Sean Kelly was one of the hardmen of cycling. He was meticulous with his equipment and probably the last rider to use toe straps. I too started using toe straps/clips and liken this as an evil torture device that left me with numb feet after a ride. But necessary to keep riding.
Here's Sean Kelly's interesting account on why he preferred to be strapped in...
Just because I was slow to change from toe clips to clipless pedals people sometimes assume that I wasn’t really into equipment. Nothing could be further from the truth. I took my profession very seriously and was actually meticulous about my equipment.
One of my highest profile equipment choices was related to the pedals that I used whilst racing. While many of the peloton had changed to clip-less pedals I was still happy to stay riding toe clips. I had concerns about possible injuries when the feet were locked in so solidly, as there was always a bit of play with the toe clips and straps that could be looser during a stage and then tightened approaching the finish. I heard about Hinaults' knee troubles and did not want to fall victim to the same fate. The initial clipless pedals from Look were totally fixed and if you didn’t have the cleats set up 100% correctly you were forcing your knee into an un-natural position 90 times per minute. It might be subtle, but after 200k chances are it would have a negative effect. As there was so much attention around my pedal choice at the time my choice of clip-less pedal was going to attract a bit of publicity for the manufacturer so I was happy to get a little compensation for that too.
A bike or equipment won’t make up for a lack of training, but a well maintained good quality bike will allow you to get the most out of yourself.