I use toe-clips rather than cleats, which encumbers the acquisition of appropriate cycling shoes. There exists a paucity of footwear that can cope with the restrictions toe-clips evoke. Up until approximately 20 years ago (I'm guessing) there were many solutions. There still are solutions but they are limited, often expensive, and incongruous. They are this: ‘flats’, which may include more casual mountain bike trainers, BMX style footwear, and shoes geared towards fixed-gear and single-speed utility. Mountain bike trainers tend to be fairly bulky, with a thick, treaded sole that precludes the smooth insertion – or insertion at all – into the space that exists between clip and pedal. BMX style pumps are effectively the same as made for skateboarding, and equally substantial. Shoes intended for fixed-gear usage, on the other hand, are more sympathetic, with lightweight uppers and very thin soles. Actually, it is debatable whether such a thing really exists at all. There are shoes marketed as such but they don’t necessarily suit fixed-gear/single speed pursuits any more than mountain bike trainers or a clipless set-up; there is no actual quality particular to this sort of bicycle that favours the eschewal of cleats. It’s more a case of the people who ride fixed-gear or single-speed being motivated by more quotidian considerations. The average fixed-gear/single-speeder probably cares more about the aesthetics of what they’re wearing, as opposed to any perceived functionality.
In any case, if you type the phrase ‘fixed gear cycling shoes’ into one’s search-engine, a theme emerges, two words: Quoc Pham. Quoc Pham ‘designs original collections of cycling shoes for the urban enthusiast, commuter and weekend tourist’. In essence, these are stylish shoes (not trainers) designed for the “person” about town. The road-racer, clad in Lycra, is not what Quoc Pham has in mind.
I am that road-racer clad in Lycra. I never used to be but am now, the reason being that my cycling is no longer actuated by a commuting practicality but more a fondness for cycling for its own sake. It follows that the wearing of Lycra is the appropriate course of action – one doesn't play football or tennis in jeans and sandals, after all.
Quoc Pham: nice shoes, shame about the impetus behind them (and the price-tag). Moreover, it would be awfully discordant to match a pair of these elegant leather shoes with cycling shorts, a tight jersey and a bike that demands a more aggressive, flat-backed posture. No, I need something more sport-like.
So I've been in a bit of fix. The problem isn't so much the size or style of the footwear available to me, but the fact that any trainers conducive to the employ of toe-clips will not usually have a particularly stiff sole. This is the crux of the thing: only trainers or shoes made specifically for cycling have rigid enough a sole capable of satisfying on the down-stroke – anything that yields to the foot’s pressure will dissipate energy, wastefully.
I have given serious thought to surrendering myself to the logic of clipless pedals. The only thing that has prevented me from doing so is the nature of my bicycle and the charming steel Christophe toe-clips it came with. My bike is over 20 years old and it would seem a shame not to ride it in the way that was originally intended. The acquisition of second hand cycling shoes, therefore, has remained the only obvious solution.
It has taken almost a year, but something finally came up. During one of my semi-regular on-line rummages, I chanced upon a pair of non-cleated Sidi ‘touring’ shoes selling on eBay. An Italian firm, Sidi are at the forefront of their field, but as far as I can tell now only manufacture cleated footwear.
I started watching them (eBay parlance for marking an item that one desires to keep track of). I deemed them too small but wondered what price they might sell for. By means of some sinister algorithm, eBay registered what I was up to and exposed to me what ‘people who viewed this item also viewed’. Another pair of Sidis revealed themselves, ostensibly the same model, in better condition and apparently in my size: a pair of Scarpe Touring Senza Buchi (Shoes Without Holes, translated from Italian), European size 44, US 10 – UK size 9 by implication – boxed and virtually unworn. I believe the seller would have been justified in describing them as “new old-stock” but had decided against it.
The shoes were exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. From above they looked like a regular pair of cleated, road racing cycling shoes, albeit dating back 10 or 20 years, freed from any modish impedimenta. Hewn from black Lorica (a synthetic leather substitute) and narrow fitting, with a red ridged area in the mid-sole to encourage some sort of cleat-like connection with the pedal, they could potentially improve my actual cycling as well as my visual aspect.
The starting price was set at £19.99. I resisted the submission of any bid for the first few days of auction and saw their value rise gently in the meantime. With three days of bidding to spare I laid my cards on the table. If there were no further bids the shoes would be mine for the sum of £65.11 plus the £4.89 postage. Whether or not I would have been tempted to raise my bid any higher was rendered moot, for the next day a number of prospective buyers locked horns and pushed the price up to £101 with two days of the auction still to run. They finally sold for £133.29, way over my budget regardless of my financial constraints. It was a final amount that offered some succour for if I’d been beaten by nothing more than, say, a fiver then I’d have been left with a bitterer taste.
But wait – a week later the same shoes are back up on eBay. The original seller had insisted that they were more accurately a size 43, despite being marked as 44, and graciously warned anybody with a size 10 foot against bidding for them. The victorious bidder, with his size 10 feet, had taken a chance, but it was not to be and he was about to pay the price, quite literally, for his gamble. (Were neither party aware that UK and US sizing differs, perhaps?)
Taking the same tack, I waited a few days prior to submitting my tender. My financial restraints were the same as before, and I presumed there would be people more than willing to outbid me the same as before. This time around the starting price was pitched at £50 and anybody watching was biding their time. I tabled my offer and sat back.
Come Friday – the day the auction was scheduled to reach fruition – I remained the only bidder. I had a busy day ahead of me and wouldn't have access to my computer until the following morning, whereupon I fully envisaged logging on to find that I’d been comprehensively outbid.
I hadn't (you probably saw that coming), and in fact had not been bid against at all (but maybe not that). The shoes were mine, then, and for no more than £50 plus the £5 shipping charge. From this we can calculate that the seller made a loss of almost £90. I couldn't help but feel for him.
I was a little concerned as to whether they were going to fit, although was confident that I could do a better job of listing and re-selling them, should the need arise.
It didn't: they fit – just – by dint of me having quite narrow peds. Weighing in at 285g per shoe, I'm given to understand that they are quite light as these things go, although the absence of any type of cleat probably has a lot to do with that. The tongue is perforated with circular apertures, as if someone has had a go at them with a hole-puncher, no doubt to provide a measure of ventilation. The uppers themselves have been left fully intact. Ankle support is good, augmented by the padding found there, and despite the close fit it’s quite a comfortable shoe.
I look forward to cycling in them.