Desire: A brief history of Adidas cycling shoes

1956: Special Bicycle Racing
Where it all started in 1949. Various incarnations of this shoe remained in the Adidas range up until 1961, with just “minor changes of detail”, according to Adidas achivist Martin Herde. “If the product worked, they didn’t change that much.” Note the strengthening stitched-on leather panels front and side to avoid toe-clips and straps cutting in.

1972: Rudi Altig
Following a decade without a cycling shoe in its range, Adidas returned with the Rudi Altig, named after the 1962 Vuelta winner and 1966 world champion. The company deemed the then-retired German star to be a bigger draw than the alternative for the home market. Elsewhere, Eddy Merckx’s name and face graced the tongue of the shoe. “This model was developed by the French division of the company,” Herde explains. “If I see Italian and French shoes from that period, it is a similar look: perforated upper, shaped sole.”

1978: Eddy Merckx Competition
“It is exactly the same model as the Altig,” says Herde, “but this is the best-known one. The all-over breathable mesh upper was the revolution — it was new back then. Merckx wore this shoe for the Hour Record in Mexico.”


1980: Special Track
An intriguing design, with aerodynamics now coming into play — the three stripes are printed, rather than sewn, and a tongue cover keeps the laces hidden from sight. The super-stiff fibreglass sole is drilled with a rail system for fine-tuning of shoeplate positioning, with the whole shoe being screwed to the pedal. No danger of these shoes coming unclipped in the sprint…

1985: Special Cyclo Cross
Double world champion Klaus-Peter Thaler helped develop these curious boots, presumably for use in muddy conditions only. Adidas took the upper from their successful Walter Röhrl rallying shoe, added a trail-running rubber profile to the standard Eddy Merckx sole, and finished off with a lace cover to keep out the worst of the mud. “A strange mix,” says Herde, “but it worked very well.”

1987: STI Pedal
Now we reach what is recognisably a forerunner of the modern cycling shoe, with a single Velcro strap making its first appearance, only this one was an abject failure, as it could only be used with one make of pedal. “Adidas developed its own pedal system, at a time when Look really ruled the market,” Herde explains. “It was horrible, to be honest. I tried it. It didn’t work. In fact it was kind of dangerous — you couldn’t release the foot!”


1992: Eddy Merckx Challenge / Eddy Merckx Pro
Many were yet to make the conversion to clipless pedals by the early ’90s, strange as that may seem. Adidas catered for the still-healthy shoeplate market with these two models, which also featured the three-hole Look mountings beneath the plates should they be required. “Before this, shoeplates had to be nailed onto the sole,” says Herde. “If you got it wrong, you were in trouble, whereas these cleats are screwed on and adjustable. I think this is the best system for the toeclip set-up at the time.”

1997: Vuelta
Kevlar-reinforced material gives the two straps their yellowish tinge, while the sole is nylon with carbon fibre. Adidas plays down its connection as kit supplier to Team Telekom in the drug-fuelled ’90s, but this pair is unmistakably the same as those worn by 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich. He’s even signed them.


2002: E.M. Competition
“The holes in the sole do not go all the way through, but show the idea of the cycling shoe,” says Herde. For legal and licensing reasons, the greatest living cyclist’s name could no longer be used, hence the initials in the title. “But it’s a sneaker inspired by the Eddy Merckx cycling shoe,” Herde tells us. “It was a special edition which collectors still seek out.”

Desire: Giro Empire E70 knit shoes

2005: Adistar Road SL / Super Pro Classic
Currently the last in a long line, the Road SL features a ‘Fast Strap’ lacing system, combined with a rachet, while the limited edition Super Pro takes pride of place in Herde’s personal shoe collection. “The lacing system is the bringing together of the classic Merckx shoe but in a modern take: stripes on the heel, perforated leather upper — one of the most beautiful cycling shoes ever made. It looks super-cool but has all of the modern features you need.”


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