Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Art, Footwear and False Economy

We save boxes to re-use for shipping. Cross-country ski boots especially call for boxes of a certain size to protect them properly without sending a bulky, space-wasting package.

I found this calligraphy on the perfect box for a pair of racing boots I was boxing for shipment today. Ordinarily we obliterate old marks so they don't confuse the shipper. In this case I figured I did not have to destroy something pretty since it did not convey misleading information to UPS. It was box 1 of 1 in our shipment as well as the one in which it had arrived. The number meant nothing but was harmless. I liked how whoever wrote it made it look nice.

This post started as a little report on winter cycling footwear. Opportunities to write are limited. So are opportunities to ride. Generally at some point in mid December I just take a deep breath, dive down and swim hard (metaphorically) toward the end of the holiday season. Maybe that takes me into the beginning of ski season or maybe we spend long dismal hours waiting for bankruptcy in an endless mud season. Ski season no longer represents much in the way of fun, because I don't get to ski consistently enough to call it a conditioning program. I might as well still live in Annapolis. But I digress. For the moment, I take the rides I can get.

The weather has been warm for most of the fall. The big snowstorms weren't particularly cold and they had warm weather before and after them. For most of my path commutes I have been able to wear an old pair of Diadora touring shoes that are great for toeclips. They have a smooth sole and a tapered toe, plenty of support and only light Velcro straps. Of course they are no longer made.

The touring shoes have the usual mesh uppers.  I have used neoprene toe warmers and even booties with them, but the lack of a cleat means the pedal wears more directly on the neoprene. Also, neoprene covers all have huge holes in them to accommodate cleats. That's a drawback even with cleated shoes because cold air and wetness can get in through these built-in leaks.

I put tape over the mesh in places, but it doesn't last and it doesn't cover enough. I have also used various combinations of liner socks and plastic bags.

 With my cleated shoes the neoprene toe covers and booties work adequately, but I don't like to ride the trail with cleated shoes in case I have to walk. I also don't like to ride far from home in the winter with cleated shoes because a breakdown might force me to walk in all kinds of sand, snow and slush. It has happened. A short ride can be a rough, long walk when you are abusing your riding shoes with every step.

A few days ago the temperature was about 20 degrees. I skipped the cycling shoes entirely. I have a pair of North Face shoes -- called Snow Sneakers I believe -- that are insulated and waterproof. They're stiff enough. They fit into the toeclips adequately. They were gratifyingly toasty on the truly frosty morning.

Bikes continue to trickle in for repairs. This fork is from a cheap mountain bike called an FS Elite (made in USA!) that a customer wanted refurbished for some offspring living in New York. He pointed to the broken fork brace.

"That's not important, right?" he said. "I mean, it doesn't really do anything." He did agree to have the fork replaced when I told him I could scrounge up a rigid, one-inch fork with a threaded steerer from the basement. We used to do fork replacements all the time in the late 1980s and early '90s. Suspension technology has virtually eliminated the damage riders used to inflict by jumping. They can still trash forks, but in different ways. This one was just cheap junk.

The holidays continue to bear down. I might get one or two rides before January. Then it's mostly up to the weather and whatever disruptive events might lurk in the mists of the future. Last winter was kind of a bucket of crap. I hope this one is better.


Steve A said...

Snow Sneaker - how do they compare to cleated MTB shoes that sell for about twice the price?

cafiend said...

I wore them again today. The temperature in the morning was about 29 degrees. Instead of warming up to 35 as predicted, the temperature stayed steady and then dropped at sundown. On the way out the path it was about 23-24. My feet were perfectly comfortable.

The soles of the Snow Sneakers are not as stiff as any of my cycling shoes, but they're not too floppy either. The tread pattern provides some enhanced grip on the pedal to aid the toe strap but does not snag when I'm trying to put my foot in the pedal starting up.

Users of step-in pedal bindings might want to consider special winter cycling shoes. In the days of slotted cleats some models of these looked like chukka boots with a fleece lining. Modern shoes reflect the modern design trends. I just happen to be a very satisfied toeclip user.