The Chassis: Bont Vaypor+ Shoes

The Chassis: Bont Vaypor+ Shoes

Some years back I was on a bike tour and a rider who knew my background began quizzing me about bottom bracket and crank arm stiffness. I was happy to engage the conversation about how those elements can affect a bike’s handling. After breakfast we all got dressed for that day’s ride and out he walked in SPD sandals. For day upon day of low-key bike touring, the SPD sandal was one of the less crazy ideas Shimano ever had. It still seems a tiny bit crazy, but that’s only because people never really comprehended its utility.

I couldn’t help but ask my fellow traveler which shoes he wore at home. Those were his only cycling shoes he revealed. I noted that if he wanted to improve control of his bike, changing his footwear would make a much bigger difference, but then he said something about fungus and I knew to drop the issue.

For years cycling shoe manufacturers chased ever-increasing stiffness the way some bands have to play ever-larger auditoria. Even Journey eventually realized that you lost something of your connection to the audience when you’re playing to a stadium that holds 60,000 people. Stiffer soles in shoes worked up to a point. I can recall that each time I purchased stiffer shoes through the 1980s and ’90s I learned new things about how my bike handled.

There came, however, an odd deflection point. At some point I noticed that while the sole of the shoe didn’t budge, the upper flexed like an under-inflated tire. The stiff sole could only do so much; at some point the upper needs to hold your foot exactly over that sole.

The Bont Vaypor+ is a shoe I’d have killed to ride when I was racing crits. The out-of-the-saddle efforts upon exiting corners, pulling on the handlebar with all the muscle I could summon, driving my legs as if I was lifting a refrigerator, they were expressions of maximal effort and anything that would have helped me deliver an extra watt of power to the drivetrain would have been welcome.

Bont has been known as a maker of skate boots for decades. Back when inline skating was a thing, I raced in Bont boots and molded the carbon fiber/fiberglass boots to my foot with a friend’s heat gun. So I’ve known how stiff they can make a sole using carbon fiber. Their existence in the cycling shoe space has been, perceptually, at the upper end, best known for custom shoes made to exacting standards for your feet.

The Vaypor+ are not custom, nor do they cost more than your first bike. However, for $449 you can have a shoe that comes in 19 lengths (36 to 50 with some half sizes) and four widths. In addition to standard, narrow and wide shoes, Bont offers an Asian fit. Practically speaking, what this means is a shoe with extra width, but reduced volume as compared to their existing wide model.

Both the chassis (outsole) and the insole are heat moldable, giving the buyer a greater degree of control over fit than you can find with any similarly priced cycling shoe. Effectively, what molding the outsole can do is cup the foot almost perfectly, giving you better power delivery to your bike as well as more precise handling.

However, Bont didn’t just make a shoe with a stiff sole and call it a day. The chassis, as they call it, wraps half way up the foot, creating that cup effect. So while the sole looks like it ends where the upper begins, it, in fact, extends another centimeter or so up the side of the foot.

The upper on the Vaypor+ is cut from kangaroo leather. It provides a firm wrap around the foot to secure it in the shoe. Using real leather says a thing or two about the shoe maker. Real leather stretches, ultimately conforming to your foot in a way that improves fit beyond how the shoes felt on the first ride. However, it can also stretch in unwanted ways if you get caught in the rain. Bont used a fairly heavy kangaroo leather in the Vaypor+, which should help prevent stretching from getting them wet. Bont did line the upper with cowhide to increase comfort and that’s possibly why my feet never blistered during the first few rides; I was amazed by how stiff the shoes were overall.

For a racer looking to eke out every extra watt of energy, these are nothing short of a platform for total slayage. Either yourself or your competitors, depending on your fitness.

Despite claims to the contrary by whole flocks of Brannock devices, my foot is for all practical purposes a 41.5. However, there are plenty of shoes that I have to wear in a 42, either because they don’t make a 41.5 or because their shoes run small. The Bonts run smaller still; I’m wearing a 42.5 in the Vaypor+.

Because Bont has spared no expense on their carbon fiber chassis, they can lay claim to the lowest stack height in the industry: 3.6mm.

The closure on the shoes is handled by two Boa IP1 dials so that you can twist to tighten or loosen and pull to release. Having two dials to independently adjust the fit in the top and bottom of the shoe is critical for people with high-volume feet, and I suspect handy for plenty of others.

The sole is made for three-hole cleats. Sole guards are replaceable. They come in six possible color combinations, which creates the opportunity to find a pair that matches everything, or clashes with everything, depending on your taste.

Back when an expensive pair of cycling shoes ran $200, I could see how people would have lost their minds over a $449 pair of cycling shoes. But considering just how many shoes eclipse the $300 mark, the premium for a shoe that comes in 76 possible sizes and is this well made, plus customizable, is nothing short of remarkable. The only question I have is why I don’t see them on more people.

Final thought: Stiffer than some shots of whiskey.

 


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10 comments

  1. Winky

    I hear ya about those Brannock things. Everybody who has tried to measure my feet with one of those brings out shoes that are 2 sizes too big. It is sometimes a struggle to get them to actually bring out something that will fit.

    Oh, and Bonts might be the greatest shoes ever made, but I’ll never know. They are simply too ugly for me to consider. I’m that shallow.

  2. mike

    I have a pair of vapour, my second pair. While they don’t publish it. Mine have speedplay soles. The heat moldable and remoldable resin allows you to adjust for that bunion too. Just love them. Beauty is as beauty does in this case.

  3. Aar

    Currently on my second pair of Bonts. The first pair lasted 3-4 times as long as any of my prior cycling shoes and the second is well on their way. The fit (without heat molding) is better than any of my other cycling shoes. In a wide width, mine are actually smaller than my Brannock size. While the shape is unusual and being handmade makes them appear a bit shabby, they are the best built shoes I’ve used. There are a few lighter shoes on the market but I can’t get a season out of any of them. With a proper cycling orthotic paired to a sole this stiff, there is no more direct connection to the bicycle this side of custom cycling shoes. The most important thing to me, though, is that I get them with Speedplay 4-hole drilling and the stack height of that configuration feels magical! I know it’s not the case but it really feels like the center of the pedal axle goes right through the middle of the ball of my foot.

    Speedplay drilled Bonts need to be ordered from their office in Australia and a little persistence is required with some blind faith as well as the wait. There are only two other non-custom brands I know that make Speedplay 4-hole drilled shoes, they’re only available through dealers and the dealers rarely stock the 4-hole versions of the shoes

    1. Winky

      What do you consider to be a decent life? I’ve been getting over 5 years (70,000km+) out of my Sidis.

    2. Aar

      I wish Sidis fit me. Their regular shoes are too narrow, their wide shoes don’t hold my heel and cranking the heel width adjuster just hurts. I like their build quality but weight and stiffness are concerns.

  4. Scott

    Speaking of dealers, does anyone have a link to a current, accurate list of dealers in the U.S.? It really sounds like I need to try these on to get the right fit.

    1. Aar

      If you dig for it online, Bont has (had?) instructions for tracing your feet, measuring the tracing and using the measurements on a chart to find your size.

      If your foot tends toward D+ width, consider their wide shoes. These things are rigid carbon fiber tubs that wrap up, around the sides of you feet. There is no give on the side of the foot, like with fabric or leather on the side of the foot. If you have a prominent “sixth toe”, large bunion on the first metatarsal head or other side of the foot protrusion like that, the Bont carbon fiber tub design with make it a pressure point. You can heat mold Bonts to get the width but I advise against it. To accommodate foot protrusions, heat molding is a very good way to go.

      I tried to heat mold my first pair. I thoroughly pre-heated my oven and placed the first shoe in the middle. A few minutes in, my Energy Star oven’s broiler heating element came on full blast and scorched the upper within moments. I means less than 3 seconds between heating element glowing and shoes black and bubbling – the element was at least a foot away. If you’re going to heat mold Bont or Lake cycling shoes, use an oven with a constantly on heating element (they’re either old or really hard to find because they can’t get past the energy consumption police [in the US anyway]). At my expense (I insisted because I was the bonehead), Bont made and sent me a single replacement shoe (Speedplay sole Bonts are custom order).

      Despite having purchased them slightly small and knowing my feet had two hard contact points with the rigid carbon fiber tub, I broke them in by riding instead of heat molding – short rides, occasionally with thick socks. After 7-8 rides they were good to go.

      With 20 years of ski boot fitting experience, I know that even the most rigid of materials reshape themselves over time and heat molding them significantly reduces their lifespan. I also learned the long-term comfort and performance benefits of tightly fit athletic foot gear – some would call it properly fit. Break-in can be laborious and sometimes painful in the short term but worth it long term. The novelty of heat molded cycling shoes was intriguing so I decided to play (much less expensive than ski boots, BTW). In the end, these shoes worked out wonderfully, I replaced them after the uppers wore out with the updated model.

      In a few years, when my current Bont Vaypor S wears out, I’m considering custom shoes again. The price differential between custom today is much greater than it was when I bought Lamson’s back in the day. While I’d love a pair of Simmons, D2 or Bont custom are much closer to my price point.

  5. Ray Alvarez

    @Padraig…. Did you use the “Size Wizard” on the Bont website before getting your shoes? If so, would you say it is accurate? I would hate to deal with the hassle of sending them back for a correct size. Too bad there is not a shop in the SF bay area that carries all the sizes including wide width. Thanks in advance.

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