An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Goodbye anonymous, you'll be missed.

Some equipment gets neglected, more because it just works, taking daily (or nearly-daily) abuse and just continuing on without complaint. Time goes on and you just kind of don't notice it.

Until it doesn't. And you do notice it.

Yesterday was one of those rides for me, and the equipment that got noticed was my shoes.

I have issues with shoes, being a difficult fit. No, my feet aren't particularly wide or narrow. In fact, some time back I actually measured them against the industry standard and found that they were pretty much spot on the medium width of D for men.

Toe problem is my toes. Or really, where my toes point.

Take a look at your shoes. Chances are, unless you're wearing Altra running shoes, or Bont cycling shoes, or some variation of Vivobarefoot, Vibram, or Birkenstocks, your shoes come essentially to a point at the toes.

Draw a line from the center of your heel to the center of the ball of your foot, and then another from the center of the ball to the center of the big toe. Do they form an angle? Do they form a significant angle?

For some reason I cannot fathom, most every shoe maker assumes that everyone has that same significant angle. It's called a bunion in the medical community. But it only comes to medical attention when it causes pain and joint degradation.

But the funny thing is that in cultures where shoes aren't worn, those two lines aren't two lines at all -- they're one continuous line. Straight from heel to ball to toe. And bunions just don't happen. Kind of begs the question of whether the shoes cause the condition.

Anyway... My toes do the same thing under weight bearing. One straight line from heel to toe. So finding shoes that really fit is an issue. I love Altra for sticking with their FOOT shaped last. And if the market for running and casual shoes is thin, cycling shoes are downright dismal. Bont comes close, but the depth of their heel cup causes the collar to dig into my ankle.

So anyway, back to yesterday's ride. After doing my normal trail work, I hopped back on and started riding. My right foot started feeling a little sloppy. So I cinched down the strap a bit more.

And it still felt sloppy.

No matter how much I pulled the straps tighter, I could still feel my foot moving around. So I took a closer look.

The upper was peeling away from the sole all the way from the tip to the arch, and well into half-way across the shoe's width.

After three-plus years of complaint-free riding, doling out abuse on these kicks and doing little more than letting them dry out, they finally said "enough".

And I'm okay with that. I don't feel like they owe me anything. I bear no ill-will toward Bontrager.

My search for new mountain bike shoes begins in earnest. I've employed my old Sidi Lazer road shoes for the task of my lunchtime rides and trail work until I find suitable replacements. A stop-gap measure that is less compromise than a desperation move. To say the Sidi's are less than ideal is to exercise an extreme gift of understatement.

But I'll find them. The foot wear unicorns...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gravel Love/Hate

Gravel rides can be funny things. Usually they start and end on pavement, the means to get to what the ride is really all about -- getting OFF pavement and onto gravel and/or dirt roads. But the progression of the mood is what makes it so amusing. It becomes a love/hate tug-of-war, all the more polar as the distance increases.

This past week I took a trip to the northern Oregon coast for a couple days of relaxation. Manzanita was our base, about 30 miles south of Cannon Beach (famous for the rock formations on the beach). I had mapped out a few ride routes and loaded them onto my Garmin with the idea that I could get out on a couple rides while there. Two of the three routes I had planned incorporated gravel roads linking road sections to and from our rental house.

It's a given that, especially on the western side of the Cascades, gravel roads mean hills, usually long and quite often very steep. Getting to a 1:1 gear ratio is highly recommended. I'm close, with a 34/32 low gear. Even with an elevation profile, though, I was unprepared for what hit me.

First, you'd think that 101, being the COAST highway, and following the coastline and all, would be, you know, flat. It follows something at sea level, right?

Well, that's a glorious yes as well as a disappointing no. Riding north out of Manzanita heading to my turn-off at the Short Sand Cutoff road, I encountered what seemed like one long uphill, followed closely by another. Taking the right hander onto the gravel was a relief. FINALLY some flat road!

But that relief was short-lived. Within another quarter mile, I was headed up again. WAY up. Bottom gear, rear tire slipping with every pedal stroke kind of up. And it just went on. And on. And on...

The crown in the gravel road made it interesting, with each slipping of the rear tire sending me closer to the edge of the road. Several times I had to get off and walk, keeping myself on the road and giving myself a little bit of a break. Getting started up again was another problem in itself.

At the three mile mark from leaving pavement, I hit what I hoped was the summit. I slumped myself over the handlebars for a minute, letting my heaving lungs subside into a more natural rhythm, then rolled on into the mist.

Fortunately, it was the summit. Unfortunately the downhill portion was no better than the uphill, and in fact was worse in many ways -- far rougher in sections, and just as steep.

Passing around a second gate on the descent, and finally seeing pavement again, I was surprised by five HUGE black birds taking flight just to my right. I had to take a close look -- TURKEY VULTURES! I had never seen these birds on the west side of the Cascades before. I decided to keep moving to make sure they didn't mistake me for their next carcass.

And even with the sad state that this pavement was in, it was a wonderful relief to be back on something smooth again.

After just a few miles cruised back west and south on the North Fork Road, I was back at home base, tired and dirty. And glad to be done with the ride.

That's the mood progression that's so funny. At first, on pavement, you can't wait to get to the gravel. Once on the gravel, and hit with the normal hills, it becomes a grind, possibly some of the most strenuous riding around. Then heading back down from all that, it's a balancing act of caution and terror, maintaining speed and control. By the time you get back down, pavement is such a relief, and you're glad to be off the gravel.

For the next day's ride I opted for a road loop, relatively flat.