A good pair of cycling shoes are a must for any serious cyclist. They should be stiff, comfortable, light and stylish. Many professional cyclists (who are often superstitious) value their favourite shoes so highly that they won’t let them out of their sight in between races. But there are times when you’ll want something a little different from the flashy, garish, ultra light and Velcro-strapped footwear that we see in the pro peloton.
If you have a vintage bike with toe clips you’ll be after a pair of classic, leather, old-style cycling shoes that are going to look good with your replica woollen jersey and old-school shorts. Let’s face it: a pair of old trainers just won’t cut the mustard.
And if your old bike is a home grown Raleigh, Mercian or Holdsworth, chances are you’re going to want a classic British product to complement your retro look.
Look no further than REW Reynolds (not to be confused with Reynolds frames). They’ve been making cycling shoes in the heart of shoemaking country in Northampton since 1921.
We first came across this little gem of British craftsmanship a couple of years ago soon after it was relaunched by new owner, David Smith. He was keen to resurrect this cycling shoe manufacturer that had been going for nearly a hundred years.
What David brought to the business was a passion and a fresh eye for the classic road shoe, while retaining the traditional methods of the past. At a time when vintage events like Eroica were becoming more popular than ever, he saw a gap in the market for his product.
The first thing he did was revamp the Reynolds Classic Road Shoe by using brightly coloured, contrasting stitching and laces. My black classics with red stitching and laces have become old friends. While my vintage bike is Italian, not British, they’ve served me brilliantly on retro rides and festivals for a couple of years now. They’ve also moulded beautifully to my feet.
As a cycling shoe they fit the bill perfectly: they’re reasonably light, they’re stylish and comfortable with a supple full grain leather and the sole has a resin stiffener with a fluted shank allowing efficient pedal action. Retro riding is all about feeling as well as looking the part and with 95 years of cycling heritage behind it, slipping on a pair of REW Reynolds certainly helps.
Now the REW Reynolds range has expanded to include a new road shoe, the ‘Ralph’; a brogue boot with recessed SPD cleats; and a brogue shoe, also with SPD cleats.
I was fortunate enough to try out a pair of Ralphs. Now, before I tell you what they’re like, we need to get a bit technical about what makes a good shoe.
If you ever speak to someone who knows anything about shoes one of the first things they’ll look out for in a classic pair is a Goodyear welt, a strip of leather or rubber that runs along the perimeter of the outsole. Named after Charles Goodyear who invented the machinery to manufacture in this way back in 1869, a Goodyear welted shoe is still considered to be one of the finest methods of shoe construction and allows repeated resoling.
From Prince Charles to Cary Grant to model David Gandy, the list of gentlemen who favour a Goodyear welt is a good indicator that these are the type of shoes that are worn by those that know.
It comes as no surprise that David Smith is also an exponent of the Goodyear welt and being the stickler for detail and quality that he is, he insisted that his Ralph road shoe should have one too.
The result of this is that a pair of Ralphs have the feel of ‘real’ shoes, rather like slipping into a pair of quality ‘Oxfords’ rather than cycling specific shoes. They’re comfortable to walk around in and look stylish so you could wear these even when you’re not cycling.
And, while I did indeed enjoy myself wandering out into town wearing these, it was on the bike that I got the most pleasure.
On request David will adapt your shoes so that you can screw in cleats for clip in pedals. While my plastic Look cleats looked rather incongruous on the leather soles, I really enjoyed using them on my modern road bike and I got a few complimentary remarks on my usual loop out of Brighton, over the Downs and back.
I then removed the cleats so I could ride on my 70s Bianchi with toe clips and found them to be even better than my Reynolds Classics – they felt stiffer and the wider sole made for a more comfortable pedal stroke. As someone who enjoys gentler rides on my retro bike I liked the fact that I could step off the bike and into the pub or café without being dressed up in full regalia, yet still feel I was wearing decent shoes to cycle in.
It’s a theme that REW Reynolds have taken up with their brogue boots and shoes as well. These have recessed cleats rather like on mountain bike shoes, so you can clip into your modern pedals but still walk around in them, and wear them at the office or out to the pub. The boots come in brown, oxblood, caramel or almond and the shoes in black. The boots, especially, would be great for winter commuting.
If you’ve got a vintage bike, have a fine sartorial standard and you are a part of, or aspire to be a part of, the shoe cognoscenti, REW Reynolds is for you. British made, finely crafted, stylish, great for cycling in. At £240 the Ralphs don't come cheap but, as the Savile Row designer, Sir Hardy Amies once said, “It’s impossible to be well-dressed in cheap shoes.” You'll also be the envy of many an Eroica rider, Tweed run aficionado and retro cyclist.
REW Reynolds Classic Road Shoe from £149 to £169