i have always had doubts about the apparent intelligence of fish. though there are one or two parallels with those of human beings, there is what could be called a 'fatal flaw' in their collective upbringing; namely, an attraction for worms or pretend flies. if i might hypothesise that news, whether good or bad might be expected to filter through any civilisation, be it above water or below, then surely the knowledge that there are some nasty human beings wearing waders and carrying flexible rods of carbon fibre, would have pervaded the collective psyche? and, being responsible parents, mummy and daddy fish would warn their offspring to be on the lookout?
seemingly not, as evidence would show, for there are still hordes of the above mentioned nasty human beings roaming wild along river and stream, catching hundreds of fish who are seemingly unaware of the danger that may invade from above. i doubt this would be of sufficient import to hand in as subject for a thesus or to hand me a degree in marine biology, but you do wonder sometimes.
one of the parallels of the above that seems still to infect human society, more particularly those involved in pedalling bicycles rather than wandering along river sides, can be classed under the heading of appropriate footwear. though bicycles with sporting pretensions more often than not arrive without pedals, there are still some inhabiting the budget end of the spectrum that own either flat quill pedals, or a throwback to the heydays of sean kelly, with toe-clips and straps. in either case, it is likely that some form of manual ought to have been issued for the new and uninformed owner.
should you have been fotunate enough to particpate in what was once referred to as the cycling proficiency scheme, you may just remember being told to cycle with the ball of your foot rather than the instep. considering the number of children and, indeed, adults that i have observed ignoring the former but adopting the latter, this may no longer be a gem of advice freely given by cycle instructors. though fitted toeclips will endeavour to hold the foot in a correct position (just watch any track cyclist), this very much depends on having the strap appropriately tightened. and with many an early learner worried about being unable to put a foot down in an emergency, those straps more often than not, remain loose and flapping.
gravity will always attempt to pull the heavier part of the pedal downwards, meaning the clip and strap are usually on the lower side of the pedal at start-up. flipping the pedal over and sliding the foot in, while desperately tyring to come to terms with more gears than disraeli and a nervousness of steering that wasn't there on the last bike is perhaps one step too many at that particular point. when the errant foot finally finds its home, who amongst the erstwhile civilian has the temerity to lean down and pull the strap tight?
and it is this fear of remaining stuck to the pedals if the lights change to red, or a sheep or two steps errantly onto the road in front that prevents many from taking the next logical step and shifting to the so-called clipless pedal. i have yet to meet anyone who has not fallen ungracefully sideways in the first few days of unfettered feet, but i have also yet to come across anyone who would ditch clipless at the drop of a casquette and return to clips and straps. however, aside from the open choice of which method to adopt, there is the not inconsiderable array of pedals on the market, equalled and surpassed only by the wide variation in shoes to be had, and it is at this point that the educational propensity of fish returns to haunt the unaware.
you'd think, nay hope, that the wealth of information that exists as to just which type of pedal system and the subsequent need for shoes that fit appropriately would be easily to hand. those of us who have ridden spd type pedals during our extensive 'cross careers (sorry, that bit of fiction just crept in) and one or two of the three-point cleats beloved of the hardened roadie should be able to advise the hapless newcomer on their rite of passage moving from the word of clip-free. yet, that just isn't happening. there are still those trying to figure out how a two point spd cleat bolts to the sole of a three-point race shoe and vice versa. and always assuming that the correct choice has been made, have you any idea just how many different shoes there are out there?
i confess my early choices were made on the basis of what appeared on the feet of the racing cyclists i saw in photographs. it was never a case of looking to see what my heroes wore, (that's a slap in the face for sponsorship) because i seriously doubted they had the same feet as me, nor come to that, the same requirements. if you're not in a cycling club of any kind, that's another avenue that remains closed. it is not my desire, now or in the future to opt for the job of shoe salesman. there will not be a downloadable shoe guide anytime soon, and i shan't be doing a roadshow just to measure your feet, but i think it worth pointing out that one of the principal requirements demanded of any cycle shoe, whether you race or whether you like to think you do, is an unfailing stiffness in the sole.
this i have learned over the course of experiencing sore feet just when i didn't need sore feet.
obviously, fitting has a not inconsiderable bearing on any potential proposition, but a stiff sole will allow the shoes to become an extension to the pedal, making these oft times teensy-weensy clippy things into virtual size 44s. you may well be several steps ahead of me here (pun not intended), after i laid bare the sheer luxury and attention to detail inherent in only the packaging for rapha's new grand tour shoes. it would surely be something of a disappointment if, after all that fetishistic unwrapping, the shoes failed to live up to their anticipation, not only in terms of looks, but just how they went about their business.
any worry on that score was well past being of consideration. the word 'masterpiece' springs to mind.
as of several years ago, i have been riding my colnagos with mavic's pedal system installed, so it was a simple affair to order and install a pair of mavic's grey cleats on the impossibly luxurious carbon that forms the lower half of the gts (you don't mind me calling them that, do you?) if this is a task that is somewhat new, particularly on a pair of shoes not renowned for their low price, the enclosed booklet has a page to assist.
before it is possible to place either foot in to the white or black yak leather, there are further details to consider. the right insole bears a silhouette of maitre jacques, while the left, that of fausto coppi, both accompanied by an appropriate narrative. since reading either necessitates removal of the cork insole, before wearing is probably a good time to do so. included in the small charcoal bag are two pairs of arch supports; one thick and one measurably thinner. since there is no way of knowing which is more appropriate, rapha suggest trying them out on the ride to decide.
the shoes have three points of closure: a titanium coloured ratchet buckle, and two velcro straps, the smaller of the two being black on the white shoes and white on the back shoes. it's a rapha thing. the slotted tongue is attached to the upper at one side; opening all three straps makes it a simple case of sliding the feet easily into possibly the most comfortable pair of shoes it is possible to own. the uppers are well perforated, a feature that will allow a commensurate degree of breathability, but always remember that rain can go in as well as out.
if comfort were the ultimate aim of the gts, then at this point they're registering well into the upper regions of any scale you care to mention, but as inferred above, there is a job to be accomplished. i can see little point in sporting a cacophony of style if the turbo doesn't work when you press the button. clipping in is the preserve of the pedal system, so your mileage will vary on that score, but the efficiency of power transfer lies pretty much with the shoes. meandering along leafy lanes is all very well, and shouldn't tax even the puniest of shoe leather (or composite, as the case may be), but the bucketload of fish hooks comes home to roost when standing up to give it some welly.
suddenly, at this point, my mavic pedals become huge (metaphorically speaking), and every pedal stroke moved the bike further and faster than i'll admit i was ready for. it must be very disconcerting for passing motorists to watch a boring old fart with a ponytail laughing and smiling while in the process of riding up a 14% hill. pain and suffering be damned.
as age and frailty beckons, i'd be the first to admit my athletic input is probably not the hardest these shoes have had to cope with, but a bit like my experience with the colnago c59, i have a notion the grand tours were, all the while, laughing back at me and saying in their own sweet way 'is that all you've got?' powerful riders should definitely apply. meanwhile, cossetted inside that luxuriously supple yak leather, my toes thought all their christmasses had arrived at once, for they now had more room to manouevre than they ever thought possible. do not mistake this latter fact for that of a misdemeanour; on warm days in the saddle, when welly is pretty much all that's on the menu, your toes will thank you for the expansive room in which they now live. the buckle and strap system had already immobilised my feet in the manner to which i'd like them to become accustomed, all of which culminated in the ear to ear grin on the hill.
it is perhaps a touch misleading to have brought rapha's grand tour shoes into the fray having started off by discussing the needs of the absolute beginner. shoes lower down the pecking order exist principally to get you started, keep the bank balance healthy and to provide a frame of reference when such luxury beckons. however, the possibility exists that one or two of those introductory moments will pertain to those starting a long and happy competitive career, in which case, these ought to be very noticeably towards the top of any list that needs to be made. for those of us slightly longer in the tooth, but only physically, not mentally, though at the wrong end of the body, these are indeed the crowning glory. they look great, they fit almost impossibly well, and however good you are a cyclist, i'd contend they'll make you a better one.
the smile comes free.
rapha's grand tour shoes retail at £300 ($450 plus any sales tax that may apply ) in sizes from 39 to 47 in both black with white strap and white with black strap.
posted saturday 14 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................