Many of us are feeling trapped amidst growing restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you’re under a complete Stay-At-Home Directive, or a simply observing sensible social distance guidelines, this whole experience is pushing our capacity to stay positive. Under normal circumstances this time of year I seek inspiration from the Spring classics like Strada-Bianche, Italy’s iconic road race traversing the white gravel roads of Tuscany. The racing is always incredible. The landscape, breathtaking. Like most races this season, Strada-Bianche was postponed. However, to keep my spirits up I’ve been watching past editions of this incredible race while under a #stayathome directive here in Wisconsin.
If you haven’t heard, gravel riding and racing is pretty cool. We all know that riding gravel roads is nothing new, but with a handful of pro road racers opting out of Grand Tours like the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia to race gravel events, the industry honchos are expanding their interest. They’re also paying attention to the chill vibe that comes with the gravel scene offering new clothing options to cater to riders seeking roads less traveled with an eye on comfort and looser fitting styles. Spandex is replaced by merino. Baggy shorts, and relaxed fit jerseys replace flashy race kits. Footwear is built for comfort with more flex in the sole than the traditional carbon fiber soled road shoes.
The first collection to arrive at Fat-bike.com is from our friends at Trek/Bontrager. They opted to call them as they see them and simply call the line “Bontrager Adventure”. Here’s a preview…
The line up includes a short sleeve jersey($119.99), short sleeve Henley($89.99), a long sleeve chambray work shirt($89.99), baggy shorts($99.99), and shoes($109.99)) for both men and women. To round out the collection, there is also an adventure cycling cap($34.99). Bontrager sent me a pair of shorts, short sleeve jersey, and shoes to put to the test. Let’s dig in.
The shorts come in “pacific” blue for men and “dnister” black for the ladies. Dnister is a new term for me. My contact at Bontrager informed me it has been a colorway used in the bike lineup for years. Wikipedia identifies the word “Dnister” as the name of a river in Moldova running through the Ukraine. Props to the Bontrager design team for expanding my global geo I.Q.. The shorts are super comfortable to the touch, and I personally love the deep blue color. The Schoeller ecorepel® fabric has a great two-way stretch to accommodate movement and to fend off the raindrops and dirt. Other features include a reflective band sewn into the back of the leg opening for nighttime visibility and a hidden side zippered stash pocket for your extra goodies. Sizing runs XS-XXL for men and women.
I’m wearing the Medium and found it to be the perfect fit for my 33” waist. I usually find myself stuck between a 32” and 34” in some brands where a 32” is too tight, and a 34” way too big. It’s nice to find something that fits great right without needing a belt or force me into a beer fast to fit into a smaller size.
Available in two colors (chambray blue, pewter), the Adventure Jersey strikes a nice balance between a fitted race-cut jersey and a more relaxed club fit. They do call it a “fitted” cut offering a “streamlined fit”. I wear a 40R smoking jacket and found the medium to fit true to size. Like most jerseys in the “gravel” category I have seen this season, the Adventure Jersey is made from a merino blend. In this case Bontrager is using 42.5% Merino wool, 42.5% Tencil, 10% Nylon, 5% Elastane. This blend will produce a very lightweight jersey with great wicking performance and plenty of movement on the bike. The Adventure Jersey team favored a full YKK zipper with a nice locking zipper pull and an extra tab of merino to tuck it away, so it doesn’t irritate your chin.
On the backside you will find 3 pockets with a small zippered security pocket. Additional features include reflective piping around the pockets, a loop in the collar so you can hang it to dry after your ride, and a rubberized material in the hem to keep the jersey in place when you’re in the drops trying to distance yourself from the pack.
Earlier this spring Bontrager released the GR2 Gravel Shoe. My test pair came in “Old Style Gold”. The shoe is also offered in black. After riding and racing in Giro’s lace-up shoes for the past few seasons, I’ve come to appreciate the shift from a high-tech boa and strap retention system to an analog lace system. I don’t need to “grab a couple of clicks” of the boa to prepare for the final sprint anymore. For that reason, laces work just fine and are easily replaced when they wear out. Have you ever replaced a Boa? Not fun. Shoe laces are easily tucked away utilizing the elastic lace keeper to keep them from catching on your chainring.
Bontrager utilizes much of the same features of the Foray MTB shoe. The GR2 has the same in-form race last to provide a roomy toe box without sacrificing performance. Like the Foray MTB shoe, the GR2’s uppers are made of Tachyon, a synthetic material for added grip. I had three different sizes sent to get the fit just right landing on a 46EUR for my size 12 paddles. I have wider feet than most humans, so I often find myself sacrificing a little extra room in the toes for a wider fit. That holds true for me with the GR2 Gravel Shoe. The Nylon composite sole is nice and grippy and won’t cause you to need a walker to get across a tile floor. The sole is stiff enough for proper power transfer but comfortable for walking around in the café or Kwik Trip for that mid-ride pitstop. The Bontrager web site says the sole rates a 6 out on a 14-point stiffness scale. The GR2 Gravel Shoe features a padded tongue for added comfort on and off the bike.
The sun and recent rains have opened up my local gravel routes for early season exploration, but I haven’t had enough time in the saddle with these items to give a full review. Here are some initial reactions.
I’ve pedaled about 80 miles in the shoes so far and like the fit and feel on the pedals. I’m using a Shimano XTR SPD pedal and have no issues with cleat clearance for clipping in and out. The padded tongue is a bit overkill in my opinion. The extra padding rubs me the wrong way. Literally. For my initial test ride, I wore the Adventure Short over a pair of bib shorts from Search and State partnered with a pair of Bontrager’s Thermal Leg Warmers. This combination was perfect for the 45-degree temperatures. Adding the shorts as a top layer on a breezy spring day was great. The shorts material provided the perfect amount of stretch to keep my pedal stroke care-free. I layered the Adventure Jersey with Bontrager’s merino blend short sleeve base layer a pair of Bontrager Thermal Arm Warmers, and a Kitsbow Wind Vest (reviewed last summer on Fat-Bike.com). This proved to be a winning combination for the day’s conditions. I will feature a full review of the Bontrager Adventure wear later this summer.
Until then, keep washing those hands, practice social distancing on your bike, and cue up past editions of the Spring Classics like Strada-Bianche and Paris-Roubaix on YouTube to keep your stoke level high.