Cycling Shoes

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It is funny how a mind works.  Yesterday I was looking for some cleats and found an old pair of Shimano shoes.  I was horrified.  They were so beat.  I can’t believe that I rode them until the point they looked like this (photo below).  The soles are split and I had to cut the front from my big toes.

Anyway, on my ride, I was thinking about how many different pair of cycling shoes I’ve gone through and how they have progressed.

I started out of some old Ditto Pietro Italian shoes.  I’m don’t think the first pair were labeled Colnago, but very early on I wore Colnago branded shoes.  They were horrible.  At least compared to modern day shoes.  They were made of leather, with laces, and you had to nail the cleats on and then bend them over.  This was in the toeclip days.

I went through quite a few pair of Colnago branded shoes.  My good friend, Ed Bauman, worked at Celo Europa and I got them cheap through Marcel there.  The shoes were so flexie that they would break my toe clips.  Especially when I started riding aluminum clips.

I went from these POS shoes to Duegi.  I don’t think the first Duegi shoes had wood soles, but very early on they went to wood.  Talk about a difference.  The wood sole was about as stiff as carbon now.  It was crazy how big a change it was.

On a side note, after getting my Duegi shoes set up and realizing they were going to work, I took my Colnago shoes out to my backyard and chopped them up with an ax.  I hated them that much.

All the shoes, up until this point were black.  We would get them super small and carry a water bottle full of water and alcohol to spray them over and over so they would stretch to fit.  It you didn’t do this, when you rode them in the rain, the shoes would get larger, super sloppy.  Our shoes fit like tight gloves.

I raced Duegi shoes for quit a while.  Georgio, from Gita Sports, was the sponsor of the Levis team for a long time and he imported the shoes.  They were great.

Our team director, Michael Fatka, didn’t like the look of the black shoes with our kits, so he spray painted his white.  And that got an idea going and pretty soon Duegi made us white shoes.  So we have Michael to thank for the start of non-traditional cycling clothing.  He was the first to come up with kits matching bikes too.

Nike made me a pair of custom off-road shoes.  They were really for cyclo-x.  Trip Allen, a local bike racer from Wichita, worked for  Nike and made me custom shoes.  I think these were really the first shoe made specifically for cyclo-x or off-road riding.  They were pretty unique.  I had them and loaned them to Trip for a Nike exhibit.  I wonder what happened to them.  I’d like them back.

And Puma tried to copy Duegi with wood soles one season.  They supplied the US National Team one year.  Miji Reoch was working with Puma.  The day after Tour of Texas one year, everyone was hurt from the post race partying.  We had early morning National Team photos scheduled.  Miji handed out new Puma shoes to all the riders.  The problem was that they made the wooden sole with the grain of the wood running perpendicular to your foot, not parallel.  If you rocked on the shoes, they snapped in half.  All our shoes were done after the photo shoot. We thought it was hilarious.

Anyway, going from Levis to Schwinn, I think I kept riding Duegi shoes.  That was until Thomas Prehn, who rode on the Schwinn team with me, started working with Nike.  Nike would sponsor us with something like $3000 worth of Nike product to ride their shoes.  They weren’t very good.  You’d think that a shoe company like Nike would be able to come up with a good cycling shoe.  They never did.

Then one year, Mike Farrell, our team director from Schwinn, said that Schwinn was branding their own shoes, and he would pay us $2500 to ride the Schwinn shoe for the season.  They were bad.  Light, nylon shoes, lace up.  I think I had to modify mine some, but thought that $2500 cash was better than $3000 worth of Nike product.  Plus, I had all the Nike stuff I every could have used.  At the end of the season, when Mike and I were renegotiating contracts, I reminded him he owned me $2500 for wearing the shoes for a year.   I thought it was going to be a problem, but he just said he would have it included in my next paycheck.  And he also said he couldn’t believe I could wear those shoes for the whole season.  No one else on the team did.

Then Shimano started making shoes.  They had some Japanese engineers fly around the world, to the races, and made images of our feet.  And they made shoes.  Like the best shoes, from square one, ever made.  Sidi made some good Italian shoes then, but Shimano was better. They used different materials, not leather like their Italian counterparts.  They fit and wore better than any other shoe up until that point.

I’ve raced Shimano shoes pretty much from then on.  The first Shimano MTB shoes was not so great.  They used Velcro straps that didn’t stay on when they got wet and muddy.  I was racing my first real MTB National, in Mt. Snow Vermont and stepped into a deep mud hole.  When I retracted my lower leg from the hole, no Shimano shoe.  I think I had already taped the shoe on with electrical tape.  That was the best tape they had back then.  Needless to say, I wasn’t too thrilled putting it back on.

When I was riding for Specialized, I had a shoe contract with Shimano.  Specialized didn’t make shoes.  But I had a contract that I needed to wear everything Specialized sold.  Then they came out with MTB shoes.  I was stressed.  They shipped a giant box to the Cactus Cup in Scottsdale for us to race.  The shoes had plastic bottoms.  When we mounted our cleats on the bottom and then clipped in, the durometer of the plastic was off, so the cleats spun.  Each and every pair.  We even tried to heat up the cleat with a torch to melt it into the bottom, but that didn’t work.  I forgot how many pairs that Specialized had made, 10’s of thousand and they didn’t have hardly any pairs returned.  I thought that was impossible.  They were unusable.  It just showed me how knowledgeable the average cycling consumer was at that time.  I kept riding Shimano shoes.

Now the modern day shoes.  The soles stiffness is key.  Now it is carbon or super hard plastic.  I can’t really tell the difference between the two.  It seems to me that a R171, Ultegra version of the Shimano shoe is as stiff as a the R321, which cost twice as much.

Other than the soles, the closure systems have improved a ton.  Some companies, like Giro, have went retro with laces again, but Boa and the normal ratcheting systems most shoe companies use are way, way better.  I’m not so sure about the Boa system.  It seems like a lot of people I ride with have the nylon string break.  I know it is fully replaceable, but that seems like a hassle.

The markings on the bottom of the shoes make it much easier to position cleats when getting new shoes.  It seems like such a no-brainer, but they didn’t do that for such a long time.

Anyway, shoes have improved a ton over the years.  They are good memories.  I’ve went through 100’s of different pairs of cycling shoes.  I remember the shoes I loved and especially the ones I hated.  They all bring back good memories though.

The Shimano shoes I found. I'm not sure why I still have these?

The Shimano shoes I found. I’m not sure why I still have these?

My first shoes were something like this. They probably looked like this too.

My first shoes were something like this. They probably looked like this too.

I didn't realize that Detto still made shoes. They look pretty nice by the photo.

I didn’t realize that Detto still made shoes. They look pretty nice by the photo.


The original Shimano M100. The top strap wasn't that great.

The original Shimano M100. The top strap wasn’t that great.

The first white Duegi shoes. They had wood soles, then went to nylon.

The first white Duegi shoes. They had wood soles, then went to nylon.

Modern day Shimano R321 shoes. A big advancement from the Detto's.

Modern day Shimano R321 shoes. A big advancement from the Detto’s.

Tucker ran over to Tuesday Night beer night at PT's. It was long for him. He eventually ditched to cycling crowd to go hang out at the other end of the patio with a group that had a Chihuaha.

Tucker ran over to Tuesday Night beer night at PT’s. It was long for him. He eventually ditched to cycling crowd to go hang out at the other end of the patio with a group that had a Chihuaha.


40 thoughts on “Cycling Shoes

  1. scott

    along with the advent of lycra, shoe technology has been the most significant change in cycling.
    those duegi wood soled were incredible stiff, but even more incredibly hot. the shoes in that era were almost more like street shoes, construction wise, as opposed to being athletic shoes, as they are now.
    fwiw, i’ve worn sidis (almost) exclusively for nearly 25 years.

  2. Joe

    Not to mention the early Dettos and Duegis were made for Italian feet – wide heel and narrow forefoot. Horrible. I never realized what a handicap they were. Now I like Specialized, with their wide forefoot, metatarsal arch, and slight outward cant to compensate for pronation.

  3. Krakatoa East of Java

    Detto Pietro also had a wooden sole shoe in the very early eighties.

    I started on lace-up “nail-the-cleat-into-leather” Vittorias. After Alexi won the 84 Olympics, I started wearing Diadora, and they were absolute heaven for my feet.

    That’s interesting about the white Duegis. I remember you guys always wearing them. I also remember that they had a non-wooden version too. Sidi always looked nice, but were very expensive.

    The riders who raved the most about their shoes, however, were those riding Maresi.

  4. Krakatoa East of Java

    BTW, aluminum toe clips sucked-ass. They almost always snapped during hard efforts. I found that steel clips (combined with Alfredo Binda straps) were the best.

    Now talk about a product that was “above and beyond” the rest… Alfredo Binda toe straps. If you weren’t riding them, you were literally gambling your race chances away.

  5. 82medici

    And they were right! I’ve still got my Maresis, ‘tho its been a while since I laced them up.

  6. mH

    Duegi’s, with the wood sole that must have been about 3/8” thick! The difference in power to the pedals felt huge. But with my growing junior feet, the outside joint on the little toe go so irritated by the toe straps (Binda Extra, of course) that I had to cut open the shoe. Got me a few more weeks but still painful. Then Lemond shows up at the Coors Classic with the Look clipless pedals, and they were in the stores a week later. Relief! Probably got the rest of the season out of those shoes, till I felt a weird sensation and realized the wood sole had cracked. I kind of remember people having problems with the existing shoes coming apart from the additional stress from going clipless?

  7. Jake

    The old shoes look like the cleats would be further back than what is possible now without modifications. Did you ride with the ball of your foot further forward? Were the shoes the reason that has changed?

  8. Jpete

    The boas are actually stainless steel cables, wrapped in a plastic sheath. Seems more problems with the imitation boas. I’m not sure I like the feel they provide over straps and ratchets though.

  9. channel_zero

    Then Shimano started making shoes…. Like the best shoes, from square one, ever made.

    And then you say they weren’t so good. ??? At the time, they certainly weren’t but got better.

    Sidi’s were/are a great off-road shoe. I don’t even bother with having road shoes any more. The soles aren’t that much stiffer. They are worth every penny.

  10. Steve Tilford Post author

    zero-Shimano road shoes were the best shoes right from the start. Their MTB shoes needed a little work. The 2nd generation was a thousand times better than the initial attempt.

  11. Barb

    What a great history you had of bike shoes…
    I remember Dettos. They were uncomfortable, and my first “real” cycling shoes after moving on from wearing tennis shoes with toe clips. I tried the Dettos with the very first Cinelli cleats. If people think the learning curve for clipping in and out of SPD is fraught with falling over until you get used to them, I can’t even remember how many times I fell down, trying to unclip from those Cinelli cleats. Those cleats were really fun and interesting! You had to reach down and pull a pin out sideways, to get the cleat to release. Current shoes for both road and mountain (same pedals on both bikes) and for the past how many years, are Sidi Dominators and they’ve been through hell and back and are still in great shape…probably find them in an archaeological dig 1000 years from now, still in good condition.

  12. chris

    I started with narrow Italian lace ups and toe-clips with fixed cleats in the late 80s but they caused knee problems. I have a wide foot and I pronate. Then I found Avia velcro shoes and Time pedals in ’89. They were both moderately priced — $60 for the shoes and $120 for the pedals. I never saw anyone else with those shoes in my area, but they were the combo that saved me and I raced for several years with them.

  13. mike

    binds extra, with the nylon in the middle. lasted the longest, and everything else felt like a tourniquet.

  14. RGTR

    Shit, I think I stumbled into the local VFW post. My first shoes had carbon soles and ratchets.

  15. Thomas

    I think I still have a pair of those Puma shoes and in perfect condition. I remember when I saw them I thought…oh these will be really nice hanging on a wall or something and since I had Nike shoes, I never wore them.

    HEY…WHAT DO YOU MEAN the NIKE’s sucked! Well the first ones did but they got better. I recently pulled out an old pair and rode them at l’eroica california! The toe clips and straps really suck …that’s for sure.

  16. Rob Walker

    Nike sponsored our team in 1990. Junk. I wore those fantastic Look shoes that Hinault used, and then I upgraded to Carnacs. They were an excellent shoe.

  17. Thomas

    Actually…if you want to talk about the junk Nike shoes… I remember showing up at the 7-11 camp and photo day with the brand new… hot off the presses … System Ultra cycling shoe. Like those Puma shoes, they snapped in two as the guys were posing for photos!
    I think we (Nike) shredded 1,200 pairs of the shoes. They discovered they molded the outsoles at the wrong temperature. The shoe did a better job of inspiring other Nike designers and the Huarache running shoe was born. They are still selling versions of it today.!g!c!nobr!&k_clickid=512410c9-80fc-439d-96fe-24ca3c2a3a7a

  18. KrakatoaEastofJava

    I remember the Cinelli pedal. Only for very committed trackies (or time trialists). Pull the tab outward, and you’re absolutely locked in. Push it back (or crash ONTO it), and you’re unlocked. Of course, then you had to slide your way out as well. The dangers that people would endure for some aerodynamics.

  19. Jim

    I have two pair of the M-71 pedals in my basement.
    They are likely to stay there.
    They were scary for sure.

  20. dave

    I always wondered why there wasn’t a toestrap developed that was two to three times wider to distribute the pressure around the foot over a larger area. But that issue went away with clipless. And Steve, you may have hooked all in with Shimano shoes, that’s your opinion, but for me it’s been Sidi since the late 80’s. I have a narrow foot and Italian shoes tend to have a narrower cut.

  21. Steve Tilford Post author

    dave-They made some toe steeps that were wider that spread the pressure on your food. I believe maybe Binda and Christophe made them.

    No question that Sidi makes nice shoes. S

    Shimano makes two widths in cycling shoes, which is sort of unheard of in mass produced cycling shoes.

  22. Ruud van Dijk

    I’ve had Boa cables break on me (after a long time) but can’t say enough about their service. First replacement kit is free anyway, but no too long ago they sent me a second one for free. Very helpful, very responsive. Once you start replacing them yourself, it’s important to do it just right, and it’s good also to minimize the friction underneath the big knob. BTW, Steve, can’t make it to my Lawrence wedding this summer; so the reunion with Jim Whittaker and the Topeka group ride have to be for another year. In the meantime, you’re always welcome to join one of my groups here in Holland!

  23. Bill K

    Duegi 101’s were my first real “good” shoe. I also had a pair of Shimano R100’s. They weren’t quite as beat up as yours, but I had to epoxy the sole back on a few times.
    I’ll tell Mike that you mentioned him in your blog when I see him tomorrow.

  24. Larry T

    Different shoes for different feet I guess…I got plenty of Shimano shoes in the 90’s for free and hated ’em! Still remember my Italian friend lusting after them. I said, “Giacomo, you live in the country that makes (and always has) the best cycling shoes in the world! These are crap…..why would you want them? ”
    Seemed it was the same as Italians riding Shimano components – the exotic and different is far more interesting than boring, domestic products. Then one day he handed me a handful of Shimano chains, barely used. “Why? I asked” He replied “They all break, the pro team I work for part-time won’t use them anymore.” I think perhaps his shoe envy died at the same time?

  25. Brad Carvey

    I also started with Detto Peitro shoes, which I converted to cross shoes in 77. I still have them. I also have my Duegi road shoes from the same time period and my Deugi Cross shoes.. The Deugi road shoes had a bullt in adjustable cleat. The cross shoes were purchased in Italiy. I don’t think anyone imported cross shoes in the 70s.

  26. Charles Dostale

    My progression was :
    Cool Gear leather => Adidas Eddy Merkx with plastic sole, still nail on cleats => Puma with the round cleats => Duegi wood sole => Sidi Titanium. Still have and use the Sidis, although I removed the logos when I was supposed to wear Diadora. For cyclo-cross I ordered a pair of Rivat shoes ( early 80s ). Two longish large diameter cleats on the heel, two smaller removable pointy cleats right behind the pedal cage. Angled rubber ridges to catch the pedal cage instead of a road-style cleat. A wide lip at the toe to help run up hills. Plastic sole, red upper with black trim. Cyclo-cross wasn’t big enough at the time for Michael to stock them, and Rivat wasn’t part of the sponsorship constellation.

  27. Ginger rodriguez

    I have been using Scott shoes for about 1500 miles. Freak clip on accident. My scott shoe broke in half. I’ve had sidi for 13yrs with many crashes. Never has the shoes cracked in half.
    Have you ever heard of this happening?

  28. Joe

    I have had a couple of pairs of mt. bike shoes (Shimano) break in half laterally across the middle of the sole. It does happen.


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