Back when I was growing up (when the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family were NOT re-runs), I loved to ride my bike. First it was the Schwinn Sting-Ray 3-speed with the huge stick-shifter in the middle of the top tube, which would now be banned for being dangerous to a young boy's "special parts". That was my brother's hand-me-down bike, but I loved it anyway. Then, the first bike of my very own, a metallic blue Schwinn Collegiate 5-speed with drop bars and a single stem-mounted friction shifter. I dreamed of that bike for a long time before it became my 12th birthday present. When I rode, I never thought about whether or not the saddle was the right one. There was never a thought about whether the handlebars were the perfect fit. I didn't own "cycling" shoes, and simply rode the rubber block pedals that came with the bike. Tires? I don't even know what they were, only inflated them when they looked flat, and had no idea what a tube was. Helmets didn't even exist for bicycling at that time. Yep, I just hopped on and rode ... in whatever clothes were appropriate for the weather ... on the completely stock bike with no question of modification. The thing is, I was very happy riding my stock bike with no special options. It was what it was, and didn't need anything else. Was it simply youthful innocence or just the way times were way back then? I'm not really sure ... but things seem to have changed quite a bit in my old age.
Flash forward to the present day. The media and current culture demands wearing a helmet, which is actually a good idea, and tells us we need special clothing for riding a bike. Special shoes, special padded tight shorts, form-fitting shirts to reduce wind drag, aerodynamic sunglasses ... and that's only the beginning. Then there's the bike itself. So many choices ... and so many options. To make things worse, my older body now tells me quite explicitly that it's very picky about EVERYTHING. Most saddles are medieval torture devices. Very few are right for me, and it took a long time to figure it out. The same is true for handlebars, grips, pedals, shorts, shirts, underwear ... and especially shoes. My feet are incredibly sensitive. The smallest grain of sand in my shoe feels like a huge sharp rock. And they tend to go numb if I don't have adequate toe room, proper shape, good arch and metatarsal support, and the perfect ratio of stiffness in the right places to flexibility in the others. Oh, and they must have enough room (but not too much) for a few favorite sock types, and no interior edges that might irritate my feet, too. It's maddening. What happened?
Well ... I could spend all day trying to figure that one out ... but instead, I'll accept it and move on to how I determine if something, be it a bike component or article of clothing, is "right" for me. It's a simple procedure, but it does require a bit of effort to adjust one's thinking. Here's the secret:
When it's "right", you won't think about it when you ride.
That's it ... that's all. It applies to everything ... saddles, pedals, handlebars, grips, as well as placement and position of components for your fit preference. When you have the right saddle, in the right position, you won't think about it at all when you ride. Why? Because it's not a distraction in any way. You shouldn't be thinking about your saddle when you ride ... you should be thinking about the ride, where you're going, what's in front of you, the outdoor air, and so on. The same applies to every other part of your bike. And don't ever let anyone tell you that you need to "adjust" to it if it doesn't feel right. While some "breaking in" may be required for some things (leather saddles, for example), by and large, there shouldn't be any major discomfort, or ANY discomfort for that matter, after a few minutes of initial use. If you've ridden a saddle for more than a few rides, and it's still uncomfortable, it's the wrong saddle for you. Take it back and try another one. If your local shop won't allow that (within reason, of course), then find a different shop to deal with. They should be willing to work with you to make your ride the best it can be. After all, if you're happy riding, then you'll be buying more stuff.
This practical, yet simple secret brings me to the reason I'm writing this post ... I have new shoes! Now I know that may not be a big deal to most people, but as I mentioned earlier, I have sensitive feet, and getting new shoes is an event of large proportions. Not as large as a new bike, perhaps, but still quite important. Many questions arise through the anticipation period. Will they be everything I hope for? Will they be smooth on the inside and tough on the outside? Will they support my feet without being painful? Will they look good or will they look ridiculous? I realize these are questions generally only asked by women when shopping for the perfect shoe for the most important day of their life (not intended as sexist), and not generally asked by men shopping for athletic apparel. However ... once again, I have sensitive feet (have I made my point yet?).
I have purchased more shoes than any man should ever admit to, so I won't attempt to calculate the number. Suffice it to say there have been many. For cycling and general applications, I've found great success with Teva sandals. I do live in Southern California, after all, so good sandals are just part of the culture. They fit well, even with socks (yes, I often wear socks with sandals when cycling ... no tourist jokes, please). They grip the pedals well. They keep my feet cool, which is important if your feet tend to sweat, and mine do ... hence the socks. However ... they don't work for all situations, and aren't really a "shoe" in the classic sense of the word. Most cycling-specific shoes I've tried are quite narrow, with little room for toe wiggle, and really aren't built for comfort ... they're all about "performance" and "power transfer" and usually have some kind of recess on the sole for a cleat, which I have now abandoned in favor of more comfortable pedals that don't use clips or other retention hardware. Most non-cycling shoes are just bad for me when cycling ... and I have a hard time fitting in general ... so when I stumbled upon this new shoe, I was quite taken.
Enough with the suspense ... the new shoe is the Keen Coronado Cruiser ... yay! It's a fairly "retro" sneaker design (not important, but nice), and made in part from some recycled materials (green is good!). The top is a combination of canvas and soft leather (mine are the Dark Earth/Brindle colorway), and seems to work well with shorts, jeans, or other casual attire. The very coolest part about this shoe is that it's designed for cycling ... and for cyclists, like me, who use non-clip, non-"clipless", platform pedals (that's where the "Cruiser" name comes from, I think). What makes it a "cycling" shoe is that it has a stiff nylon plate that runs through most of the sole, which helps with the "performance" and "power transfer" aspects of its design. Whatever ... the result is that when I ride with them on, I don't feel my shoe bending over or around the edges of the pedal, just a nice solid platform to push on. Cool. Also cool is the simple, yet clever, tread design of different materials and pattern that really grips the pedal well. My feet don't slip, but it's still easy to move them around on the pedal when I need a new position. The fit is great, with lots of toe-wiggle room, room for socks up to a medium heavy type, and a fairly seam-free interior that doesn't irritate my toes. I made one modification by swapping the insoles, which are pretty generic, with a pair I had from other shoes. They're from New Balance, and are called the "Ultra Arch" insole, and have the extra arch and metatarsal support I prefer. It isn't that the stock Keen insoles are bad ... they're actually very good for a standard insole ... I just prefer something different. With the swapped insoles, these shoes are a really nice fit.
Although I've only used them for a few rides, I can tell you they're great, both on and off the bike ... at least for my feet. What tells me they're so great? Yep ... you guessed it ... I have never once even thought about them during the ride. My feet feel good in them, even when pedaling hard ... therefore, I don't think about my feet, and that means the shoes are "right". See how that works? Genius ...