Comparison: Shimano vs Bontrager Shoes

Words by Nic Learmonth | Images by Nic Leamonth & Bart Thomas

Designed specifically for riders with X-factor, Shimano’s SH-WM82 and Bontrager’s RL Mountain WSD race shoes will have you putting the foot down with confidence in a range of performance-demanding riding scenarios.

Flow tested the shoes head-to-head and read on to see which one will suit you better.

Shimano SH-WM82

Shimano SH-WM82 mountain bike shoe.

Positives: Light and stiff for good pedalling efficiency! Deep tread recesses the cleat.
Negatives: That hot pink trim ain’t for everyone. Synthetic upper is less malleable.

Contact: Shimano Australia
Price: $189
Weight: 315g each or 630g/pair (size 39)

We loved the SH-WM82’s ski boot-style ratchet buckle across the arch/ankle, with its two buckle-levers. The larger lever lifts to tighten the strap; and smaller top lever presses to loosened the strap. This escape lever was a real favourite, especially when it came to post-ride shower queues. But the real beauty of this fancy lever system is that we could operate it on the fly, meaning we could tweak the shoe-fit without having to pull over.

We loved the racket buckle.  It was comfortable and worked well.

The sole on the SH-WM82 is good and stiff, with no torsion. This gave us a solid contact point with the bike, one that did not absorb any of that force we put into our pedal stroke, and we could feel variations in the bike’s handling and the track surface through the shoe. And hint of lateral bend, barely detectable to the naked eye, meant our feet were not left fighting to bend against the shoe through every stride or stroke.

The WM82’s hardy rubber sole has a well spaced, high-profile tread that rises above the cleat (we used the SM-SH51 SPD), and the benefits of this arrangement were immediately clear. The ‘recessed’ cleat meant we could clomp around HQ and even down the stairs to the car without going for a skate.

Placing the cleat a little lower than the sole makes on-foot journeys a little safer.

Out on the trails, the combined effect of the sturdy, non-slip sole and the deep tread meant we could walk over rock and through sand, mud and damp grass with confidence – especially useful at this year’s Scott24, when the rain played havoc with track conditions, and while we were filming on the rocky trails around Alice Springs.

The WM82s have held up well to two months of abuse on the sharp rock and gritty sand of our test tracks in Alice Springs and on the dust and rock in Darwin and the mud trails of the Scott24 in Canberra. (If mud is a regular feature in your riding diet, you can get spikes for the WM82 from any Shimano stockist.)

After two months, the synthetic leather shows no tears or general wear, and it shines up well with a quick wipe with a damp cloth. The soles have a bit of rock scuff – around the spike holes – but this is pretty good compared to the amount of wear we usually see on shoes worn on the trails around Alice Springs, where the rocks are super-sharp.

The Shimano Wm-82 on the trails of Alice Springs.

 

Bontrager RL Mountain WSD

Bontrager RL Mountain WSD mountain bike shoe.

Contact: Trek Bikes Australia (Bontrager)
Price: RRP $169
Weight: 310g each or 620g/pair (size 39)

Positives: Light shoes with stiff soles, comfy leather upper and stylin’ looks.
Negatives: Cut very low around the ankle. The ‘two-position’ Micro Fit buckle is a pipe dream.

Bontrager’s latest race offering for women, the RL Mountain WSD, scored high in style points and comfort, with good energy-transference capabilities, and shares many of the features to be found in Bontrager’s pro-level race shoes.

Like the Shimano SH-WM82, the Bontrager RL Mountain has two velcro straps along the foot and a ratchet-style fastener around the ankle to help the shoe clamp around your foot. As well as looking high-tech, the RL Mountain’s two-in-one silver ratchet buckle held firm and offered a snug fit, though the split-unit catch in the buckle seemed to deliver more gimmickry than subtle ‘two-position’ Micro Fit adjustment.

The RL’s silver ratchet buckle held firm and offered a snug fit.

Fit-wise, the RL Mountain differed from its Shimano cousin in that it was cut lower around the ankle, and the heel cup felt a trace shallower, with a narrower general shape and a slightly more pronounced arch. For us, this amounted to less surface area for the shoe to grab our foot with and a trace more wriggle room around the ankle while we were pedalling. But the leather upper and tongue on the RL Mountain did give a more subtly moulded fit than could be achieved by the Shimano’s synthetic upper, making the Bontrager a comfier choice for those longer rides. And shucks, if you have the Cinderella hoof this shoe is made for, you’d be winning in the style stakes because the Bontrager RL Mountain WSD is one good-looking clodhopper. Black with aqua-blue and silver – we love it!

The Bronze Series Composite sole was not quite as grippy on rock as its Shimano cousin, and the tread’s tighter, more intricate tread pattern collected a few Central Australian pebbles under the ball of the foot. But overall, the Bontrager RL Mountain held up to the test conditions we stomped and pedalled it through in Alice and on the dried-out, sandy clay trails around Christchurch, and the silky dust of an intemperately warm Mt Buller in Victoria.

A good sole, but also a stone collector at times.

After two months of steady hammering, the RL Mountain shoe still looks sharp. The buckle on this shoe has fewer scratches and dings than its Shimano counterpart, and the leather upper and synthetic rand has few if any abrasions. On the under-side, there are a few cuts under the toe, but generally the sole shows little wear – the RL Mountain is still revving to go.

Collecting dust, for testing purposes.

The Verdict

The Shimano SH-WM82 and the Bontrager RL Mountain WSD race shoes have been cut to fit the female foot, with a narrower, lower-volume toe boxes and shallower heel cups, and offer a snug fit, if the shoe fits, of course.

Matching the right shoe to your foot shape and size is the key, though. If you’re looking to add one or both of these race shoes to your riding kit, try them on later in the day, when your feet have walked a few kays. ‘Cause let’s face it, for most of your racing, you’re not going to be daisy-fresh.

The bottom line: these two high-performance race shoes are topnotch. But epic backcountry tour riders and comfort queens beware: these podium-hoppers are not for you. Stiffer than that proverbial banana in the pocket, the Shimano SH-WM82 and the Bontrager RL Mountain WSD offer good connection with your bike, improved pedalling efficiency and plenty of opportunity to adjust your shoe-fit without interrupting your cadence. Put a pair on and get ready to put a foot on that podium!

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