You may be familiar with an item of cycling kit known as Belgian booties.
Or perhaps you know them as over-socks?
Why you would intentionally forgo the chance to use the phrase “Belgian booties” eludes me. It suggests we might not get on. But…you’re here, and you’re very kindly reading, so we’re basically mates.
I’ll crack on.
Belgian booties are like overshoes, but they’re socks. Sturdy, tightly woven, technical socks. With a hole underneath where your cleats poke through. They’ll keep a breeze off, and repel a shower, but not much more.
They’ll probably tear if you walk around too much on them.
They are one of those brilliantly specific items of cycling kit: you’ll buy some, unsure when to wear them, and then a day will arrive when you step out into cycling weather that can only be described as a “Belgian booties kind of day.”
And it will all make sense.
Overshoes are an awful piece of kit. Ugly, tedious, and highly practical. Here in the northern hemisphere they are essential. All of the bad weather conditions (rain, wind, cold, sleet…you know the ones) can be made bearable by overshoes.
Owning Belgian booties, on the other hand, is optional.
They are sort of practical, on the right ride, on the right day, and even then you might find out half way round that overshoes would’ve been the correct decision.
But they’re stylish. And they have heritage. And they won’t break the bank. And sometimes they mean that you can go for a ride without wearing overshoes (made from neoprene, or some other god-forsaken material).
But perhaps they have a dark side?
Until about two months ago I had never owned a pair. Due to their optional nature the sensible, logical bit of my brain had always directed me towards bits of kit that I actually need.
I made one attempt to buy some in 2017. I wandered around Brussels – a city in Belgium, don’t forget – in search of a pair. I had assumed there would be an entire shop, perhaps even a whole shopping centre, devoted to this national item.
If there was, I didn’t find it.
I returned empty handed.
And then a recent moment of weakness in Manchester found me in the Rapha shop, credit card in hand, and choosing between pink and black.
I wore them once, and then suffered a succession of coughs, colds, wheezes, viruses and infections. I have been unable to ride my bike, managing only to stagger to and from work each day before collapsing onto the settee.
I’ve become a malingerer. A shadow of my former self. Frankly, an absolute nuisance. Instead of getting out and riding my bike I hang around the house, ill, making the place look untidy.
I can only assume that the wearing of the booties caused this.
Was the neoprene of the overshoes acting as an anti-bacterial barrier?
Do the booties encourage germs to get in through the feet?
Is this why they don’t sell them in Belgium?