BSNYC Product Review: Vittoria 1976 Cycling Shoe

There's a lot of bike stuff out there. Some of it's great, and some of it's crappy. Some of it is practical, and some of it is useless. Some of it is cheap, and some of it is expensive. Still, people continue to manufacture and market new cycling products, which they then try to get you to notice, and, ideally, buy.

As a cyclist, pretty much all of my needs in terms of bike stuff were met a long time ago. Whether I'm racing, or commuting, or just riding for pleasure, there's really no component or article of clothing I wish existed but doesn't--except for one. And that product is a clipless-compatible shoe that I can wear all the time.

I happen to be one of those people who really, really likes clipless pedals. I find platform pedals disconcerting, and I find toe clips and straps irritating. When it comes to racing, or road rides, or offroad rides, my attachment (literally and figuratively) to clipless isn't a problem. However, when it comes to getting around the city things get a little complicated. Obviously, you need to be able to walk easily, so naturally you use mountain bike pedals and shoes. But while you can walk in mountain bike shoes, they're not especially comfortable or presentable off the bike. Basically, you look and feel like you're wearing soccer cleats. Of course, you can always skip the cross-country racing shoe and go for the more walking-friendly touring shoe, but depending on how you feel about things like pleated khaki shorts and tall wool socks these may or may not be attractive to you. There are also SPD sneakers, though if you wear these you've also got to wear a flat-brim fitted cap. And of course, there's always the SPD sandal. The great Sheldon Brown famously praised SPD sandals, calling them "the most comfortable cycling footwear ever." However, to be comfortable in a sandal like that you also have to be comfortable with yourself like Sheldon Brown was. I, however, am extremely uncomfortable with myself, and being seen in SPD sandals is a fear that runs as deep in me as my fear of revolving doors, groin injury, and the music of Billy Joel.

So pending some great new leap in footwear, I continue to compromise. If I know I'll be on the bike more than I'll be on my feet, I'll palp the mountain bike shoes. If I think I'll be on my feet a lot more than I'll be on the bike, I'll deal with the toe clips. And if I'm riding my Dutch city bike, I'll of course use Speedplay Zeros with a crabon-soled road shoe. In the meantime, though, I dream of a shoe that works with mountain bike pedals, but which I won't feel compelled to take off when I get to where I'm going.

Naturally, then, when I received an email from the Vittoria cycling shoe company informing me that they have "developed a new type of shoes especially made for the fixed gear bike" that is made "for riding, and in the same time, for walk" I was both excited that perhaps I'd finally found my ideal city shoe, and curious because I couldn't figure out how a shoe could possibly be "especially made for the fixed gear bike." Here's the press release they attached to the email:

Vittoria always pays attention to the tendencies of the moment and this year has created a repetition of the first models produced few years ago with an interpretation in modern terms by melting together advanced materials as Lorica, Micro Fiber and valuable skins and past times design making Vittoria history.

Model 1976 is available in a wide range of color, like White, Black, Red, Yellow, Blu and many others.

Sole is made especially for this new way of ride bike, in rubber, for a easy walk and with an internal Nylon insole with the possibility to fix SPD cleats.

Like all the Vittoria Cycling Shoes, also 1976 is 100% made in Biella, Italy.

Not only did Vittoria send me this press release, but they also offered to send me "samples" for my own "test and use." Now, even though I just reviewed a crabon road bike, I felt conflicted because I feel strongly that there are enough people out there testing bike crap already. However, as I mentioned, a walkable cycling shoe is something I've been wanting badly for a long time, so I was extremely curious--even though they look like something the Griswolds would have bought during their Italian shopping spree:

So I figured "screw it" and accepted their offer like the shark-jumping product whore that I am, specifying my size and choosing the least offensive "colorway" possible. Eventually, they arrived, just in time for spring:

As I mentioned, the 1976 is supposedly designed specifically for fixed-gear riders, and the first thing I noticed was that there was actually a warning against multi-geared use right there on the box:

Frightened, I removed all my geared bikes from the room and opened it:

Obviously, the 1976 is modeled aesthetically after a classic cycling shoe, though it has a rubber sole for walkability:

Here's a shot of the sole with the little cleat mount covers installed. (They come with these should you want to rub them with clips and straps for some reason.) If you're palping clipless pedals (which is the only reason you'd choose these over sneakers), you just remove the inserts and mount your cleat like you would with any mountain bike shoe:

Obviously, if you're looking for a pair of on-bike/off-bike SPD cycling shoes, you want them to kind of look like normal shoes. These clearly look more like cycling shoes than street shoes, though if you look at them through the ignorant eyes of the non-cyclist they look like the offspring of some kind of sordid Puma/Camper/Capezio three-way:

While this may or may not appeal to you, it is at least an alternative to the hikey shoes, the sneakers, and the SPD sandals I mentioned earlier. And on the bike, they just look like cycling shoes--no justification necessary. But the big question when it comes to an on-bike/off-bike cycling shoe is, "How to these look in a non-cycling context? What would happen if I showed up to work with only these? Could I pull it off?" To find out, I tested them with a variety of non-cycling garments on the BSNYC/RTMS Sisal Test Pad:

Here's what they look like with the kind of pants you might be required to wear in a "business casual" setting. If this photo were "scratch-and-sniff" it would smell like cologne. For best results in this environment, the 1976 shoes should be paired with an unbuttoned shirt, a D&G belt, a few gold rings, and a coif that requires hair gel. If you're a lawyer, real estate agent, advertising executive, or some other type of smarm-monger, you should have no trouble making these work with your outfit.

Here's what the 1976 shoes look like with freaky baggy hippie Mayan pants. If your profession requires you to be either a hippie or a Maya, you should probably just wait until somebody comes out with an SPD-compatible flip-flop. However, they still work OK here, mostly because they're virtually engulfed by the flared embroidered cuffs.

Here's what the 1976 shoes look like with a skirt. As you can see, the 1976 is probably not the best choice for women who wear skirts or men who dress like women. Really, the only place this outfit would be acceptable would be the SSWC. Then again, maybe the yellow "colorway" with some pom-pom socks would work better. I may have to try that out.

Clearly though, the best context for these shoes visually speaking is on the bike:

Incidentally, the shoes happened to fit me really well, and were immediately comfortable. But how did they perform? Can you ride in them? Can you walk in them? Are they better than mountain bike shoes? Well, when it comes to testing equipment, the big problem is that you can't use two things at the same time. Instead, you have to use one, then use the other, then try to figure out if it was actually better than the first. But with shoes, you can do a true side-by-side comparison. I think you know where this is going by now. That's right: a BSNYC/RTMS Cycling Shoet-Out!

I performed this test under cover of darkness, since the same insecurity that won't allow me to wear SPD sandals also won't allow me to ride around in plain sight while wearing two different shoes. (Though strangely I have no trouble donning either baggy hippie Mayan pants or skirts.) Surprisingly, as soon as I started riding I completely forgot I was wearing mix-matched footwear. Entry and exit was pretty much the same with either shoe, and I was only reminded that they didn't match when I looked down:

(KOPS: Knee Over Perforated Shoe)

But off the bike was a different story. I don't really mind walking a block or two in mountain bike shoes, but walking in both at the same time made my left shoe feel clunkier than a Dutch city bike. You can still hear your cleat grind on the sidewalk occasionally with the 1976, but between the flexibility and the rubber sole they're much better for walking than a pure cycling shoe.

So my BSNYC/RTMS Sisal Test Pad runway show proved that you can indeed (barely) pull off the 1976 as a non-cycling shoe, and my BSNYC/RTMS Shoet-Out proved that they work as well as mountain bike shoes on the bike but are much more comfortable off the bike. But the most important test, of course, is how they work when you wear both of them at once.

Well, as I said, these happened to fit me perfectly, and as such were very comfortable. They work very well on the bike, though you do notice the flexibility of the sole and the upper. While this is in no way limiting, you certainly wouldn't want to race in these. Also, despite the manufacturer's warnings, I did try these with a "geared" bike. (And I giggled to myself maniacally while I did so in the same way that I do when I grind off my "lawyer lips.") Amazingly, I was not mangled or killed. In fact, I personally think the 1976 shoes are actually better for geared bikes than they are for fixed-gears, since when you're modulating your speed with your feet a little extra stiffness in your shoes is a good thing. Then again, everyone seems to be riding fixed-gears in their sneakers anyway, and these are certainly stiffer than a pair of canvas Vans.

The other thing about the 1976 is that they're perforated. This means that not only should you avoid white socks:

But it also means they're pretty much useless for nasty or cold weather. The same is certainly true of a sneaker (and a sandal, though wool sock enthusiasts claim otherwise), but it's not true of a cross-country racing shoe or a touring shoe. Also, while you can ride mountain bike shoes in the city and on the trails, the 1976 is pretty much like riding in a clipless moccasin and would be pretty irritating on any terrain that's remotely muddy or technical. Now, I have no idea how much this shoe costs, but I'm guessing it's not cheap. They have a name for things like this which are really nice but expensive and limited in their use, and that name is "luxury item." They also have a name for people who use items like this, and they're called "dandies." Actually, a good slogan for these would be: "Vittoria 1976: Soft Shoes for Soft People."

Still, I was enjoying them, so I figured I'd surrender to both "dandiness" and the "luxury item"-friendly weather and head out onto the Great Hipster Silk Route to let these shoes do what they do best. There were bikes everywhere:

There were also lots of shirtless hipsters:

If I hadn't found total on-bike/off-bike seamlessness, the 1976 shoes did at least bring me closer than sneakers or mountain bike shoes. And while they would have sucked in cold or rain, the rubber soles at least kept me on my feet on the slippery, wet tiles of the Great Hipster Silk Route's bathrooms:

Something tells me Vittoria won't be asking for their shoes back.