Thursday, August 9, 2012

Shoes: a confession

I’ve started wearing cycle shoes on the daily commute. I know, I know, cycle-specific clothing: the horror! The elitism! The automatic disqualification from the Cycle Chic Club!
Cycle shoes and professional slacks: does not compute?

I didn’t want to enjoy wearing cycle shoes. But after a few months of commuting and general hauling on the Yuba, my right leg, which I habitually use to start off my first pedal stroke, developed a sore knee that wouldn’t go away and a hamstring so tight that no remedy would loosen it. I tried everything—stretching, ibuprofen, changing my cadence up and down, switching out the leg I used to start pedaling from a standstill. Nothing helped.

Finally, in desperation, I dug out the Shimano SPD shoes I’d bought years ago in a brief flirtation with with Serious Cycling™. The bolt-in cleats and matching pedals had long been given away after I discovered that they hurt more than they helped, but I kept the shoes for those rare occasions when I felt the need for a little more pedaling efficiency (even if the gain was mostly psychosomatic).

Thankfully, this pair of cycle shoes was designed for on- and off-bike wear (they might have been marketed as “touring” shoes back in the day?) and they looked more like a pair of trail running shoes than yak leather Fred Flippers.

The difference became apparent after just a few days’ riding, and it was amazing. The pain and tightness went away almost entirely.  

Though I was delighted that the pain had gone away, I felt disappointed and even a little worried that the solution had been to use what I consider “specialized bike clothing”. Do SPD shoes undermine the “ordinary person on a bike” image I aim to project in my everyday riding? Would a stranger looking at me think he or she had to buy special shoes to ride a bike?

On the other hand, sacrificing comfort and utility to conform to an ideology—any of the many that members of the cycling community subscribe to—is just silly. Grand Unified Theories of how to dress are valuable only so long as they offer more freedom, not more constraints.

And maybe I should take my clothing choices a little less seriously, too. After all, someone who owns a massive orange cargo bike with color-matched milk crates has already jumped the shark on “specialized biking equipment”, don’t you think?


  1. Just a thought: Your use of cycling specific shoes on the bike is no different than all the downtown office workers who wear running (or other athletic) shoes while traveling to and from work.

    There really is an advantage to 'the right tool for the job' - to claim otherwise is pretty silly.

    1. Chris-- thanks for the support! Shamefully, this post is at least as about my own neurosis as an Armchair Cycling Advocate than about my personal shoe choice.

      Still, almost six months with my nerdy cycling shoes and the knee pain is gone. They even have just the right arch support for my flat feet!

      I'm pretty sold on the "right tool for the right job" argument by this point.