History of BOA
BOA started making closure systems in 1996. Their original products were for snowboarding boots, and featured a ratcheting dial that made it easier to close the boots and get the exact tension you wanted. BOA has since expanded into many markets including cycling, running, golf, utility boots, medical devices, etc. I am sure that most of you have seen their systems at one point or another. The main difference between the systems that BOA offers is the power of the dial. Cycling shoes use low power dials, while snowboard boots need more power. BOA has sold over 40 million closure systems. Golf is currently their largest market, but as triathletes, we regularly see their systems on cycling shoes.
BOA started working with Specialized to make cycling shoes in 2006. We reviewed Specialized's Trivent shoe back in 2012, and really liked the BOA system that snugs up the heel. Scott started using BOA dials in 2009. Now most bicycle shoe manufacturers offers models with BOA closure systems, including Pearl Izumi, Lake, Garneau, Bontrager, fi'zi:k, etc. BOA bicycle helmets are currently not very common. BOA makes a lot of ski and snowboard helmets, and is slowly working towards offering more cycling specific helmet options. We saw a bicycle helmet from Bontrager with a BOA closure during our tour, and have some photos of it in the gallery below.
BOA is just starting to break into the running sector. Topo and Zoot currently sell running shoes with BOA closure systems. We reviewed the Topo Men's RR last year, and while we weren't very fond of that shoe in particular, we look forward to trying a more traditional shoe with a BOA system. BOA expects that there will be more choices in the running sector by 2016.
One of the things that defines BOA is their commitment to standing behind their products. They stressed this multiple times throughout the day. All of their systems come with a lifetime warranty. If anything should break, they will replace it for free, including shipping. They claim to have very low failure rates to begin with. The biggest issue they say is dirt getting into the dial, which is a larger problem for mountain bike shoes. But the dial is very easily opened, and can be washed out with water. One thing that surprised me was that not only do they support discontinued products, but they will even do a production run to manufacturer additional spare parts for discontinued dials. This should mean that your BOA closure will be supported as long or longer than the shoe it is attached to.
Scott's Road Team BOA shoe features BOA's latest system - the IP1. It allows for incremental and push-pull adjustment.
BOA's latest system - IP1
Earlier this year, BOA released their IP1 closure system. In the past, BOA offered two types of systems, an increment dial and a push-pull dial. The incremental dial could be turned left or right to loosen or tighten the shoe. The push-pull system could be pulled up to instantly release the cable allowing for quick exit from the shoe. The new IP1 system combines both of these systems into one system that allows for both incremental and push-pull adjustment. You can easily loosen or tighten your shoe during a ride to get a precise fit by turning the dial. After the ride, you can pull up on the dial to immediately exit the shoe. This makes using the shoe a lot more convenient, and is a nice upgrade. In addition to the usability changes, the IP1 also moves from a round shape to a hexagonal shape that should be easier to operate. Most new cycling shoes will feature the IP1 system. Unfortunately, older shoes cannot be retrofitted to use the new system.
Running with BOA
I talked at length with several people at BOA about running shoes and the differences between BOA and elastics. Triathletes have long favored elastics as they can greatly reduce T2 times when transitioning to the run. We reviewed several elastic systems back in 2011, and have been a big supporter of elastics for a long time. The BOA system, however, is basically the exact opposite of an elastic system. BOA uses steel laces that are designed not to stretch at all.
The people I talked with at BOA feel that this provides a better fit, preventing your foot and heel from moving within the shoe. They believe you can get into the shoe almost as fast as with elastics. You just insert your foot, spin the dial, and go. After you have been running for a little while, it is also easy to readjust and loosen the shoe if needed. With a traditional lace, if you had double knotted it to prevent it coming undone, this would take a significant amount of time. But with the BOA system, it can be done with a few clicks in a matter of seconds.
I have yet to really test BOA shoes while running. The number of models on the market is currently quite limited, and I haven't found one that really suits my foot and running style. BOA has retrofitted existing shoes at Kona through their "Taste of BOA" program, and the response has been quite positive. This allows you to test the BOA system on a shoe that you have tried and know suits your foot. If you have the opportunity to do this, it is worth a try. BOA says they don't plan to ever sell this retrofit kit retail, but will continue to offer the service at major events. I plan to do this to my current running shoes, and will report back after I have had more experience running with them.