A Visit to the Cobbler

A Visit to the Cobbler

Fit. Where do you start? With bikes, it’s objective; you’ve got a bunch of easily measured dimensions. A 56.5cm effective top tube length is reasonably absolute. With clothing, things are much less certain. A medium is not necessarily a medium; that’s true in bibs, jerseys, warmers, even socks.

Ever want to hear a tale of woe and undue pain? Just chat with someone who has had saddle issues. Most saddles are sold without a single identifiable measurement, neither length nor width. Giving widths has only started to catch on with a few brands in the ten years, but most still don’t do it.

And what of shoes? It’s a rare brand (such as Lake or Shimano) that offers footwear in two dimensions, rather than one. When you think of all the ways that a foot can vary—length, width, arch, volume—it is more than a little ridiculous that shoes are almost never offered with any variability in dimension other than length.

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Of course, if you have a fairly normal foot, you can bask in the good fortune to fit near the center of the bell curve. You’re a triumph of genetics. Me? Not so much. Among their many strange qualities is that not only do I have a high volume foot, I have a high arch. It’s also exceptionally wide. Years of being forced to wear shoes that are too narrow have caused the big toes on both feet to start pointing toward the second toe. But that’s not even the weirdest thing about my feet. In addition to being a half size different in length, they are rather like those pylons from the kids’ series “Land of the Lost”: they are bigger on the inside of a shoe than they are on the outside. On a Brannock Device my left foot measures 39.5, while my right foot measures 39. Yet I can’t get my feet into size 40 shoes; they aren’t long enough. Even 41s aren’t big enough.

For those readers who are more interested in the finish than the race, here’s the bottom line: the D2 Custom Shoe is the only shoe that accurately reflects the quirks of my feet, the only shoe that fits them with precision. They are better than production shoes by an order of magnitude. As they should be. If you were going to spend what a nice set of wheels can run, you can be forgiven for wanting the footwear equivalent of a Patek Philippe timepiece. Watches they are not.

So yeah, at $1250 with custom orthotics, the D2 Powerwire is more than double the price of Sidi’s top-of-the-line offering. In my mind, that’s a bargain, given what you get.

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The basics
The D2 Powerwire features a six-axis hand-laid carbon fiber sole. The mid-foot harness, heel cup and top strap are all made from D2 carbon power grid, a material that I understand to be akin to sail cloth. The closure system feature one Velcro strap at the top of the shoe and a Freelock dial closure for the rest of the shoe. Freelock is similar to Boa. The Velcro strap was employed so that in the event of a crash the shoe won’t open up and prevent you from finishing. All the stitching is done by hand. And because this is a custom product, the color palette is remarkably broad. A pair of D2 shoes are as distinctly yours as any custom bike you’ll purchase.

Don Lamson is the man behind D2 Shoes. Back in the 1980s and early ’90s, he had a shoe company called Doni that did production shoes in several widths. I worked at a shop that sold them—and nothing else—and management swore by them. In the late ’90s, Lamson took another swing at shoes with Lamson Shoes. I reviewed a pair of his custom shoes for Bicycle Guide, mostly because even then I had the weirdest foot of the staff. Those shoes fit so well and were constructed with such remarkable quality that I estimate I put more than 50,000 miles on that pair over the next seven seasons. And if I could have found the right shoe repair guy at the time, I’d probably have gotten two more years out of them.

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So D2 is Lamson’s third enterprise and this one is proving to be a rousing success. He’s got a number of pros on his shoes, though due to contractual obligations, they can’t publicly endorse his work. Reports that he has gotten back from said Pro Tour riders is that they are able to record a net increase in wattage due to superior power transfer. I’ve experienced first-hand how a more precise fit in a shoe results in more immediate and thorough power transfer. The most notable sensation is that the bike accelerates quicker.

I’ve met a bunch of people who care about footwear the way I care about verbs. Then there’s Don Lamson. He’s driven in a way that I might compare (favorably) to a few framebuilders I know. Obsessed is a fair term. When he gets to talking about shoes and fit, it’s a bit like listening to a physicist at CERN talk about the search for the Higgs Boson. I followed what he was saying in a general sense, but he thinks about feet and fit and power transfer in a way that most people can’t fathom.

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Purchasing a pair of D2s is rather like ordering a custom frame. The fitting requires a few measurements, a tracing, a couple of photographs and imprints of each foot (for the orthotic). There’s often a phone consultation if your foot, like mine, defies the laws of physics.

When my shoes arrived some weeks later, I tried them on, marveled at how small they looked and then mounted the cleats. After a few rides I noticed that I needed a bit more room near my two smallest toes on my right foot, and that the orthotics needed some adjustment at the arch—there wasn’t quite enough support.

Lamson recently relocated from the mountains of Colorado to the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. I dropped by to see him, brought a couple of beers and then we proceeded to talk for three hours, about business, shoes, bikes, politics and really good beer. We went over my shoes and the adjustments that were needed and he reassured me, tell me that this isn’t uncommon. With a shoe this predicated on precision, small adjustments can be necessary to achieve the optimal fit.

Wearing these shoes has required some transition time. They actually felt strange at first. And because the fit is so precise, there can be a temptation to overtighten the closures, one that must be resisted. I’ve noticed on long rides that my feet stay more relaxed. Also, because the fit is accurate, I’m less likely to get toe overlap with the front wheel on bikes where I’m running tires larger than 28mm.

We make a big deal about handmade products, especially handmade bikes. D2 shoes are one occasion where handmade isn’t just a cool detail, but a way to get at a solution that simply isn’t available otherwise. A properly made orthotic is the foundation for high-performance footwear; that’s always been true. And in my case, it’s impossible to use the optimal orthotic unless the shoe is built around it because my foot is so wide. Many of us have been wearing good but not ideal footwear for decades. These shoes are an opportunity to perform better, ride with greater comfort and invest in footwear that won’t wear out after only a year or two.

Final thoughts: I was so used to wrong, right felt weird.

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12 comments

  1. Trey

    I have a severe bunion on my right foot. After years of struggling (Lake and Bont heat-moldable were closest I could get to reasonable comfort) I pulled the trigger for a pair of D2’s in 2013. Don personally molded my feet and a few weeks later I had a spectacular pair of gravel shoes. Most comfortable shoes I won by a landslide. More comfortable than my sandals. Serious game-changer for me. Since I was able to get my doctor to write me a note re: necessity of custom shoes, I was able to use my health savings account. Six months later, I bought a set of road shoes. Thousands of miles later on each pair and I’m still thrilled with these shoes. If you have foot anomalies, quit screwing around with partial fixes and get a pair of D2’s. Best cycling investment I’ve ever made.

    1. Shawn

      “That’s fine if you quit complaining about how much your feet hurt after a ride.”

  2. Carson

    “I was so used to wrong, right felt weird.”

    I think I’ve found my epitaph. Is it OK to pre-order a tombstone?

  3. Geoffrey Stone

    I have similarly odd shaped feet and I am a big D2 fan, so much so that I just took delivery of my sixth pair! Worth every penny.

    Geoff

  4. Emil

    I’ve had a pir of D2 orthotics for several years. I love them and (so far) can only imagine that the shoes would be equally spectacular!

  5. MCH

    I first bought a pair of Lamsons about 20 years ago. They were a revelation. After trying virtually every off-the-shelf shoe on the market and being disappointed, I finally had a shoe that fit. When Doug opened D2, I replaced my aging Lamsons with his new D2 shoe. It was better still. I can’t say enough about these shoes. They’re simply incredible.

  6. michael

    i’ve long wanted to pursue the custom footwear path, but just can’t afford it. I have yet to find a comfortable pair of shoes, my current 1st gen Fizik shoes being the closest i’ve come yet, with moldable Sidas footbeds. My toes are always clenching and my feet fatigue quickly. Add to that hypermobile ankles, and you can quickly ascertain that I am not standing on the most stable platform for power transmission, even strictly from a recreational point of view.

    some day

    1. peter

      If you live in Southern California, you might want to visit Bikeeffect in Santa Monica. Padraig wrote an article a few years ago about this shop and Steve Carre, the owner.

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