The Foot

The Foot

As Seen in the July 2016 issue of The Racing Post

The foot is one of the critical points of comfort on the bike. This time of year seems to bring out more foot problems than any other time of the year. “As you cycle, your feet tend to swell slightly – the longer you cycle the more they swell.”1 Blood vessels dilate in the heat resulting in more swelling as well. Whether it is the heat or the increase of miles, summer time tends to bring on more foot related problems.

Common Problems

Excess Pressure – Pressure manifests in forefoot region. Occasionally, rear foot pressure can occur. Excess pressure can come from a myriad of sources including but not limited to shoe, shape, insoles, shoe material, saddle height & fore/aft, cleat position and pedal system

“Hot Foot” – Medically it is called metatarsalagia. This occurs when the bones of the foot through force or structure put pressure on the nerves and vessels in the foot which causes inflammation in the ball of the foot. This results in a burning sensation in the foot.

Limited Range of Motion – Some riders have really stiff ankles that limit the range of motion of the foot.

Bunions – Additional bone build up typically around the knuckle of the big toe. This is particularly challenging since the pedal stroke connects with the big toe. Narrow shoes tend to squeeze the forefoot more and further exacerbate the problem. A shoe stretcher or bunion stretcher can help.

Thin fat pads – We have cushioning fat pads on the bottom of our feet. For some, these pads have become thinner especially as we age. The loss of natural foot padding can cause significant discomfort.

Methods of Measuring

Physical Exam – Looking at and reviewing foot structure and range of motion.

Forefoot measuring tool – used to measure the angle of the forefoot.

Foot Scanners – Digital scan of the foot for semi-custom and custom insoles.

Pressure Mats – Pressure sensitive mats that help determine foot structure. Frequently, these are used to help with off the shelf insoles.

Brannock Device – Helps determine shoe size and width.

Foot Force Pressure Analysis – Detailed pressure analysis done while actively pedaling. Force pressure analysis is used to help determine the effects of cleat position on foot pressures and power output. In addition, the pressure analysis data can be used to develop custom insoles.

Methods of Intervention

I have seen all sorts of stuff crammed into shoes to try and alleviate issues. From double insoles to hand crafted pieces of plastic and gel, I have seen it. Whenever I encounter such creativity, I always ask why is this in there and did it help. Nine times out of ten, the rider is trying to solve a problem and was not successful. Many times the area where the symptoms manifest is not where the actual problem lies.

Insoles – Insoles can come in the form off the shelf, semi-custom and custom. The cost and quality of insoles vary widely. Off the shelf help most people but custom can provide the subtle difference that may be needed to help solve that nagging issue or increased performance.

Pedal Systems – Some pedal systems work better for some riders than others. I have had many road riders using mountain bike shoes and pedals that faired significantly better when they went to a road pedal system.

Cleat Position – This is one of the more significant points of adjustment that can help. I find a more aft – rearward – cleat position yields fewer foot problems.

Wedges – Wedges are angled pieces of plastic that accommodate excessive forefoot cant and can be used in the shoe as well as between the cleat and shoe.

Shims – Shims are placed between the cleat and the shoe to accommodate leg length discrepancies.

Metatarsal Pads –  Pads that are designed to help prevent the collapse of the metatarsal that apply pressure on the vessels and nerves. The pads come in various sizes and thicknesses. Sometimes, a little can make a big difference. Metatarsal bumps are also present in some insoles.

Shoes – Width, length, shape and construction material can all have an effect on foot comfort.

Foot Pressure Mapping

Tips for keeping the foot happy

Scrunch the toes up before tightening the front strap. Once you have tightened the front of the shoe, let the toes relax. This allows for more room in the toe box.

Do not overtighten your shoes

When trying on cycling shoes, if you have a pressure point or they are not comfortable in the store – it tends not to get better more miles. Keep trying. If needed, try on the shoes with an appropriate aftermarket insole that supports your foot structure. Typically, the insole that comes with the shoe is not adequate.

Have your fit reviewed annually – Our bodies change over time and your hardware should be changing with it.

Aft cleat position tends to create less foot problems. Keep in mind changes to the cleat position may require saddle height adjustment.

Seek medical attention if fit adjustments do not help alleviate a problem. You may have an underlying issue. You will want to see a podiatrist that is familiar with sports related problems. They will be more understanding and accommodating of your training and event schedule.

As with everything in fit, the position and intervention should be tailored to you.


  1. Burt, Phil. Bike Fit. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2014. Print.



Craig Fulk

Master Retul Bike Fitter

Advanced Pressure Analysis