Finding a quality pair of shoes when you’re on a budget is a grinding journey from bike shop to bike shop in search of that impossible combo of weight, performance and price. Buying used is an option, but after experiencing shoes stretching and molding to the original owner’s foot, we don’t recommend it. Although both Specialized and Bontrager are best known for their high-performance offerings, we found two budget-friendly options from both brands priced under $125.
The Circuit is designed with a thin synthetic upper mesh and a thick tongue, which comfortably forms to the foot. Multiple vents provide airflow, allowing your feet to breathe. A Boa L6 dial on top coupled with a Velcro strap over the toe box provides a precise fit that is easy to find. Bontrager uses a nylon composite sole with their proprietary PowerTruss design. The unique sole style looks like a truss bridge and uses the least amount of materials to attain the highest performance possible.
SPECIALIZED TORCH 1.0
Specialized designed the Torch 1.0 with a thick synthetic upper meshing for optimal comfort and ventilation. The closure system consists of three offset Velcro straps to ensure a fit for most foot shapes. Specialized uses a nylon composite sole. The sole mold was tested in the Specialized labs to increase efficiency and prevent injury with an ergonomic design. The heel cup features cushioned synthetic material and a reflective stripe on the outside.
The performance of the Circuit is above average. There is noticeable flex in the sole, but it did not take away from the overall efficiency of the shoe. The easy-to-adjust dial and well-placed strap create a closure system that shines at the budget shoe level, and overall comfort was noted by different riders. The fit of the shoes had our feet thanking us on long rides and in races. We did notice the effect of the PowerTruss system on the weight, but a classic whole-sole design produces a stiffer structure.
The performance was better than expected from a shoe at this price point. Accelerating out of the saddle felt efficient due to minimal flex in the sole, highlighting the stiffness of the nylon composite material Specialized designed. We did have a hard time finding the proper fit with these shoes, as they didn’t mold to our feet the same way other Specialized shoes have in the past. The Velcro closure system prevents desirable pressure being applied to the foot, especially in the toe box. We were stuck either over-tightening the Velcro straps to get a secure fit or under-tightening them for a bearable experience on longer rides.
Bontrager has hit the sweet spot of price and performance with the Circuit. While it is not the stiffest shoe at the price point, it is one of the most comfortable. The supple upper mesh forms to the foot, while the Boa system pulls the shoe into place. The ability to feel comfortable all day with the combination of stiffness and weight come together like warm cookies after a cold ride.
The Torch 1.0 has an edge over similarly priced shoes, thanks to its superior sole stiffness. The shape of the shoe mimics some high-end designs, but the Velcro straps were put on to keep the price low. On the bike, a shoe that feels comfortable will give you better results. Difficulty finding a precise fit with the saggy outer mesh creates an uncomfortable fit. This shoe is best for a quick spin class or for rides that last under an hour.
Both Specialized and Bontrager have performance shoes that meet any budget, but for us, comfort is key. The next time someone asks for a budget shoe option, we will recommend the Bontrager Circuit. For $125, you get a shoe you want to wear on any length ride with the performance to keep you competitive with the best.
CIRCUIT PUNCH LINES
- Unique PowerTruss sole
- Supple synthetic mesh
- All-day comfort
TORCH PUNCH LINES
- Quality composite sole
- Velcro straps
- Uncomfortable on long rides
Weight: 545 grams
Weight: 580 grams