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Just Like Riding a Bike

by Emily Gindle » on Feb 19, 2011 4

I ride my bike almost everywhere. I had a car when I first moved out here to Tucson, a run-down jalopy that took me across the country half a dozen times. That car was good to me. I was not so good to it. I was broke for one, and knew nothing about standard car maintenance for two, which is a combination that will find you stranded in some inconvenient places: overheating on top of a mountain, completely losing power in an empty stretch of desert. So when the car died on me for the third time I decided it was time to get it some new owners who could take better care of it. I sold it to a guy with an inventive business plan in the then bottomed-out economy; he looked for old beaters like mine, fixed what was wrong with them, and sold them for a profit. He overhauled my car on his back in my driveway while I got on my bike and rode to work.

Tucson has perfect weather all the time. I hate to rub this in the face of anyone going through a hideous winter, but it’s true, and after a while I realized it was kind of a waste of money to buy a car and pay for gas and insurance when I had a great bike and a wonderful time commuting everywhere. So for now, it’s just me and my pedals.

When I first started wearing Fivefingers, I would wear regular shoes to ride and take my VFFs in a backpack to put on when I got wherever I was going. That didn’t last long; I found myself hopping on the bike for quick trips and not bothering to change my shoes, and it certainly felt different but it wasn’t really that hard. Now I even ride in my Performa Janes, which are only a thin layer away from being barefoot.

I get questions all the time: Don’t your feet hurt? Don’t the pedals hurt? Don’t you worry about crashing and breaking a foot? The answer to all of these is no. I’ve been in Fivefingers so long now that nothing hurts. I’m used to feeling so many different textures in a day that the pedals are just one more surface. And I don’t go around regularly crashing my bike, but my experience is that he knees and palms of the hands tend to go down first. I’m not worried.

There are some distinct differences, though, between riding in VFFs and riding in normal shoes.

You might want to lower your seat. This is kind of weird, but Fivefingers are significantly thinner than other shoe soles, and you’ll find yourself extending your leg a lot more at the bottom of each pedal stroke. Lowering your seat just a little will make it feel a bit more normal and give you a bit better push on the bottom of the turn.

Keep the cages. Your VFF-clad foot won’t fill up the pedal cage, so you won’t be able to pull up on each pedal stroke; your efficiency will definitely be less than in normal shoes and there’s really no way around that. But I find the pedal cages are still a little helpful in keeping my feet in line and keeping them from sliding off the sides of the pedals. The soles feel really slippery on the pedals, especially at first. It takes a little while to get proficient in flipping your foot into the cages while you’re riding.

Sprint from time to time. It’s important to keep your feet active on the pedals. Even in regular shoes a lot of people just let the front of their foot hang on the pedal and the back of their heel sag behind it. I’m going to take a guess that this is really unhealthy for the foot and it certainly makes it feel awful. Without the platform of a regular shoe sole, your feet will tend to collapse even more if you’re not paying attention. Sprinting on the bike gets you on your toes and will activate your arches, so when I’m feeling lazy I like to stand up and pedal to get my feet working again.

Don’t be afraid. You’re no more likely to injure your feet riding a bike than you are doing all the other activities you do in Fivefingers. I’ve stubbed toes trail running but I’ve never had an issue on my bike. Someone asked me what happens when I have to put my foot down quickly, like when I’m avoiding a car or something, and I was kind of confused by his question. I just put my foot down. Wearing a shoe with toes doesn’t scramble my balance or my awareness of a situation. If anything, it’s improved.


  1. L.J. McLean

    February 19th, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    I have thought about bike riding in VFFs. Just that I don’t own a bike since grade school. These are good pointers when I get into bike riding again.


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  3. rustypants

    February 19th, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Nice article, Emily!

    I wear my VFF’s while riding everywhere, too, and have gotten some of the same strange questions from folks. :-)


  4. Chris West

    February 20th, 2011 at 5:50 am

    Cool, I’ve been thinking about riding in my VFFs for ages but not given it a go. It would be great if someone invented some kind of cage/toe clip for them as well.


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