Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Taxing Ride

It's true. You don't forget how to ride a bike.

Taking advantage of dry roads this morning, I rode the fixed gear to the town offices to pay the property tax bill. It seemed like a huge waste to drive a whole car over there when I was only carrying some pieces of paper.

On winter rides I typically do not wear cleated shoes. Using toe clips and straps I have the intermediate option of wearing some sort of walkable footwear while retaining some power because I have the strap. A step-in pedal with a flat side only gives you the flat side, unless you want to drag a toeclip around. It would get all dug up from scraping the road, and could even get snagged in a corner or while hopping a curb.

Without a cleat I have less to worry about if I need to get off into the snow on the roadside or walk a half-mile, as I did once when I flatted just that far from home on a January day. Home being tantalizingly close, I opted not to crouch in a snowbank to fix the flat, but that meant walking gingerly the whole way in my cleats. That was when I officially decided to go cleatless on winter rides.

If it's a snowless year, cleats are fine. The woods are brown. Mud and water are only as much problem as they are in the late fall.

We're really attached to our bikes. We dedicated riders like to have that full-power feeling. Whether you use step-in pedals or clips and straps, footwear choice often makes you act like one of those birds that can do amazing things in flight, but waddles and flaps awkwardly on the ground.

Many practical riders -- probably the majority, world-wide -- don't bother to attach their feet to the pedals. Their average speed when cycling is lower, but their versatility is greater than that of a rider with cycling-specific shoes.

In 1980 I saw a sturdy young German guy touring up the California coast wearing combat boots, riding a three-speed and carrying his gear in a canvas backpack. It was the Age of the Toe Clip, so riders at the campsites showed up most often in either the cleated shoes of the day or regular sneakers. I carried both. I only saw the German guy arriving and departing, so I don't know what sort of speed he averaged, but as long as he was satisfied that's all that matters.

Over the past decade or so I have heard from a lot of riders. Wolfe City has a substantial retired population. A lot of your older types get into riding late in life to satisfy the doctor's directive to get some exercise. Most of them hate to ride among traffic, so they avoid using the roads. The ones who do ride on the road are quite likely to get off it whenever vehicles start passing them. Some will stand there and wait. Others will ride in the dirt until they feel safe going back onto the pavement. For various good reasons, these riders are not going to try to herd traffic. They accept a slower pace and interrupted progress for the sake of personal safety. At least it's the perception of personal safety. Traffic herding certainly is not for everyone. I hate that it has to be this way, but in most of this country it's how things are. If you can't throw elbows with the big boys or get out there like Gandhi and appeal to their morality, you have to adapt to life on the fringe.

How did I get to this from shoes? If your ride could easily become a walk or include a significant percentage of walking, your whole mount changes. Even saddle height changes if you'd rather be able to drop the landing gear in a hurry than have the most efficient pedal stroke. If, for whatever reason, you don't view the paved travel way as your natural habitat you develop a style based on what you see in front of you. You adapt to where you feel you belong.


Steve A said...

There's another answer. SPD. I can get spikes for my Sidis if necessary and they have traction almost as good as my snowboard boots. My feet would, however, freeze much quicker than with sneakers.

cafiend said...

I counted SPD and the other insets among the step-ins. There's still cleat protrusion and still the snow-clogging issue for winter. For the non-snowy seasons and climates, extensive walking in cycling shoes is uncomfortable and takes its toll on the shoe.

I've watched the cycling shoe evolve during the era of the step-in pedal as no one questioned the interface, only designed burlier and more expensive shoes to withstand the stresses once carried by the toe strap. And there's no good step-in answer to the partial-hold setting a toe strap offers with conventional footwear when mixing riding and walking extensively.

RANTWICK said...

You are right, as usual. I used Power Grips in winter one year and they were great.

I am one of those people who need to be attached to my pedals somehow. I currently use spd cold weather cycling boots and spd pedals with one side flat for those dicey days.

The boots I wear suck for walking despite being spd.