Robot’s Useless Reviews – The 5″ Sock

If 8-minute abs produce results we’re happy with (they don’t unless they’re paired with a carbless husk of an existence), then what can be achieved in 7 minutes? Or even 6?

So, when discussing the ubiquitous 5″ sock, I think it’s worth asking first, why not 4″? You know? Why not 3″? And the reason is that, before you know it, you’re in an ankle sock, it’s 1998, and you’re wondering what happened to grunge rock and wishing Leo DiCaprio didn’t have to die in the summer’s biggest movie. No Leo! No!

The 5″ sock is a product of the influential sock-industrial complex, a loose coalition (really a junta) of sock and government groups who make sure America’s cycling enthusiasts have a constant need to buy socks. Before the 5″ sock appeared, most folks were perfectly happy with that “ankle” sock, a lighter, more aerodynamic alternative, or even the scandalously almost-not-there “no show” sock. Consider the tan lines produced by either of those socks, and it’s clear they were/are superior to the 5″, and yet, here we are, talking about 5″ socks.

Some alternate names for this sock are: the shame sock, the modern tube sock, the reverse scuba sock, and the Vegas buffet (i.e. something that is ostentatiously larger than it needs to be).

What does a sock even do?

My understanding of sock technology is that it was developed to great a protective barrier between your filthy, stinky feet and the inside of your innocent shoe. Without the sock, the shoe becomes untenably awful much too early in its lifecycle. As an add-on value, you get fewer blisters with the insulating layer. It’s one of those win-wins that sales people are always on about.

Strictly speaking, to achieve these two readily apparent design goals, you need a sock that rises above the collar of the shoe, ergo the ankle sock. The “ankler” (Its nickname in the sock drawer) will even keep your upper tarsals warm, if such a thing is required, rising as it does to just above the pant-shoe gap.

Of course, on a bicycle, the pant-shoe gap is only a thing in winter time. The rest of the year, you’re in some sort of short pant that removes the need for tarsal warming. I suppose there is some future cyclo-temporal-state in which riders don short pants and then pull on thigh-high socks, eliminating the need for tights, leg warmers, knee warmers, and any sense of shame. This is the sort of airtight and yet useless logic the sock-industrial complex employs to shift the velo zeitgeist and subsequently, serious units on the bike shop floor.

But back to the 5″ sock.

I think we’ve established that it is a pointless variation on the foot insulating theme. The extra 3″ of sock do nothing for you but move your tan line to a spot even more ridiculous, and of course serve as yet another reason for passing motorists to shake their heads and wonder WTF is wrong with cyclists. It’s wasteful too, adding that extra fabrics. Think of the rainforest. Think of the whales.

As long as we’re gilding this particular lily, why not bring back the pom-pom?

Regular readers will wonder why it is that I’ve set my troops out on this particular hill and girded them for a protracted siege, especially given the popularity of this sock height. Michael “Cush” Cushionbury, of this very same publication, is an ardent supporter of the 5″ movement and gleefully proclaims me an unstylish boob each time I question the wisdom of all those extra inches. I will point out two facts here in defense of my position: 1) Cush prefers cats to dogs, and 2) I was an unstylish boob long before the 5″ sock was ever a thing you could buy in a bike store.

The truth is, 5″ socks don’t look good on me. I have short, bowed legs, and tall socks accentuate the hobbit-ish-ness of my physique. There. I said it. But none of that invalidates the critiques above. If anything, it adds the “tyranny of the tall” to the long list of the 5″-er’s sins. I’d say we have quite enough tyranny these days without bringing our footwear into the mix, wouldn’t you?

What is undeniably true is that we will all move on, because product must move and styles must change. Will socks go even taller? Will Padraig go down to his garage, retrieve the box full of ankle socks stowed wistfully there, and return them to their rightful place in his drawer? How many of our regular editorial meetings will feature this argument? I can tell you that it comes up a lot, and is quite possibly a cypher for deeper and more meaningful issues we can’t bring ourselves to discuss, like the use of the word ‘gilet,’ when really we mean ‘vest.’

Join the conversation
  1. Ramona d'Viola says

    “The truth is, 5″ socks don’t look good on me. I have short, bowed legs, and tall socks accentuate the hobbit-ish-ness of my physique. There. I said it. ”

    I on the other hand have a nice pair of pins, but I still think 5″ socks are redick.

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