Monday, May 25, 2015

Cycling in Minimalist Shoes?

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From the Monday Mailbox:
What do you think of cycling in barefoot or minimalist shoes? I have recently switched to minimalist shoes for walking and love it, but is it a good idea to wear them on a bike?
While I'm not really a follower of the barefoot movement, I do sometimes wear minimalist shoes. Specifically, I own a lovely pair of SoftStar sandals (handmade in Portland, OR) with a 4mm Vibram sole. And funny enough, I learned about these shoes from a fellow cyclist, who wears a different model from the same maker when bicycle commuting.

As anyone who has tried minimalist shoes knows, walking in them takes some getting used to. Because the shoes are designed to resemble the experience of walking barefoot, their soles are flexible and thin with zero heel rise. You can feel the surface you are walking on a lot more keenly than in ordinary footwear. Some grow to prefer this feeling to that of wearing ordinary shoes, while others can never warm to it. Myself, I am somewhere in the middle: I appreciate the distinct experience of minimalist soles when I wear them, without wanting to switch to them altogether.

But in any case, that's walking. And while the argument can be made that humans were designed to walk barefoot and therefore barefoot shoes are good for you, this argument does not translate to riding a bike - an activity humans weren't designed for at all to begin with. When it comes to cycling, it is generally considered that stiffer soles are better for pedaling efficiency. There is also no particular benefit to feeling the texture of your pedals through your the soles of your shoes.

This doesn't mean that you can't wear minimalist shoes on a bicycle. If we are talking about shorter commuting distances here, it is really just a matter of whether you are comfortable - a thing that is entirely subjective. I mean, on one end of the spectrum there are those who find cycling in flexible-soled sneakers unacceptable, while on the other end there are those who happily cycle in flip flops, or even barefoot. It's surprising what we can get used to.

One thing to keep in mind, is that the style of pedals matters. Because the soles of minimalist shoes are so thin, you will feel the texture of your pedals through them. With flat, block-style pedals this should not cause discomfort. But if you're riding the toothy touring kind, there could definitely be an ouch factor. And as far as sole flexibility vs. power transfer: Yes, if you care about that sort of thing, you will not be  happy camper riding in minimalist shoes. When I cycle in mine, it practically feels as if my feet curl around the pedals! On the other hand, you could think of it as a fun challenge to your otherwise short and easy commute and enjoy the ride. One thing most minimal shoes are not, is slippery on the pedals - since these types of soles tend to be textured and grippy. So while they do feel weird, at least they are safe.

As far as wearing minimalist shoes on a bike for longer distances, I'd say be cautious and try them out at ever-increasing increments first. I do know a couple of cyclists who have experienced ankle and heel injuries which they attribute to wearing minimalist shoes on long bike rides. On the other hand, I also know a cyclist who tours in barefoot shoes with no adverse effects. The longest I have ridden in mine has been 7 miles. And while I haven't had any pain or discomfort, they just aren't my favourite thing to cycle in beyond that distance.

That said, another excellent feature of minimalist shoes is that they are bendy and compact. My sandals can be rolled into a ball that fits into a bicycle jersey pocket or a saddlebag side pocket. This makes them the perfect shoe to take along on a roadbike, allowing me to change from clipless pedals into something more civilised at my destination.

If you enjoy wearing minimalist shoes off the bike, there is no harm in trying them on the bike if you use common sense, pay attention to signs of discomfort, and increase distance slowly. But again, keep in mind these types of shoes were designed for walking and running, not for cycling - so don't be surprised if this turns out to be an aspect of your wardrobe that doesn't translate to two wheel use.

40 comments:

  1. Tried it, hate it! Then again, I prefer riding in clipless shoes.

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    1. Aren't minimalist shoes "clipless"?

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    2. They require the use of toe clips to achieve foot retention. Clipless shoes do not.

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  2. Hmmm.... my brothers and I cycle quite regularly in such shoes... I've covered up to 120 km in them with no problems at all... the grip that they have on regular platform pedals are pretty good...

    I'm already on my second pair of Merrel Trail Glove 2... which I wear whether on or off the bike...

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    1. I agree. I bike in a pair of Merrell trail running shoes. Since they are trail shoes they are a bit stiffer and protective under the midsoles and heels ( to protect from rocky surfaces). They work great and still keep you in shoes without heel rise when off the bike.

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  3. I use flats w/ straps. My shoe of choice were initially purchased for kayaking. Only later did I have the idea of using them for cycling. It seemed like a match made in cycling heaven.

    These shoes are extremely lightweight, airy, waterproof and offer good protection for when you're off the bicycle.

    The brand I'm using are called "Sperry SON-R surround sandals. They also lace up using a fixed bungee with a clip.

    Worth looking into. Oh, here is an image not sure if the code will work.

    [img]http://i.stpost.com/sperry-top-sider-son-r-sounder-water-shoes-for-men-in-brown-beige~p~6919m_01~1500.2.jpg[/img]

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    1. Fyi, in reference to waterproof. The materials used in the shoes construction won't be damaged by water. Thus, extremely easy to clean. I love them.

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    2. Embedded image code doesn't work here, sadly. I used to cycle in an old pair of boat shoes a few years back until I wore them out; they were of the old school variety though.

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  4. Hm. The nudity movement is strong in the shower in my house. In public I prefer hammocks and cushions for whatnot and plantar fasciitis ( dear Google bugspot: fasciitis is a word. look it up (smiley face)).

    If it hurts, I suggest doing something else. The foot thing, that is. I think.

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  5. Absolutely! I have constant neurological vertigo and the only way I can ride (literally) is barefoot (ideally) or in minimalist shoes. I use VP Vice pedals, with spikes on one side, none on the other (barefoot side). I ride for days this way, climb single speed up mountain passes, ride single track. Heaven! https://www.flickr.com/photos/32311885@N07/10077255616/in/album-72157636166222556/

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    1. That picture! Wow, ouch, and bravo.

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    2. I purchased the VP Vice pedals after seeing Deacon Patrick's photos last year. Remove the spikes and they're great with minimalist shoes; and nice bearings!
      My minimal shoe of choice: Soft Star Dash RunAmoc w/ trail sole. Tested the pairing up to 400k with no issues.

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  6. I have MKS Lambda platform pedals on most of my bikes. I routinely ride with minimalist shoes, including my Soft Star shoes. :) Works fine. For me!

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    1. I agree about the MKS Lambdas. I seem to recall Grant Peterson being involved in their design for use with soft-soled shoes, although I'm not certain about that. Their shape seems to compensate for a soft sole nicely, at any rate, even for those of us with wide feet. Which, in my case, is a reason why other options are academic: few cycling-specific shoes come in widths.

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    2. Also known as MKS Grip King pedals from Rivendell. (According to the Rivendell website, they designed 'em, MKS made 'em: http://www.rivbike.com/product-p/pe1.htm.) I agree, terrific pedals, although I don't wear minimalist shoes. Instead, I wear Vasque Scree mid-rise hiking boots everywhere, which are comfortable on the bike (at distances of up to 50 miles in a day--the furthest I've ridden in a while) and off.

      Regarding "I do know a couple of cyclists who have experienced ankle and heel injuries which they attribute to wearing minimalist shoes on long bike rides," I'd be curious to know whether in was the shoes or foot position. When I stopped using strapless toe clips to ensure that the balls of my feet were positioned over the spindles, I had some trouble with Achilles tendonitis. I eventually concluded that it was because, absent the toe clips, I was riding with my feet a little too far back on the pedals. I started paying more attention to the position of my feet on the pedals, and the pain went away.

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    3. I've tried those pedals and for some reason I no longer remember wasn't mad about them. Still have not found the perfect pedal for a non-clippy bike.

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    4. Once, as an experiment, I modified the Lambdas/Grip Kings by switching out the front portion with that from an MKS touring pedal (the base of the pedal is identical), so I could attach some half-clips I have, the ones with no strap. No synergy transpired with this hybrid, however, so I switched it back. For higher mileage, standard touring pedals with strapless half-clips are an alternative, provided the pedal ridges don't dig in too deep.

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    5. +1 for the grip kings. They are great. In the summer, in the winter, in lashing rain, on road bikes, on commuters, on heavy old raleighs... They are especially good bad weather season pedals and winter boots or rubber boots. I have no problem with them, and I do not care what people think-I still get told clipless is the way to go. I also have some vintage shimano adamas platform pedals on my fasty fast road bike that could take straps or those clip hook things. They are awesome, I actually prefer them to the grip kings

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    6. I like the Shimano PD-A530 Pedals. can be used with SPD shoes on one side and regular shoes on the other. Sometimes on groups rides I want to be clipped in. Most short rides (to the store) I just want to jump on a go.

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  7. I've been wearing mostly minimalist shoes (Vivobarefoot for the most part) for the last few years. It took me a faire amount of pedals to find the right ones. I've now settled on VP-001. Biking barefoot is now problem as long as you have pedals wide and long enough to support your feet (And with enough surface)

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    1. Interesting. And those bolt things don't bother your bare feet?

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    2. Yup, VP-001 pedals for me too, with the spikes removed. Not slippery since they have small raised 'ledges' across the pedals. Great with minimalist shoes or barefoot. I think the secret to their comfort is they slant downwards toward the rear of the pedal, thus supporting the foot 'curling' over the pedal's edges.

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  8. My minimalist shoes, for all walking and cycling, are classic Birkenstock Arizona sandals. Great sculpted arch and heal support for comfort while walking. When riding, the soles are thick enough to avoid much bending or feeling the teeth of pedals. Easy to adjust to temperature conditions by choice of thin or thick socks. Works fine with toe clips and straps when those are properly adjusted. No problems ever with stink foot. No special shoes to put on when going for a ride, and no worrying about bringing a different pair of shoes for walking at a destination. The great cyclotourist Velocio rode his bike in sandals all the time, and more people should give it a try!

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    1. As I recall (haven't worn them since high school) Birkenstocks have fairly stiff soles, which should also be helpful. I don't like cycling in open-toe sandals, as I always manage to stab my toes with the pedals. But closed-toe sandals and clogs are pretty great.

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    2. Birkie's have cork-like sole properties. Because they are cork.

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    3. birkenstocks are NOT minimalist. Their soles are very stiff, plus the foot bed is very strict and exacting, so their is no freedom of movement. I'd be nervous trying to walk across a log or something in them-from experience. I wore birkenstocks for a long time as I was told they were the only shoes that would work for my feet, had some of the closed shoe models but I always thought they were so ugly and stopped buying them when I noticed the quality started to go down. I noticed that they are back in fashion having done some heavy marketing...

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  9. I've been wearing keds with my clip peddals for a few years. Anytime I switch to sneakers for the day I HATE it because my leg extension feels off. I definitely need a thin soled shoe to get the perfect balance between leg extension and height of saddle (any taller and I need to hop off during stops).

    I'm currently shopping for an alternative, maybe a stronger lace up shoe with a thin sole. If anyone has some recommendations, I would appreciate it!

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  10. I have soft star shoes and I love them. I have funny feet and have been tortured all my life until I took a chance on the Soft Stars. I cannot wear regular shoes at all anymore, so sold many on ebay, gave some away...alas. Do check out the Drifter Leather whom make gorgeous minimalist shoes in Greece.
    I cannot find cycling spd or look shoes that fit, so have always worn regular shoes cycling. I wear the soft stars cycling. Longer distances can be a problem with certain models, but not all. Like I did over 80km in a pair of the metro maryjanes and my heels hurt in the end. Over time however, the soles will take on the shape of the foot and the pedal. I do love them, but they are delicate and have had sole treads wear out to smooth as ice in no time. I did talk to soft star shoes and they could do a design your own shoe with the vibram lightening sole which is a bit thicker with more tread. I have a pair of the phoenix boots with the lightening soles and they are great for cycling in the winter. So I'm going to order a pair of the ramblers with the lightening sole and see how it goes. I'd like to look into getting some custom minimalist shoes that might be constructed a bit better. Plus, I have ridden for years in flip flops with no problem. I did a century in flip flops once with no issues whatsoever. I do think it would be an interesting idea to make a minimalist shoe that is strong and sturdy enough for cycling...or I will just have to research and test shoes out.

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  11. Are Chucks minimalist?

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    1. I think Chucks should be considered proto-minimalist. :-) If it weren't for the width issue, I'd be wearing PF Flyers so I could run faster and jump higher.

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    2. I have ridden 400k's in my Chuck Taylors. It shouldn't be right, it ain't right, but I haven't been able to talk myself into anything fancier yet. I think they are the idiot-savant of cycling shoes.

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    3. Heh. Haven't worn those since high school either (Chuckies, Birkenstocks and Doc Martens were basically my shoe wardrobe back then).

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  12. I wear minimalist shoes (usually vivo barefoot brand shoes) when biking too. Like other commenters, I find the wide flat platform pedals are more comfortable than pedals with teeth. I've gone up to 60 miles a day in minimalist shoes with no problems.

    I thought one of the benefits of minimalist running is that the foot arch acts like a spring and absorbs and releases energy with each impact. I don't know how proven this is or if it has any translation to the pedaling motion.

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  13. I use platform pedals with small studs - I always prefer a flexible shoe with a grippy sole, I have never bought cycling-specific shoes and I imagine the shoes you are writing about would be quite comfortable for cycling though I believe I would prefer a little more substance in a shoe for walking.

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  14. That is a very pretty shoe! If you do not mind my asking, which color is that?

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  15. During college I rode in whatever shoes I was wearing. Invariably my feet would start aching after riding 10-12 miles. My first cycling specific shoes were flat-soled touring shoes made by Avocet. They had a stiff bottom but no cleats. They worked great with clips and straps and were a vast improvement over regular shoes. But boy, were they ugly.I have ridden thousands of miles in spd clipless pedals over the years. My commuter bike has a spd-platform combination pedal, so I can clip in or ride in regular shoes.

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  16. depends how far and on what pedals. I've run off and on, currently starting again, barefoot and using those 5-finger shoes. just bought a pair of minimalist running shoes. but I probably wouldn't wear them on a ride of more then a mile or so. I wear Vans for casual wear, they're fairly flat and I can feel almost every pebble I step on. my commute is only a mile, so it doesn't matter what I wear for that.

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  17. I have been wearing Vibram Five Fingers as an every day shoe for a few years now. Even in winter (here in Quebec) with rubber overshoes, but not for cycling (most of which is on gravel and back roads). At this point I find other regular shoes quite uncomfortable, even painful to wear.

    Last year I switched from 'clipless' peddles to MTB platforms with studs and stealth rubber 5/10 cycling shoes (the 5/10s have fairly flat but thick sole). With out the insole they gave me a fairly flat shoe without heel lift. Then early this spring, on a whim, I tried the Five Fingers for a whirl. They worked. Even with the studs.

    The wear from the studs on the peddles seems minimal if not absent, they don't bother my feet at all, and the flexible sole ( and toes) seem to add to my grip on the peddles. Going back to the 5/10s for a day seemed awkward and clumsy.

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  18. The best flat transporty pedals I've used are the Mks 3000r, they're big and rubbery, as good as a non toothed platform pedal can be for grip without looking goofy. I found the Lambdas a bit narrow in the middle.

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