Saturday, September 6, 2014

Socks & Sandals: The Fashion Faux Pas Bringing Bad Taste To Mountain Biking

As the old saying goes, ‘Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes’. But what if that person is a cyclist and what if they’re wearing socks and sandals? In this interview from 2013, 4Shaw Agencies founder Dion Shaw had this to say about the common fashion faux pas: ‘[They are] one of my biggest hates. I actually won’t say what I think of them. Probably offend someone I think.’ This comes as a very powerful statement from somebody so heavily invested in the sock game.

Shaw’s careful eye for inspired design and quality product have made his socks one of the most popular accessories for cyclists (and probably many non-cyclists) in Australia. But his aversion to the idea of socks and sandals seemingly alienates an entire segment of the sock market.

While this look might not be for everyone, the mere fact that it is even recognised as a fashion indiscretion indicates that there are a substantial number of advocates for the stylistic pastiche.

Not that it’s saying much these days, but there’s even a surprisingly serious Wikipedia entry and an Instagram account (@officialsocksandsandals) dedicated to the appreciation of this delicate hosiery transgression.

One post goes so far as to suggest that socks and sandals are a 100% effective contraceptive, implying that they preclude the wearer from being considered sexually desirable – however this hypothesis probably warrants some further scientific research, given the emergence of evidence such as this:

While socks and sandals can act as an effective contraceptive, sympathetic appreciation can lead to procreation and a dangerous narrowing of the gene pool.

With comments such as those made by Shaw appearing to alienate this particular sock demographic, a backlash has already emerged and appears to be gaining traction.

At last weekend’s Six Hours In The Saddle event in Beechworth, one brave competitor sent a strong message to detractors with a gratuitous sock and sandal display that will have many reconsidering their condemnation of this unseemly stylistic combination.

The pioneering fashionista was Alee Denham, recently returned from two years of world cycle-touring with his partner Kat Webster on a beautiful tandem bicycle, affectionately known as Tan-Nay-Nay.

Alleykat’s website has evolved in to a fantastic resource for anybody interested in long-distance bicycle touring. There are plenty of great videos, articles and a whole host of impartial product reviews, including this one about Shimano’s classic cycling sandals.

One thing that Alee learnt during this trip, particularly in some of the hot and moist south-east Asian climes was that SPD-equipped sandals make for a comfortable and practical cycling shoe. They keep your feet cool, dry quicker than regular shoes and are downright versatile, matching up nicely with thin socks, thick socks, waterproof socks or no socks at all.

Shimano cycling sandals make for some interesting tan lines.
‘The Shimano sandals offer me ventilation performance that is unrivalled by any closed cycling shoe. Given that I've cycled over 20,000km in this pair, I knew that they would be supremely comfortable over a 6-hour duration.’
While foot comfort would not be compromised, other parts of Alee’s anatomy required some extra preparation to ensure they survived the 6 hour race.

During the event there was some obvious resistance from certain conservative elements of the fashion-conscious mountain bike lobby:
‘Post-ride, cyclists who quizzed me on my choice of footwear seemed somewhat disappointed that I didn't sever a toe on a rock.’
Denham’s display on the weekend seems at odds with what shoe manufacturers have been telling us for years – that competitive cycling requires a fully-enclosed shoe with a super-stiff stole and most likely some form of technologically advanced closure mechanism like a ratchet strap or Boa closure.

Interestingly, the Boa mechanism was originally developed for ski equipment, following a trend started with clipless pedals, an offshoot of Look’s popular ski binding.

First surfacing in 2001 on snowboard boots, Boa closures were adopted by the cycling industry in 2004.

This leaves us wondering what element of snow culture will be next to make the leap from piste to peloton?

The company’s website claims that ‘Boa provides replaceable parts at no charge for the life of the product in which [they] are integrated.’

Always sceptical of these types of guarantees, I dusted off a 4-year-old pair of Boa-equipped Specialized S-Works mountain bike shoes, in order to test out the limits of this unconditional warranty.

You’ll notice how these shoes look a bit worn, mainly due to them having (just barely) survived around 150 days of racing in conditions ranging from dirty river crossings in Timor Leste to compulsory rocky portages in South Africa’s Western Cape to the interminable dust of Mongolia’s Gobi desert and the muddy brown slush of a seriously inclement Crocodile Trophy in Far North Queensland. If I was selling them on eBay, I’d probably describe them as ‘like new’.

The Boa no-cost-replacement-parts registration process was surprisingly straightforward. Simply provide contact details, select the nature of the problem from a drop-down box and choose which model you need. There’s an option to upload a photo of your product, but it’s completely up to you.

True to their promise, a discount for the full value of the replacement parts is applied before checkout.

This is where I was expecting to get the bad news – an exorbitant shipping cost or perhaps the all too familiar ‘unfortunately this offer is not valid in your location.’

What followed instead was the shocking discovery that not only was this an international guarantee but also that Boa offers a free standard shipping option. The experience left me feeling slightly confused and a little resentful that there would be no comedic material forthcoming from this stunt for The Private Cyclist.

As this crushing realisation began to dawn on me I was forced to accept that what Boa offers is a completely genuine and unambiguous cost-free, worldwide, unconditional parts-replacement warranty.

At this point I began to question whether this had been a worthwhile tangent. After all, I was just getting to the crux of a groundbreaking socks and sandals fashion incident before being distracted by the lure of a few cheap laughs at the expense of (what I imagined to be) a deceptive replacement warranty that never materialised. Unfortunately, I was well past the point of no return – much like the Boa closures on my ‘like new’ S-Works mountain bike shoes, however, unlike the shoes, the comic value in this article could not be resurrected at no additional cost, at least to the reader anyway.

While Boa closures do appear to offer some added convenience and adjustability over the Shimano touring sandal’s Velcro™ straps, what Alee Denham realised was that when it comes to mountain biking, it’s not all about performance benefits and technology. Cycling sandals offer something that technological advancement just can’t match – good old fashioned practicality and an incredibly provocative aesthetic.

The stunt certainly got people talking, drawing a lot of attention for the self-proclaimed sock and sandal spokesman:
‘I would ideally like a prestigious sock sponsor (such as 4Shaw) to pick me up, to take things to the next level. I can provide a much higher level of sock exposure than most athletes.’ 
It is literally impossible to match this kind of sock exposure with fully enclosed shoes.

If this turns out to be true then what we witnessed last weekend probably foretells the beginning of a new trend in the future of cycling apparel. And if socks and sandals are no longer considered a fashion infraction then cyclists had better brace themselves because there will be worse to come. Perhaps Shimano could honour their cultural roots and work out how to slap an SPD cleat on these?

1 comment:

  1. you have told about the new trend of socks and sandals. I am very glad to get this useful information. thanks for sharing.