Thursday, December 17, 2015

Handmade Leather Cycling Shoes

Well, it happened. My favorite pair of riding shoes, vintage Carnac touring shoes, have given it up.

Rest in peace, friends.
The old Carnacs had been my go-to shoes for much of my riding, and all my commuting. And even though the uppers still looked great after about 3 years and thousands of miles, it was the plastic sole that gave out -- cracked all the way through, right where the edge of the pedal cage made contact. It happened to both shoes, and it was almost like the pedal cage acted like a little cleaver, splitting the sole in two. Interestingly, I've had other previously loved pairs of plastic-soled touring shoes suffer the same fate. And like most plastic-soled shoes, they aren't really resole-able -- or at least no shoe repairmen that I know will try it.

So it was time to find some replacements - quickly - and as anybody who has looked for classic-styled riding shoes knows, there isn't a lot to choose from. I wrote about some of the options more than a year ago (Classic Cycling Shoes). SPD-type touring shoes are plentiful, but for people like me, who prefer traditional toe-clip and strap pedals, there are fewer choices. There are some models available from Vittoria, Quoc Pham, and Dromarti priced between about $170 - $250. The Vittoria 1976 models are designed for SPD-type pedals, but if one left the cleats off, they might work OK with traditional pedals.

While traditional-looking shoes similar to my old Carnacs are pretty hard to find here in the U.S. (apart from the vintage market), it turns out that our friends in the U.K. still have some nice touring shoe choices.

I recently discovered the Arturo cycling shoes, handmade in England by William Lennon & Co. The Arturos have been made for over 30 years by this 4th generation family business. The shoes are designed for wider feet, which could be very welcome to many of us who find a lot of cycling shoes to be too narrow.

This flier from William Lennon shows some of the options - like brown, 
tan, or other colors of leather, and choice of plastic or leather soles.
The Arturos are made with leather uppers, and a choice between a thermoplastic rubber sole, or an all-leather sole. All the shoes have a wood shank reinforcement to give some extra pedal support under the sole. They do not seem to have any retailers here in the U.S., but they can be purchased direct from William Lennon. The company's website/webstore only lists the plastic-soled version of the Arturo shoes for £74.95 (about $112 at current exchange rates), but I am assured that if someone wants to order the shoes with leather soles, or any other customization (such as color), they can email the company directly. The all-leather version starts at £84.95 ($127), and one can add other options, such as a rubber no-slip grip on the sole for an extra fee. The shoes can be made to order in 4 to 6 weeks.

I managed to find a U.K.-based retailer who could sell me a pair of the Arturo shoes with leather soles - ready to ship, no waiting. If I weren't feeling pressured because I needed to replace my old shoes right away, I wouldn't have worried much about ordering direct from the company (it might have saved me a few bucks, too). Considering that I was buying new shoes precisely because my old plastic-soled shoes had failed, I felt pretty certain that I wanted an all-leather shoe. My experience is that traditionally made leather-soled shoes tend to be more repairable should something go wrong over time. I get all-leather dress shoes re-soled and re-heeled all the time with no trouble, and not much expense. I don't know for certain if the Arturo shoes could be re-soled someday, but I figure the odds are better.


The Arturo shoes are sharp-looking and appear nicely made, with thick full-grain leather. The soles feel adequately stiff on the pedal cages, though my rides in them have not been for much longer than an hour at a time -- I don't know how they'd feel after several hours in the saddle. The best thing, especially for those with wider feet, is that compared to most traditional European cycling shoes, the Arturos feel downright roomy. If you order a pair, do not get to thinking you should go up a size -- in my case, I could probably have even gone about a half-size smaller. If I ordered the shoes again, one thing I would recommend is getting the optional no-slip rubber grip, as the soles feel pretty slippy on smooth floors. For a traditional hand-made, all-leather touring shoe, the price for these is pretty surprising. They are no-frills, but seem like a good pair of shoes.

And Another Option -- Revived:

Right after I purchased the Arturo shoes above, I was made aware of another option - newly revived - from the venerable R.E.W. Reynolds company. I had looked into the Reynolds shoes sometime last year, but got the impression they might have gone out of business. As it turned out, that wasn't quite the case, but it was apparently close. Reynolds had been in the business of making traditional hand-made leather touring shoes since 1921, but was on the verge of shutting down for good. Earlier this year, a new owner, David Smith, stepped in to save the company. Smith has brought a new energy to Reynolds, introducing some new styles and colors to the traditional offerings.

The original "Classic Touring" model.
Prior to Smith's purchase of the company, the only shoe was the "Classic Touring" which came only in black leather with leather soles. Recently they have launched what they call the "Classic Road" shoe which is a little sportier, built on a sleeker last, and comes in a couple of choices of colored leathers and stitching combinations.
The new Classic Road shoe comes in some very cool-looking combinations.
The Black/Orange and the Black/Red are particularly sharp, if you ask me.
Or this dark brown with orange stitching looks pretty awesome, too.
The new Reynolds has also just created a leather SPD-compatible shoe which they plan to release in early 2016. According to Smith, the company would like to release a cleated road shoe sometime next year.

Here in the U.S., Reynolds shoes can be hard to find as they don't seem to have any U.S. distributors at this time. However, their shoes can be purchased directly from the company through their website (reynolds-england.com), and they will ship worldwide. One can email the company to see if the style and size are in stock, but the website says shoes can be made to order in as little as 3 weeks.

The price puts them in the same league as the very nice Dromarti shoes that I've drooled over but can't afford. With prices ranging from £149 - £195 ($225 - $295 at current exchange rates) depending on styles, the Reynolds shoes do cost quite a bit more than the Arturo shoes shown above, but the shoes do appear to have some extra features and details in the construction that may justify the higher price. I can't get a pair of the Reynolds shoes at this time, so I can't speak from personal experience, but I think one might find these to be a more deluxe option if they have the budget for them.

14 comments:

  1. These look wonderful. Really classic and sharp. Thanks for posting this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My Bontrager Streets are almost done in. They were Ok for a $100 dollar pair of shoes but they were never really what I wanted. It's hard to find a true flat bottom pair of bike shoes unless you're willing to endure the skatr boi look. Personally I'd rather be skinned alive and rolled in salt. I was all settled on Dromarti but their website only lists cleat ready models now. Their shoes were being made for them by Marresi in Italy and were so marked. I suspect Dromarti may have dropped Marresi in favor of some third world supplier. Getting rid of the flatbottom model was probably to streamline production. I was not previously aware of the Arturos. They look quite nice and the price is certainly right. They look to be a cut above the Quoc Phams. It's the new Reynolds that catch my eye. I was aware of Reynolds and their reputation is good but the old model was stodgy even by english standards. However the New Classic model in black with red stitching is down right sexy. Thank goodness the brits tend to be hidebound traditionalists (pun not intended) or there might not be anything worth a damn left in cycling. Hmmm,I wonder if Eddy Merckx would sell me his old three line Adidas from the 70's. Please let us know how the Arturos work out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After seeing your comment about the Dromarti shoes, I went back and looked -- and you're right, they only list the cleated-type shoes now. What a shame. It is possible if one does some searching to find a slotted-type cleat that is compatible with the modern cleat drillings, so they could be used with traditional pedals. But if you want a smooth-bottom shoe that works for both riding and walking, you're left out to dry. Yes, walking and riding is supposedly one of the benefits of SPD, but I've never been sold on the system.

      Delete
  3. giro makes a synthetic laced shoe called the republic. one can remove the rubber cleat protectors on the bottom and ride in toeclips very well, and the stiff sole makes it easy to apply power. I purchased three pair, cuz you know anything useful will soon be discontinued. they are available from lots of places for under $90. i paid $56 for mine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've seen these. They look pretty good. A clean simple design that doesn't look like clown shoes. I would definitely consider them. I saw a photo of Dave Moulton wearing a pair of these on his website a while back. He's probably forgotten more about bike stuff than I'll ever know. Would love to know his opinion. About the cleat protectors on the Giros, you said they could be removed. Is this something easily done or are there power tools involved? Lol

      Delete
    2. These Dromarti Storika are on Ebay. Brilliant cycling shoes. No longer made.
      http://www.ebay.com/itm/231042587734?_trksid=p2055119.m1438.l2649&ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT

      Delete
  4. Just curious; if you use clips and straps, why do you need special shoes for commuting?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My commute is long enough that I like to use cycle-specific shoes for the added stiffness in the sole. If my commute were only a couple of miles, I might ride in regular clothes and shoes - but (1) I dress professionally for work - suit and tie, etc., which I don't think works well on a bike, and (2) cycling-specific clothing just feels better on a commute that takes about an hour each way, and that includes shoes.

      Delete
    2. What he said. I often ride in converse sneakers with the wife, but stiff soles make a longer or more spirited ride better. And you can walk around like a nearly normal person when you get someplace in the Republics. The rubber cleat protectors are easily removed with a 4 mm allen wrench and finger pressure. the soles are hard plastic and may be a bit slippery on wet surfaces; I wouldn't know. I'm a fair weather biker.

      Delete
  5. Drool.
    I so want some of these shoes.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have never purchased bike-specific shoes, so I guess I don't know any better, but I've found that indoor soccer shoes work pretty well for me w/ clips and straps. They tend to have a very slim shape that doesn't hang up on anything when entering/exiting the pedals. They are also entirely suitable for off-bike walking and so forth.

    If you buy certain styles, they are "retro" looking enough that they could almost be considered retro-grouchy.


    Coincidentally, my wife was just recently sorting through some off-season clothing we had stored away and found a pair of Puma driving shoes that she had gotten for me. (not for any auto pursuits, she liked the style of them for me...) I had not really taken to them at the time, as the soles were pretty stiff, and they were quite tight with my regular socks. Upon re-examining them, I think I am going to give them a try as cycling shoes. They fit OK w/ thin socks and have a very form-fitting style. Also, that stiff sole.


    Wolf.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Mr. Reynolds made my shoes 40 years ago. Took a while to get them, not like today.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've an extra pair of NIB Carnacs like your old ones. Let me know if you're interested. Size 45-ish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you - a nice offer. Just a bit too big, though.

      Delete