IceBike Shoes

I used to bicycle a lot; hence my web handle "SchreiberBike". Riding year-round in Illinois means learning how to ride in cold weather. I put this information up in a web site back in 2001. It was hosted on Tripod.com and they took it down without notice because of an error I made. Although I had some good feedback, I didn't put it back up.

Here's the information from 2001, with a few edits, pulled from the Internet Archive's WaybackMachine. I recovered most of the pictures from my PC.

Shoes for Cold Weather Cycling

How I Keep my Big Feet Warm

For me, keeping my feet warm has always been the hardest part of winter cycling. I've just made up a pair of shoes that have finally solved the problem for me. I've tried many suggestions from other ice bikers, but I haven't been able to do the most effective one: wearing extra layers of socks inside extra large loose fitting shoes.

When you normally wear size 13 shoes (48 Euro) it's hard to find cycling shoes that are large enough to allow for wearing extra layers of socks without constricting your feet. There are a couple brands available in up to size 50, but at prices over $150.00 US I couldn't justify them. (Doing things inexpensively is critical.) I settled on finding shoes and modifying them to use SPD cleats.

A logical spot for big shoes is the nearby University of Illinois football program. Almost all of the football players are big guys so I thought they might have some old shoes they could spare. I found that they were going to donate last year's shoes to Goodwill soon. I haunted Goodwill and was rewarded with a pair of size-15 high-top turf shoes for $8.00. The turf shoes have a rubber sole with dozens of quarter-inch nubs rather than metal cleats.

At this point I had two options for the shoes: clipless pedals or PowerGrips. I had done my winter riding with PowerGrips for years, but my rat trap pedals were shot and I'd have to get the extra-large size which were about $30.00 US; so I decided to go with off-brand SPD compatible pedals from Nashbar. The good news was that they were on sale for about $20.00. If price was no object I would have liked the SpeedPlay Frogs, but the cost was too high.

Cleat location
I eyeballed the shoes next to my present shoes and used a marker to show where I thought the cleat should go on the new shoes. The standard mounting for SPDs have about 3/4 inch of front to back adjustment and 1/4 inch of side to side. I was glad I had that much adjustment available, because I found it difficult to estimate where the ball of my foot would fall in the over-size shoe and how much clearance I would need for the crank arm.

I didn't want to attach the SPD cleat directly to the shoe because the localized stress would likely destroy the sole of the shoe, and because I wanted to distribute the pressure of the cleat over more of my foot (diagram below). I visualized a metal plate that would be as large as possible, but no heavier than necessary, and not so large as to disturb the natural shape of the sole. The bottom of the shoe is not flat. I drew a shape on the sole of the shoe about three and three quarter inches by two inches and cut the nubs off of that area with a utility knife.

The next step was to make up a metal plate. An engineer could tell me more about the appropriate material to transfer the forces, but what I did was go to the hardware store and hold samples of metal in my hand until I found one that felt right. It was also terribly cheap. I used a steel cover plate for an electrical box. I bought two, but was able to make do with one. Cost 44 cents. Tracing the space on the shoe onto cardboard, I copied the shape onto the metal, cut it with a jigsaw, and shaped it with a file. The fore and aft position of the cleat is adjustable along 1/4 by 3/4-inch slots. I cut the slots in the metal by drilling holes then filing along the lines where the cleat would go.

To attach the metal plate to the shoes I drilled holes in the shoes that matched the holes on the mounting plates. I then used 1/4-inch machine screws screwed into "T" nuts, which are inside the shoe beneath the insole. "T" nuts come with a variety of shank lengths. So long as the length of the shank is less than the thickness of sole of the shoe when the screw compresses it, the shank should be as long as possible. This gives more flexibility in the length of the screws. The 1/4 inch size I used is probably overkill. If I did it again I'd use the next size down and I'd also use a screw with a less prominent head.

The length of the screws is difficult to estimate. I bought mine longer than necessary then ground them down to the correct length. To find the correct length I attached the plate to the shoe with the over long screws then measured the excess by placing Allen wrenches of various sizes next to the portion of the screw sticking out inside the shoe. This told me how many mm needed to be ground off.

The metal plate is flat and the sole of the shoe is slightly curved. Something is needed to compensate for the difference in their shapes. First I tried using household caulk, but that broke down almost immediately. I was ultimately successful with double stick foam tape. The tape compensated for the slight rocker in the sole of the shoe and after some riding, I used some more tape on the outboard side of the plate to level the shoe on the pedal.

The bottom of the inside of the shoe is not too smoothly shaped after all this. I upgraded the insole by adding two layers of polypro and some reflective Mylar. This is less than perfect, but it has been adequate for rides up to four hours. I'm still trying to come up with an improvement for this. I've also been putting a small scrap of wadded up nylon sock in the toe of the shoe to fill in the extra space there.

Finishing touches
After riding a bit with an Allen wrench and a screwdriver, I was able to get the cleats adjusted just right. I applied copious amounts of reflective tape. The tape I used is DOT C2, the kind used on tractor-trailer bodies in the US. I followed the pattern of the leather on the shoe and it has been quite durable. Almost as important it covers some of the corporate logos.

The shoes are very comfortable with two pairs of thick wool socks. There is room for chemical toe warmers, but I haven't had the need as we've hardly gotten below zero F here this year.

We haven't had much extreme cold here this winter, so I haven't put them to a real test, but they are a great improvement. Rides over a couple hours at 40 F used to leave me with numb toes. With these shoes I've had a couple of rides longer than that in the single digits Fahrenheit without any problem.

I ride primarily on road, but have also done some riding in the woods with these shoes. The shoes have had good traction in the snow. Despite the experience of many IceBikers, I haven't had any trouble with the SPD pedals icing up. In the worst conditions off-road a spinning kick to the pedal cleared up any clogging.

Amazingly, despite much riding on salted roads, the plate and the screw have shown no corrosion. I think the electrical cover plate that I used may be galvanized, but the edges aren't showing any corrosion either. There has been a bit of rust on the SPD cleat, but nothing serious.

The cleat does stick out on the bottom of the shoe, but the shoe is very walkable. It would only be a problem if I were somewhere where I was concerned about scratching the floor.