as of today, there are only a couple of open days left in this year's islay festival of malt and music, otherwise known as the islay whisky festival, and for reasons of freelance work, it is part of my remit to visit each of the distilleries on a daily basis to take photos and some flip video. the festival in its current format has been running since the millennium, so i've been doing this for a few years now. those interested or eagle-eyed enough may have noticed that, on occasion, i have had the use of something nice and shiny from colnago on which to pedal my cheery way around this island or, as in today, across the water to the distillery on the neighbouring isle of jura.
anyone who has ever visited a distillery, whether on islay or not, will be well aware that these are more often than not, industrial units (to put it bluntly) with a series of differing levels accessed by stairs of a concrete or open steel mesh: not features that lend themselves to getting about in cleated cycling shoes. therefore, it has been necessary to don backpack or substantial musette to allow carrying of not only stills and video cameras, but generally a replacement pair of shoes. in my case, a rather tatty pair of converse all stars. sartorial elegeance is not my strong point, but i do try to dress in shorts and jersey that would not place me in the giro d'italia peloton.
this year, however, things have changed: while i was living it up in portland, a pair of quoc pham leather fixed shoes arrived through the post. these shoes are plied from beautifully soft black leather, fastened with what would now be regarded as old-fashioned laces. shunning cleats of any description, the idea is (and indeed, put into practice by yours truly) that whichever bicycle you choose to use, can be shod with the age-old pedals we all used before look invented clipless. thus equipped, travelling to and from, and walking upon arrival would be seemless and fashionably acceptable in all walks of life (pun intended).
of course, the trick here is to make the sole stiff and grippy enough to allow for efficient pedalling without feet slipping in wet weather, while still maintaining foot comfort, spending several hours walking about - in this case, a seemingly endless series of malt whisky distilleries.
being too much of a wannabee racer, i found myself bereft of any normal pedals, necessitating purchase of a pair of mks sylvan pedals to make for appropriate test conditions as well as smoothly fitting to a colnago c40, a focus izalco extreme, and a colnago clx (yes, who's a lucky boy this week?) without anybody laughing. it is pure coincidence that these quoc pham shoes arrived in such timeous fashion. quoc describes himself as a novice cyclist and shoe designer who decided to make his own shoes because he lives in a city and tends to walk around in between riding.
i spent a lot of time developing and testing, getting the right hardness of the rubber of the sole so it doesnŐt collapse, but soft and comfortable enough to walk in. the thickness of the leather, the way it looks, the fit and most important how it feels while riding. finally i think i've got something which is good enough.
happily for him and even more for me, quoc has indeed got the formula just right - and then some. styled similarly to the cycle shoes of yore, the leather is the softest i have ever had encasing my feet. i have suggested that adding a tab to the heel might assist with putting the shoes on, if only because the leather is so soft that it deforms as the foot eases into place. once on and laced up, it's like walking on foam. i'm not sure what quoc has done to the insoles, but the comfort factor was incredible as i walked from kiln to mash room to still room in a variety of distilleries. negotiating mesh stairs of considerable gradient both upwards and down, was a piece of peat.
but this is ostensibly a cycling site, and not singlemalt.tv, so what we're really interested in is how well can you pedal in them? as i've already pointed out, non-cleated pedals are an animal i have had very little experience of over the past eight or nine years, so riding the sylvans was a new experience for rider and shoes. however, the ribbing on the soles and their incredible stiffness (bearing in mind how well they walk) kept the shoes in place without so much as a slip to or from lagavulin, bruichladdich, caol ila or laphroaig. the bit that had concerned me most - climbing - turned out to be worry free, including the 14 percent gradient at port askaig. and on both saturday and monday, it rained both ways and gave the fixed shoes very little trouble and surprisingly little water ingress.
as has been the case with dromarti's marresi leather shoes, and a brooks swift saddle, the leather improves with wear, something noticeable in these after only 230km. and a really nifty touch is a reflective strip down the heel, though since this is may and mrs washingmachinepost doesn't let me stay out late, i have been unable to test the efficacy of this.
quoc pham has one of the smartest logos i have ever seen emblazoned on the tongue, while the shoes arrive in their very own cloth bag, helping keep my peanut butter sandwich clean when it has been necessary to place them in the aforementioned musette. if your cycling involves a lot of stopping and starting as well as walkabout in between, i really cannot see why you don't already own a pair of these.
for those interested in more about the islay festival of malt and music, there are a few short videos here
posted on thursday 28 may 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................