The Perfect Bike Shoe

Imagine you’re on your bike, pedaling for 10 minutes, or 10 hours. How often do you think about your feet? I usually forget they are there, completely. I’m usually thinking: thirsty for something not in my bottle; hungry for food I don’t have; moving my hands around the bar searching for the newest comfortable hand position; saddle sores; sore neck; sweat in my eyes; how many miles to go; why am I doing this, again; etc.  And then I stop, unclip, and remember my feet, as my full weight goes into the shoes. I take a step or 20 steps, and I’m noticing the shoe more with each step. How many steps before I realize I’m in cycling shoes? Is it the flex of the sole, or is traction an issue? Sometimes the “CLICK, CLICK, CLICK,” as I walk, reminds me I’m wearing bike shoes. And now people are staring at me, wondering why I click when I walk. If I were wearing the perfect shoe, I wouldn’t remember they were bike shoes until I got on the bike again.

I’ve had one pair of road shoes. The only time I thought these were advantageous was while riding fixie, that extra tight security of the Shimano pedal and cleat wouldn’t let my shoe release even at stupid high cadence on descents, and sometimes when I wanted it out. Otherwise, I was never sure why I needed stiffness and the inherent lack of walking traction of road shoes. I’ve done many long road rides, and a few races of varied lengths, but I never realized any advantages of a road shoe over an mtb shoe. Being a fan of Crank Bros eggbeater pedals, I love the float in the connection from shoe to pedal. There may be scientific data proving a benefit of that ski boot type connection to a bicycle that road shoes and pedals provide, (I haven’t seen it), but the needed effort to unclip and the difficulty walking far outweighed any advantages I may have gained. I do believe a more stable platform while pedaling is better for lengthy rides, but I’m not sure a complete lack of flex is necessary. There may be data…!

I’ve read a few studies on the potential efficiencies, or lack of, for the connection of the shoe to the pedal, either road or mtb clip systems. And I’ve been considering switching back to “real” bike pedals, (for some reason these are now called flat pedals; who decides these new names for historical items?) Since I’m better at getting the bike off the ground with that solid connection provided by my Egg Beaters, I have not started down the flat pedal revolutionary path. I’ve done many miles on a downhill bike, mostly with flats, but I never developed that full confidence with those pedals. Maybe I’m scared of change; just need to commit!

Giro 1
Got no sole?

 

Except for that one pair of road shoes, all my varied mtb shoes were perfect, until I replaced them, and then the new ones took that title. I do tend to wear a pair of bike shoes down to almost unrecognizable scruffy foot covers that somehow continue to hold on to the cleat bolted to the bottom side. I walk a lot in my bike shoes; that can happen riding steeper or higher altitude trails sometimes. I dream of a shoe that will take the cleat securely and walk like a trail running shoe. Maybe I shouldn’t take my bike with me while hiking.

pi-2.jpg
There’s still something there.

“Front pointing” (toes on the ground, heels up) on steep trails is a technique that works ok sometimes when choosing the exploration or adventure route. Stiff soles help, but heel rub may become an issue. Using “French technique” (one foot horizontal and the other up on the toes) relieves much of the discomfort from trying to walk straight uphill or front pointing. By now you should be wondering why I’m going straight up hillsides, this is usually the most difficult and is potentially the most ecologically damaging route to take. There are actual trails though, a few in New Mexico and many in South Korea that are straight up (and there are no IMBA style trails in SK). The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but not always the easiest or best, and not always rideable (up or down). Some trail builders may have never heard the word “switchback”.

Giro 1
Giro Privateer

 

As I buy new shoes, I keep the old pair around, just in case. I actually have my last two pair right now. The Giro Privateer worked great for a few years of abuse. I probably wore these much longer than would be recommended, but they still worked. The interior did not hold up well at all, the material on the heel was the first “wound” on the inside. The sole wore as expected for hard plastic.

PI
Pearl Izumi X Project 3.0

I really liked the Pearl Izumi X Project 3.0, these were noticeably more comfy than the Giro Privateer. But that same hard plastic sole wore away from walking on steep rough terrain. The interior held very well, the heel was lined with a smooth vinyl that did not create friction and cause an open wound. These had a slightly clear plastic on the sole but was not too “showy” and did not look out of place in the dirt.

I got these Giant Transmit Nylon Sole off road shoes around September 2017, from Bike Nara in Seoul. I knew nothing of this shoe until I tried it on. I walked in them in the store and was impressed, but knew it would be different with the cleats mounted. I was wrong! Many many miles of walking later and they are still cushy and silent.

The interior of the Giants are very comfortable, all contact points are padded sufficiently, and remains comfortable after eight hours of riding. The soft walking sole is the main aspect of this shoe that I really like. Some mtb shoes have a very hard plastic lug system, and these will bite into dirt or mud nicely. I have no test data, but I believe this harder plastic wears quicker, especially with my tendency or need to walk.

All three of these shoes have a mix of buckles and Velcro. Velcro? Yes, I know many riders do not like Velcro shoes. Some of my favorite shoes only used Velcro straps. Those straps still worked great after a couple of years of abuse. Maybe there are different levels of Velcro quality, and I got lucky. I always look at the full Velcro strapped shoes first when shopping, but they are getting rare. BOA connectors are replacing Velcro and buckles lately. Not everyone wants pro-level stiffness of the latest carbon footbeds and 1 ounce shoe, but we all want convenience and ease of entry, maybe BOA system should be on all shoes.

Giant 5

I was skeptical when I first saw those buckle systems on the side of mtb shoes, normal use would put those mechanisms in jeopardy. I’ve had at least four brands of shoes with buckle systems. Big differences were the location of the release mechanism. My Giro Privateers buckle had the “press and release” tab on the bottom of the buckle. For me, this was the best buckle design, getting out was easier. And when the BOA closure systems began appearing, I was once again skeptical, but they have proven their durability, just as the buckles, and (for me) the velcro straps. And many shoe designs are going back to strings lately. The first bike shoes I had were a touring shoe (1986), and they had strings, just as all other bike shoes before that time. I was always concerned about the strings getting bitten by the chain and rings. But many of the new “classic” shoes are nice looking!

20190519_083604.jpg

I don’t clean my biking items as much as some riders, you may have noticed this from many of the images I’ve posted. My theory- clean, spotless bikes and equipment don’t get used much, or somebody has a lot of time on their hands. Dirty implies a concentration on riding, not cleaning. I do clean my bikes and equipment occasionally, but I’m far from obsessive. The Giant shoes are something I do not like as much when clean. These were stupid shiny when new, SHINY GLOSSY BLACK DIRT SHOES! Road maybe, but why mtb shoes? Feel like I should be looking for Shoe Shine Boy while riding. (NOTE: when I say Shoe Shine Boy, the phrase is from watching the Underdog cartoon when I was a kid).

20190519_083658.jpg

How has he shine held up? There could be a reason for the finish, some type of protective surface seal to prevent damage, or soaking up water, or maybe it was just for looks. I wouldn’t want waterproof mtb shoes, that means inhibited breathing, could be bad in the summer. Maybe the finish is intended as a protection, like Teflon. Mtb shoes are always beaten and abused, scrubbed through rocks, mud, sand, and undergrowth, unusual to start with a dress shoe appearance. If the cleat would hit the floor while walking, maybe I could have considered them for a Broadway tap dance career! Not sure I’d look as good as those dancers back in the black and white movie days though, and the extent of my rhythm capabilities are pedaling a continuous cadence while secured to pedals on a bicycle. And that usually has no entertainment value for anyone but me.

https://www.giro.com/en/privateer-r-hv/p/7068401

https://www.giant-bicycles.com/us/transmit-nylon-sole-off-road-shoe

http://www.bikenara.co.kr/

http://www.sockguy.com/

 

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