The Toe Fist article has been updated. It was originally posted in January '09. Since Then, the formula for keeping your feet warm on winter bike rides has been tweaked with a grocery bag layer between booty and shoe, not over the foot itself. Putting the bag over the foot has the potential for cutting off needed circulation, not to mention, makes for a slippery feel inside the shoe.
It's taken me about 15 years of white bloodless cold on-the-brink of frostbite bitten toes to figure out a process of getting dressed to keep my feet from turning into lifeless bricks on cold winter rides. It is much more effective than dancing like Beyonce’ on the side of the road. I’ve got friends who insist on a number of other comical solutions, like putting Saran wrap on their forefeet. After trying it, evening using the red color thinking it’d be hotter, I’m come to the conclusion that I’m not into the Saran Wrap foot fetish. It doesn’t solve the real problem and disrupts the foot-sock-shoe-pedal connection too much. Chemical toe warmers and foot beds work, but they are only a variable in the happy feet equation and require air to keep working their magic. The real key to keeping your feet warm in the winter is maintaining good blood flow in your piggies. It’s science dammit!! Everything else is just icing. Dedicated winter cycling shoes work fine, but snug them or regular cycling shoes up too tight and no amount of SIDI Italian leather goodness is going to get your core body heat to reach the ends of your pistons. So how do you keep air in your shoe and avoid cutting off your circulation? The toe fist my friend…the toe fist.
Prior to putting my feet in my shoes, I make a fist with my toes and then lightly cinch up the straps/laces. Combine this with some or all of the other bright ideas out there, even dancing and singing the chorus to “Single Ladies” and you’ll be golden. The downfall is that, well duh, your shoes aren’t on tight. However, you’re not trying to win a summer crit sprint or make the holeshot at the local MTB series. I have tested my theory through cyclocross season and on both road and mountain bike rides this winter, works every time. The longest ride I’ve had so far has been nearly 3 and a half hours, plenty for winter. Cinder block feet are no longer the reason I start heading home. Chances are some other ailment will get me first; such as being too out of shape to ride more than 3 hours, frozen water bottles or my suspension fork busting a seal.
Here’s how I get dressed for winter and implement the foot fist technique using embrocation, winter cycling underwear, Toastie Toes and winter booties.
1 Starting naked, grab your warm weather cycling underwear, a towel, your cold & wet conditions cycling embrocation and your thickest warmest newest winter hiking style socks. Go to the bathroom. I don’t mean just go there, go there and do your business. Trust me this is the best step one ever.
2 Next, don warm weather cycling underwear. This is the best step 2 ever.
3 Standing on the towel in your skivvies apply embrocation on your legs, feet, toes, forearms. Use whatever is left on your lower back. It’ll feel like magic fingers mid-ride. I won’t get into all the details with embrocation, but there’s a reason you put on underwear and went to the bathroom first. There are few things in life more painful than accidently causing your junk to catch fire in the middle of nowhere because you dredged your underwear through burning hot chili-pepper embrocation an hour earlier. Do yourself a favor, when you’re finished wash your hands with soap and keep your hands off the giblets, out of your eyes and away from other tender areas for a while.
4 Put on those socks. Affix your Toastie Toes if you got ‘em.
5 Put on the rest of your winter cycling related gear except for your shoes.
6 Put on your cycling shoes, but do not lace or buckle.
7 Make the biggest fist you can with your foot inside the shoe.
8 Starting with the one closest to your toes and with your toe still in fist mode do all the straps and buckles on your shoes. You should be able to wiggle your piggies inside your shoe and your shoe should be relatively secure on your foot.
9 Repeat with the other shoe.
10 Put a plastic grocery bag over each shoe and lightly wrap the excess around your ankles.
11 Put on your warm winter weight cycling booties and tuck the excess bag into your bootie.
Ride my friend. Ride. Unless you’re in freaking Siberia, Alaska or somewhere north of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, you feet will no longer be the reason you come home from a winter bike ride.