Daily Archives: March 2, 2012

the winter shoe experiment

Portland is cold and wet in the winter. When one bikes through the winter here, then, one tends to also get wet–though, with the proper clothing, hopefully not too cold. I actually enjoy winter biking on the whole, but the weak point for me is always my hands and feet. Since I bought my super snow gloves, my fingers have been decent, but no matter what, my toes always seem to be cold.

Since cold toes annoy me, I thought that this season I’d try a toe warmth experiment. Normally, my bike is set up with clipless pedals, and I wear those special clicky cleated shoes to clip into my bike (yes, they’re “clipless” but they allow you to “clip in” to your bike. Look it up;). My pedals look like this:

Since they’re so small, they’re not super comfortable to use with normal shoes. They’re fine for little commutes, but any time I’m going up lots of hills or going farther than a few miles, I’d much rather wear my bike shoes. (Honestly, I guess I’d almost always rather wear my bike shoes, since by this point it just feels natural to be connected to my bike.) The problem, though, is that my bike shoes are not super warm. They’re made to be light and nimble, and the mesh and ventilation does little to keep my little toesies toasty.

[Yes, I suppose I should admit that my shoes are starting to fall apart. This is what happens when you hate to buy new things;)] Anyway. You can see why they’re not super warm, right? Even when I put neoprene booties over them, which help keep the water out and the warmth in (to some extent), I still end up with cold feet.

So this winter, I thought I’d try biking in my super winter snow boots. These are just some insulated, waterproof boots I bought last year to keep my feet dry, until I found that most of the time that I was outside in the winter I was biking (or about to bike)–and since they’re not comfortable to use in conjunction with my clipless pedals, they’d been largely useless last year. This year, then, I decided to change my pedals to be more compatible with my boots. So I ditched the clipless pedals and put the normal platform pedals back on.

The verdict? They were great for biking in my boots, but I found that I hated biking in my boots anyway. After being so used to clipping in and being able to pull upon my pedals as well as push down on them, I had a hard time getting re-used to biking without being able to take advantage of my whole pedal stroke. (It’s also kind of funny how often I’d pull up to a stop light and “unclip” my boot from my totally not-clipped pedal. That muscle memory is pretty amazing.) It’s possible that if I’d had straps or some sort of foot cage on my pedals it would have been slightly less annoying, but either way I found the clunkiness of those pedals and boots hard to handle. Though I wouldn’t consider myself one of those people who wants every piece of technical gear they own to be the lightest possible, I do appreciate being lithe and swift. Super chunko winter boots are neither, even if they are sort of warm.

And it is seriously so much more pleasant to bike hills with clipless pedals. I didn’t realize until I was biking up to the zoo without them. It’s so inefficient!

So even though the boots kept my toes a little warmer, it turns out that I don’t want warmth at all costs. I’d rather enjoy the bike ride, even if it means that my toes suffer a little. The rest of me likes it a lot better. It was a good experiment, but I think it mostly convinced me that my bike shoes and booties, so far, are still the best way to go.