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Bontrager GR2 Gravel Shoe Review

Versatile, sturdy, and well-designed overall off-road shoe

There are now so many disciplines and subdisciplines of off-road cycling that it’s almost impossible to design one shoe to suit all purposes. However, the Bontrager GR2 comes close to that happy medium.

Highlights:

  • Balance of durability and comfort for all-day gravel and bikepacking adventures
  • Well thought-out details (lace holders, heel loop, heavy-duty scuff guards on toes and heel).
  • Toe studs compatible for CX.

 

Considerations:

  • Very roomy and high toe box.
  • Thick material & minimalist holes may make things heated in summer.

 

Overall:

  • A highly versatile and well thought-out shoe that can be used for most off-road uses.

One’s idea for an ideal off-road shoe varies greatly depending on your intended use for the shoe. Are you gunning for CX or MTB XC racing needing stiffness and the capability for toe studs? Are you a bikepacker looking for all-day comfort and potentially a lot of hike-a-bike? Are you a gravel racer wanting a combination of stiffness and comfort?

That’s not to say that one shoe can’t do it all, but it always helps to have an idea for your intended use before you go shopping, and to keep these uses in mind as you get bedazzled by all the shiny new kicks on the shelves or online.

The Bontrager GR2 is certainly a shoe that can do it all, but I would characterize it as leaning towards the gravel and bikepacking segment of the off-road market.

GR2 Features

The GR2 has a really simple and effective lace holder system built into the tongue.

Speaking of the tongue, it’s thick and well-padded, further reducing any risk of constriction or local tightness from the laces.

The synthetic leather upper is also thick and well-padded, with tiny dots that are more for aesthetics than actual ventilation. That’s because, while it does perforate the material, the inside material of the shoe block direct airflow through the holes. I haven’t ridden it in scorching Ontario summer heat yet to tell how they handle summer weather, but judging from the construction this might be a consideration if that’s your primary riding climate.

There is very tough and rigid hard plastic material sweeping around the entire front of the toe area and also around the heel cup. This should help protect the shoe even during rocky hike-a-bike sections.

The anti-scuff material on the heel also help the heel be pretty rigid. The loop around the top of the heel is a nice feature to enable tying or clipping the shoes onto your backpack for travel.

The outsole is set up with a basic rubber toe studs for muddy uphills, which you can also unscrew and swap out for deeper toe studs, making the GR2 CX-capable. Counteracting this, the sole is definitely not on the stiffer end of the off-road range.

The SPD attachment has two fore-aft settings, enabling more versatility with cleat positioning.

Scraping Through Scrappy Badger

I used the GR2 during the Scrappy Badger gravel race in mid-May here in southern Ontario, a 83 km race (3:45 finish time for me) with about 1100 m of elevation that started at about 10°C and hit about 18°C by the end. The course featured a LOT of sand, some definite hike-a-bikes (hello uphill sandpits), and lots of 13-15% gravel climbs.

Here are some of my notes from riding the GR2s that day:

  • I laced up the toe portion quite tightly to avoid too much toe wiggle, with a bit looser lacing up top over the foot arch.
  • The laces worked perfectly. I never had to readjust the laces nor did they come out of the lace holder.
  • I had no hot spots or any pinch spots.
  • Despite the sandy hike-a-bike interludes, my shoes weren’t full of sand when I took them off at the finish.
  • The GR2s were certainly capable of decent power transfer. My final 25 km home averaged 170 W, with a consistent 270-300 average over the multiple long rollers.

So in simple terms, I never noticed the shoes all day, which is exactly what you want in footwear off or on.

Summary

If you do a lot of different off-road riding but don’t care to splash out for multiple pairs of shoes optimized for different applications, the Bontrager GR2 is a serious contender for that one pair due to its versatile list of features and well thought-out design.

 

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