Cycling in Wellies
Sure I harbored memories of their stiffness and lack of breathability from having donned them in the countryside years ago. But my resistance to Wellies went beyond that, most likely a result of their absurd, meteoritic rise to popularity in recent years. Step out into the urban streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts on a mildly drizzly day, and you'll encounter a rubber boot infestation out of all proportion to the amount of rain or the surface conditions at hand. Like flocks of exotically brightly-footed birds, crowds of young women in colourful Hunters and copies thereof stylishly stomp their way across shallow sidewalk puddles and the damp grasses of Harvard Yard. What's turned this awkward, uncomfortable form of footwear into a fashion accessory was beyond me. But for whatever reason Wellies seemed to have replaced UGGs and Crocks as the new Ugly It-Shoe, and I wasn't about to buy into the trend. Even when I found myself in circumstances where I actually needed the vile rubbery things for the original purpose they were designed for, I resisted - donning my normal, perfectly good waterproof boots instead.
But I did not resist for long. I live next to a farm now, and spend quite a bit of time there. The yard looks like this …on a dry-ish day.
Then there are the vast fields I cross to take photos along the water's edge. And while that green stuff may look like grass, the soil it grows on is soft and soggy. Seeing farm animals grazing with the fur on their legs wet and matted from sinking into the grass, it was clear that my normal, perfectly good waterproof boots would get destroyed after a couple of such forays. Not to speak of my interest in photographing abandoned peat bogs.
Anyway, Wellington boots. Nowadays you can buy all sorts of fancy versions, including those with a warm lining already built in. But considering the purposes I needed them for, I decided to go for the plain unlined type, meant to be worn with several pairs of socks. The rationale here is that should you step into deep water that goes over the edge of the boot, you just change your socks and can keep wearing the boots after wiping down the interior. With lined boots you would have to wait for the lining to dry if the interior gets wet.
Armed with the knowledge that I wanted plain rubber farmer's boots, I went to the local shops that sell such things. Sadly, it turned out my size 4UK feet are freakishly small by local farming standards. And so I walked out with a pair of teenage girls' boots in bright sky blue with green and lilac striped trim. So much for plain, but my other choices involved butterflies or pandas.
But of course looks aren't everything. So let's talk about what's important for us cyclists: power transfer. How are Wellies to cycle in? Well, kind of bad. The soles are quite flexible - somewhat more so than running shoes, but less so than foam flip-flops. Nothing about these boots said "I want to ride a bike in these!" the first time I wore them. But despite this, they are strangely addictive. The comfort of even the cheap ones I bought are a huge improvement upon the painfully uncomfortable, clammy Wellies I recall from childhood. The uppers are flexible and don't dig into my calves, the toes don't pinch even after an hour's hike through the peat bogs, and somehow my feet do not overheat despite their lack of breathability. In fact, worn over two or three pairs of wool socks, nothing keeps out the winter damp better.
Little by little I started to wear the Wellies not just on the farm or when walking across soggy fields, but out and about - including around town and on the bike. The flexible soles felt strange when pedaling at first, but I got used to it and have cycled in them for up to 14 miles so far with no adverse effects. An additional advantage, is that the Wellies' wide adjustable uppers fit easily over even the baggiest of trousers, keeping them safely tucked away from the bicycle's drivetrain. Of course they can be easily worn with a skirt as well. And when I come home covered knee-deep in mud - which seems to be the norm these days - I simply rinse the boots off and in seconds they are ready to wear again - the ultimate in low maintenance.
And so, my winter footwear wardrobe these days consists more or less of these. I've held myself back from going dancing in either of them so far, but I wouldn't rule it out.