A Design Student Needs Our Help!

The other day, Mark San Buenaventura, an industrial design student at San Francisco’s Academy of Art, contacted us to see if we could get some input from our readers on a design project he’s working on. Here are his details:

“For my Industrial Design thesis project I am exploring the topic of “Commuting and Footwear.” I am trying to explore all and any of the possible product opportunities related to the foot, shoes, bike, pedaling, etc. while commuting. So basically I would like to start a forum/conversation to get as many thoughts, perspectives, feelings, etc. from commuters to see what direction I may explore further.

Or, if this helps to get the thought process going… “What are some of the concerns you have when commuting to work or anywhere for that matter regarding your footwear?” Thanks! ( if you’d like to discuss more on the side)

Thank you,

If you have any comments, concerns or insights to share with Mark, please post them in the comments section below. Thanks in advance!


  1. Ghost Rider

    I’ll kick this off by saying I’d like to see more non-athletic-shoe varieties that are bike-friendly.

    I’ve been known to carry a spare pair of shoes to work…and many of us know that this can be a huge pain in the ass. Lots of people like to be able to get on their bikes and ride without slipping on “special” footwear — and sneakers or other vaguely bike-friendly footwear don’t really play nicely with business-casual or professional attire.

    What I’d like to see are dressier shoes that incorporate some bike-friendly features. You might take a look at our review of Chrome’s “Kursk” sneakers for ideas…not for the designs but for the way that some great bikey features were incorporated (in Chrome’s case, a sole stiffener, that really cool lace-catcher and the subtle but effective reflectors on the heels). The review of the shoes is here:

    One other thing for dressier shoes — discreet scuff protectors. I often wear my work shoes on the bike, and while I use platform pedals instead of clips-n-straps, my shoes get beat up rather quickly. Too often, shoe makers run a flap of rubber over areas prone to scuffing and wear, and this would look pretty crappy on an otherwise dressy shoe. If a scuff protector had the same texturing as the leather or fabric of the shoes, it could blend in nicely.

  2. Jesse

    My bike came with some great, huge platform pedals that let me ride in anything including barefoot. I find whatever shoe is appropriate for that day (including my “dress” shoes) work just fine for getting me where I need to go. And since I don’t own a car that’s pretty much everywhere!

  3. myfanwy

    That’s a pretty broad question….

    I commute in clipless shoes, so I’d be interested in finding a clipless shoe that has a recessed enough cleat that doesn’t grind into the pavement when I walk. Also, most of the clipless shoes are either in the soccer-cleat vein (sporty) or the Keen sandal/shoe vein (casual) – I’d prefer something plain black that works with a variety of styles. Or maybe something with removable clips?

    When I am on flat pedals, I prefer a shoe with a stiff sole and something that covers my toes at least (Falls are hard on the toes.) Cages and straps have eaten at least 2 pairs of trail hiking shoes I own – they chew up the thin fabric on the top of the shoe, where there is no reinforcement. I’ve also broken two pairs of cages from inadvertently mashing them on the pavement. I prefer BMX pedals and other metal platforms that have lots of teeth to grip the sole, but invariably I still manage to slide my foot off and chew up the back of my calf with the pedal. I could definitely use a reverse-shinguard in that type of situation, or some sort of foot retention system that doesn’t eat my shoes or require me to wear a separate pair.

    Well, that’s about everything in my brainbox concerning pedals. Hope this helps.

  4. myfanwy

    Hmm, or some sort of integrated light system in the pedals, for visibility? Although it would be prone to breakage, and expensive to replace. I know when people have reflective bands around their ankles it grabs your eye much more readily than the stationary reflectors on the front and back. Also I am a sucker for anything shiny, sparkly, or lit-up.

  5. Austin

    I bike in a all kinds of weather, therefore I have a pair of shoes dedicated to commuting and carry my work shoes with me (both sets are casual). As far as my bike shoes having shoes that won’t stink no matter how wet they get is huge. On rainy days the smell in the locker room is horrible. The Keen sandles with the cork soles do not seem to have this issue.

    I agree with most others for commuting, even though I have multiple pairs of shoes, having a shoe that you can walk in is extremely important. While my current job has a outside door that goes straight to the locker room, they are the exception instead of the rule.

  6. Jack

    I like Shoes that can be worn all the time,I am not fussy about them being Classy. I normally go for Walking and Hiking style Shoes that are also Waterproof. I like to go off on Trips down the Country or up the Hills and I have to do some Walking up Steep Mountain Roads sometimes. So a Combination of a Hiking Shoe and Walking Shoe is best for me.

    I always had the ordinary Pedals without Straps or Clips but now I have just acquired an Audax Bike with Straps so the Shoes I normally like is proving too Chunky for the Straps. Those Chrome Shoes that Ghost Rider is Speaking about look very comfortable but do they make good Walking Shoes as well . The Job I do involves Carrying Furniture and White Goods so I like the more Sturdier Shoes. However I would use a Bike with Flat Pedals for Commuting and not the Audax .

    So my preference for Long Distance Cycling is Sturdy Shoes but not Clunky and can fit into the Straps of the Pedals and is Waterproof,we can get a lot of Rain in Ireland. I like the Idea of Reflectors on the Heels as the Reflectors on the Pedals always fall off anyway and fairly Stiff Soles.

    I like Bike Shoes that do not look like Bike Shoes,I am not into Sportif Cycling but I like to go Touring and it also involves walking as well. When I want a pair of Shoes for Cycling I do not bother with Cycling Shoes but go to the Hiking Shop and get Hiking Specific Shoes ,The Brands I like are Meindl or Gelert or any other Hiking Shoe. Dublin Ireland.

  7. Andrew

    like Ghost Rider, i want some not neccessarily more formal, but more nice and traditional shoes, like leather shoes. even if they are expensive, because nice shoes are worth it. i have some that breath well, some Eccos Men’s Cross Oxford in brown, but also let water in. my choice would also be functional, because i stand on my feet all day at work. (i do wear these on my commute and at work). btw it does have a nice leather insole.

    the Eccos i have breath with the space created by the stiching that goes around the front of the shoe. it would handle the wet better if the breathing area and/or stiching didn’t also let water in. even though i have fenders, water still mainly splashes on the front toe part of my shoe, where the breathing action takes place.

    i’ve seen some people make a longer tongue for their shoe that covers the laces to keep water off that area. but they do that for sneakers.

    so if you could make something that looks traditional (leather), but keeps my feet dry and/or dries quickly, that would be my dream shoe.

  8. bryan dotson

    Until very recently, I commuted in the dark and I had a locker room where I showered and kept clean clothes and shoes.

    I use clips (“rat traps”) on the pedals.

    My primary objective is to be visible to cars. I use a reflective orange band around my ankles, and I clip LED lights to the outside edge of my shoe. I use the button LED lights (see “Firefly” at clipped to the outside edge of each shoe. This adds a circular motion to display to those approaching from the side. I ride about 30 minutes/day with those on (workdays) and I get about a year out of the batteries when in flashing mode. The lights stay clipped on very well.

    My secondary objective is ease of on/off. On the shoes I bought, I replaced the shoelaces with small diameter bungee cords since I don’t need real solid grip on the bike. Faster on/off than shoelaces.

    I use a light hiking shoe, brown, and it is sufficiently neutral that I can use it in less formal business situations (I take the lights off).

  9. Sam

    I usually commute with platform pedals and some waterproof trail running shoes. That works pretty well for me, but I would like something I can clip into. I do have a pair of the old Adidas cycling shoes that I almost like. They look like a pair of sneakers, or at least people think they’re weird/ugly sneakers. If they looked like good looking sneakers and were a lot more comfortable, they would be ideal. The sole is way too stiff for comfortably walking around all day, but the cleat is recessed so I can walk around quietly.

    So footwear concerns I have when commuting:
    -I like waterproof stuff and having dry socks.
    -I want shoes that will clip into my pedals.
    -I want shoes that have a sole stiff enough for cycling, but comfortable enough to stand in all day. They don’t have to be hardcore stiff since I’m not looking for performance on my commute, but not super flexible and prone to falling apart after a month.
    -Recessed cleats are a must.
    -Something stylish that doesn’t make me look like a fool.
    -Preferrably something with laces, but there’s gotta be something to keep the laces out of the chain.

  10. Matt

    I use casual shimano mtb clipless shoes right now… I’d love something that looked a little more “nice casual” and had cleats that were a little more recessed (if possible). A slightly less-stiff sole would work – the ones in my current shoes are very stiff and you can’t really walk normally.

  11. Rich

    I wear a pair of velcro strapped touring shoes with egg beaters pedals. I like the feel and control of being attached to the pedals. I light myself with LED blinkers on the back and have reflective tape on the seat post. I like the idea of something relfective on the shoe to have a moving relfective bit.

    I keep dress shoes at work under my desk and this is not a problem, but I would really like a more casual pair of shoes that I could wear with my pedals. I dislike the sporty/cleat like look of most bike shoes and I am not a fan of the chunky Keen style shoes. I do like the Coronado Cruiser style, but they are not clip compatible.

    SWRVE has a shoe called the Vittoria 1976 that looks interesting to me, but the color choices are limited and the price is pretty high. Maybe a Chuck Taylor style that clips in.

    Here are my priorities (not in any order of importance)
    – Clip compatible.
    – Stylish
    – Able to walk in them without grinding the metal plate too much.
    – Light
    – Don’t have to be waterproof, but durable would be nice.
    – Laces are good, but tricky. Sam’s comment about something to keep them out of the way is good.

  12. Ghost Rider

    One other thing for Mark — some of the suggestions have already been made (non-clipless retention straps like Feetbelts or Powergrips; light-up pedals like Pedalite; “touring” shoes that don’t look so out of place in casual work environments, etc.). One idea may be to take an existing solution and refine the hell out of it — making it better or taking the idea and reimagining it for a different market.

  13. holly

    I keep a pair of shoes at my desk at work, but some commuter/bike shoes that don’t scream ‘bike shoes’ would be great. My cleats are fairly recessed, but the velcro straps look a bit odd with a skirt (i ride in skirts most of the summer) if I stop somewhere to meet friends on the way home or if i ride my touring bike to a party or dinner.

    As an alternative to bike shoes that don’t look like bike shoes, bike shoes that flatten well to fit in panniers easily could be pretty handy. Stiff sole, squishy top.

  14. Jim N.

    I’d like to see something like the Bata Biker come back. It was around before clipless pedals, and was a bit like a cleated shoe, stiff like a cycling shoe, but with a rubber sole.

    Patrick also made a pretty classy looking cyclotouring shoe, but it was not as easy to walk in.

    Another thing about both of these shoes is that they were cheap.

  15. Jay

    Bryan Dotson mentioned it above, and I’ll second it: I like a shoe that’s easy to get on and off. I work in a casual environment; jeans and t-shirts are fine, but my commute is long enough that I wear shorts and performance tees when I ride, especially in hot weather. I therefore pack my work clothes in a pannier and dress for work in the men’s room every day. I can wear the shoes that I ride in all day at work (currently a pair of the Chrome Kursks), but in the past I’ve preferred slip-on Vans. The less time I have to spend tying my shoes in a men’s room stall, the better. Slip-ons also eliminate the issues that laces can cause for cyclists.

    Not long after I ordered my Chromes (which I ordered ONE DAY before the big Chrome shoe giveaway of spring 2010, argh!), they introduced a new slip-on model. I’ll probably check those out after I eventually wear out the Kursks.

  16. Paints

    keen’s and toe clips. keen market st. when i need to fool people into thinking i’m dressy and sandals for the rest of the time. when it rains i take off my riding socks and carry on.

  17. marksanb

    Wow, thanks everyone thus far for your insights! I’m impressed and more so thankful with all your specific input; all very helpful for my thesis proposal that I have to present in a month from now.
    Along with the insights here, I’ve also done some observational research (from my own experience and of course others). I’ve noticed what many of you have mentioned like waterproofness, traction, walkability, etc. So it’s good to see the validation from y’all.
    Sidenote–what’s funny is last year for one of my project classes I came up with the idea to design a cycling shoe that would be convertible from cleat-to-walkable shoe, address the comfort and noise factor when walking in cleated shoes while retaining it’s performance quality while cycling. Anyway, I posted this possible exploration on some other cycling forum and I was pretty much bashed; none of the forum members thought it was necessary or that it was a good idea. My realization/lesson from this: I guess there are two camps of thought–the “hardcore” cyclists who don’t consider commuting factors and then of course the “everyday” person who cycles to work and for recreation. The latter, a bigger market. And of course my target as well 🙂
    thanks again folks… keep em coming!

  18. Dawn

    I end up having to change out my pedals often. Back to clipless for long distances, and flats if it’s close and I don’t want to add the weight of extra shoes to my backpack. I hate doing that so often.

    Girly shoes with cleats would be awesome. I end up wearing converse or flip flops (I know, my toes are in danger!) with grippy bottoms so they stick to my flats.

    So, if you’re thinking about women’s shoes, cute covering the toes, grippy bottoms for flat pedals or hidden cleats that allow me to walk after I get off my bike.

  19. Ben W

    Everyones covered it will, so I’ll just hit some bullet points:

    Street shoe styling. I ride my bike from the office to the club and everywhere in between. I’d much prefer unassuming clean designs. No velcro, no ratchets. Would love a pair of cycling boots if that’s even possible.

    Visibility. The shoes are highly visible from all directions on a bike. Any sort of reflective or lit-up bits wouldn’t hurt.

    Weather. Some people want 4-season shoes. I think that’s silly. Give me light weight well breathing shoes for the summer, and warm water-resistant shoes for the winter.

    Clipless. Both road and mtb clipless systems use cleats and attachment methods that are simply too thick or tall to make for comfortable walking shoes. A clipless system designed specifically for commuters would feature a much thinner cleat with design considerations for easy walking and long-wearing durability.

  20. Tinker

    I ride a utility bicycle, so the thing I want is a pair of shoes, stiff enough to stand up to pedal up hills with out bending on/around the pedals, and I would just as soon it didn’t have 3 stripes, or a big N on the side, or big check mark, or anybody’s brand name on the shoes, solid gray or black for choice.

    For shoe strings I use Lock Laces (bungee cord shoe laces), but if they were provided, I’d appreciate it (instead of costing an extra 5 bucks). If the top 4 holes were open so you could speedlace them it would be helpful to get them on. (With Lock-Laces you just pull to tighten and twist them onto the holes. But you have more room to get them on without ruining the heel counter.)

  21. mark

    thanks! I appreciate all the feedback… keep em coming!

  22. Sean


    I’ve been working on a prototype work shoe with and SPD cleat area. I live in DC and I’m often going from work to happy hours all by bike. Right now I just wear flats with dress shoes but my dream is to have dress shoes with cleats. What about those shoes that are lifts for shorter people, they would have thicker soles.

    Please keep me posted! I would need a brown and a black pair to match outfits. I am quite surprised that this hasn’t been developed earlier!

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