolts that come with Crankbrothers cleats. I installed Crankbrothers stainless shoe shields, and still needed to cut/grind about 2-3mm off the bolts to keep them from pressing into the metal backing plate that Bont uses inside of the shoe above the sliding cleat thread plate.
Gravel Review: Bont Vaypor G Riding Impressions
Let’s start by reiterating that these are not bikepacking shoes. These are not shoes made for walking. The Vaypor Gs are crazy stiff. If you are looking for a pair of nice shoes to pedal all day and then walk around camp in the evening, I can’t believe that you read along this far. Look somewhere else (maybe here, or here, or even possibly here.)
But if you are looking to spend long days in the saddle pedaling away, these might be your jam…
While XC shoes are great for mountain bikers, these Vaypor Gs are the perfect shoe for the dedicated roadie who has been convinced to get their tires muddy. It’s hard to imagine getting a better fit than one that is custom heat molded to your own foot. And the pedaling efficiency is as good or better that any high-end road bike shoe I’ve ever used. (BTW, to any gravel riders riding Crankbrothers who haven’t tried out the limited float cleats, you need to check them out. It is a much more stable ride feel for endurance riding.)
In fact, these shoes could also be the perfect road bike shoes for mountain bikers who refuse to accept the compromised walking of real road shoes. Myself, I live in a third story walk-up with terrazzo stairs, and I’ve slipped enough walking up and down in road shoes that in warm weather I take my shoes off when I enter the building, and walk barefoot up to my apartment. I feel like I’d be happy with the Vaypor Gs for road riding, and might not miss proper road shoes & pedals most of the time.
The Bont Vaypor G are truly excellent gravel road riding shoes for any cyclist who prioritizes fit on the bike and pedaling efficiency over comfort while walking off the bike. I mean how much walking were you planning to do on your bike ride anyway? (There’s nothing wrong with mixing riding & walking. There just are other shoes for that.)
I’ve logged a number of multi-hour rides wearing the new, custom fit Vaypor Gs on a mix of smooth tarmac, beautifully nasty old cobblestone roads, broken asphalt becoming gravel again, washboard gravel, even dirt farm field doubletrack & proper buff singletrack. (The mixed-surface groad riding really is pretty excellent out the backdoor of our EU base of operations in Prague.) And on-the-bike comfort and pedaling efficiency is top notch. Off the bike, they really aren’t bad either. I’ve been perfectly comfortable walking up & down stairs, in & around the office, and around gravel roads & trails (with a brief stint up a tree to shake some nuts out). Sure the sole doesn’t flex, but the fit is good, the lugs are great, so the walking grip is totally fine.
As I suggested already, I’ll probably look to a different pair of shoes for my next gravel bikepacking trip – ones leaning more mountain bike-ish. But the Vaypor G gravel shoes have earned a spot as my perfect mixed-surface road & gravel riding shoe. No other mountain bike shoe I’ve ridden beats them for long ride comfort and pedaling efficiency.