For my very first century, I rode in New Balance sneakers on MKS GR-9 pedals with clips and straps. These were the good stuff, according to the Rivendell Reader of those days. I remember having to stop several times and stomp the feeling back into my feet. It felt like I was experiencing a charlie horse cramp across my arch.
That fall, I bought a set of Specialized “Fat Boy” riding shoes that Nashbar had in my size for $10. They looked like a cross between Converse All-Stars and something a clown would wear (they were, of course, red, and I have size 13 feet). They had an incredibly stiff sole and, while they were difficult to fit into my toast wraps (a nod to the late, great, Sheldon Brown) they worked.
The following Spring, I bought a set of Bianchi-labeled single-sided SPD clone pedals for around $15 or so. I put them on my bike and I fell over. I fell over several times. But within a week or so, I realized what I had been missing and swore to ride in bike shoes from then on. A good thing for me, because around mid-summer, I was riding to work one morning and a driver made an illegal left right in front of me and ruined my day.
I smacked into that car at its right rear tire doing around 20 MPH and, fortunately for me, it wasn’t a station wagon. Had I been wearing clips and straps, I believe to this day that my legs would have been torn off. But because I was wearing my Fat Boys with SPD pedals, I separated from the bike and flew free. I hit the ground about thirty feet from the car, breaking some ribs in the process, but otherwise undamaged.
That was 1999. Since then, I have ridden almost exclusively in MTB shoes, and I’ve enjoyed them. A few years ago I bought some Shimano flip-over pedals (that have an SPD socket on one side and a flat pedal on the other) in hopes of bicycling to court. But I had limited their use for the most part to rides of five miles or less.
Then, yesterday, I went on a shop ride that was specifically described as “jeans and sneakers.” Twenty miles. So I rode down to the start, jeans and sneakers in place, and met up with four other hardy souls.
And you know what? We had a very, very, very pleasant ride. Had I been wearing some kind of retention, I could probably have gone faster. If I had wanted to go much farther, retention would have been good.
But for a social ride, which is the kind of thing a 58-year-old fatass is more likely to do than race? Yeah, just fine.
I will certainly keep on using bike shoes. Generally, I find them pretty comfortable. But if I want to go somewhere and I’m not wearing ‘em? No Big Deal.
Bikes are fun.