Larger Continent, Longer Trips, Hotter Days, Grandiose Daydreams

Having just returned from abroad, many important matters were on the agenda. Naturally, one of them was a trip to Harris Cyclery. The shop is 9 miles from our place and the temperature was over 100F, but nothing could deter me from going on a ride after sitting still in a airplane for hours.

Good thing the Co-Habitant had those two bottles on his bike, because the heat and humidity were brutal. In Vienna I had gotten used to taking many short trips throughout the day and almost forgot that "commuting" and "errands" in Boston are a bit different. But I am clearly in better shape now than I was even a couple of months ago: The 18 mile round trip to Harris Cyclery used to feel like a "pilgrimage," but now it's just a casual trip.

As for the sun and heat, these are my solutions. Over the past year, I have been trying to switch to natural hygiene products: essential oils instead of perfume, herbal deodorant instead of aluminum-based antiperspirant, and mineral-based sunblock. It has not been easy. In Vienna I've finally found Eco Cosmetics SPF 30, which I love. Its only active ingredient is titanium (to which I am, thankfully, not sensitive) and the rest is herbal moisturisers. It works perfectly and is soothing on the skin. Finding a deodorant was even more challenging, but I've finally found the Queen Helene Tea Tree Oil Deodorant Stick. It works for me as well as the real stuff, and I like that it has a dry, matte texture, as I hate the feeling of sticky roll-ons. So there - if you are looking for natural ways to deal with sun and heat, these have worked for me. On the ride to Harris I neither got sunburnt nor had a "deodorant failure".

At the bike shop I picked up a couple of things I had been meaning to get, and also something unexpected: They had a stack of boxes with clipless shoes on clearance, and I bought these for $25.

They are SPD shoes that can be worn either with cleats attached on clipless pedals, or as regular shoes on platform pedals. I know, I know - I was just making fun of the Co-Habitant for getting clipless shoes and pedals. But I will explain that these aren't for any of my regular bikes; they are to practice for the velodrome (I plan to get a license when I return to Vienna in November). I brought a vintage frame back from Austria for fixed gear conversion, and I will need to put a foot retention system on it and finally force myself to learn. I did not plan to buy the shoes so soon, but here they were in just my size and at a great price - so now I have them.

Clipless shoe love? I don't know. The Co-Habitant was victorious as I made my purchase, suggesting which pedals I should get to go with the shoes (and me vehemently disagreeing). Later in the day, I wore the shoes (without cleats) on a 26 mile ride, just to see how they felt or regular pedals. Frankly, I am not in love with the super-stiff soles. I like moderately stiff soles, but these felt like overkill and detracted from comfort. Is this degree of stiffness an acquired taste that you get used to gradually? And I wonder whether the "ugly as sin but comfortable" Keen sandals everyone is getting have a similar feel to them?

In any case, I have my bike project plate so full at the moment, that it is comical. In the coming weeks, we will finally build up my Royal H mixte, make some much-anticipated updates to my Raleigh DL-1, and oh yes, create a fixed gear bicycle. Stay tuned, and try to stay sane in the heat!


  1. "Is this degree of stiffness an acquired taste that you get used to gradually?"

    No, it is something that is necessary with SPD pedals. Because of the small contact the platform has to be built into the shoe instead of the pedal. You'll understand when you get the pedals.

    If the pedals are the platform the stiffness is both unnecessary and annoying, but yes, there are people who will "get used to" just about anything and then claim it as a virtue to continue the practice.

    Don't know about the Keens. I go the Teva & Grip King route these days. It works, although I haven't taken them to a Velodrome. Don't see any functional reason why I shouldn't though, so long as I'm just riding laps.

  2. I hope that one day I feel that 18 miles is just a casual trip :) I need to experiment more with things to keep cool since nothing I do seems to help - and I usually end up simply pouring the water on myself rather than drinking it!

  3. Traci - That's what I would have said last year, and now it's a reality. Just keep going at your own pace and the endurance will build up before you know it!

    kfg - I think I understand what you mean, and I am curious now to try the pedals. Curious and terrified...

  4. The stiff soles make it hard to know whether you are gripping the platform or not, and whether you are putting your foot in the correct spot, which becomes both a problem and a constant distracting annoyance. Neither of the two exist once clipped in, naturally. You know that you are gripping because you are clipped in, and you know you are in the correct spot because you heard the click and felt the pop of the cleat engaging the clipless trap.

    Stiff shoes feel odd at first. They eventually stop feeling odd. If the arch support is of a proper shape, they don't hurt the foot. If the arch support is insufficient (or perhaps too severe), it can hurt quite a lot--I know that from experience with other types of shoes. Unfortunately, cheaper clipless shoes like ours don't come with a way to adjust arch support and one would have to buy after-market inserts if it is not right. And that could get in the way of sizing the shoe.

    Be prepared to waste money on the wrong shoe, I guess, when just switching to clipless. Or the wrong pedal. It's tough. Fitting the cleat is also not straight forward, I recommend researching the web thoroughly before doing it--and I wouldn't trust a store to do it for me. The whole thing is not worth it, unless you ride 15+ mph averages, ride fixed, ride for sports/athletics/fun or pedal like a squirrel. In any case, I've ridden several hundred miles on mine at this point and got used to the feeling.

  5. I have to say that I love my keen sandals. I don't have the cycling specific shoes, just the waterproof sandals, but they are immensely comfortable. The soles don't feel stiff, there is plenty of arch support (which I need. I can't wear flat shoes so I usually find myself wearing Dansko or Birkenstock). They grip my rat trap pedals on the Kettler perfectly. They might be ugly, but since they are so comfortable I find myself wearing them even when I'm not riding. I'm even considering buying a pair of their insulated boots for the winter.

  6. Amy - Hmm. But those are the ones without cleats, right? I am still looking for non-cleated touring sandals as well, but am afraid to rip my toes apart with the teeth of the pedals.

  7. I'm with Amy. I've got the Keen Newports (the all leather version) and they're the most comfortable riding shoe I've ever had. And the ugly nose in front makes them good hiking shoes as well (I haven't stubbed my toes once). I recommend getting them somewhere you can try them on. They run a little small, or at least the men's do.

  8. oh my lord... another bike! I just sold my '76 Fuji to try to pare down "the stable".

    As for the stiff soles; when you cease riding on platforms and start using the new shoes with clipless pedals, the stiff soles will be a godsend for you. It'll take some getting used to, as far as clipping in & out and not being able to readjust your foot position on the fly, but I feel that any pros outweigh the cons when it comes to this.

    Welcome back to the godawful humidity! At least you missed the +100° days!

  9. oh yes, one other thing I meant to chime in on --

    I have long since switched from "normal" antiperspirants to more natural deodorants and have had good success at remaining inoffensive to others ;) "normal" deodorants and antiperspirants have a nasty habit of severely irritating my skin.

    I like the Toms of Maine; but it is not as effective as I would like, so I tend to use the Arm & Hammer Essentials unscented deodorant -- -- it says it's also an "antiperspirant", but it is not. :P

  10. I use MTB-type clipless shoes. They are a little stiffer than normal sneakers, but not nearly as stiff as road shoes. It's possible to walk around with them relatively normally. Not very stylish, however. I may go for a pair of Keen Austin shoes.

  11. aha! you went on the other side of the river I see. I've been wanting to bike that way but it hasn't worked out time wise ( I swim at the BSC near where you are biking in that last picture.) I need to try the tea tree stuff. I use the bad stuff in summer to try to keep the smell at bay. But at the same time- I'm gonna sweat and smell anyway right- so I should switch back to some herbal stuff. I have some special mineral lotion that is seriously $$ that my dad gave me. He got it from the derm after having a mole removed on his face. It feels wonderful, doesn't give me too much of a white sheen and is so waterproof I have to use my finger nails to scrub it off inthe shower. I love it but it's $30 a bottle!!! and I use the desoto arm wings which I was wearing when you saw me. I love them but wish they made them in a grey to go with my outfits better...

  12. The newly-legally-sanctioned co-habitant and I just did a honeymoon tour of around 300km over hills in Tuscany, with platform/toe clip pedals. I wore the Keen Oslo shoes, she wore the Keen sandals (again, regular sandals, not clipless). We found them both quite comfortable and effective; those silly-looking toe bumpers actually fit into toe clips very well. The NLSCH did find, though, that when we were riding all day in pouring rain (only one day of the tour, but yuck), the footbed of her sandals got slippery and led to cramping and numbness. I will say that the Oslo shoes make a nice compromise between biking performance and plausibility for dinner, if you don't want to carry an extra pair of shoes with you on a tour.

  13. Vee - We take that route after Watertown Sq on the way back; on the way there we take Rt. 16, because it's easier in that direction.

    Re deodorant: I'd been using Secret "invisible solid" since like age 12 and it was so difficult to wean myself off it. I've tried Dr. Hauschka, Arm&Hammer and Tom's of Maine natural deodorants, and that Crystal stuff, but hated them all. For me, the Queen Helene tea tree deodorant stick works almost as well as Secret; maybe 90% of the effect - which is good enough. No other natural stuff I've tried had come close. The Queen Helene I got at Cambridge Naturals in Porter Square.

  14. 18 miles in 100 degrees - I'm impressed! I note the flowered shirt :)

    Thank you for the recommendations. I'm going to find the Queen Helene deodorant and give that a try; I haven't found a great one yet.

    My Keen sandals are stiff compared to my regular shoes, but not super stiff - definitely not uncomfortable. They're great because they never stink and dry out quickly if they get caught in the rain.

    Welcome back to the states! I look forward to hearing about all your upcoming bike exploits.

  15. I'm excited for bike updates, too.

    I use that deodorant sometimes and I agree that it's good. I alternate it with another natural one by a brand whose perfumes smell absolutely awful to me -- but their plain deodorant works exactly like a toxic deodorant and the scent is kind of powdery but fades v quickly if you don't buy one of the ones with scent. It's called La Vanila. It is matte and dry and great.

    Bensimon and Converse are as close to athletic shoes as I get unless I am playing some squash or tennis. Bensimon especially are quite good for cycling.

  16. Actually 18 miles was the ride to Harris; then we went on a 26 mile ride just for fun : ) I would not usually do that in such heat, but I really needed it after the airplane.

  17. I made my very first pilgrimage to Harris on Saturday but with a Newtonian friend with a Subaru, not by bike! What a great place it is, and I picked up some new rod brake pads and a Crane Karen bell. There was a gorgeous Pashley in back awaiting a minor repair of some kind...

    I have to give another vote for the Keens, though I prefer the slimmer Mary Jane-type styles that they make--very bouncy and grippy for walking and cycling but snugger and narrower than the ugly-as-sin gnome-toed ones. Trust me--they are still pretty homely, but slightly less so.

  18. The words that stood out for me were 'velodrome license'. Wow! That's serious speedy stuff indeed. I've been following your blog for about a year now and I'm awed by your velo-development and confidence.

    I'll see if that tea tree deodorant is for sale in Australia - I'm looking for herbal options that actually work, too.

  19. You know we never can resist shoes on sale!

    What MDI says about the stiffness of the shoes is correct: Clipless pedals have smaller contact areas than platform pedals, so pressure is concentrated in those spots. If the sole isn't stiff enough, you'll feel "hot spots." SPDs, and mountain bike clipless pedals generally, have smaller contact areas than road clipless pedals like Look. So, in a way, SPD's need even stiffer shoes than those other systems. On the other hand, most people want a shoe that flexes enough so that walking in them isn't uncomfortable.

    If you decide to go with the SPD pedals, I will warn you in advance about one thing: when you walk on them, especially on a hard, slippery surface, you could take a tumble if your cleat touches the surface before the rest of the sole. So, even though the shoes are walkable, be careful!

  20. I highly recommend that when you get your clipless pedals that you put them on a bike with a freewheel first. It will take a some practice getting in and out of the pedals.

    I don't know of a single person using clipless pedals that has not at least once fallen over due to not getting there shoe unclipped when stopping. I believe that if you start with the fixed gear you will have even a tougher time getting use to the pedals.

  21. I have the flip-flop pedals that are SPD on one side and platform on the other. I have SiDi clipless shoes but I rather prefer riding the platforms with regular Keen sandals which are pretty flexible and super grippy. The bike shoes cause some toe numbness. I was able to get the Keens in an attractive pink and at half the price of adult sandals because I fit into the largest youth size.

  22. I just recently gave in and got a pair of keens! Not the SPD compatible ones just the waterproof ones. My best and notably more fashionable friend said my keens reminded her "of witnessing someone bend over naked in the changeroom."

    but I love them so far- they have been the only shoe to never give me blisters and they keep my toes protected while keeping my feet cool.

  23. Regardless of the bargain, it seems like bike shoes sans cleats is the worst of both worlds. You have the unattractiveness of bike shoes without the utility. I tend to go fast on hilly roads, so I like being clipped in even on my commuter bike. I found a pair of SPD compatible shoes by Diadora that are reasonably good looking. Part of the reason is that they have laces instead of straps. The laces are then secured in the front with a very small velcro tie. They don't clack on hard surfaces and they don't look any sillier than a pair of black addidas running shoes.

  24. Jefe - Yes, I agree and will not be wearing these as cycling shoes unless/until I learn to ride clipless.

    Prentiss and others recommend to learn clipless with freewheel - This point is hard for me to understand, because I can generally keep my balance better on a fixed gear bike. Does that not mean it will be easier?...


Post a Comment