Shoes: not just for hobo soups! Some of us have been known to adorn our feet with them. But what about those of us who have claustrophobic feet, feet, like both the the English peasantry and trigger-happy restaurateur Roy Rogers, that wish not to be enclosed? Are we to suffer the indignity of encapsulation? What if this little piggy is achluophobic? Must our decision to ride a bicycle mean we must also wear full and proper shoes? I say no.
The answer my friends is the humble flip flop, a shoe invented, I believe, some time in late 2004 by Ken Mehlman. Also known as a thong sandal (a name ignominiously disavowed circa late 1999), the flip flop may be identified by its sparse, thin flat bottom (insert joke) and the narrow bands of material which marry somewhere towards the point between big toe and pointer toe (Create. Inform. Engage. Toes.) before diving downward to attach once more to platform upon which the foot rests. That which makes the flip flop functional is its minimalism. That which makes it beautiful is its use of negative space. Unlike a "shoe," which treats your foot like a cloistered nun, the flip flop is of the footwear of liberation and libertines. It's also the footwear of Arlington, which is neither here nor there, though mostly it's just on the other side of the Potomac.
Your feet remain cool in the heat. If you ride in the rain, you don't have to worry about stuffing a flip flop with newspapers. When it's perfectly temperate, your feet experience, without intermediation, perfect temperateness. Do flip flops negatively affect your max power on your upstroke? Yeah. But there's more to life than that, isn't there? Shouldn't there be?
Perhaps the flip flop isn't for you. Perhaps you're worried about amorphous things like "street grime" and "needing a tetanus shot." Perhaps you just can't let go. Perhaps you need to think about each ride as some sort of crazy competition in which your feet need to be maximally engaged, cooped up like foot-shaped hens in the industrial egg farm that is your bicycle-based pursuit. Maybe the flip flop is inappropriate for your destination, such as a court appearance or non-beach wedding. You can always bring shoes into which to change. Or scatter shoes about the city (I have shoes strategically taped to the undersides of USPS mailboxes throughout much of the Northwest. My loafer budget is off the chain.) that you may change when you arrive at your destination. I mean, if you were riding in bike-specific clippy shoes, you'd have to change those anyway, so why not ride in relative comfort?
I started riding in flip flops (note: not bike sandals) about a month ago and my bike commuting life has vastly improved. For example, the amount of sock laundry I have is considerably less. My feet are happier. Bike shoes, while practical for longer rides, always feel like such a "thing," and by "thing" I mean a thing that makes me seem like I'm not just a normal person who happens to be on a bike. Flip flops have a magical power of deflecting wannabe Cat 6 racers. They also have a way of reminding me to have fun and to be relaxed. That turns 90 minutes of daily commuting from an errand into a vacation. And who doesn't want more vacation? Aside from those people in horror movies who are just so happy to get away from civilization for some resting and relaxing at the cabin in the middle of the woods that was probably built atop a haunted Indian burial ground? But pretty much everyone else loves vacation and wants more of it.
If there's one rule to which I subscribe, it's that you have to make your own fun (You should also try to make your own salad dressing. It's really easy, especially a vinaigrette). And flip flops- even the name itself!- are my own fun. Maybe they could be your fun too.