There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of “invest in the things that come between you and the ground”, and when thinking about bike fit it’s safe to assume that we can interpret this as investing in the things that come between you and the bike. While the first item that may come to mind is your saddle (and you wouldn’t be wrong), the more overlooked element in this system is your feet, and what you put on them.
We’ve previously discussed the importance of proper saddle positioning and its role as the foundation of your entire position. However, addressing the interface between you and the bike at your feet is a close second when considering injury prevention and avoiding common pains. Unlike most other activities, cycling involves extremely high volumes of very repetitive movements (pedalling). Even activities like running see much more variation in each step/stroke which allows the body to compensate and adjust. Cycling, especially when clipped into your pedals, results in nearly identical movements with the mechanics largely being driven from the foot up. This is why the interface at the feet is so important, if the lowest point of contact is unstable everything above is impacted.
While we certainly don’t want to undervalue the importance of working on the strength and mobility components that contribute to a sound pedal stroke, choosing the right equipment eliminates one additional point of weakness in the system. With the importance of creating stability through the lower body in mind, these are three key things you should consider about what you put on your feet before starting your fit.
Cycling Shoes (Size, Shape, and Width)
Perhaps unsurprisingly choosing the right shoes is the first step to setting up your feet for success. Without touching on the impacts of different levels of shoe stiffness, getting shoes of the correct size, shape, and width for your feet is essential to a good pedal stroke. Needless to say that if your feet are uncomfortable, this will impact the entirety of your cycling experience. Pressure on the inside or outside of the foot often leads to riders subconsciously altering their pedal stroke to avoid discomfort. These small adaptations can lead to more serious pain or injury, often through the knees or hips if left unchecked.
One of the most common issues in selecting shoe size is a result of having a wide foot, and sizing up to accommodate. Similar issues also occur when sizing up/down to accommodate a mismatch in the shape of the shoe (ex: volume), with the shape of your foot. Unfortunately for cyclists, a shoe that is too long often means the cleat position will always be too far forward. This can cause significant issues with your fit, especially with your achilles and calf, but can have knock-on effects up through your hamstrings and even low back. An increasing number of shoe brands (e.g Lake , Shimano , Sidi , etc) offer wide versions of their shoes which can help alleviate this issue, though options are still relatively limited in the wide cycling shoe market.
If your shoes are the connection between you and the bike, your footbeds (sometimes referred to as insoles) are your feet's connection to your shoes. Runners have long understood the importance of buying shoes that match your feet, with a variety of shoe types (neutral, stability, etc.) available to support different levels of pronation, supination and arch structure. Though shoe demands are different for cyclists, getting proper footbeds is perhaps the closest equivalent to buying the correct type of running shoe in terms of supporting the foot appropriately. A footbed or orthotic that supports your feet properly is a key step to making sure your feet are well supported and encourages proper biomechanics on the bike.
Disappointingly most cyclist shoes, even the high end ones, come with what are essentially throw-away footbeds that offer little to no support at all. You should expect that with any pair of shoes you will also want to invest in a new pair of footbeds.
The primary factor for determining a properly fitted footbed is the height and location of the arch support. Many off-the shelf options (e.g. Superfeet , Sole , etc.) offer three arch heights per size: while this works for many, this can sometimes lead to riders needing to size up to find an option that puts the arch in the correct location. Other more modular options, like the popular G8 Performance insoles , provide the option of adjusting both the height and location of the arch support.
Getting help with footbed selection local to you from a specialist or retailer is often best, but a growing number of online tools from manufacturers are a great start and certainly better than not replacing your footbeds at all.
The final step in setting up your feet for success is cleat positioning. We encourage you to check out our recommended method for setting up your cleats, as improper cleat positioning can be the downfall of even the best shoe choice. The placement of your cleat dictates the location and angle at which your foot transfers power to the bike, and as such has a significant impact on how you move and the strains on your body.
While there are certainly a range of common foot related adjustments that can be made over the course of a bike fit, arguably the most significant benefit can be achieved through proper shoe choice, appropriate footbed selection, and a cleat position based on your feet. With these three components in order, most riders will see a significant improvement in the outcomes of their fit and most importantly their experience on the bike.