Sunday, October 23, 2005

Consider the Toe Clip

Toe clips and straps have been pushed aside as outmoded and irrelevant, but they offer genuine advantages to some riders. They’re not just another badge of retro obstinacy.

As one who likes to make one bike do many tasks, I will wear different shoes for different applications. Because I date from the era of slotted cleats I have been able to compare the merits of straps versus step-in pedal bindings over many years. The SPD-style pedal and shoe does not answer all needs. A platform SPD pedal like the M545 or the M324, or a similar style pedal from another company only provides a flat pedal when the rider wants to forego cycling shoes.

With toe clips and straps I can use my slotted cleat on a stiff cycling shoe for any situation in which I want the full power of the strongest connection. For touring I can use a touring shoe with a moderately stiff sole and no cleat. For quick errands around town I can wedge my street shoe into the strap and still have some of the power and security to which I am accustomed.
With a platform/step-in, it’s all or nothing.

The major manufacturers, self-styled leaders of the bike industry, no longer offer a touring shoe that slips easily into a toe strap. Road shoes have the smooth, hard soles they always have, with bulky Velcro straps across the upper, to take the upward strain once borne by the relatively cheap, easily replaceable toe strap. Mountain shoes have gnarly tread on the soles. It may be better for portaging a mountain bike on an unridable section of trail, but it prevents easy entry into an old-style pedal.

Even shoes with smoother soles have thick soles or bulky bumpers around the sides, making them hard to position on the pedal.

When slotted cleats were common, you didn’t hear about the so-called “Q-factor.” Pedal designs offered more or less lateral freedom so a rider’s feet could find their natural position. If you discovered it mattered to you, you could find a brand of pedal and a cleat position to dial in that aspect of fit. People also didn’t get as finicky about microscopic details of bike fitting. You might get obsessed with a detail from time to time, but that was something to fear, not indulge.

Yes, it was a pain in the ass to have to flip a pedal up so you could get your foot in it. Step-in pedals eliminate that. Off-road, the ability to snap in and out quickly seems like an excellent feature. But at most street intersections I will try to do a track stand. If you don’t take your foot out, you don’t have to put it back.

Off-road I twist my feet laterally as I work the bike through technical sections. The strap keeps my foot from slipping off entirely, while allowing me to be half in the pedal. If I do come out, I have more trouble getting back into it than I would with a step-in pedal, but I put up with that inconvenience.

I’ve stockpiled as many slotted road cleats as I can find. I buy inexpensive shoes, because they have thinner straps across the top of the shoe. With a leather punch I can make my own holes for shoelaces, allowing me to trim away the straps as necessary to make it easier to slip the shoe in and out of a toestrap.

It’s harder to find a toe-clip friendly shoe for heavy-duty trail riding. Muddy conditions around here destroy shoes quickly, meaning I can’t nurse a favorite through many years. But lately I’ve enjoyed exploring dirt and paved roads on the cyclocross bike more than full-on trail riding through forest and bog. Rides like that don’t abuse the Diadoras I modified for cleatless touring.


Anonymous said...

I realize that it has been quite a long time since you posted this. I ran across it via a google. I must say, I agree with you completely. In the interim since your original post, it has become even more difficult to find shoes that can be used with toe clips. Have you any suggestions re any shoes (or a source for shoes) that can be used with my Campy C Record pedals? Any suggs will be greatly appreciated.

cafiend said...

Anon, I hope you get this reply. If you want to use cleats, the new expensive shoes with the aramid-cord lacing don't have the bulky straps that other models for step-in pedals have. Then you just have to find or devise slotted cleats.

For riding without cleats, some suggested shot-put shoes as having a fairly stiff sole and slim profile. I have not folowed up on that, but I pass it along.

Good luck in the hunt. Fancier toe STRAPS seem to be making a comeback, so perhaps the industry will trot out some more cooperative shoes soon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. I will look into them. Perhaps someone will make some more compliant shoes. While cleats are fine for some things, they seem to me to rather limit one's ability to use one's bike a lot for general purpose transportation rather than merely for a twice-a-day commute or for pleasure/exercise.

Running multiple errands, etc, kinda becomes a drag if you have to deal with cleats in the CVS and the Walgreen's and the Safeway and the etc., etc., etc. For now I search for vintage cycling shoes (that aren't worn completely out) on eBay and such. Anyway, I can't bring myself to give up my C Record pedals and replace them with Pro-Fits. Not that I could remotely afford the Pro-Fits. LOL.

Who woulda thunk that a wheelset would cost more than a classic hand made in Italy bike did only 10 years or so ago? Ah, well. Welcome to the brave new world.

Again, my thanks for your reply. It is much appreciated.