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Posted by on Jul 5, 2009 in Product Review | 19 comments

The search for summer shoes


Before I begin, let me preface by saying I feel more comfortable when my feet are attached to the pedals, so I wear cycling-specific shoes with cleats for clipless pedals. Cycling specific shoes are not necessary, though stiff soles are a good idea if you have a longish commute. Soles that flex not only steal power from your pedal stroke, they can hurt your feet.

phpThumbMy primary commuting and touring shoes are the ones pictured on the right. They’re incredibly comfortable and easy to walk in. I’ve had mine for a year and am very happy with them.

But summer in Florida means riding in the rain β€” heavy rain. It only takes ten seconds in a Florida afternoon downpour to have shoes full of water. People with platform pedals can solve the problem with water shoes (as Andrew does), or hiking sandals (something with traction).

I decided to buy a pair of the uber-popular Shimano SPD sandals. I know so many people who swear by these things. They love them so much, they wear them in winter… well, this is Florida. I know an ultra-distance rider who wears them exclusively.

I really didn’t want them for distance riding. I wanted them for commuting, running to the market, etc. But I liked the coolness of the open sandal so much, I couldn’t resist wearing them on longer rides.

The first long rides were 40 and 50 miles on consecutive weekends. I noticed my feet were a little sore at the end, but I had been standing around in the shoes after the rides. The next weekend I rode 90 miles in them. By the time I was within 20 miles of home, my feet were screaming. My toes felt like they were being crushed in a vise. I stopped in Maitland and put my feet in a lake… forgetting the lakes are the same temperature as the air. By the time I got home, my eyes were watering from the pain. I went straight to the tub to run cold water over my feet (well, with a detour to the fridge for a beer, of course). My toes were still throbbing and aching when I went to bed that night.

OK, so now I know the sandals are not going to work for long rides. Today I wore the sandals for a relatively short ride up to Casselberry and back. By the time I got home, my dogs were barking again. My toes have built up an intolerance to these shoes.

So now I’m wondering, is it just me? How can so many people love these sandals when they kill my feet? Did Shimano redesign the shoe bed? I know they redesigned the upper, making the sandal more supportive. If they did redesign the shoe bed, did they consider product testing it on human feet?

Warning: if you’re grossed out by feet, don’t scroll down. I figure if Rantwick can post pictures of his rear end, I can post pictures of my feet πŸ™‚


topfootAll cycling shoes have a slight upward bend at the front, but the bed of this sandal cranks my toes almost a half inch higher than my Pearl Izumi shoes. It also curves up at mid-toe, pushing the toes backwards against their joints. The photo on the right might look like I’m pushing my toes against the shoe, but they’re relaxed. (The photo below it shows my foot in a walking sandal β€” too bad I can’t put cleats on those, they’re really comfortable.)

regularsandalI can still get away with wearing them for short trips. But now I’m hooked on the concept of cycling sandals. I want some I can wear on longer trips.

Lisa has a pair of Keen sandals. I’ve tried those on, but they don’t come in my size. I’d also prefer an open toe sandal. Mighk has a pair of Lake sandals, he tells me the uppers are uncomfortable and took forever to break in.

A quick search reveals there are a number of new entries on the market from other manufacturers. Has anyone tried other brands?


  1. As you know, I really like my Keens — but only for short rides.

    I own pair of Keen street sandals and absolutely love them. So when the company debuted a bike sandal (SPDs), I bought them without reservation. They’re just as comfortable as my street sandals but don’t provide enough support of the entire foot. My ankles seem to take the brunt of too much play in the shoe.

  2. Do those Pearl Izumi’s just happen to be the “W’s X-Alp Enduro, Style no. 5736,” similar to , but a little snazzier than the men’s Style no. 5735? And they’re still comfy after a few hours in the saddle? Just idle curiosity, you understand.

    In the case of sandals, I like the idea of a big toe coverage/stabilization. Lisa doesn’t mention it, but it appears that the Keens keep your big toe sheltered. My big toe moves around a lot (perhaps I shouldn’t be confessing this to strangers), especially the left one – it actually gets purple after a week of skiing. While things are more stable when cycling, perhaps Keri also has “wandering toe” and might also benefit from something that ties down those little piggies. Just a theory. I’m sure there are other toe coverup sandals that might fit Keri and I’m sure she’d rather have “coverups” if “open toes” are the root of the pain.

    This is SO individual – there’s someone over on bike forums that swears by Keen’s for commuting. It’s a little like saddles.

  3. Oh, and just noticed, thanks for the blog link!

  4. “It’s a little like saddles.”

    It’s a LOT like saddles.

  5. Steve Asked: “Do those Pearl Izumi’s just happen to be the β€œW’s X-Alp Enduro, Style no. 5736,” similar to , but a little snazzier than the men’s Style no. 5735? And they’re still comfy after a few hours in the saddle? Just idle curiosity, you understand.”

    That would be them. They’re comfy after several hours in the saddle. I have worn them for 140 miles in one day. Of course, everything hurts after 140 miles, including your feet, no matter what shoes you have. But I’d say they were better than any other shoes I’ve done 100 miles in.

    They are EXCELLENT touring shoes. Touring often involves lots of walking… sight-seeing and such. The little blue line that separates the toe area is a flex line. It is ahead of the cleat, so it doesn’t affect pedal stroke, but it allows your toes to flex when walking.

    I highly recommend them… for those with idle curiosity πŸ˜‰

    I am contemplating installing a Specialized insert in them. I have high arches and I think I might want a little more support on our upcoming tour.

  6. It certainly is an individual thing; I hate the idea of sandals on a bike. It feels unsafe to me, like I’m going to mash my exposed toes somehow…

    Keri, you’re right. Pictures of feet ain’t nuthin’ to worry about…

  7. Keri: are there pedals that give you one side to clip in, and the other side is plaform — best of both worlds?

  8. Andrew asked: “are there pedals that give you one side to clip in, and the other side is plaform β€” best of both worlds?”

    The versatility of having a platform on one side probably is the best of both worlds.

    I have the 2-sided kind on my bikes because I find open platforms so difficult to use that I would rarely use them. I’m so used to using a complete stroke, that my feet come off the pedals if they’re not attached. I really have to concentrate. When I was riding the comfort bike for the video of cycling-friendly downtown, I was using open pedals. Coming out of one traffic light, my foot slipped off them and I clocked my shin on the pedal. That clip didn’t make the cut πŸ˜‰

  9. Having never used clips, I have little else to offer — I suppose there is no way to install “cleats” into regular-type shoes so they would work with clipless pedals?

  10. nah, you have to have a plate inside the sole to screw the cleats into.

  11. “When I was riding the comfort bike for the video of cycling-friendly downtown, I was using open pedals. Coming out of one traffic light, my foot slipped off them and I clocked my shin on the pedal.”

    I wondered about that when I saw the video and then later I saw a Surley with drop handlebars. Why were you riding a comfort bike? For effect?

  12. My fear (and it’s happened) is that I’ll have the inside pedal down just a hair too much in a curve and that the leading edge of the open toe sandal will suddenly be ripped backwards by the unforgiving pavement.

    The Keens are probably just as unforgiving in this regard, but they SEEM safer for my lively big toe. Maybe it’s a bike shoe equivalent to excessive fear of motorists. You could call it OTBSRAP, which stands for “Open Toe Bike Shoe Ripped Away Phobia.” Rantwick appears to be a fellow sufferer. In an odd twist, I suspect neither of us wants to wear high heels on a bike either.

    For andrewp, there are pedals that have clips on one side where you could put toe clips on the other, platform side. You’ll be bewildered at the choices. Myself, all my bikes either have spd pedals OR toe clips. For short rides (and some longer ones), I mostly use the latter – with my “Costco Court Classic” shoes which have a surprisingly stiff sole. Toe clips & sandals do NOT go together well, however.

    FWIW, I never rode clipless until 2005, after 40 years of platforms and then toe clips. It took me about a day to get used to them. You can get spd-compatible stuff (shoes and pedals) for under $100 if you’re frugal. You can always get fancier later when you really know what you want.

  13. Eric asked “Why were you riding a comfort bike?”

    Yes, for effect. Because even if I ride 12mph on a bike with drop handlebars, people think I’m going fast and doing something athletic. The comfort bike was an attempt to show that riding on the roads of downtown doesn’t require speed, athleticism or an aggressive-looking bike.

  14. Oh yeah, comfort is everything! I have heard good things about Keen but have not personally tried them. I can say though that I get achey, tired and sore feet too and swear by Topricin foot cream. It gives great relief and is natural. So there ya have it…if you want to keep the shoes, you could just get a hold of some of the cream and Voila! πŸ˜‰ Good Luck! Caroline

  15. Caroline, thanks for the tip! That foot cream sounds like something that should go in the panniers for our upcoming tour!

  16. My Lakes were only uncomfortable off the bike. Even out of the box they were fairly comfortable on-bike. Also, I have very narrow feet, which makes for awkward fitting, especially at the heel.

  17. Keri wrote, “The comfort bike was an attempt to show that riding on the roads of downtown doesn’t require speed, athleticism or an aggressive-looking bike.”

    Fred suggests that Keri could have gone one better and dressed for Copenhagen Cycle Chic, but that would have meant no helmet and a flowing skirt or dress (big grin).

  18. I don’t think I can pull off the cycle chic thing. I’m way too butch for that. But if one of our lovely readers wants to volunteer, I’ll wear the camera πŸ™‚

  19. I have some of the ORIGINAL Shimano cycling sandals, the ones with TWO top straps vs the three on the newer ones. I don’t understand the need for the third strap – hello, they are SANDALS and not shoes! I’ve worn my $180 road shoes twice since I got my sandals (except for spinning classes where they won’t let me wear the sandals). I’ve done about 15 week long touring rides wearing the sandals and done five centuries with the sandals. Never had any issues with them. When it’s cold, I start the day with socks, when it’s REAL cold I can adjust the straps and wear two pair of socks. When Shimano stopped making the two strap variety, many of us that swear by them went on line and bought all we could find anywhere. I have a reserve pair for when the soles finally wear down on these. I also have Sandals made by Sette, and a friend replaced his Shimanos (worn out) with ones from Lake – they have a protective curled up area at the end of the toes. Many other varieties too: Your local bike shop can order sandals if they don’t have them in stock.