High-end XC race shoe built around a very stiff sole
Bontrager has a pretty packed line-up of mtb shoes and the Cambion nestles in nicely just below the top of the range XXX. The XCO racer or trail rider who wants the stiffness and efficiency the carbon sole can provide are the perfect users of the Cambion.
The Cambion shares a lot of features with the XXX such as the grippy outsole and BOA IP1 dial based retention system. But whereas the latter takes the stiffness up to the max and doubles the dials, the Cambion uses a more economical carbon sole and single dial. This brings the cost of the shoe down but retains most of the performance benefits of the XXX.
The distinctly ‘British’ last of Bontrager’s shoes is a pleasant surprise compared to the many Italian (narrow) fitting shoes on the market. This means a proper sized toe box with plenty of wriggle room (without being too cavernous), plus an adequate volume for riders with high arches.
Stiffness for miles
The Cambion is plenty stiff enough to feel that all of your power is being translated into forward momentum, given the sole stiffness is rated as twelve out of fourteen (on Bontrager’s own scale). The upper wraps the foot like a snug blanket and the tongue is soft against the ankle. The BOA dial does a sterling job of holding the shoe in place without introducing any unevenness in tension. Bontrager uses a metallic gripper material on the inside of the heel to prevent unwanted heel lift. This does the job but a tighter fitting, stiffer heel box would be better – plus it wouldn’t wreck socks.
Ventilation is perfectly adequate for summer riding with a mesh section in the toe and hexagonal venting in the tongue and side panel. The downside of this airiness does mean water ingress can be rapid when riding in the wet.
The rubber outsole is a little disappointing in muddy conditions. It has very soft edges and lacks the grip required to run up slippery slopes unless you install studs in the forefoot.
Bontrager sent the bright blue version but for the more conservative (read practical) rider they also offer it in a classy looking Obsidian (black/grey) scheme.
The Cambion is plenty stiff enough for even the most powerful riders and can cut it on the racecourse. Bontrager’s use of a last with wider toe box suits British feet really well.