Many scooter riders enjoy just hopping on, turning the key and heading off to run errands around town. Often, that means neglecting to take the time to put on protective clothing or the right boots designed for the task.
That’s a shame because boots are an important safety feature even on those short jaunts – especially in congested urban places where you’ll often encounter sand, oily pavement and other hazards of the road. By definition, every ride (no matter how short) involves both getting started and stopping in places where you’ll want your surest footing.
Live & Learn
When it comes to riding footwear, I have made some poor choices. Many riders probably can identify with the challenge of finding the right match. My first pair of motorcycle boots - purchased many years ago from a large motor-sports discount retailer - were absolutely dreadful. It was a self-serve store with a limited selection of footwear. The quality of those boots was very poor with nearly non-existent traction, and they inflicted extreme discomfort when worn for more than an hour. The blame goes on me for failing to think it through and not taking this important purchase seriously enough.
A few years ago, another boot purchase came from a different motor-sports mass merchant (specializing in on-line parts orders) with a huge selection of boots, and headquarters located about an hour ride from home. Again, this was a challenging self-serve situation, but I was able to try out many styles from several manufacturers. I had hoped to find a pair that would be stylish for work and capable on the road.
Apparently, those two basic requirements are mutually exclusive.
For whatever reason, I found that the more stylish the boot the less comfortable the fit. Not only that, but I also noticed stylishness and road-worthiness simply don’t go hand-in-hand (or foot-to-foot). After experiencing much frustration trying on many boots, I finally decided to try on a pair of Red Wing shorty pull-ons (model 977 – now discontinued). It was the first time in several years I had seen a “Made in the USA” label on footwear.
Despite my fondness for this home-state manufacturer, I had hesitated to try on a pair of Red Wings because I had a pretty good idea that they would be heavy and the neo-punk look wasn’t my style. Ultimately, though, safety and comfort were at the top of my list. And frankly, yes, Red Wing motorcycle boots are heavy and have a very distinctive look. They just happen to be terrifically comfortable, very well built, and designed to perfectly meet the needs of scooterists and motorcyclists alike.
You’ll notice, though, this review isn’t directed at those pull-ons. They have been great boots, except that their stretchy gathers on the sides tend to fray and look a bit ratty over time. This design also doesn’t give you top-notch ankle support. Red Wing has released a new pair of shorty pull-ons featuring zippers on both sides of each boot. Not only will the new design give the boot somewhat better ankle support, but the troublesome gathers have been eliminated. Kudos to Red Wing for taking an incremental approach to improving its product line while managing to stay well ahead of the pack.
Go to the Store – Get the Perfect Fit
A year ago, I decided that it would be a good idea to upgrade my Red Wings and go the traditional route of heading to a real shoe store where I could get exactly what I need. This is a good way to go. Most often, you’ll get good advice from the salesperson. If the store doesn’t have the exact model in your size and width, they most likely will offer to special order the boot for you.
Shoes and boots aren’t standard sizes, so the ability to get measured properly and then try on specific models is a big part of getting a comfortable fit. (OK, so I’m a slow learner.) Working in Red Wings’ favor is a large network of stores coast-to-coast. In my case, my perfect fit was a Model 967. Nothing is more precise in fitment than a lace-up boot. But if you’re anything like me, your reaction to lace-ups is, “Who has the time?”
With the Model 967 (and a handful of similar models), the solution is simple. Lace up your boots to a perfect fit one time, and then use the zipper for the quick mount and dismount we all prefer. This gives you a comfortable boot that fits like a glove. This model is available in three widths – quite an amazing selection in this day and age. Nothing beats the sewn-in Goodyear welt construction and Vibram soles for durability and traction. Red Wing gives you a top-notch cushioning footbed that comfortably overcomes the weight of the boot.
I work on the edge of downtown, and park several blocks away every day to avoid pay lots and meters. These boots are comfortable for walking, and could even double as hiking boots. A new synthetic liner (replacing leather lining in my earlier pair) wicks away moisture and reduces heat build up in summer. You hardly even notice the fact that these boots have a steel toe (hey, what’s an extra ounce or two on a substantial pair of boots like these), but the added protection can come in handy when you’re scuffling along in tight spaces like the garage or next to a curb. And a steel toe is especially nice if you’re riding a motorcycle requiring constant shifting with the top of your boot.
Frankly, the look isn’t my cup of tea, but you sometimes have to compromise. You might even get the occasional odd comment at work, like, “So when’d you join a neo-fascist group?” Ouch. Oddly enough, you’ll tend to get far more good fibes coming from the younger crowd who’ll even offer up, “Hey, cool boots!” Hmm, guess I must have missed the fashion boat somewhere along the line.
You can’t help but notice one thing about these boots, and all the other motorcycle boots in the current line up. Red Wing has moved a portion of its production overseas. To the company’s credit, it is clear that Red Wing has preserved its commitment to quality, durable construction, and the company is known for standing behind its product line. Bottom line, that’s what this product review is all about.
It made me wonder, though, why wouldn’t Red Wing try to stave off the shift in motorcycle boot production to China for as long as possible knowing that a huge and lucrative Harley rider market looks for the “Made in USA” label. To be fair, I decided to ask someone who knows about marketing boots better than me, and Red Wing Marketing Director Peter Engel swiftly responded to my query. Turns out that the China production shift has indeed fully preserved quality standards and full warranty, while reduced retail prices have triggered increased sales of motorcycle boots, Engel reports. So much for my marketing theories. And if you want “Made in the USA” work boots, you can still find them from Red Wing.
You Can Get Satisfaction if You Try
As for the subject at hand, my satisfaction comes in the form of boots that really deliver on the basics in comfort, good fit and sure footing. Some people even find they look trendy. So satisfaction might not come until you try and try and try, but with the Red Wing Model 967s - I found out you can get what you need.
- Jim Robins