Pro cyclists aren’t robots. They like to express their individuality, yet modern cycling kit tends to make everyone in the peloton identical. Customised kit is growing amongst the professionals because it allows them to bring their personality into the workplace – the road.
When Rouleur last met Jessie Walker in 2016 she was an elite rider at a career crossroads. She chose to retire from racing and returned to studying art, her other great passion. Recently she has combined her skill as an artist with her connections in the cycling world, creating custom shoes for friends and family – some of whom happen to be pro cyclists.
The idea started when her brother, Team Wiggins rider Joey Walker, wanted a pair. Jessie spoke to a local artist about materials and techniques and completed that first pair over a weekend. Joey liked the result, and so did Jessie’s social media following. Jessie customised her own shoes, those of her parents (dad Chris was a successful pro in the 80s and 90s), her boyfriend James Shaw of Lotto Soudal, national champion Connor Swift, and many others.
“After I finished racing I wanted a complete break from cycling to refresh my mind,” Jessie says. “I got back into an old love of mine, drawing. I started to draw mainly portraits of animals and people, which then led to me attend art college.
“During my time away from cycling I realised how much it was a part of me and I then wanted to combine the two together. I’ve thoroughly loved designing and painting the shoes, and seeing the finished product in photos throughout the year. The main thing I’ve learnt from painting several pairs of shoes now, is to have a lot of patience. I guess I can apply that to most things in life too.”
The process varies according to the client. Some have a clear idea of what they would like, others just specify their favourite colours. Once Jessie has the blank shoes and the paints, she draws an outline of the design, then hand-paints the block colours. The paint is thick enough that it can work on any colour of shoe, though white tends to work best.
While some clients like eye-catching fluorescent colour schemes, Jessie’s personal favourites are more subtle. On her own shoes she did an intricate paisley flower design. Her mum asked for a Union Jack on the heel of her shoes and James had a black panther to show his support for the Nottingham Panthers ice hockey team.
“I asked Jessie to design a black panther on my shoes as a nod to my Nottingham roots. The level of detail on the panther has made everyone look twice. It looks like it’s been printed on from a factory. It really is of the highest level,” James says.
And if you can’t afford a new pair of shoes? Jessie can up-cycle your old pair. You might not ride as fast as some of her other clients, but you can look just as good.