It was love at first sight when we first laid our eyes on the Bontrager Cambion MTB shoes. They are probably the best-looking shoes we’ve ever seen. And we’ve seen (and worn) many… But good looks are one thing, how do these kicks perform on the bike?
We tested a black/gray/silver pair that’s called Obsidian. They’re also available in Electric Blue. There’s a 25% carbon fibre/75% glass fibre sole which is rated 12 out of a possible maximum of 14 on the Bontrager stiffness scale. Unless you’re a pro XCO racer, that’s plenty of stiffness.
The upper is made from a composite of polyester, nylon and a few other materials we’re not familiar with. The upper is soft where it needs to be (top of foot and ankle), hard where it’s necessary (inside and front of toe cap) and in between everywhere else.
A shoe that doesn’t have a firm grasp of your heel isn’t ideal. The Cambion has a very good heel grasp and Bontrager has added a metallic non-slip fabric inside the heel to further reduce potential slippage.
The Cambion closure comprises one Boa dial that manages the top two thirds and a Velcro strap that manages the bottom third. We were initially concerned about the Boa positioning on the front/top, fearing it may lead to pressure-point pain after a few hours. But this wasn’t an issue at all for our testers.
What stands out
Undoubtedly the look! We had more shoe admiration from other riders with these shoes than with any others we’ve ever worn. The honeycomb pattern meets shiny reptile scale finish is very snappy for a mountain bike shoe. It was hard getting them dirty for the first time. And the second time. And, and and …
What we like
After a two rides the new-shoe stiffness of the fabric began to soften, which is fairly standard for new shoes. We like how the upper has two almost separate sections which overlap when you tighten the Boa to form a snug fit – almost like a foot hug where you can feel the shoe all the way over the top of your foot in a secure way. Unlike most European shoe brands, which have a fairly narrow last, the Bontrager Cambion has a wider last. Those with wider feet and/or high arches will be very happy as there is plenty of room in the toebox. On long, hot rides when your feet usually swell a bit, there was ample room for expansion and ventilation was good.
From a sole stiffness perspective, there felt like a consistently high level of direct power transfer when pedalling, most notably on climbs and during Wattbike sprint sessions. Not that we do much walking in MTB shoes, but the outsole was grippy when we did have to clamber over some rocks (in the dry).
On some Boa-style closures, the increments are too far apart, but the click/tighten increments on the Cambion are just right. Most shoes have the Boa positioned on the side of the shoe, but the Cambion’s Boa is on the top/front. This does certainly help in keeping it away from potential damage from trailside rocks or stumps.
What we don’t like
While the heel grip works well, the slightly rough metallic fabric scuffed our socks on the first ride. It seemed to settle down though and we experienced no sock scuffing from the second ride onwards. Use older socks for your first ride…
While the design detail may look impressive, it does give dust/mud extra surface area on which to gather. So, you need to brush them AND wipe them after each ride, rather than just wipe them, as with most shoes.
Who should buy this product and why?
Serious marathoners, stage racers and/or XC racers. There’s also a similar women-specific version called the Tinari at the same price. The feature-packed Cambion is pretty much everything you want in a high-performance mountain bike shoe – stiff, snug, comfortable and beautiful.
Value for money
We feel that the Cambion is a little high on the price scale. R4699 puts the Cambion out of reach for many; but if you love this look, there is a similar looking Bontrager model called the Foray, it’s not as stiff and forgoes some features such the carbon based sole, but is priced at R2699. It’s worth mentioning Bontrager’s unconditional guarantee which is valid upto 30 days after purchase – Link
SIZES: 39-48 (Euro)
WEIGHT: 337g per shoe (size 43)
COLOUR: Obsidian (black/silver/gray); Electric Blue (blue/red/black).
CONTACT: Trek South Africa – Bontrager Cambion Mountain Shoe
TREAD Score: 8/10
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