This is a short tale about shoes, but bear with me it may digress a little. What follows is not any attempt to preach or to proclaim right or wrong but merely to convey my recent experiences and share with you my thoughts on a few subjects relative to cycling and my attempts to become an ethical consumer, albeit a very pragmatic one.
So, to lay out my convictions – I try to live my life as consciously as possible and have the courage of those convictions, I care about welfare and environmental issues and I do my very best to buy things that 1. I need 2. I feel live up to the ethical standards that I set myself. We live in a material consumerist society and of course that halo will slip from time to time, I will not try to deny this.
As part of this conscious effort and (what you might call) “lifestyle” about 15 years ago I became a Vegan. This decision was incredibly personal and I will not even begin to attempt to patronise you with the whys or wherefores, not least because no one wants to be preached at, and frankly I doubt you care. All I will say is that the decision was influenced by animal welfare issues and what I felt, continue to feel, would be of benefit to my own personal carbon footprint. I don’t wear a badge or anything, other than the necessity to let it be known occasionally (social occasions for example where food might be concerned) I never mention it – this will likely be a revelation to a few people who know me personally.
In addition to this I use a bicycle for most of my travel – I commute by bike most days and, if I would like to go out, I travel to meet friends mostly with a mix of public transport and the bike, it is rare if I ever use the car. And of course I ride bicycles for pleasure, whether it is racing or taking part in other events, socialising or just to go to the shops. Apropos of the reasons for cycling, here’s an example of the calories burnt and the CO2 saved by regularly commuting the 15 miles to work and back: According to www.cyclescheme.co.uk/health-calculator my 30 mile daily round trip, 5 days a week, will burn nearly 8,000 calories and save approximately 280kg of CO2 (vs the same distance on a train, far more if I would usually undertake the same journey by car). I do my best to recycle and reduce waste and all those other things too.
To the subject of shoes then: in the 15 years since the decision to follow a vegan diet I have slowly but surely replaced any animal products that I consume for cosmetic or sanitary purposes or that I might wear too (I like to be consistent), such as wool and leather – I am also interested in how things are made, what they are made from, what processes are used to make them, where possible I make sure I buy local, reducing packaging waste, steering clear of harmful chemical and logistical mileage etc, etc. Any things that I buy that have logistical mileage or harm through new materials and processing, I can justify, will later be offset by riding rather than using a car or a train (it makes sense in my head) – However, I have always been kind of stuck for cycling shoes. The reason for this is that there have traditionally been very few alternatives to leather available, or if they were available they weren’t necessarily likely to be labelled as synthetic or otherwise. This sounds like an excuse I guess, maybe I was lazy about it and didn’t research enough – I was put off asking one time when I made an email inquiry to Evans Cycles about a pair of Specialized shoes and whether or not they were made from leather or a synthetic material where I received a less than courteous and helpful reply (this was about 2004 by the way and I don’t mean to give Evans a bad name), and the LBS very rarely knew about their own stock either.
[Just a note about why I might go to this effort of seeking leather alternatives to wear on my feet. Firstly, it is my understanding that the leather industry is quite barbaric both in terms of its animal welfare practices and for the people who are employed by it. It is also very environmentally damaging from the point of rearing and farming the animals, to processing and tanning. It is a common misconception that leather is a by product of the meat and dairy industry, which in reality it is not – it is an industry in its own right that exists for the purposes of maximising as much profit as possible in an industry that is worth billions. I could cite various examples to substantiate the claims I have made, and of course I am making political statements from my own personal viewpoint that don’t necessarily have a place on a website like cycletechreview.com, so rather than fill this page any further with this kind of thing I will leave it to you to do your own research on the subject.]
I have recently found the need to buy myself a new pair of road cycling shoes – though this time I wanted to make a very conscious choice. Given that I am in the industry by virtue of writing for this website and a few others, I do keep myself as much up to date with developments in cycling as possible. Researching what is now available I was pleased to see that the synthetic materials available, and used in the construction and manufacture of cycling shoes, has grown to be virtually the norm. You will note that many shoes are now constructed using ‘micro-fibre’ or some other synthetic leather look material which is light weight, breathable and water resistant. Most cycling shoes that can be ‘moulded’ or custom fit tend to be made from a micro-fibre upper, with a few exceptions (Fizik for example). I know all of this because the labeling and identity of those materials that are used in the shoes (for both customer information and marketing purposes I expect, rather than any particularly need or regulation that says companies have to disclose the materials) are now clearly communicated on brand websites and the knowledge in local bike shops has considerably improved.
I’ve had my last pair of shoes for 4 years. I bought them in Future Cycles, Lewes (now defunct and replaced by CycleShack II), Matt, the manager at the time, had been offered a deal by the UK distributor for Fizik who wanted to get rid of the stock of Fizik R3 shoes because they hadn’t sold so well. As I needed a new pair of shoes at the time I took up the offer and bought a pair. I was never very comfortable with the Kangaroo leather they were made from, but I have made them last, even suffered the indignity of riding bright red shoes which no longer match my team kit. They are still a functional shoe so they won’t be going in the bin just yet, I shall retire them to depths of winter use where they will be covered up by shoe covers.
I had approximately £200 as my budget, quite indulgent I know (I don’t spend that much on a pair of formal dress shoes to wear with a suit), and now I felt spoiled for choice from brands like Giro, Sidi, Lake, Northwave and Shimano, and to throw an obscure brand into that mix just for balance Maldita, to name just a few. In the end I opted for a pair of Shimano SH-R321 which I picked up from Tredz.co.uk for £199.99 (free delivery and within my budget by 1p), because I wanted a stiff performance shoe that I knew would fit me and be comfortable. I think, in all fairness, Shimano have used synthetic uppers for many years – I have used Shimano for off-road shoes for years and by coincidence they have always been made of synthetic materials.
They’ve now been delivered – I ordered on Sunday and they were delivered ‘standard delivery’ by Tuesday (yes, I could have ordered these through my LBS, which I am keen to support, but this was a snap decision on a Sunday night – see, I told you I was no saint). My first impressions of the shoes are favourable and they fit like a glove. This isn’t a review so I will stop there, but needless to say I am very pleased with them and I am especially pleased that there are leather alternatives available as a choice for me to consider and buy.
I might offer a short review of the shoes another time. These shoes are made in China by the way, though I don’t necessarily have any qualms about that as I know Shimano is an ethical company that have a very clear corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental policy (rare to publish such a thing as openly as Shimano do in the cycling world – though of course Shimano is a little bigger than just cycling).
If you have read this far, then bravo and thank you for indulging me.
Shimano SH-R321 RRP £249.99
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