On a recent visit to Trek UK as well as spending time talking about bikes and racing and all kinds of stuff, we spent some time talking about Bontrager.
Bontrager might be a brand that you think is simply the finishing kit on a Trek bike and whilst that is undoubtedly true, you may not realise that the company is now putting as much R&D into the Bontrager range of products as they do into bikes. I didn’t to be honest, but it was a very interesting thought – especially when I reflected on the fact that I believe Trek have been doing some fantastic product development on their new bikes for the last few years.
Trek are a company that fascinates me in many ways, they have a well-deserved reputation of quality for their bike lines (ask anyone in the bike trade) but they’ve not been a company (if you leave the whole Lance thing to one side) that has typically marketed themselves as loudly, boldly or aggressively as some of their competitors.
What they do like to do is look at the science behind the products from design, to materials and how best to bring them together and they’ve now significantly upped their game on this aspect of the Bontrager soft goods range.
Take saddles as an example: Trek/Bontrager has spent time researching physiology for saddle design with a white paper on this you can download and read if you wish on their website. This kind of rigour is being applied across the product range and part of the logic behind Trek Factory Racing is to combine the science with the pounding that the pro riders give the products – not to mention their fussiness about what they like and don’t like. This logic was used by Cervelo with the Cervelo Test Team but Trek with Bontrager have a much, much bigger range of products to test and trial with their pro teams.
Another interesting thing about the approach with Bontrager is that for all of this investment they are making in science, design, materials and testing, they’re not look at charging premium prices, which is very interesting for us recreational riders and something I find personally compelling.
So after talking through a range of the products, I’ve been lucky enough to be given a few to try and share my thoughts on and they are as follows:
Bontrager Paradigm RL Saddle retail £89.99
This is a mid-range saddle in terms of market pricing, but was recommended as being comfortable and a good all-round saddle. I went to the medium of the three widths and have put it on my Stoemper, replacing a Prologo Scratch Pro. The first thing I noticed was that the Bontrager saddle was lighter than the Prologo 220gms versus 250. I boldly went for a 100km initial ride and that was a bit of a challenge for my backside. However, it did break the saddle in as on each subsequent ride I’ve felt more and more comfortable. I’m now very happy on the saddle. It’s a good looking piece of kit to me as well with a clean and modern design. It’s also a good price point and so far after a few hundred kilometres on board, I can’t see a reason why you shouldn’t check this particular model out if you’re looking to try a different saddle. I’m certainly very happy and am not thinking of taking it off my bike. I must confess though to having some minor saddle sores after 170+km at Liege Bastogne Liege but that was my longest day ever on a bike.
A link to purchase from Evans Cycles: http://tidd.ly/eb6a5910
Bontrager Race Thermal Bibshorts £74.99 retail
When we were talking about garments to try, Chris from Trek was positively glowing in her praise of these shorts. I hate the cold, so the thought of some shorts with a thermal fabric seemed like a winner for the spring (and autumn). Again I was told how much effort is going into the design, fabrics and pads in the design of these products but without seeking to charge exorbitant prices. After riding in these shorts a few times now, I have to say I share Chris’s enthusiasm. I would go so far to say that these are the best shorts I’ve ever ridden for less than £100 retail – they really are terrific. The thermal Profila fabric that Bontrager use on these in these bib shorts feels fantastic to the touch – really nice. The pad in the shorts is also very, very good and again I’d say the best pad I’ve ridden for under £100. The fit is excellent, the seams are all flatlock stitched around the pad and legs (not on the upper and straps) and they seem very well finished. I’ve been wearing them a lot and they are holding up well to regular use and washing.
So far, I can’t see a reason why these shouldn’t go straight to the top of your shopping list. I think they’re a fantastic buy for £75 and I can see that I might need more of these in my wardrobe. It’s also got me wondering about some of the other bib shorts in the range. I’d call these a star buy (if I had such a rating system). The Race Thermal bibs were also my choice for riding Liege-Bastogne-Liege and I was happy all day in them.
Bontrager RXL 180 Softshell Jacket £89.99
This garment is perfect for spring and autumn riding. It’s long sleeved, with a windproof front but not back, so it breathes and lets you vent heat through the back of the garment. If you know your Castelli range, it’s similar in concept to the Trasparente jersey (but the Bontrager one is £50 cheaper). It’s not a winter jacket but it’s a jersey for changeable conditions. I’ve unintentionally ridden in this down to just under 5 degrees with a winter base layer and been fine (whilst riding) and I’ve also gotten it wrong and ridden in it on a day the temperatures got up to 18 degrees and it was a bit hot. However because it has a full length zip, it’s reasonably easy to regulate the temperature. The sleeves on the jersey feature cuffs that go over your fingers, which is great when it’s cooler and they enhance the transition between your sleeve and your gloves. For warmer days, you could possibly do without gloves and ride using the cuffs on your handlebars.
The windproof front of the jersey works extremely well at allowing you to keep warmer in a medium weight garment and I think it’s a terrific product. The fabric’s not particularly thick but because it blocks the wind it doesn’t need to be. Riding at a reasonable tempo and it seems to manage heat pretty well at temperatures lower than I thought I’d be able to comfortably ride in. It’s an excellent autumn and spring garment that might even work in the winter if you run hot.
The styling is a little conservative but again it’s modern, well thought through, has reflective bits and the colour works well with any black lycra bib shorts. Yes, it’s a little more restrained than if the Italian’s had designed it but it’s a garment that looks good and is well made and a pleasure to wear.
I have to be honest and say it’s another garment, I’ve really fallen for. For those days where you don’t want to ride in arm warmers, it’s a great product and again at a good price for the quality and performance you get. I really like this.
A link to purchase from Evans Cycles (it’s on sale at the time of posting): http://tidd.ly/cdf750b0
Bontrager Velocis helmet £159.99 retail
The Velocis is Bontrager’s new top of the range road helmet and has been designed with input from and is ridden by Trek Factory racing. Whilst it’s far from a lightweight price – it’s a competitive price compared with other top of the range offerings.
It was designed to meet the requirements of the race team and it features an accessory suggested by Jens Voigt no less – a detachable, cap style peak that velcros on to the front of the helmet but because it’s just a peak – doesn’t compromise ventilation through the top of the helmet.
The mounting system is intuitive and effective for adjusting and it only took about 15 seconds to perfect the fit for me. According to Bontrager the new composite inner skeleton used in the design allows them to create bigger vents and keep the weight down. It’s light at 200gms (on my scales), which is less than advertised and unusally Bontrager offers a free replacement crash guarantee in your first year of ownership, which is something I hope to not need! The styling is very modern, with a relatively flat profile and as far as helmets go – I think it looks great on. From asking around (in the trade), it seems that it’s a helmet that is deservedly pro level in its quality, design and fit. The padding system works well and I’ve been comfortable in it in all of the riding conditions I’ve tried so far. I have used Jen’s peak and the thing I particularly like about it is that it’s very easy to put on or off as the light changes. Because it’s compact it doesn’t take up much more room in your pocket than a gel, so I’ve found myself riding with it more often than I thought – it just adds a touch of versatility that I hadn’t thought I’d appreciate. I’m thoroughly enjoying the Velocis and it’s definitely my go to helmet now and I rate it as better than my old S-Works which was my best helmet.
Here’s a link to the product info: http://www.bontrager.com/model/11626
A link to purchase from Evans Cycles: http://tidd.ly/10f9cedb
So from trying four different types of the latest Bontrager kit, there’s not one I wouldn’t recommend or buy with my own money. These are well designed, well made products, that are reasonably priced that are all performing exactly as I’d hoped if not better. I have every confidence they should wear well and continue to perform at a high level and honestly I reckon it’s time to make sure Bontrager is on your list for soft goods. Bontrager has gotten serious about their range of products, bringing science, R&D and attention to detail to them and they should absolutely go on your shortlist. The 2014 range is very good and it should only continue to improve.
Thanks for reading and apologies for the less than perfect photos – I wasn’t home before dark when getting this post ready. I will replace them as I can.