One of my semi-regular features here is "Stuff That Works". In the articles posted under that heading, I review or simply brag on some piece of gear the serves me particularly well. I've written on topics ranging from electrical tape (to close vent holes on the soles of road shoes for winter riding) to bib shorts, winter gloves, and my favored Specialized shoes. Bike gear is expensive, so I like to share when I come upon something that offers real value.
Beyond function and style, it often becomes a matter of suitable fit for me. I envy the rider who can jump on virtually any bike in their size and ride in relative comfort. The same feeling goes for the folks who can pick up a pair of medium bibs, size 43 shoes, and large gloves, put them on and they seem to fit and suit them just fine. I, on the other hand, have a hell of a time finding suitable fits on all of the above, excluding the electrical tape. My sit-bones are a little wide for many popular bib makes, my hands are wide and thick, and I have a high instep that makes any shoe built on a European-style last (read: most cycling shoes)impossible to close if I can get my feet into them at all. When I find gear that fits, I tend to stick with it. That's why I own half-a-dozen pair of Giordana bibs, four pair of Specialized gloves, Specialized road and mountain shoes, and every available color of DeFeets Blaze winter socks. I'm what those companies might call a loyal customer. The kind of customer that they seek out through advertising and constant schmoozing of tech writers at VeloNews and Bicycling. The kind of customer they value. The kind of customers that are worth the dollars that they cost to attract because customers like me don't mind supporting high margins in order to get the stuff that works. So, why the hell do these same companies keep changing stuff? When I bought my first modern road bike, I picked up a pair of size large Assos gloves. No big deal until I needed to replace them and could not get my hands into the current XXL Assos gloves. After buying several other brands, I found some Specialized gloves that, well, fit like a glove, so I bought two pair. One pair was destroyed by some unfortunate harsh contact with asphalt, so I bought a couple of more pair. They had changed the cut and made the body longer, putting the edge of the palm pad exactly where my hands usually rest on the hoods. They're OK, but I always reach for the old pair when riding long. The same goes for Giordana bibs. The fit within the brand changes from year-to-year even within the same model, so I was sent shopping again. I know this is not unique to cycling. Ask any runner and they'll tell you that if you like a pair of shoes, you'd better buy a few pair because the same model will be different next year.
My current dilemma...
I don't often suffer from bike lust, being very satisfied with my DuraAce equipped Litespeed Ghisallo, but recently I spotted Specialized's new top-end road shoe, the 74. They were beautiful in a classic understated style and, of course, expensive, so I started rationalizing that I would pick up a pair sometime in the future as my old shoes wore out. Imagine my alarm when I read this:
Specialized revamp S-Works road shoes
".....Up front the toe-box has been reduced in volume for a closer fit."
Specialized has advertised for years that more Pro riders wear their shoes than any other brand, so why the hell would they change the fit? I can understand changes in materials, color, closures, etc., but the very reason that their shoes work for me in the roomy toe-box. For me, it provides room for my high instep; something that is unmatched by Sidi, Mavic, Shimano or any of the many other brands I've tried.For riders with different needs, Specialized offers dealers a fit kit, wide and narrow sizes, and a range of insoles for a near custom fit. They've had a good thing going as far as I am concerned, so I hope they don't ruin it for me. On the other hand, I may need to get ahead of the 2013 model year and throw down the $$$$ for a pair of those sweet 74's; that is, if they fit.