I've worn out my Shimano R320 shoes. The uppers have held up well but the rubber nubbins on the soles have worn down and are not replaceable, and the ratchet clasp on the main strap has weakened to the point that it slips loose as I ride.
Meanwhile, the Speedplay Light Action cleats fitted to them when new are pretty worn, with one bolt missing and the others so worn down they'll have to be drilled out if I want to recover the blue wedges between the cleats and the 3-hole-to-4-hole adapter plates.
My immediate inclination was to buy exactly the same again... only to find that the R320 shoe has been discontinued in favour of the latest incarnation, the R321 which, unlike the R320, does require heat molding to the feet. I'm not inclined to go down that route -- after all, feet swell and even change shape throughout the day. (And... it's really difficult to find the all-black colourway in stock!)
So I decided to step back for a re-think.
I love my Speedplays pedals and cleats. I love the huge supportive platform and most of all I love that 15 degrees of non-spring-loaded float. It's true they are a pain to keep free of contaminants which even in the smallest amounts can cause the cleats to seize up. But I've been willing to make allowances for that "design flaw" out of appreciation for the bigger-picture approach Speedplay take to cleat design, with knee comfort being the overriding priority.
However, on our French tour last May, I found one other little drawback (which frankly hadn't troubled me much before) suddenly became a very big problem when touring, in particular when using ferries.
Like other road cleat systems, there is a big metal protrusion on the bottom of your sole. This has led to the stereotype impression that they make you waddle like a duck. On a more pragmatic level, road cleats are bare metal and thus have no traction on smooth floor services. Floors may be wooden, stone, brick, tiled, linoleum, you name it. In most situations when out on a ride and stopping for breaks, a little care is all that's needed. It's probably the caution needed, more than anything else, that prompts the wearer to shorten his/her stride, stiffen the knees and indeed walk like a duck. I use Speedplay's Coffee Covers on most occasions when I dismount, even for short periods of time. I've developed a system whereby I always have a pair of covers in a convenient place. They come out, go on, come off, go back into the designated pocket. It does take a few seconds but I feel it's a worthwhile use of time to ensure I feel more secure walking around in my road shoes. I've only rarely slipped -- or felt in danger of slipping -- on most floor surfaces, with the covers fitted over my cleats.
But on ferries... the long ramps into the car decks, the decks themselves and often the stairs (and sometimes laddies) up to the passenger decks, are all... metal. So, if for whatever reason, I don't fit the covers on just before leaving another surface (usually asphalt, which has little slip risk), then it's like stepping onto an ice rink.
The problem arises when embarking and disembarking. On arrival at the port, we go through several checkpoints (passport control, etc). This is usually done on the bike, without dismounting, just unclipping and straddling the bike while doing the necessary with the port official behind the desk, then clipping in and riding off. Eventually though, you end up in a lane or queue, waiting for the invitation to board the ferry. The wait can be very short or it can be very long. There is no warning as to which it will be, and no interim announcements to manage your expectations. Usually, we dismount immediately and stand beside our bikes. Five minutes later, we lay the bikes gently on their sides so we are free to move around a bit, stretch and visit with our friends also queued up waiting. Sometimes, after 10 minutes, I sit down on the ground. Rarely -- but it has happened -- some indication is given that we may be waiting some time and I dig my plimsolls out of my pannier and actually change shoes!
Then the port staff signal 'Go Go Go' and it's a mad scramble to get on the bike and pedal off in the direction indicated. Even the split seconds needed to take off and stow the cleat covers feels like too much time. I fall behind.
But then! Suddenly we're told by another member of port staff to dismount! Immediately! And traverse a sort of bridge that joins to the ramp into the boat. And guess what? The bridge is metal. Sometimes it's mesh or grating, with big gaps and holes. And then you're on the ramp of the car deck itself and it's solid metal. With big metal studs sticking up. Or metal grooves in a chevron pattern.
And it's not even as if you can learn a certain routine. Because one member of the port staff wants you to ride, while another wants you to walk, and it's never the same instructions in similar circumstances. Ride the ramp up, walk the bridge, ride down the ramp into the car deck. Oh wait, no, this time it's ride the ramp and the bridge, then dismount and slither and slide down the ramp. Oh for chrissake, now it's walk up the ramp... and the bridge... and the ramp. Who knows. All I know is that I want my feet to stay securely under me, and I desperately want to not always be the very last one scrambling to get on the boat with cleat covers on or cleat covers off or.... where the heck did I put them in that last mad panic to get back on the bike? And where did everybody go??
In other words, road cleats are wonderful on the bike if you can stay on the bike. Limited, planned times off the bike are manageable. Having your strings pulled, with no notice, at the whim of port staff is just hell.
So. Here I am after two years being cossetted and supported by my Speedplays, looking for the very first time at Shimano SPDs.
I've used MTB/touring shoes before, when I first went 'clipless' in 2011, on the advice of my phyiotherapist following my knee surgery. I used Speedplay Frog cleats, because my physio did not want my knees to be affected by spring-loaded tension. I used Frogs for a year maybe a little longer, until my knees were well enough recovered not to be at risk from wrenching and jolting, and up to the point where my tracking and alignment issues became serious enough to move me towards the big platforms of Speedplays (with the Light Action pedals having the lowest tension/resistance when unclipping).
So it is with some trepidation that I am (temporarily at least) abandoning Speedplays and giving Shimano SPDs a try. After driving myself nearly mad reading reviews, both by customers and the industry, I have purchased these new shoes and A530 dual-sided pedals.
|(mine are silver, not black)|
I have set the SPDs up on the Cross Check (including adjusting saddle height to account for significantly more stack under the foot, and swapping out the shoes' insoles for ones I already know to be comfortable) and ridden up and down our road numerous times without spotting anything that is an obvious deal breaker. I will try commuting with them tomorrow. If things go well during the week, then I'll swap the pedals over to the Enigma at the weekend to try them out on a longer ride, when Adam and I reccie a possible new FNRttC route.
I cannot foresee how this will go. I am really apprehensive about compromising even a smidgeon of the support and comfort my Speedplays give me. I hope that if there is any adverse effect on my knees, I'll know fairly quickly.
I do have a safety net in place. With my road shoes and cleats worn out, I made an appointment at Cyclefit in a few weeks' time, to look at road replacement options. As a Plan B, this is definitely the more expensive option, as I think the obvious choice would be to try Speedplay's new Aero version of its Light Action pedals, which provide an integrated rubberised surround that should be more "walkable" -- or at least minimise the ice rink factor of walking on metal surfaces!
Meanwhile.... it's 5 weeks and 4 days til we leave for the Low Countries. I can't wait!