Barefoot bicycling, good for the sole

May 5, 2013 § 20 Comments

I was walking down the stairs the other day. The steps are made out of some kind of rocky aggregate, and I had decided to descend barefoot in order to spare my cleats and socks.

The rough, rocky surface jabbed into my soft feet. It hurt but I couldn’t walk lightly because I had the bike over my shoulder. The staircase has two sets of ten steps, and by the end of the first set the jabbing had turned from pain into something else.

What it turned into was memories.

Dig deep

Do you remember running barefoot across a hot parking lot when you were a kid? Do you remember walking barefoot across rocks and gravel? Do you remember dashing across a lot or a yard and finding out that it was chock full of cockleburs?

The pressure against my feet dug deep into my memory and I thought about all those hot days in Houston and Galveston and Daingerfield when, for whatever reason, I was outdoors without any shoes on. There was a barefoot balance between the freedom of the naked foot and the punishment of the unwanted glass fragment or sharp rock.

If you took the freedom, you also took the jab, and the only reward was that those soft little feet, over the course of a few shoeless weeks, became toughened, callused, gnarly little footpads, and with the raspy skin you became unafraid one day without knowing it of the hot asphalt or sharp rocks or cockleburs or anything else. The skin turned leathery and hard and told you instinctively that it was summer.

Do kids go barefoot anymore?

The semi-annual revolution

I live in fits and starts. One day it’s a change-the-world diet, the next day it’s an assault on all human limits with a brand new power meter. Like the feet under those hard calluses, though, it’s the same old me.

One of the great things about changing myself forever until I revert to the old self in a week or two is the sensation of the new, not to mention the self-love that comes with making a virtue out of necessity. That’s what’s been so great about bicycling barefoot.

“You can’t bicycle barefoot,” you’re thinking. “Those pedals would devour your feet whole.”

That’s true, but I don’t mean bicycling without shoes. I mean it metaphorically. The shoes are the clothes and the gear. Bicycling barefoot means putting on a shoulder bag and a pair of floppy shorts and slowly pedaling in to work, then back again.

Bicycling barefoot means pushing the pedals no harder than it takes to move forward at a reasonable speed. Wind blowing hard? Don’t respond by bending down and jamming the pedals…just go slower.

Have to surmount Via Valmonte and Silver Spur? Don’t get out of the saddle and crank it, find your great-great-great granny gear and go slow.

Like walking without shoes it’s unpleasant at first, but with repetition you start to fall into the rhythm of barefoot and you start to notice all the things that you can’t normally see due to tunnel vision or the grimace of agony or being to tired to lift your head more than an inch above your stem or because you’ve got your nose shoved halfway up the butt of the rider in front of you.

Putting on my shoes again

Bicycling barefoot, more than anything else, connects you with the freedom you first felt on your first bike, that giddy, punch-drunk, stomach-full-of-butterflies feeling that told you life was never going to be the same again as you pedaled madly to keep upright and avoid the curb and go fast enough not to tump over but not so fast that you crashed.

The nicest thing about bicycling barefoot, though, is that it’s just like walking without shoes. All it takes to get back into the groove of beatdowns and baby seal clubbing is a change of clothes.

So, it’s almost summertime. Mightn’t you ought to take off those shoes and go for a walk?

§ 20 Responses to Barefoot bicycling, good for the sole

  • ladyfleur says:

    I grew up running around barefoot in Baton Rouge in the 70s. Like you said, we suffered the hot asphalt and new which yards had the stickers. And I soon learned that 10-speeds were no fun to ride barefoot. Those jagged edge pedals, designed to keep a racers foot on the pedal, were wholly unsuitable for barefoot bicycling.

    Those were the days. What has happened to bicycling since?

    • Admin says:

      It became a political statement.

      Or a fashion statement.

      Or something other than it was intended to be, which was nothing more or less than the wind in your hair and a smile on your face.

      • ladyfleur says:

        I think more than anything else, bicycling became a sport and fitness activity. Too much serious and not enough child-like fun.

      • Greg(g$)Leibert says:

        That’s funny….that’s pretty much my motivation to get on my bike everyday…I mean the wind and smile part…that silly bike does it every time.

  • Bill Pinnell says:

    You’ve inspired me once again. I’m gong to try my next ride barefoot.

  • Dandy says:

    Riding barefoot, nice. You just captured what it means if you love to ride a bike just because it makes you happy. Sometimes people say I’d race better if I rode less, and I always say I just like to ride my bike and sometimes I don’t really care if its fast or slow.

  • Unemployed Wank says:

    Sappy & Sentimental. Just what the doc prescribed for my unemployed state of mind.
    Thanks for writing Seth!

    • Admin says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. My inner sap does sometimes seep through!

  • Barbara Radnofsky says:

    This essay evokes summer barefoot memories of biking or walking to early morning swim team practice, on to playing dodgeball with neighborhood kids and dogs at the empty lot near the water where a rake and hoe always sat nearby for the older boys to kill the water moccasins who made their way too close. We spent the whole day barefoot and knew to come home when the sun started to set. The whole day, the whole week, the whole summer was barefoot. That is my dominant memory of every summer of the early 1960s. And then 1968 brought in a real world of assassinations, and political turmoil and the Tet Offensive and riots. BAR

    • Admin says:

      But the barefoot memories remained, right?

      I’m not sure my kids ever went barefoot except maybe to bed…

  • Amsterdam Hammer says:

    I just had some cleats grafted onto my feet…

  • Luke Cypert says:

    I’ve been shoeless this entire summer (except when I dress up for dinner or something) and ride my bike everyday. I only ride 2-4 miles really (commutes to work and class) and it took a little bit to get used to, but I do it all barefoot!

    It’s now only a little painful if I’m peddling really hard or landing lot’s of jumps (I’ve started jumping down sets of 3-6 steps recently). But stickers and hot asphalt hardly bother my feet anymore 🙂

  • Ivan Akirov says:

    I do ride my bike barefoot, mostly on my town streets, but sometimes I go off road, last time I went onto the mountain forest surrounding the north side of town, a bumpy rocky path, and that after almost 10 Km of uphill asphalt. Riding barefoot is not that hard, and it seems to me that it allows me a better bike control and pedaling.

    • fsethd says:

      That’s gnarly. How do you get the soles of your feet to lock into the pedals? Custom calluses, I’m guessing.

      • Ivan Akirov says:

        No way. No custom calluses. My feet don’t lock into the pedals, the ball of the foot rest on the front ridge or in between the ridge and the axle, depending on the force I need to apply according to the terrain, and one thing I’ve noticed is that this way my toes are able to kind of grab the pedal, so my feet can actually pull the pedal to certain extent.

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