There’s more to cycling shoes than velcro and carbon fibre. Iain Treloar investigates casual footwear designed for the whole day, not just your time in the saddle.
What do you think of when you hear the term ‘cycling shoes’? A hobbling gait in neon uppers and carbon soles for the road, or boxy SPD shoes in agricultural tones for the mountain bike? Both of these are great in their place—but that place isn’t in the workplace or at the pub, especially if that’s where you want to ride without carrying extra gear with you.
Over the past couple of years, there’s been huge growth in casual cycling wear, offering riders clothing that transfers seamlessly from on-bike function to off-bike style. Footwear
lagged behind this stylistic shift, but happily shoes are now following suit—making a ride to work, or out for the evening, vastly more comfortable. Rather than flaunting their technical
credentials with garish styling, unobtrusive and fashionable footwear is now packing some serious riding functionality, perfect for tackling the urban jungle.
An increasing number of companies are launching casual riding shoes that have the restraint of conventional shoes and much of the performance of their sports-oriented kin. From
corporate to café, we’ve tested some of the most exciting casual riding shoes on the market.
Chrome 415 Storm Boot
In an urban environment, not every rider wants to run SPDs. Chrome splits their range fairly evenly between cleated and non-cleated shoes, so we jumped at the opportunity to test one of each. The Chrome 415 Storm Boot is one that’s been on our radar for a while. It’s an ankle height oiled leather boot, with a waterproof membrane, subtle reflective detailing and superb comfort. These features, and more, make it the standout in this test, as the most practical, versatile urban riding shoe I’ve ever encountered.
There’s a lot that goes into the Storm that makes it perfectly suited to life on the bike. The ribbed sole grips beautifully onto a platform pedal—even more snugly when using a toe-cage—and the rubber cap on the toe stops the most sharp-edged cage from scuffing the shoe’s supple leather. The sole is also a happy medium; stiff enough to put power through the pedals, robust enough to hold up to regular daily use and thick enough that a platform pedal doesn’t dig in.
The leather gives a little over time to provide a comfortable, close fit, and the waterproof membrane is highly effective. They remain cosy on cold mornings, so I can see them being too warm during summer, but by forgoing cleats they’ve gone from being a great bike shoe into an amazing all-rounder. In the first weekend I had these shoes, I was stomping around a farm, ankle deep in wet grass, riding a four-wheeler, then tearing around on my singlespeed in the city. I didn’t take them off for 16 hours straight. They didn’t skip a beat, and I simply wiped them down to wear to the office the next day. So yes, they may be ‘ordinary’ shoes compared to the others on test here—but they’re absolutely extraordinary at the same time.
Quoc Pham Derby
The Quoc Pham Derby is a classy brown suede shoe of impeccable craftsmanship. In mitigation of their eye-watering price tag, the Derbys come individually numbered, in a pretty box; there’s even a drawstring shoe bag to keep them tidy when they’re stashed away in the cupboard. It may be easy to dismiss these shoes on the basis of their cost alone, but that would be doing them a disservice; the Derby seamlessly merges style and substance.
Quoc Pham’s schtick is to take the benefits of clipless shoes, and incorporate them into a shoe that could quite easily be worn with a suit, or dressy pair of jeans. It’s a clever trick, with the cleats concealed in a deep cutaway in the sole. This necessitates a fairly thick sole with a decent heel to it, so they’ll unobtrusively give you an extra inch of height as well.
Although the Derby has a faultless aesthetic placing it firmly at the dressier end of the spectrum, on-bike function is remarkably good. Whilst letting you pedal efficiently, the sole isn’t discernibly harsh or stiff to walk in—which is a benefit, because they’re more likely to be worn for short commutes on the bike and longer periods off. Nonetheless, smart inclusions like a reflective tab on each heel add to the Derby’s practicality, whilst being subtle enough not to hamper their gorgeous appearance.
The upper is a fairly close fit—as with any quality pair of leather shoes, they fit tight at first then mould to the contours of the foot over time. This made them a little uncomfortable for the first week or so, improving soon after, so it’s worth persisting. This firm fit also helped eliminate slop in the shoe, improving their efficiency on the bike.
Chrome Truk Pro
Chrome Truk Pros are a smart choice for urban commuters and city dwellers: subtle and stylish as quality street shoes, but with thoughtful touches that make them ideal for riding. The sole is extra stiff, while a reflective panel at the ankle boosts your visibility in dark and drizzly conditions and elasticised straps prevent the tongue from bunching or slipping to the side. SPD capability is a bonus. A precut tab on the sole is held in place by two screws. It can be left as is for everyday wear or riding with flat pedals, and is easily removed with an Allen key to reveal a recessed inlet for your SPD cleat.
On the bike, they are comfortable as my cycling-specific SPD shoes. Off the bike they are somewhat stiffer and weightier than regular street shoes, which takes some getting used to. I also found them slippery when walking with the metal cleat in place on wet days. But these are minor quibbles; overall the Chrome Truk Pros were more than adequate over short distances and for wearing around the home, office and generally out and about between rides.
Chrome Truk Pros are a high quality make with a reasonably narrow fit. Available in black or grey, they look smart but unobtrusive and are equally suited to men and women.
Review by Margot McGovern
DZR do one thing, and do it very well. With the broadest range of casual cycling shoes on the market, spanning lace-ups, Velcro straps, bike polo boots and even high-fashion knee-high boots, they’ve carved out an impressive niche for themselves.
The secret to DZR’s success is the sole. With a nylon shank embedded in the rubber, and a deep cutaway for mounting any two-bolt pattern cleats, they’re quiet enough to walk in that nobody will be any the wiser, as long as the ground is even.
The Ovis is styled like a vintage basketball high-top, with lovely soft leather providing a luxurious fit, and reflective details on the heel. The care in their design is evident, with a little elastic loop on the tongue to tuck the ends of the laces. The cleat holes are accessed by cutting away a section of the sole, which is a little harrowing. However, once that little bit of butchery is out of the way and you’ve got your cleats installed, they’re ready to be put into use. If you change your mind and wish to use them with flats after that seemingly final act of cutting a portion of the sole away, DZR shoes are supplied with a pair of covers to mount in the recess.
The sole is stiff enough to aid efficient pedalling, but has just enough (slightly springy) give in it to be fine for walking in. On the bike, I occasionally got a slight hot-spot down the outside of the right foot after a couple of hours, and the softness of the leather doesn’t lend itself to really aggressive riding, with a little too much stretch to feel properly firm. For shorter spins, though—the majority of riding, for the majority of potential users—they’re great, offering superb style, very solid function and decent quality at a reasonable price.
Same Same But Different Vintage Topsider
Looking at this shoe compared to the rest of the lineup, there’s rarely been a more fitting business name than Same Same But Different. Their Vintage Topsider takes a tan suede upper, fashions it into a boat-shoe, then adds bike functionality in the form of one of the stranger pedal systems we’ve encountered. In the base of the sole is a metal plate, designed to pair with a magnet-equipped pedal (sold separately). It operates more as a positional guide than for outright performance; the magnets aren’t strong enough to allow you to pull up on the pedals like an SPD. But at a more leisurely tempo, it’s really rather pleasant. There’s also the added benefit that these shoes will perform equally well with a more traditional platform pedal, increasing their versatility if you decide to forgo the magnetic pedals altogether.
A boat-shoe isn’t what you’d traditionally associate with cycling performance. The Vintage Topsider subverts this assumption to a surprising degree. Out of the box, they were the most instantly comfortable, aided in large part by a superbly squishy insole. The fairly limited closure on the top of the shoe—just two pairs of eyelets, compared to between four and seven on each of the other models tested—would have proved insufficient to properly restrain the foot when pulling up on a clipless pedal, but is well-matched to the less assertive pedalling style necessitated by the magnetic pedal system. The Vintage Topsider may not the ideal shoe for that many applications, but the manufacturer should be applauded for taking an unusual concept, and applying it to great effect with substantial comfort.
Looking forward, looking back
In addition to all these modern casual shoes, there are a number of shoe manufacturers trading on a sense of nostalgia for competitive cycling’s golden age. Vintage styled lace-up cycling shoes—complete with perforated soft leather uppers, as worn with toe clips from the 1920s to the early ‘80s—have been updated with modern clipless functionality. These match the aesthetic of older bikes flawlessly without sacrificing performance. They’re also pretty snazzy looking off the bike, with lashings of Italian style. Because they’re made in small batches in England or Italy, with production scheduled to coincide with the Northern Hemisphere summer, this article came a month or two early to secure any for review, but if you’re after a retro-styled cycling shoe that will work off the bike as well, take a look at Vittoria’s 1976 line (vittoria-shoes.com), the Italian-made, UK-based Dromarti (dromarti.com), and a gorgeous vintage touring shoe from Mamnick, the Hibell (mamnick.com).
At the complete other end of the spectrum is the brand Retrofitz (retrofitz.com), which outfits conventional sneakers with an SPD plate. You can either buy a DIY system and modify an existing pair of your shoes, or get them to do the work for you on their existing stash of Onitsuka Tigers, Adidas sneakers and Converse Chuck Taylors. It’s also possible to send basically any shoe to their workshop, and have them retro fit the SPD plate. Weird, yes—but also kind of cool.
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