Some may call it an Over shoe, others a Belgian Bootie, or simply an Oversock.
The Oversock is probably the most correct in the way it describes the product, as originally that’s how it started life off. A Flemish Pro racer called Frans Verbeek *(nicknamed ‘The Milkman’ due to a moment of doubt when he went back to this job for a period) who raced in the Merckx era of racing, is credited for inventing these simple yet highly effective garments. The story I had told to me was that before one of the early season Classics he was tired of his feet getting continually cold so he cut some holes in the bottom of the sock so his cleats could poke through. How much of this is true, and whos to say that not unlike many inventions it didn’t happen in many places at the same time, but I am pleased that somebody did venture out and try something new.
Frans Verbeek racing against Eddy Merckx
So to modern times. The humble Over Sock has progressed over the years, and one of the main developments has been the inclusion of Cordura into the fabric mix of these oversocks. I’m not sure actually which person introduced me to the humble oversock and all of its benefits but I’ve narrowed it down to three people (time makes me forget), Sean Dowden (ex work mate, roadie, old School), Richard Hallett (very similar to Sean, just add journalist into that list) and Paul Butler (MD of i-Ride, Distributor of lots of lovely things, including DeFeet). The benefits include keeping the wind out, modern shoes are so well ventilated that when Spring or Autumn come the air that passes through them can run a chill to your bones. Keeping your shoes clean and grit free are added benefits especially if you’ve just paid £xxx on a lovely pair of (white) shoes some months before. Finally for the wannabe Flandrien there is no other product, coupled with shining embrocated legs, that says pavé and bergs to me. Not waterproof, but they do a great job of absorbing a lot of water and they help stop your feet freezing (I can talk from experience as I once road 200 km in the pissing rain with just these as protection!).
I’ve tried loads of brands over the years but the one I’ve found to be super tough, almost to the point of bombproof is the DeFeet Slipstream. I’ve a pair which is about 8 years old and has only recently started to look tatty and in need of replacement. Many of my friends scoff and look puzzled when I use them, but they work and do the job intended, and to be honest you can never ask more of a product than that. I appreciate that for many it will be a leap of faith to buy a pair, it was for me when I purchased mine all those years ago, but do it, reach past your boundries and try something new, you might just be surprised by the results.
*Frans Verbeeck palmarés include a bunch of wins which in any other period would have made him a legend (outside of Belgium), these include the Fleche Wallone (1974), Het Volk (1970, 1972), Amstel Gold (1970), and the 1973 Belgian National Championship beating the likes of Eddy Merckx in the process. His record in the Tour of Flanders echoes his class; third in 1972, and second twice in 1974 and ’75. The Milkman delivered 166 victories as a professional.