Can’t Seem To Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Further to yesterday’s post concerning the Classic Cycle 21st Century Friction Shifter Shoot-Out, I’m pleased to report that I’ve decided to double down on my commitment to obsolescence, thanks to my current infatuation with the Nishiki Cervino:

Which I’ve been riding in clown shoes:

No, I did not make the clown shoes myself, they were made for me by former pro cyclist Barry Wicks–and before you say they look ridiculous, ask yourself how people think you look when you’re clomping around in road shoes:

Frankly I was moved by the gift, in the same way you’re touched when your child draws a picture of you that makes you look like Mr. Garrison from South Park.

Anyway, obviously riding a fine road bike like this in sneakers and toe clips is like drinking a fine wine right after brushing your teeth. The shoe’s too flexy for the smallish platform, the pedal itself digs into your foot through the soft sole, and the toe clips don’t really do what they’re supposed to do, which is retain your foot, since they’re supposed to be used in conjunction with a slotted cleat, which in the old days would have been nailed into place by the local cobbler, bootblack, or farrier:

This of course raises an important question:

Do you even need foot retention in the first place?

At this point in my cycling life, including many years of riding almost exclusively with clipless pedals, my own personal feelings concerning foot retention are as follows:

  • A lot of the time I no longer want or need it, so I no longer bother with it for a good amount of my riding
  • I do still like it for riding road bikes, since you’re rarely getting off the bike and walking, and being clipped in with a light, stiff shoe complements the overall riding position as well as out-of-the-saddle climbing, spirited acceleration, bunny-hopping potholes, and that sort of thing
  • I also like it when riding a singlespeed mountain bike, for more or less the same reasons (especially the climbing, where they let you get up stuff you probably wouldn’t with flat pedals), though I’ve also come to appreciate flat pedals when riding geared bikes offroad
  • I’d argue it’s necessary for riding fixed-gear bicycles, and while I only do that very occasionally these days, when I do I use clipless pedals

An even more concise summary would be that when I’m riding a bike where you lean forward I like clipless pedals, and for everything else I like flat pedals. Regardless, the upshot of this is that my road bike and my singlespeed mountain bike have clipless pedals, everything else has flat pedals, and I’m now clipped in maybe 30-40% of the time.

As for toe clips and straps, people who want (or are told they need) foot retention are attracted to them because they hold your foot in place but you can use them with sneakers, but of course without that cleat (or, absent the cleat, tightening the strap until your foot turns purple), they don’t do anything, except maybe make people fall off their bikes:

And they’re doubly ridiculous once you do add in the cleat, since then you lose the walkability of the sneaker, so you really want your foot to be attached to your pedal while you’re riding you might as well just go clipless–or use flat pedals, which is what 99% of people who use toe clips should really be using.

For all the reasons above, I figured that after a few rides I’d ditch the toe clips and straps on the Cervino. However, the more time I spend with it the more I like the idea of keeping it exactly as it is, right down to the pedals. I’m certainly no slave to period-correctness with the bicycles I own, but in this case the bike is so beautifully consistent chronologically that it seems a shame to ruin it. Also, once you’re riding tubulars you’ve already tossed practicality aside like an empty bidon, so you might as well just lash your feet to your pedals too.

Like many cyclists, I put in my time as a nascent roadie riding around with toe clips and sneakers, but by then the clipless pedal was already the standard for competitive cycling, so by the time I got “serious” I simply “graduated” to using those. As such, I never had any real experience with slotted cleats and toe clips and straps until the Drysdale:

With which Paul included these accoutrements:

I never did wear the hairnet, mostly because it didn’t fit on my gigantic head, but I did use the shoes, and despite the ridiculousness of having to reach down and loosen the strap every time you need to put a foot down I got used to them pretty quickly. It was even kind of fun, since it enhanced the feeling of historical reenactment you get when you’re riding around on a 70 year-old bike.

Alas, those shoes went back with the Drysdale. Oh sure, I could fake it with these shoes (well, the one on the right), which I still have:

But then I’d have to defile the Cervino with mountain bike pedals, so instead I figured that it would be more edifying and pointless to explore firsthand (or firstfoot) the arcane world of toeclip-specific footwear and accessories. Thanks to track racers, and L’Eroica, and vendors like Velo Orange and Ruh-NAY Hur-SAY, there are still a number of options for the cyclist who’s determined to engage in foot bondage. However, at least to start, I figured that if I was riding a vintage bike I might as well wear vintage shoes. At first I thought maybe I could experience both decent pedal compatibility and sneaker-like versatility with something like the Bata Biker, which I’d only recently discovered:

Alas, searching through the usual online marketplaces, there were none to be had in my size. However, the very act of looking inflamed my desire for a sneaker-like cycling shoe, and I became increasingly intrigued by the heady days when the clipless pedal hadn’t completely taken over yet and companies like Nike were still “innovating” with regard to semi-casual cycling-specific footwear:

See that? There are even little molded-in slots for the pedals:

Alas, as I soon discovered, when shopping for vintage cycling footwear it helps to be a toddler, because the market is flooded with tiny shoes, and there’s virtually nothing for the average-sized male with an average-sized foot. Eventually though I found these babies on something called Poshmark, which is a used fashion site:

It’s the Avocet Model 30, and it’s what happens when a classic cycling shoe mates with a modern athletic shoe–which is to say it looks like something you’d wear to go bowling:

They’re a half-size smaller than what I usually wear, but the price was right and they’re in pretty nice shape:

Here’s the sole, complete with that all-important molded-in cleat, a feature you’ll no longer find in any new shoe today (at least as far as I know):

While I’m also in the process of putting together a shoe with an actual slotted cleat, I look forward to seeing how these work, and if they indeed split the difference between walkability and cycling shoe performance in the way that I hope they do. In the meantime, now that I’m a Poshmark shopper, my inbox is full of emails like this:

I do think that would be a good look for the Cervino.

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