To be perfectly honest with you, when Piloti driving shoes first appeared in magazine ads I could not help but chuckle. "People will buy anything these days," I mused, conjuring up some alternative ad copy: For the discriminating driver, we present our discriminating little driving booties-matching silk ascot and poodle wrap optional. I turned the page and didn't really think about them much after that. After all, where I grew up in Scranton, Pa., engineer's boots sufficed as "driving shoes."
Last fall, events coalesced that made me think better of Piloti driving shoes. First, I had taken my BMW R1150R motorcycle to Lime Rock Park racetrack, not to race, but for the annual Rolex Vintage Festival, sponsored by BMW. Second, my sneakers-men generally have only one pair at a time-were shot at the time and I had been meaning to buy two new pair: one pair for jogging and one pair for general use, including driving. Third, I had worn old Navy-issue combat boots which have been pressed into service as motorcycle boots. BMW riders do not wear sneakers on a motorcycle. Fourth, my feet were killing me as I walked miles around Lime Rock Park in sunny, dusty, 95-degree temperatures wearing the gnarly old boots. Fifth, there was this hot-looking girl hawking Piloti driving shoes outside of Driving Impressions, Lime Rock Park's on-site tchotchke store that also sells racing supplies, Red Line Oil... and Piloti driving shoes.
It was one of those moments when seemingly unrelated forces descend upon you, creating a strong temptation to do something you would not normally do, like spend $75 on a pair of driving shoes.
I chatted up the girl, bought a pair of Piloti Spyder SVs in ecosse and race yellow, (ecosse must be marketing for "blue"), threw the Navy boots in the box, and went about my business with happy feet. They are pretty comfortable for walking around, but it was not until the next day when I drove my car that the Pilotis showed their true worth. The thin, highly flexible sole and softly curved heel area really do make it easier to match-speed shift and heel-and-toe with a manual gearbox. I don't know about lap times, but the feel is certainly improved, and I have noticed it is easier to get used to the pedal interface and idiosyncrasies of different cars. After all, people in this line of work often drive many different cars.
I had almost forgotten about the shoes, not expecting to discern a significant driving advantage, when all of the sudden there it was-the Tool of the Month, right there on my feet. OK, so they're not really technically tools, but then again they are if you think about them as driving tools. Here's the caveat: I wear size 9 shoes. If you have gigantic feet, probably no shoe is going to help you heel-toe a Lotus Europa, but I'd still recommend trying some Pilotis.
I decided to look into Piloti further, and I was impressed by the company. Piloti was founded by Kevin Beards and makes its shoes in the United States. The low-cut Spyder SV is the newest shoe in the Piloti Touring line. Using a patented Roll Control(tm) heel reinforced on the lateral side of the right shoe for proper heel-and-toe downshifting, the Touring line was created to give enthusiasts an alternative to Piloti's fire-resistant shoes while retaining the same fit and performance. Piloti has also added a unique toggle lacing system, little quick-release plastic thingies on the laces, so you don't have to tie them. The shoes are sold with regular laces, as well, in case that is your preference. The Spyder SV is constructed of suede and mesh or leather and mesh.
To the girl selling shoes I was like the Invisible Man, only with a visible credit card. But my BMW 325Ci now seems to like me better; the Piloti Spyder SVs helped me learn that blipping the throttle for matched-speed shifting in a BMW with a clutch delay valve is a very precise affair, requiring nary a touch of the accelerator, as opposed to the more direct action required with an older Bimmer. I couldn't feel that before in regular sneakers-really. Feel free to send silk ascots, but please, no poodles.