BOA® – a better constrictor? A product history lesson
Laces have been around for, really, quite some time. That trusty stalwart of informational acumen, Wikipedia, tells us there is evidence for laces going back as far as 3500BC; the shoelaces themselves being made of leather or lime bark string.
And, in case you hadn’t noticed (if so, I have to wonder what you’ve been up to recently) laces are still *everywhere*. Shoes, corsetry, splints, clothing – the manifold ways that laces can be used to attach things comfortably to bits of people is only matched by the materials and colours available. The continued use of laces is, perhaps, a staggeringly pronounced case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – (although, hilariously, the Knights Templar apparently decried their use as ‘abominable and pagan’).
But laces are not without their issues. Sure, they work ‘okay’ – but in many applications, there could be a better way.
In the mid 1990s, Gary Hammerslag moved to Steamboat Springs in Colorado, having sold his previous company, which made medical products to help angioplasty (cardiac surgery artery widening) procedures. While this doesn’t automatically suggest a link to lacing systems to the casual observer, sustained snowboarding adventures – and the annoyances of getting the fit right on his childrens’ boots as well as his own, led to the Gary’s think-cogs beginning to turn.
Across the board
Gary put his mind to work, and soon a novel system was born, which ensured simple boot lacing: a filament, a dial/ratchet system, low friction lace guides – it’s cunning and surprisingly simple, as all good technology is. To tighten the laces, you turned the dial (one click equals one millimetre at the laces); to loosen the laces you pulled the dial out. It’s fast and intuitive, and the basic concepts have remained remarkably consistent since the company was formed (though in the modern top end systems, you can even loosen the laces with millimetre accuracy, too).
Gary’s initial prototypes, tested extensively by enthusiastic snowboarders on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, were a hit, so it wasn’t long before Vans and K2 became the first two brands to launch boots with Gary’s new fit systems, and BOA® was up and running.
So the BOA® Fit System takes a lot of the hassle out of lacing snowboarding boots, but it’s far from a one-trick pony – there are other benefits too. To find out more, I spoke to Hilke Badegruber, BOA’s EMEA SR. PR Manager. “The BOA® Fit System has much more to offer than just closing the shoe,” she said. “It allows the wearer to make millimetre adjustments by turning the dial (one click is one millimetre), which optimises fit, and provides precision, adaptability, and control. You can also adjust the fit while riding, with one hand, even if they’re sweaty or wet – and thanks to the low friction lace guides, the fit will stay as adjusted.”
What’s more, the dials and laces are tested (and proven) to withstand rain, sweat, and freezing temperatures, and BOA® also offers a guarantee on the dials and laces for the lifetime of the product they are integrated on.
BOA® From The Start
Speaking of which, I wondered how the BOA® systems are integrated into the shoes, and at what point the company begins to work with the manufacturers to develop a new shoe with BOA® technology. Hilke explained:
“BOA® works with its brand partners from the very start of the design process, allowing the brands to play around with the upper construction to get a perfect, secure fit. BOA offers multiple different power platforms to fulfil different needs, from low to high cut shoes, and also from soft to very stiff materials. Within these platforms we offer different dials, laces, and lace guides, allowing BOA to offer specific solutions for various needs. We are continuously working on developing the BOA Fit System in terms of design and functionality.”
Of course, BOA® isn’t just concerned with cycling. Snowsports feature heavily in their resume, as well as trail running, golf, mountaineering and hiking, hunting and fishing, court sports and workwear. And as well as footwear, BOA has developed lacing systems for gloves, helmets and medical support bracing too.
BOA® On The Bike
But we’re here to talk bikes, naturally enough – and here, BOA has definitely earned its stripes. “In cycling alone, BOA has launched 10 different dial solutions since 2006”, explained Hilke. “Because we work very closely with the brands, we can advise which specific configurations would be best to integrate in order to improve the consumer’s performance. We’re able to research and refine these configurations scientifically, in the BOA Performance Fit Lab, so we can keep on developing our products and focusing on perfect configurations and integration into the end products.”
Of course, cycling brings with it a unique set of requirements when it comes to footwear fastenings – mountain biking in particular. Clipless pedal shoes need to be secure enough to enable the rider to pull up on the pedals, and to cosset the delicate rider’s footsies in luxurious comfort for mile after mile of rugged type gnarlitude. Often, too, those miles are enlivened by copious amounts of clart, sludge, grime and whatever else you want to call mud. So here, for your delectation, are a mere smattering of the MTB products that currently sport BOA® fastenings. Enjoy!
XC for miles / Gravel agents:
Scott MTB RC SL:
All of the lightness; all of the carbon soled loveliness in this XC slipper of maximal disco-ness. There’s an HMX carbon sole with Corecell foam core for weight savings and ultimate power transfer (it says here). Two BOA® Li2 dials enable different tensions across the lengths of the shoe, and you can loosen them in millimetre fractions too, simply by turning the dial.
Scott Gravel Tuned and Gravel Pro shoes also adopt a BOA® Fit System (the Pro has one dial and velcro fasteners; the ‘tuned’ shoe has two BOA® fasteners). The Gravel shoes are presented in a somewhat more sombre colour palette than the none-more-yellow MTB slippers.
A knitted MTB shoe, this. Although I’m unsure how much input the grannies of my acquaintance had in its design, given that it doesn’t resemble a 1970s teacosy. It’s got the double BOA Fit Li-2 system (with 1mm incremental tightening and loosening), integrated webbing, and a carbon outsole with high traction Michelin rubber lugs. There’s also a rubber toe bumper and an abrasion resistant coating.
Rapha Explore Powerweave:
A high performance all-terrain shoe for fast and light adventure racing. BOA dial Li2 once more, for top-notch incremental tightening and loosening control. The Explore also come with 3D woven Powerweave technology for superlative breathability and comfort. There’s a carbon footplate for effective power transmission, a sculpted heel cup, natural rubber tread, Ti hardware and a reflective heel for enhanced visibility.
A fancy-dan shoe with a super-breathable ‘synchwire’ upper. It’s also got a carbon composite outsole plate and a dual injected rubber outsole. Couple this with a 3D moulded footbed for all of the comfort, which is further enhanced with a BOA® L6 dial, which tightens in 1mm increments, and uses their CS1 lace with 49 strands of stainless steel wrapped in nylon to withstand abrasion to shed dirt, debris, and water.
A spot of gravity, perhaps?
Don’t just assume that BOA® dials are just for the XC set though. The Gravity crowd (or those with more Enduro-y aspirations) can find much to crow about within BOA®’s offerings, too.
Ride Concepts Tallac and Flume:
The Tallac and Flume (for men and women respectively) BOA® are flat shoe designs that aim to combine advanced off-road footwear technology with bike-specific performance for a shoe that’s designed to outlast the biggest epics. They feature the BOA® Fit Li-2 System once more, for a micro-adjustable, precision fit with strong, flexible and low-friction textile TX4 Laces. There’s a Cordura® upper for toughness, breathability and light weight, lots of fancy rubber tech for maximum grip and an adaptable outsole for maximum power delivery, and a host of other sweet design features.
Specialized 2FO Cliplite:
The 2FO Cliplite is festooned with tech – the BOA® Li2 dials are nestled atop a welded upper to provide a comfortable fit. There’s also a cushioned EVA foam midsole with a relaxed fit last (so it shouldn’t require you to have skinny sausage feet), so the 2FO Cliplite keeps you locked in and cooled down for all-day riding without sacrificing off-the-bike comfort and style. SlipNot™ FG rubber soles apparently deliver best-in-class pedal grip and connection when hitting ‘full-send’. The shoe uses BOA® ’s CS1 lace -49 strands of stainless steel wrapped in nylon to withstand abrasion to shed dirt, debris, and water.
Crankbrothers Mallet E BOA:
Designed for racing enduro, or hooning the trail on all day adventures, the E BOA has a carbon-injected nylon shank for pedalling efficiency, an optimised engagement system – the Match System – for any MTB clipless pedal, and of course a BOA® L6 dial to precisely dial in the fir, with CS2 laces, for higher tensile strength.
Ion Rascal Select BOA:
The Rascal Select offers a clipless shoe design which displays longitudinal stiffness with lateral flexibility. Vertically stiff yet laterally compliant, if you will. Ion claim that this helps the foot stay planted on the pedal. There’s a BOA® L6 dial on the upper instep ensures a fast, effortless and a precise fit, with CS1 laces for added abrasion and wear resistance. The cleat is positioned rearward compared to many more ‘XC’ shoes, the better to suit its DH application. This, alongside a reinforced upper to protect against high-velocity rock strikes and plenty of other features, including sole technology to facilitate off-bike grip, s shoe that doesn’t disappoint.
5.10 Kestrel Pro BOA:
A shoe designed for all-mountain riding, with precise fit and clipless compatibility. The Kestrel Pro sports a BOA® Fit system with CS1 laces for a precise and secure fit, while the wide Stealth® C4 rubber sole provides confident footing in all terrain. There are mesh inserts for breathability, and a quick-drying synthetic upper.
Moreover, 20% of the pieces of the upper are made with 50% recycled content as part of FiveTen’s efforts to reduce plastic waste.
5.10 Trail Cross Pro BOA:
Similarly to the Kestrel Pro BOA, the Trail Cross Pro BOAs are also made in part with recycled materials, and sport the BOA® Li2 dial for millimetre-accurate tightening and loosening. They are also clipless compatible, with a breathable upper to keep feet cool and dry, while a neoprene at the cuff seals out dust and debris. The sole is comprised of Stealth Marathon rubber for all-around traction when off the bikef
FOX Pro Frame Full Face Helmet:
Lastly, we’d be a little remiss if we didn’t showcase just one of the other ways that BOA® can improve the fit of MTB apparel.
The Fox Pro Frame lid is now available with a BOA® Fit System, with an FS1 dial and TX 1.2 laces for superior adjustment and low friction and durability. This can allow the rider to dial in a precise, customised fit and push their riding to the next level, with the confidence their helmet will stay in place. Engineered and built for lasting performance, BOA dials and laces defy snow, rain, and freezing temperatures – perfect for all-mountain riders and enduro racers. The Pro Frame also boasts MIPS™ technology and a dual-density Varizorb™ EPS liner for exceptional protection, which pack into an ultra-light weight shell. And no Pro Frame helmet is complete without FOX’s patented, fully integrated chin bar.
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