Monday, October 24, 2011

Shoes: A Guest Review (Or, I'm Too Lazy To Write Yet Again)

Esteemed guest reviewer James Black (who you may remember from my praise-riddled introduction) has been kind enough to ride and review the Chrome Kursks that didn't quite fit my chubby dogs. Since the weather's gorgeous here in Iowa today, I'm turning this space over to James and heading out for a ride. Ah, the joys of being an editor -- especially when the source material doesn't need any editing.

If you like what you read below and also happen to dig architecture (Mr. Black's day job), he also puts out a darn fine blog on the subject called The Lower Modernisms.

Okay, the link juice is sprinkled, the sun is out, and my tires are aired up. James, make yourself at home, and help yourself to anything you find in the fridge.

Jason offered me a great opportunity here – he sends me free shoes and all I have to do is hijack his blog with a spew of my opinions? Having the correct size foot is a key that can open doors. Thanks, Jason, for giving me hipper feet for this brief episode in my life.

Knowing that positive reviews are both boring and harder to write, I endeavored to take my role as a critic seriously and find a way to complain about the failures of the Chrome Kursk. I wore this pair of size 9 1/2 Kursk sneakers most days for a month and offer this report: I grudgingly approve of the Kursk and acknowledge that they are pretty okay.

I am a little ambivalent about how they look. Although I am but 35 years of age, I have the tastes and preferences of an 80-year-old statesman and usually favor ugly, heavy, traditional shoes of leather. Looking down at these sneaks is like finding a child-man has taken over my lower body. The Chrome imagery probably appeals to these kids today, with the pseudo Czarist-Sovietskikh imagery reminiscent of the propaganda-styled work of successful sell-out Shepard Fairey of “OBEY” fame. I am a bit skeptical. Does the Chrome brand really have street credibility? I find this imagery a little contrived, but the red-on-black does have a winning graphic boldness. 
Three of my coworkers complimented me on my new sneakers, including one unexpected “nice dogs.” Usually I get no compliments on anything I wear, so I interpret this as evidence of how misaligned my taste is. 

Visually these shoes cut a profile more lithe- and long-looking than most sneaks, including the Vans and Converse that set the precedent for this type of shoe. They look sharp. They pair better with slimmer-cut trousers. 

I have moderately narrow feet and typically wear shoes in size 9 1/2 or 10. I tied these on and immediately felt that my smallest toe was constricted – the double-needle seam behind the rubber toe top lands right on my toe where the shoe bends when my foot flexes. Although otherwise the shoes fit very well, I feel that the toe box is both too narrow and not high enough. This sensation made walking rather uncomfortable, although not rising to the level of painful. Initial expectations were quite low. But surprise finale: Quite unexpectedly, after a few weeks something in the shoe has evidently yielded and they have become more comfortable and less pinchy.

Over the course of the month I walked about 60 miles in the Kursks, and rode about 120 miles on bicycles equipped with rat-trap pedals and toe clips and straps. While walking my initial three-mile trip to work, I experienced some rubbing at the top back of the heel, but this later went away. Keeping the laces tied nice and tight helped ameliorate the rubbing. The laces are too long, but the elastic “lace-keeper” does its job.
Aside from the aforementioned issues, the shoes worked well for the long walks – the stiffened sole did not impede walking, and the oval-shaped heel cutout fitted with gel insert seemed to perform as intended. My heel bottoms felt great after walking.

My longest bicycle ride while wearing these shoes was about 40 miles. In past personal experience, when riding in lightweight canvas Vans sneakers, the flexible soles allow a caged-style pedal to become torturously painful after about 20 miles of riding, so I needed to find out how the Kursk would hold up. They did fine, my feet grumbled about nothing other than Pinchy Toebox.

The sole rubber is very sticky – so sticky that they make it slightly difficult to slide one’s foot into the toe clip. This is probably a good feature for those that ride with no foot retention. Despite the stickiness, the soles show little wear after all the walking, just a slight rounding off at the back of the heel.
The uppers are made from a sandwich of durable, abrasion-resistant Cordura nylon on the outside, a lighter-weight canvas of unknown material on the inside, and some kind of padding or other material sandwiched between. This is quite a difference from the single-ply cotton canvas of traditional sneakers. Cotton canvas is breathable, stretchy, and water-absorbent; the Kursk uppers are none of these, and therefore not so comfortable. I didn’t get a chance to try them in the rain, but I expect they are pretty waterproof. I also found them uncomfortably warm on hot days and they made my feet feel clammy in a way that I don’t experience wearing leather shoes. This may be more satisfactory in colder climates than my own Los Angeles.

After 60 miles of walking and a month of usage, the only real sign of wear is a delamination of the piping that joins the sole to the upper where the forefoot bends, as you can see in the picture. That will probably get worse, but then I will have more street cred when my shoes show some beausage*.

On the whole, I like them okay and will continue to wear them, but they would need a bigger toebox for me to call them comfortable and offer unqualified praise. Chrome, please listen to the clamor of the broadfooted masses and offer these sneakers in a wider fit at the forefoot. 

*Exposition from your friendly neighborhood editor here: "Beausage" is a term coined by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works. It combines the words "beauty" and "usage" to describe the type of worn-in beauty that comes from using an object for its intended purpose. Being a bit of a linguistic retrogrouch, I'd grumble that Petersen could have just stuck with "patina" and spared us a clumsy French-sounding neologism, but as a good host, I'll leave it in my guest's text and keep my whining down here in a small footnote.


Tarik Saleh said...

I read the whole thing. I am disappointed at the lack of obscure architecture theory references. James apparently only becomes appropriately passionate when tacos, some bikes and actual architecture are on the line. I take that this is probably yet another sign of his ambivalence toward the shoes rather than him losing sight of what makes Blackian web prose great.

bikelovejones said...

It's hard to find sneaks when you have skinny, yardstick feet. Yes, these shoes are made in China; and yes, Chrome has been owned by Keen for a few years now so of course they've come out with more shoes and, um, "lifestyle bags" (I smell a Timbuk2-ish trend here).

That said, the Kursk is such a good shoe for my foot that I've managed to get my hands on three pairs. I admit that it's a good shoe, but perhaps not good enough that I would ever pay full retail for a pair (so far I haven't had to).

Scott Loveless said...

It's quite possible that "beausage" is something Grant and Co. came up with over beer and pizza. Also, see "Roadeo".