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If the shoe fits

“Hot feet” is caused by the compression of the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the forefoot – instigated by a number of different factors relating to shoe choice. When purchasing the correct shoe, the shape of the shoe should be considered before the size. It is recommended having your foot correctly measured to determine length and width which will assist in determining which cycling shoe best suits your foot. This will also give you a good idea of the position of the ball of your foot within the shoe, which will ultimately affect your cleat positioning.

A firmer, reinforced soled shoe is always preferable. If your cycling shoes have flexible soles like most mountain bike shoes, they’ll be less able to diffuse pressure across the foot. Also to consider when choosing a cycling shoe, is the adjustability of the shoe over the foot. Your foot needs to be as secure as possible inside the shoe to prevent any unwanted heel slippage and unnecessary movements within the shoe, which will result in a loss of power throughout your pedal stroke as well as pressure being applied to the incorrect areas of your foot. A common misconception is that a cycling shoe should be loose fitting, with enough room for the toes to move and accommodate an increase in foot size once the foot begins to swell during a ride. However, this is not the case and may be the cause for many riders developing bad pedalling techniques in an attempt to compensate for a loose fitting shoe.

Size does matter

Another possible factor contributing to the “Hot Feet” condition, is the surface area of your bicycle pedals. Small pedal surfaces concentrate pressure on a restricted area of the sole of the shoe instead of distributing the pressure evenly across the foot - the way a broader pedal would. A good pedal choice should therefore offer an adequate surface area to ensure even pressure distribution throughout the sole of the foot and correct knee alignment, which will ultimately affect power transfer through the pedal stroke.

Ease of entry into and out of the pedal is is also important. Most reliable pedals on the market will offer some element of spring adjustment to the pedals which will in turn influence the ‘float or play’ of the cleat and the ease of clipping in and out.

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Cleat positioning has a much greater impact on a riders’ overall position on the bike than one would perceive. The power generated by the rider is transferred directly to the bike via ones feet on the pedals. This relationship between foot and pedal needs to be optimised to achieve efficient and comfortable performance.

The common belief that the ball of foot should be positioned directly over the pedal axle is not necessarily true. When considering cleat position on the shoe, imagine the foot as a lever. The further forward the cleat is placed relative to the ball of foot, the greater the effort will be required to stabilise the calf through the motion of the pedal stroke. This may cause excessive heel drop especially when shifting back on the saddle on long climbs, and it may also place excessive pressure on the knee in certain cases.

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On the other hand, the more rearward the cleat position on the shoe relative to the ball of the foot, the less the required effort would be to stabilise the foot on the pedal. However, this can cause an unnatural ‘stretching’ motion for the pedal axel, and may result in loss of power when standing up to accelerate quickly.

Choosing shoes and pedals, therefore, is not as easy as buying the best out there. They have to be carefully chosen based on your own feet and how you ride. It is worth taking the time to speak to a specialist about what your specific needs are and what suits you best.

Words: Richard Baxter
Images: Zoon Cronje