Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Okay Shoe

Time once again for another glowing endorsement of a current cycling product.

Always on the lookout for a non-cleated cycling shoe that will fit into a toeclip, I ordered a pair from Specialized that looked promising.

The model is called Skitch. According to internet search results, skitch means "to hitch a ride by hanging onto a moving vehicle while riding a skateboard or roller skates. There was also reference to doing this in just your shoes while sliding on ice. Neither of these sound like they would last long, which is usually what happens to shoes that fit toeclips, too. The bike industry giveth, and the bike industry taketh away.

The curse of modern shoes is the cupsole. A big, beefy rand is an obvious impediment to riders trying to fit a shoe into the opening of a toe strap. Less obvious are the nearly ubiquitous cupsoles on shoes that in other respects appear tapered and smooth, without aggressive tread, or bulky straps built into the upper.

A veteran toeclip rider gets used to the feeling of the strap contacting the sides of the foot right above the sole of the shoe in just the right spot behind the wide part of the foot. Toe strap is a bit of a misnomer, because you want it well back from your toes. Even a low-profile cupsole interrupts this contact, making the rider -- this rider anyway -- feel isolated from the pedal, and insecure. The strap may indeed be holding the foot in place, but without the feedback of the strap it becomes impossible to judge how firmly the foot is held, and how much one can trust it in a snappy maneuver.

Only a cleat provides maximum power and control. When I'm wearing a touring shoe I have already decided that the versatility of a walkable sole and the less frantic pace of a tour justify the less secure attachment. But I keep the straps for a reason: if I need a little more power or control than a flat pedal would provide, I have it. It's an intermediate step between the total commitment of any cleated system and the complete anarchy of a flat pedal.

As kids we never thought about any of this. All of our bikes had the standard rubber block pedals. When we had to accelerate, we stood up and pumped. When we had to climb a steep hill, we stood up and pumped. When we'd outgrown our bikes and hadn't gotten a new one that fit, we stood up all the time. For that matter, stuck onto a tall, gangly steed that we were supposed to "grow into," we had to stand because we were straddling the bar. The seat was a summit we could not yet reach. But when you know better, you want better.

Nice features of the Skitch include laces, a fairly tapered toe, and a waterproof toe cap which seems like it should also serve as a built-in toe warmer -- you know, those neoprene thingies that you stretch over the toe of a cycling shoe in cool but not super cold weather. It's very comfortable, with a cork insole. Fit is tricky, since a touring shoe should fit a bit more generously than a full-on performance cycling shoe. Here is another place where the cupsole messes up the total effect, by making the front of the shoe about a quarter of a size larger outside than it is inside. You have to stuff that into the clip to get far enough for the strap to go around the sweet zone.

I envision using this shoe for winter commuting. The North Face Snow Sneakers that I've been using are seven years old, and they were never very stiff. My winter commutes tend to be park-and-rides on dirt roads and the local unpaved rail trail. The route is all downhill in the morning, so shoe stiffness isn't too critical, but all uphill at night. Tired already from a day of work, I hate to feel like I'm losing what little power I have to a squishy, bouncy shoe. But the Snow Sneakers aren't too bad. They're definitely nice and warm without being oppressive. And they have excellent off-bike traction without having a super aggressive tread. They are apparently still available. At $110 retail, I would be reluctant to thrash them through slushy trails. Because I work in a shop, I didn't pay retail. Because I've been a low-level wage grunt all my life (oops), I can't imagine having enough income to consider $110 disposable.

At least the new shoes might let me save my nice Diadora touring shoes for fun rides in nicer weather. The Diadoras were marketed as spinning shoes, so they're shaped for athletic use. I trimmed the front strap so it fits into the pedal more easily.

Years ago, my late friend Bill recommended Winwood extra large toe clips as the best at accommodating big shoes. I ordered three sets. I could use a fourth now, and they're no longer made. I've ordered a possible contender made by All City to replace the non-Winwood ones on my off-road commuter.

The problem is not so much clip depth as the amount that it comes back over the instep. It has to reach the sweet range. The new clips accommodate double straps. When I ran double straps for a while in the early 1980s, we took one set out through the holes in the rear plate of the pedal cage and the other set through the normal routing. That really held the foot, but the rear strap could cut in painfully. One strap is enough for most uses, as long as it is in the right place for your particular foot size and shape.

I've only taken one ride on the new shoes. I will post updates if anything about them surprises me.


Steve A said...

Isn't that what the toe clip straps are for - to make any old pair of "Kirkland Signature" shoe fit just about how you'd like? Heck, even my cycling shoes with their clips attached seem to work well in toe clips. In cold weather, my Salomon boots work best since they're as close to perfectly waterproof as anything else I've found other than hip waders. They're too warm to use above 50F, however.

cafiend said...

My taste has no doubt evolved since I started riding in my regular Adidas street kicks. If you bought cycling shoes back then, you had to buy cleats separately, figure out where they should go by riding until the pedal made a mark, and nail the cleats on by yourself. The Adidas had a cupsole rather similar to the Skitch, but the upper was softer and the sole material may also have been more pliable. And I had no basis for comparison. Once I got into cleated shoes in 1979, I never wanted to go back. I even commuted in a pair of cleated shoes, for maximum acceleration and speed among the cars.

After a few days in a non-cleated shoe I get used to how the bike feels, but once the season gets rolling and I go back to cleated shoes I feel turbocharged. It makes me into a bit of a shoe snob.

RANTWICK said...

"the complete anarchy of a flat pedal" Amen, brother. Funny how there's no going back. Have you ever tried "Power Grips"? I had them on one of my winter builds, and they are deceptively effective.

cafiend said...

One of my cycling mentors used them on her mountain bike back in the 1990s. I never tried them, but I figured they must work if she used them.

Unknown said...

Never got on with cages. I was always squashing them with my size 14s or catching them on a root or a curb. Possibly an insight into my lack of elegance, but then Ive never tipped over clipped in either. Maybe if I or my LBS had know you could cages in XXL BITD I might have persevered, but I just went with SPDs. Even with an XL cage I find my foot too far back on the pedal for comfort and get knee pain I never suffer otherwise. SPDs work great for me. A bit of WD-40 on the mechs now and then and I replace the cleats once a year. You have a huge variety of shoes that you can actually walk in. Get one of the many flat/SPD double sided pedals and you can use any shoe. One benefit of having large feet is that you can often find leftovers at the end of the year dirt cheap, too - SteveP

My Trends said...
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