One-of-a-kind kicks: The unique beauty of FCCS custom cycling shoes
Amongst the hustle and bustle of the mass manufacturing world that was the Taipei Cycle Show sat the occasional niche business. Based on passion before profit, these businesses are often the most innovative and interesting at the show.
Local to Taipei, Taiwan, Jack Lee is such an example. Lee makes cycling shoes under the name of FCCS (Fully Customised Cycling Shoe) and has done so full-time for approximately three years. However, he’s only just started accepting orders.
Without an exhibit at the show or even a website, I reached out to Lee on his Instagram page – a place where I first came across his work – to meet up while I was in town.
Old school molds, modern tech and manual labour
Lee got his start in footwear simply as a result of being unable to find cycling shoes that fit his flat and wide feet. A bunch of research later and Lee decided to try his hand at making his own. That led Lee down a painstaking path of relentless improvement, and soon, he realised there may be a business in it.
Much like pre-existing custom cycling shoe brands such as Lintamon, Sierra, Rocket7, Simmons-Racing, Bont and even Adam Hansen’s Hanseeno, Lee found wrapping carbon around a foot mold provided him with the ideal comfortable fit, and a few performance-focussed benefits too. He’s since realised ways to refine fit to match the intended foot, greatly improve stiffness without fragility, and has played with a number of upper materials and retention methods.
His custom shoes start with the traditional method of taking foot casts. Lee was vague in the specifics, but his methods for taking the initial casts are done to replicate the desired fit on the bike. Currently, Lee is only working with molds he takes in person.
Traditionally, those casts are then reversed into plaster molds. These molds are then manually sanded to clean up the shape and surface ready for material layering, but as Lee suggests, fine details or even the original shape can be lost in the process.
Lee’s methods are a whole lot more modern. Having previously run an architecture 3D perspective studio for some 15 years, Lee combines that advanced digital knowledge with the traditional techniques in his shoemaking. Instead of layering up the original and modified plaster foot mold, Lee 3D scans the raw plaster molds to provide a digital file to refine and re-use over and over.
From there, Lee is able to 3D print the last to use for the forming and shaping of the materials. For Lee, his background in 3D modeling was certainly helpful, but the specifics of 3D scanning and 3D printing took nearly a year to learn.
Many of Lee’s existing shoe samples were built with racing in mind. He’s found specific interest from the likes of British track sprinter Blaine Hunt, and Australian Continental road rider Jesse Ewart – both of whom provide Lee with ongoing development feedback.
Lee’s shoes don’t use a replaceable or padded footbed; instead, the foot sits directly on the molded shape. Much like those that swear by full carbon saddles, it all comes down to shape. Ensuring the shoe’s shape is an exact match to your foot will result in evenly spread load and pedaling bliss, and Lee’s use of 3D modeling claims to provide just that.
Inspired by safety measures in F1 racing cars, Lee realised that such a stiff carbon sole could dangerously splinter on impact, a danger made all the more real by a lack of a removable inner sole. As a result, Lee now uses a layer of kevlar across the inner surface of the sole.
The FCCS shoes are stiff enough that I couldn’t discern any flex in twisting or bending them, and Lee suggests that his track athletes using the shoes say there’s nothing stiffer.
Lee admits there are lighter options on the market, suggesting those that want the lightest shoe should look elsewhere – he prioritises comfort, stiffness, efficiency and safety. While Lee has had shoes as low as 89g each, they just weren’t safe or durable. The kevlar safety layer adds some weight, approximately 25-30g per shoe. The models pictured weigh approximately 220g in a size EU43 (extremely wide fit).
A scroll through Lee’s Instagram page reveals a staggering number of upper designs. In fact, it almost seems that Lee rarely repeats the same design twice.
Perhaps his most common retention method involves laces and a zippered cover, something that provides sprinters with the most secure hold. However, recent changes to UCI rulings means he’s unlikely to continue making the covered design unless requested. For general road riding, Lee prefers to use Boa-style retention systems.
It’s his recent dimpled upper design that’s perhaps the easiest feature to spot. These use a vacuum to produce the golf ball-like dimpling effect on the exterior polyurethane (PU) leather. On the inside, kevlar backing is used for increased strength and stretch resistance.
Without an innersole, stack heights are kept extremely competitive, however, the canted nature of Lee’s shoes make it tough to measure – somewhere between 6-8mm was the quoted figure.
Much like custom shoe makers before him, Lee seems to be progressing cycling footwear on his own terms. And certainly, the shoe designers of the biggest brands will be watching closely to see what he’s up to.
As it currently stands, Lee’s specific method for taking foot molds remains his biggest barrier to entry — he needs to do it in person. However, he hopes to slowly build a network of podiatrists or similar professionals that know how to meet his requirements. Getting it wrong will certainly be a costly endeavor for Lee.
For now, those who want a pair of FCCS shoes will need to meet with Lee in person. And his prices reflect just how many hours go into the creation of each shoe — you can expect to pay US$1,750 for a pair of road shoes, and US$2,000 for shoes built with track sprints in mind.