Shoe Doping Is Real. Here’s How Custom Kicks Can Up Your Game

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Nick Squillari is the cycling shoe’s biggest cheerleader. A podiatrist and longtime cyclist, he was always a fan of the footwear, but he took his love public in 2015. The Australian was searching Instagram for anyone as dedicated to shoes, but he came up empty. “We’ve got two million cycling kit Instagram pages,” he says. “Why isn’t there one for the cycling shoes?” So he created Velo Kicks to unite and celebrate the bike world’s shoe-crazy community. At first Squillari featured any shoes that caught his eye, but he began to uncover a globe-spanning subculture dedicated to customization. “I unearthed a couple of people using decals, a couple of people painting them,” says Squillari. “And then it just avalanched.” Now the 62,000-follower feed serves as the platform for custom shoe companies, designers, and owners with almost-daily posts.

As his account grew, Squillari also saw an increasing demand for custom shoes. So in 2017, he connected with a company that could make him blank white cycling shoes (lace-ups for $193, Boas for $207) that his followers could use as a canvas. He also began working with artists for seasonal Velo Kicks design releases and with a service that paints a customer’s art—WorldTour team Michelton-Scott is one client—onto any shoes they provide ($313).

Most requests are for sponsor graphics, geometric patterns, and pop culture (may the Force be on your shoes), but one man asked Squillari to memorialize his 2,300-mile spin from Perth to Sydney. “He wanted to commemorate all the things in that ride—including the dingoes he was getting harassed by at one point. So, there’s a dingo on them.”

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Courtesy Velo Kicks

For cyclists eager to attempt their own customization, Squillari says to start with decals. “Buy vinyl decals, like what’s used on a bicycle frame. They’re quite hardy, through rain and pulling off shoe covers. And if one gets damaged, just peel it off, clean the surface, and reapply a new one.”

As for getting your shoes featured in the VeloKicks feed, it’s easy, says Squillari. Tag @VeloKicks in a post or Insta story, and he’ll try to find you a spot. “VeloKicks was founded on the underground work of artistic riders; we’ll always remain true to that.”



The Shoe Doc is In Session

As a podiatrist, Squillari also has an keen interest in shoe fit. “It’s very similar to bike fit, in that efficiency falls if you are not comfortable,” he says. “Nobody’s producing power when they’re sore.” And while a too-tight shoe can cause friction and pain, too-loose shoes can hurt your bike handling. “The foot wants to know where it is in space, and a really loose shoe reduces that feedback.” When you’re descending or cornering, that feedback lets you feel the bike under you to steer your bike as efficiently as possible.

How to Buy Your Perfect Shoes

To find a perfect fit, try on new shoes with the socks you’d wear while riding. And do it in the afternoon or evening. “Since feet swell as the day goes on, that gives you a better idea of the volume required,” says Squillari. Once you’ve got them on, stand up to feel for tight spots. If your foot spills over the sides of the sole, they’re too narrow. If you can, take them for a test ride (BYO cleats).

When to Replace Worn Kicks

Take a look at the upper: If it’s wearing away or stretched-out to the point where you have to ratchet the closures down to the tightest setting, the support and control offered by the upper is gone. If your heel is slipping out with each pedal stroke, they’ve lost their conformity and you’re losing power.

RILEY MISSELTest EditorTest editor Riley Missel is an experienced road racer, mountain biker, and a national champion on the track who has been at Bicycling since 2017.
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