The sport of rowing is unique for many reasons, but perhaps it’s least endearing novelty is the fact that rowers still largely share the shoes they row in. Using shoes permanently attached to the hull of the boat poses a number of alarming issues that coaches and athletes, until now, have largely had to ignore. The risk of transferring bacteria, germs and bodily fluids from athlete to athlete is compounded by the fact that rowers often make do with ill-fitting shoes, greatly increasing the chance of sores, blisters and open wounds occurring precisely where their feet meet the shared footwear. Hygiene aside, badly fitting shoes can both hinder performance and cause injury.
It has taken leading cycling shoe brand Bont Cycling – entering the rowing market as Bont Rowing – to drive things forward. In a sport where thousandths of a second can make the difference between Olympic champion and not, it seems surprising that innovation in rowing has taken so long to catch up with this glaring problem.
After years of research and development, Bont Rowing believe they have bought to market the first affordable, modular, lightweight system, that actually works.
At the forefront of the system’s development has been Bont Rowing’s Istvan Nemeth, himself a rower. He believes that up to this point, the cost of implementing a quick release system across club fleets of boats has been one of the key limitations on the market so far.
“After spending considerable time discussing quick release systems and their limitations with rowers and club officials around the world,” says Nemeth, “I wanted to create something that reflected that feedback and importantly provided an affordable solution.”
From Bont’s research into rowing conducted over several years, they realised that to be viable the new system had to be entirely compatible with a large range of different boat designs, setups and athlete’s individual needs.
“Some rowers like toe/heel lift, others don’t. Some boat manufacturers are supplying angled foot stretchers which makes the installation of some systems difficult to impossible. Various types of steering systems also pose problems with installing other quick release systems.”
Ease of use, installation and repairability were forefront of Bont Rowing’s considerations when developing the Drive QRS explains Nemeth. As a result, the Drive QRS has been designed to be a totally modular system that can be installed on standard flat plates and angled foot plates, complete with the option to add an angled wedge for toe lift. An optional steering plate adaptor makes for easy installation on foot steering systems and an adjustable heel wedge allows for three different heel heights.
In terms of day to day use, the system couldn’t be simpler to use. The rower simply presses their own rowing shoe down to engage the locking plate on the sole with the quick release on the foot stretcher, and twists to lock. To undo, just lift the locking lever and twist again.
The Bont Drive QRS is constructed from a carbon composite body with titanium locking plates and 316 marine grade stainless steel hardware.
Identifying suitable materials for manufacture was key to the product’s development. “In the environments rowing is done in; hot, cold and salt water conditions can all have an effect on nylon and metals which are not purposed for it,” explains Nemeth.
“The carbon composite construction means lower weight, higher strength, and the ability to withstand temperature variations, chemicals and erosion. The titanium locking plates offer an extremely high strength to weight ratio and durability.”
With the complete system assembled from components parts, it is easily repairable too. Individual components can be replaced at low cost rather than requiring the purchase of a complete new system.
Bont Rowing say the system costs approximately half what current similar systems on the market do, while boasting the lowest stack height and weight of any system available. The system starts from USD$34.90 / GBP £28.
With the Drive QRS, representing the first simple, low-cost, low-weight, universal quick release system in rowing, a world where rowing clubs provide the boats and oars, and rowers bring their own shoes, doesn’t seem so crazy after all.
For more information or to purchase head to bontrowing.com