You’re an #OldSchoolCyclist if you know why cycling shoes come with the laces too long.
Back before shoes had Boa closures or ratchets or dial tensioners or even Velcro, they had laces. And as any Old Schooler will tell you—whether you ask or not—those laces worked at least as well as any of the fancypants modern closure systems.
Shoes were important. Not only did they mark the difference between civilians and tourists and real riders, they were the difference between racers and enthusiasts as well. This was partly because racers had access to hard-to-find brands like Patrick and Marresi and Rivat and wood-soled Duegis, and partly because their shoes were always shiny. Whether it was an actual rule or just tradition, racers were expected to arrive at the start line every week with shoes not just clean, but polished.
Shoes were persnickety, headstrong beasts that required constant attention, especially in the first few weeks of riding. Fixing cleats was particularly bothersome. Other than just guessing where the ball of your foot was going to be, best practice was to lace on your new shoes and ride around the block a couple times without cleats. Then you referenced the new cleats against the marks left by the pedal before hammering in the cobbler’s nails that held the cleat in place. There was this Italian brand, Sidi, with a new three-bolt adjustment system everyone was talking about, but no one was sure it would hold up in the long run. So we mostly just stuck to hammer and nails.
Shoes had their own mythology. You guessed at the correct European sizing and tried to buy yours a bit on the tight side, because shoes were leather, and they stretched. If you got them too large or they stretched too much, you left for the next ride with a spray bottle of alcohol and water in a jersey pocket and misted your feet every couple of miles. Too small, and you just lived with the discomfort and waited until they stretched to fit.
And then there were the laces. They were the skinny rounded spaghetti type rather than the easier-to-tie flat type. That was wasn’t a problem, really. The problem was that many of the shoes came with absurdly long laces.
Newbies cut them to fit or just rode until they caught the laces between the chain and front ring and the problem solved itself. Which worked well enough for practical purposes, except the hapless rider was often left with a little stump of shoelace too short to tie at all. If you spotted a guy on the Sunday morning ride with different-length laces, you knew he was a Fred and to be avoided in all forms of close-proximity riding.
The cognoscenti knew those laces were long for a reason, and that reason was to get themselves out of the way. Now that laced shoes are coming back into fashion (the real question, old timers will say, is why they ever left), younger riders may find it helpful to follow this three-part fashion guide:
Phase One is to tie the ends and loops more or less even and stuff them down into the into the space between shoe and sock on the outboard side, safe and out of the reach of predatory chain and chainrings. A thoroughly practicable method, and one well-suited to the domestiques or neopros.
Phase Two is to tie the knot over as far to the outside as practicable for easier insertion into the shoe. Phase Two laces are the mark of a rolleur. Even on your street shoes. Heck, especially on your street shoes.
There was even one jumped-up perfectionist in our group who developed his own lacing system, a self-conscious attempt at a Phase Three technique. He bypassed the top set of eyelets with the outside lace and brought the inside lace across and through the vacant outside eyelet. Then he could tie the knot completely outboard of the tongue, on the shoe’s upper instead.
Needless to say, this act of supreme posemanship is to be avoided at all costs.