WORDS: Kath Bicknell 

Once upon a time, people chose cycling shoes based on the price point, the brand and the type of bike they were riding (road or mountain). If those people were women, they’d often order a small men’s size and do the Velcro up really tight to stop their heels slipping.

In more recent times, shoe aesthetics have become a decisive purchase consideration. Laces or dials? Red, yellow or blue uppers? Do they make me look #pro?

On receiving a set of the Bontrager Women’s Meraj road shoes to test, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact the design is all about fit and function. They’re not so light and stiff that you’ll want to tread delicately at the café, and they’re not so loud in appearance you’ll feel pressured to replace them because they no longer match your kit. But what they are, as confirmed over the following four months, is so comfortable that they don’t even require a breaking in period. 

At $325, the Meraj is Bontrager’s top women’s road shoe offering. It is available in European sizes 36-43 and boasts the same features and materials as the men’s, or unisex Velocis, which are available locally in white or black and sizes 39-48. They’re essentially designed for the rider who wants a high-performing, light weight all-rounder that isn’t as extreme in price point, stiffness or materials as the company’s top offering, the unisex XXX road shoe ($459). Riders who want those pro-level features built around a women’s last will have to look at a different brand for now.

The stand out features for me, defined as those which make the Meraj different to most, are the roomy toe area and the Boa IP1 dials. Like other model Boa dials, the IP1s ratchet in either direction for even, incremental adjustments to fit - but pulling these ones outward allows you to loosen the tension all in one go. Working with Bontrager’s ‘inForm Pro’ ergonomic approach to the shoes as a whole, the IP1 dials make the Meraj refreshingly quick and easy to slip on or off. The double Boa system also provides a nice even feeling across the top of the foot. 

The shoes feel secure to wear and I was pleased to find that I didn’t even need to do them up very tight. The lining on the inside provides ample cushioning, the women’s last means my heels stayed securely in place and the synthetic upper breathes as well as expected, aided by mesh at the toes and around the rear third of the shoe. Minimal but durable tread at the front and back of the shoe has held up well over the test period, allows for a confident gait off the bike, and keeps the weight in check.

Every shoe company tends to come up with their own stiffness rating, and Bontrager describes the carbon/fibreglass sole of the Meraj as having a stiffness index of 10 out of 14. This makes them stiff enough and light enough to suit most training, riding and racing aspirations without being so solid and high-performing - or worse, boxy and flexy - that they cause the feet to ache or burn on long rides. While riders with narrow feet will find these shoes a bit too spacious, they’re a welcome offering for broader footed folk. 

Bontrager has recently teamed up with insole company Superfeet to provide extra support. Sold separately for $49.95, these allow riders to further customise the shoes to support their arches, offering extra stability and pedalling efficiency. I was particularly glad for the highest level of arch support and impressed that these didn’t impact the feeling of spaciousness inside the shoe.

Overall, the Meraj provides excellent power transfer, but enough compliance to stay comfortable during long rides, making them a great all-rounder. They won’t suit someone who wants their kicks so loud they ‘pop’ on Instagram, or riders with out-and-out sprinting aims. But they will appeal to someone with a broader foot, who doesn’t like to muck around when it comes to fit, and who is happy to spend a bit of money in order to get the benefits of high-performing materials.

PROS

  • A no-nonsense, high-performing all rounder
  • Easy to adjust
  • No breaking in period needed
  • Roomy toe area suits broader feet

CONS

  • Riders wanting an out-and-out race shoe built on a women’s last must try another brand
  • Won’t suit riders with narrow feet

RRP: $325

FROM: trekbikes.com/au