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The Sole of Randonneuring - Shoes and pedals suitable for randonneuring

by John Bayley

The joint subjects of this article are shoes and pedals suitable for randonneuring. By dint of the fact that clipless pedals and shoes dominate the market today, I will focus solely on them.

Shoes

Your feet are one part of the cyclist's anatomy that can really be punished by long distance cycling. They are crucial for transferring power and, at the same time, can take a buffeting from rough roads. If they do become very uncomfortable, your cycling performance can be affected dramatically, so looking after them as best you can will pay dividends. This begins with choosing appropriate footwear. Advice for choosing shoes can probably be summarized into one sentence. Choose those that feel the most comfortable! However, this article will be a bit short if I leave it at that, so I will expand on that advice a little.

Shoes can often feel comfortable in the shop when you're trying them on, but then some small niggardly detail assumes massively uncomfortable proportions when you reach mile 200 of a 375 (600 km) ride. The overall fit should be snug, especially for use with clipless pedals. That is not to say that the shoes should be tight however. In the old days when shoes were made of leather, one was usually encouraged to buy tight fitting shoes and then soak them in water while wearing them, thus molding the shoes to your feet. This approach however, will not work with modern materials!

The toe box should be roomy and one's toes should not touch the inside of the shoe, even if you point the toes down and push down hard, similar to what you might do when standing on the pedals.

Velcro straps or some of the fancier ratcheting mechanisms currently available are great for making adjustments to fit on the move. However, pay careful attention to the strap or buckle locations and make sure, for example, that the uppermost strap doesn't sit too high, with the possibility of irritating the tendons at the front of the ankle joint. Laces are good for customizing the fit of a shoe, but don't offer ease of adjustment on the road, or the same ease of removal at checkpoints to let you feet breathe — although your travelling companions might appreciate this!

Check the height of the heel tab by again pointing your toes down and making sure that the tab doesn't dig into your Achilles tendon. Make sure that the cleat bolt holes are located in a position that will allow you to place your cleats where you like them. The text book location for cleat location is under the ball of the foot, but many long distance cyclists have gained from the wisdom of Lon Haldeman by moving their cleats much further back. This both improves comfort by moving the point of power application away from the relatively nerve dense ball of the foot and also lessens stress on the Achilles tendon. However, this can require some custom modifications, but if it keeps your feet happy it's well worth it.

If you use orthotics or other shoe inserts, or would like to keep the possibility of using them open, it's a good idea to look for a shoe with a flat insole which won't cant the orthotic or insert.

One is usually encouraged to buy the stiffest soled cycling shoes possible in order to make energy transfer as efficient as possible. While this is undoubtedly very important with some of the diminutive pedal and cleat combinations currently available, others hold that an overly stiff sole can actually punish your feet and won't necessarily help you go any faster. For example, Pete Penseyres set his RAAM average speed record in 1986 wearing Avocet touring shoes (not excessively stiff by any means) and using clips and straps. Comfort is what really counts!

The ability to walk around relatively normally is of great benefit when riding randonnees. Checkpoints, food and water stops and running into the woods have all been made much easier since the advent of SPD shoes and pedals with their recessed cleats versus the hard slippery soles of traditional road shoes. They make the likelihood of doing the splits for the first time on a gymnasium floor a lot less likely and, if more proof of their utility were needed, tired PBP riders perched precariously over the holes in the floor that pass for bathrooms in Loodeac (sic) and other controls will definitely appreciate them! They also put a lot less strain on Achilles tendons than the duck like gait forced upon you by road shoes.

Pedals

There are a multitude of different pedals available on the market today. To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, the following guidelines can be borne in mind when choosing a pair of pedals. The bearings should be good quality, well sealed and easily replaceable.

The pedal-cleat interface should have a large surface area and not allow the cleat to rock on the pedal. `Floating' cleats which allow your foot to pivot on the pedal are a matter of taste, but do make setting up the cleat angular position a little easier.

For SPD compatible pedals and cleats, I prefer those which don't rely on the sole of the shoe for stability. Soles wear relatively quickly and their thickness varies from shoe to shoe, making for some inconsistency in feel and operation. These criteria for SPD compatible pedals cut the choice down to Time's unfashionable MID pedals which are basically a smaller version of the LOOK pedal and cleat; Speedplay Frogs and Bebops. The largest platforms amongst the road pedal possibilities belong to LOOK and Time, along with the most widely available spares.

Accessories

Depending on the climate, overshoes or booties can be a very useful item to carry on long rides. They help protect your feet and the ever vulnerable Achilles tendon from the chill of night and from rain. Cleat covers for LOOK and Time road pedal users make walking a little easier and help protect the cleat from unnecessary wear and tear. Consider carrying a spare cleat and mounting hardware on long rides. A broken cleat or lost bolt can put a dampener on your ride otherwise.

Happy pedaling!