When Giro first introduced the Empire lace-up road shoe, I’ll admit, I scoffed. There may have been a hearty guffaw as well. Not that I tend to dislike Giro products, mind you, but a lace-up shoe was the sort of product I thought we’d moved away from for numerous reasons. Then Shimano introduced a lace-up gravel shoe. That one seemed even more fraught with trouble, but as long as I was riding dusty gravel roads in California and not through Southern mud, I figured I could probably deal with laces. But the thought of trying to untie and remove a lace-up shoe caked with mud had all the attraction of cleaning up after an ice storm.
Actually, I’d rather deal with the ice storm. Having just done such a cleanup, I can say this with certainty.
Pearl Izumi recently introduced a new product that would seem silly if it wasn’t so damn useful. Gaiters. For off-road shoes. Heck, you could use them with all sorts of shoes.
I have to admit that I didn’t even know what a gaiter was before moving to New England. Not long after I took up Nordic skiing I was indoctrinated into the grand experience of having snow slip down into my boot. The resulting ice cream headache for the foot did not appear on my list of things I needed to repeat. Then a friend told me about gaiters, and I bought some and—lo!—did they make a difference. But I never considered them as a means to deal with mud.
I promise I’m more creative than that suggests.
A gaiter is not like a weather-sealed oak door. It’s not really meant to keep much out. It’s more like a gutter, meant to steer the bulk of everything in a different direction, rather like a magician’s hand drawing your eye to the bird, not the hand in his pocket.
These gaiters won’t offer any appreciable protection to anyone who steps into a knee-deep stream, but, say the water is only six inches deep and is rideable, all that splashing water will run down the DWR-coated polyester and away from feet. They feature a small clip to catch the bottom lace or Boa wire and a locking zipper to close them. Keeping them down over the shoe is a strap made from Hypalon, which is super-durable material from the Nylon family.
The gaiters feature a full, locking zipper in back which means if you forget to put the gaiters on before your shoes, you don’t have to take your shoes back off; just be sure not to catch the lace hook before they are zipped up as the fit is quite snug. Also, the lace hook features a narrow neck for the lace or Boa to pass through before it reaches a large well that prevents the lace from working loose during a ride.
I visited Memphis for a couple of weeks, helping my mom in the wake of a hip replacement. I keep a gravel bike there and ride when time allows on the singletrack I first learned to mountain bike on. Those trails can get quite muddy and slinging sludge off tires can result in muck-encrusted feet, bike, helmet, face and more.
I’m not sure which feature I like more: not riding with mud and dirt invading my shoes or the fact that I really hate tying and untying muddy laces or, worse yet, laces caked with dried mud. In my mind, either feature is good enough to warrant these, but the combination makes them less an accessory than a new must-have.
The gaiters come in two sizes, one color and go for $30. As essentials go, this is one that may cause me to wonder why I went so long without. Kinda like how I lived before I learned about Led Zeppelin.
Final thought: a fender of a different feather.
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