Rocket7 and Happy Feet

A while back I published the episode that was meant to be a preview for this one.To save you the trouble of remembering anything or reading any more than you have to, here’s a brief synopsis:

My feet are different sizes, very wide, and have really long toes and very high arches.

For everyday life, I can just get soft shoes from companies with a skateboard heritage (they run wide) and accept that I will blow them open sooner or later. When I was a kid, my sneakers would always fail around the balls of my feet, leaving my socks in the wind.

But on the bike, the shoes were becoming a real limiting factor. As my rides approached forty miles, my feet approached rebellion. Bike shoes are very rigid, and if your foot isn’t in the right place in the shoe, then your foot is also not properly positioned over the pedal.

I started doing research. By “research” I mean I put “custom bike shoes” into Duck Duck Go and found my way to Rocket7. Once I found a place that could make my feet happy, I stopped searching. I didn’t seek out competitors, or anything like that.

I didn’t place an order right away; if you know me you know that there must be the requisite period of overthinking. After long rides I would go back to their site, and ponder: There is semi-custom, where they find the best match for each foot among their standard templates and tweak it, or for quite a bit more money, you can get full-custom. I wondered: my feet are a little extreme in many ways, but EEEEE width and long toes and high arches can’t be too uncommon, right?

Finally, after literally months of thinking myself in circles, I brought it up with the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas and she asked, “This is for your health, right? Then it’s worth it.”

She is smart, and understands what is important. And so I sent in a deposit for Full-Custom shoes.

Instantly, knowing that someday I would own shoes that fit, my current bike shoes seemed more uncomfortable than ever. I’ve done a few thousand miles in these Shimanos, and they were always a discomfort to be endured (the left foot angry after too many hours pedaling in a day; my right little toe very angry after too many hours pedaling in a month).

Relief was not swift in coming. It is a complicated process, getting shoes tailored to your feet, when the tailor is in a different time zone. But while it was not a swift process, honestly it was kind of fun; and the discrete stages of the process served to increase giddy anticipation.

So the process goes like this: They send a bunch of stuff to make molds of my feet. We make the molds and send them back. The good people at Rocket7 then create casts of my feet from the molds, and build shoes for those casts.

First, the kit arrived:

The package from Rocket7, clearing customs.

The kit included a carefully sculpted platform to put the feet in the correct position, some other measuring tools, and three of these crazy plaster-infused socks that you use to create the mold. Included are special scissors and other odds and ends necessary to make things work.

The first hitch: In our communications, I had not mentioned the size of my feet. One is small, the other is smaller. The magic socks in my kit were extra-large. (I suspect that most clients are actual athletes and those people tend to run big.) So then the wait began for smaller socks, and welcome to supply chain. The wait dragged on.

Finally the smaller socks arrived and it was time to do the magic. But of course to make sure you do things right, an expert at the company needs to be on video the whole time. Bad foot molds mean shoes that don’t fit and anger enough to go around. Setting up that appointment proved to be a challenge as well, as first our modern plague and then ventilation failures at the shoe factory (lots of solvents when working with carbon fiber) made things tough for them.

This is a small company, and I like those. One of the reasons I like them is that when, as was the case here, I had a question, I got an answer. (This is not automatic for small businesses, I’ve met more than one who try to ghost you when things are rough, but Rocket7 is all that’s good in a cottage industry.) When I asked a question, I got an answer.

Finally the day came to meet KC (the boss of all this stuff) and cast my feet.

Casting my right foot. Yes, this photo is cropped to include the dog.

What I unfortunately staged badly for this photo was that KC (who, by the way, holds a few speed skating world records), is on a laptop directly behind me. It was a fun afternoon! All the time he reminded me, “keep your knee out over your foot” and in the following weeks I was like “oh fuck what if I didn’t keep my knee out over my foot? My shoes will suck and it’s my fault!”

Still life with my feet

I was glad for the third sock. We started with my left foot, then did the right, but after KC had gone on to deal with other stuff I was worried that I’d curled up my toes on the left mold. They’re always curled up in shoes so I wanted a mulligan there, to give them the space they deserved. Also, we hadn’t really paid enough attention to my arch on that first go. So we used the spare sock to get a new left foot.

We sent them back, and there was another wait. More supply chain issues, Olympic training, the usual stuff.

And then:

The best shoes ever

Behold the magnificence! Gasp in awe at the way the toe boxes bulge on the sides! Honestly these seem kind of like cartoon shoes, stumpy and wide and bulbous and perfect. But they are the first shoes in my adult life (using a traditional definition of “adult” based on the calendar) that actually fit. For forty years and more my left foot has been in a much-too-big shoe, and my toes have always been crushed.

My feet are no longer a limit to my endurance. There are many other limits, but those are my problem to solve.

Now I want all my shoes to be like this. I want all my shoes to fit. There’s an outfit up in San Francisco that will make custom hiking boots, using a similar process.

But there’s already a set of casts of my feet, proven to be good. An iPad with LIDAR could model that, and any custom shoe maker in the world could print my feet and make the shoes. (Of course, I would be able to decide where my foot models went.)

Before I veer too directly into “Get Poor Quick”, I’ll come back to this: I love my new shoes. I’ve got a few hundred miles on them now, and every one of those miles has been with happy feet.


Rocket7: Prelude

This is the story of a new pair of bike shoes, but it starts with the old shoes.

A few years ago, I was killing time in a local, family-owned bike shop (as one does), and I found myself in the corner where the closeout items were piled. I had been thinking about upgrading from my toe clips to shoes that click into the pedals, and there was a pair of Shimano’s at deep discount, in Euro size 42, which is as close to “my size” as you’re going to find. So I bought them.

It was a while later when I actually bought the pedals to match. I had done absolutely no research on the types of pedals and the shoes that match them, and purely by chance I had bought shoes that work with the SPD pedal system. SPD was developed for mountain bikers, and had two key features: muck tolerance and a sole built up around the cleat on the shoe, which makes walking around easier.

You’ve probably heard the clack-clack of a bicyclist walking in their bike shoes. That clack-clack is not only uncomfortable for the walker, it also contributes significant wear to the cleats on the bottom of the shoes.

So it turns out that although designed for mountain bikers, the SPD system is also ideal for commuters, where there is often an amount of walking around to do once the destination is reached, but before a good shoe-change opportunity.

A fine pair of shoes, looking good after thousands of miles

I have put thousands of miles on those shoes. (It’s not as impressive as it sounds; unless you are impressed by consistency – which is actually pretty impressive.) By the looks of them, with new laces and eventually new straps, they have a few thousand more miles on them easy.

I have come to dislike those shoes. However, as has been said in many a break-up, it’s not the shoes, it’s my feet.

When I ride too many hours in a month, my right foot starts to hurt. When I ride too many hours in a day, my left foot becomes very unhappy. With my fancy bike, longer rides are becoming more common and Lefty has had a few things to say about that.

My feet are different sizes, you see, and while the longer one is very wide, the smaller one is ridiculously wide. I didn’t take the above shoe picture with this in mind, but if you look at the left shoe above you can see that it is pushed out wider just past the strap. That’s where the ball of my foot lands in that shoe, way up on the meager arch support. That also means that the pad of my foot is behind the pedal, and I’m actually pushing the pedal with my toes. It is my toes that get pissed off after 40 miles.

My feet

You know how after you break up you can look back and remember the good times and still be glad that you’ve broken up? Today the new shoes arrived. After less than 15 miles it’s all over. The new shoes are sexy and comfy and made just for me. The next episode will be that story, but I wanted to create the setting first, and pay a little respect for a pair of shoes that have been with me through good times and bad.


New Toys!

Recently I did a shoot with Harlean (who is a fiction), and ended up cranking the ISO setting on my camera up to 1600 just to get shutter speeds in a reasonable range. That left her with some pretty tough cleanup in post production, and meant the pictures were not what they could have been. “That does it!” said I, “We’re gettin’ us some lights!”

After some research I chose Alien Bees for my new strobes. In (sometimes heated) discussions online the only concrete criticism light snobs could downgrade the Bees for was not costing enough. The day I’m good enough to say, “you know, I could really use better strobes,” will be a good day indeed. (Although, I once thought I would never need more camera than the one I have now, and guess what? I think I’ve actually reached the stage where I would get better pictures with a better camera. No one is more surprised by that than I am.)


My new Alien Bees, ready for work.

Anyway, the lights arrived today and I made a shambles of the living room unpacking boxes and setting things up. Pretty slick, huh? I’ll still be looking at accessories — first step, CTO gels to mix better with the ambient light, then maybe a softbox or two. We’ll see. There’s more than enough to keep me busy as it is.

Naturally, I wanted to get to work taking pictures right away, but it would not be fair to ask a human to sit through hundreds of experimental shots while I fiddle around with lights in the “lets see what this will do” mode. I asked my sweetie if I could borrow some shoes to shoot. She has a few pair kicking around. I figured shoes were interesting, and had an architectural quality. I wanted to see if I could capture the curves and forms with well-placed light.


Still life with high heels.

I wasn’t very specific about what sort of shoes, but she came through with four shoes that each presented different lighting challenges. One high-contrast, another very shiny, and so forth.

I took a lot of pictures of shoes, at different angles and with different backgrounds. In some cases, the background was lit better than the shoe, in others, some details of the shoe were lost. In many you can see my reflection in the leather, not just the reflection of the lights (which is problem enough).

Note that I didn’t spend a lot of time choosing the photos to go in this episode — they’re decent examples but not necessarily the “best” — whatever that means. Each of these has something I like, however.

It became apparent pretty quickly that having lots of light is useless if you can’t control it. I knew this intellectually already, but there’s nothing like getting down there in the trenches to bring the lesson home.

more shoes!

Another still life with shoes.

I also got some fun serendipity along the way, like light reflecting off the lining of one shoe creating a great highlight in the heel of another.

I got a bit worried after a while, that I couldn’t turn the lights down enough to let me open the aperture to limit my depth of field. Now, there was a problem I didn’t anticipate. It turns out, as I was reviewing the photos to post here, I realized that my camera was still set to ISO 1600 from the other day. Tomorrow when set the speed down to a safe and sane 100, I’ll get much richer pictures and a lot more options for exposure. So, while these pictures have their flaws, I’m really excited about how my pictures will look after a few thousand more practice shots. Woo hoo!