A newer member of my cycling club jumped on our Yahoo group with a question.

“I am having some pain in the outside of my right foot that has been slowly building over the past few weeks,” he wrote. “I used custom orthotics (pronator) when I used to run to alleviate plantars. Unfortunately those orthotics are too thick to fit in my cycling shoes. I found some footbed systems from Gyro and Specialized on line that provide some additional arch suport.

Has anyone had similar issues and what did you do to solve it?”
I’m always interested when I hear people complain about foot pain. I went through that mess several years ago, when I started cycling. In my case, the problem was a poor quality bike shoe. Once I got a pair of Specialized Body Geometry shoes, my foot problems ceased. But his pronation problems are different than the complaints I had with my feet. I waited to see what other club members had to say.
“I use the Specialized inserts and they are excellent,” opined one fellow. No details.
“I too use Specialized inserts,” said another. “They form fit and last a good while. However, if you are a pronator you may need a custom orthotic.
“Also there are several options for increasing your Q factor (distance between pedals) to offset the ankles. I use 25mm Knee savers (they come in stainless at 30mm too and 20mm Titanium). But you can also just purchase longer spindles for Speedplay pedals and possibly others too. “
Knee savers. Hadn’t heard about them for awhile, and I didn’t know this rider was using them. I wrote a post about them several years ago. I’m not sure they’re the kind of relief the original poster was looking for, though.
“Try the Sole thin footbeds on Amazon,” wrote one of our better female riders. “You heat them in the oven and then custom mold them to your feet. They work really well imho, I use them in my cycling shoes and love them.” She supplied a link to the item.
I don’t use orthotics, but I do have insoles in a pair of my walking shoes. I love the extra comfort they give. When riding a bike, though, the relatively flat insoles that come with the shoes are adequate for me. I’ve experimented with insoles in my biking shoes, and find I don’t need them.
But what about you? What kind of advice would you give the original poster? Do you have custom orthotics for your bike shoes, or do you use the moldable insoles, or just off-the-rack from Dr. Sholl’s things?

Getting My Gear Together

Guest poster Don Blount deals with an issue that affects many of us from time to time…

I usually keep my biking gear in the same places.

Bike in garage.

Seasonal clothes in a closet and out of season items in a storage bench.

Helmet and a few other items such as my Garmin, spare tube and C02 cartridge, plastic bag for my phone, sunglasses and a pouch with key and money on the shelf of a bookcase in my home office. (I use the space that is available and that my wife does not object to me using.)

Of course this makes riding easy. Either the night before a ride I gather what I need and place them in an easily accessible place, such as my kitchen, or the day of a ride I can get what I need quickly and head out the door.

No rummaging, no searching, all aggravation free.

That is except when my system gets changed.

My mother-in-law was coming to visit for a week and would be staying in the home office, which has a day bed. So I moved my gear and other items out of that room and into my bedroom. It made sense, this way I would not need to go into my office during her stay.

And then the next morning I readied for a ride. Kitted up, prepared the bike and then went looking for the rest of my gear – sunglasses, a pouch with key and money, baggie for phone, baggie with spare tube and C02. And could not find them.

Tick, tick, tick. If I did not get out by a certain time I would miss my morning exercise window. After all, this was a workday and I could not just ride later.

I looked all over the bedroom as I was certain I had placed them in there. My wife looked as well and she could not find them. She even offered to go back into the home office and look to see if I had left them there. But we opted not to do that since her mother was still asleep.

Five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Tick, tick, tick, slam.

The window had closed.

So I put my bike away.

I put away my helmet and gloves.

And I unkitted, if that is a word, and then I glanced beneath my wife’s dresser and saw a box that I had moved there the night before. Atop but toward the back of the box were the things I had been looking for. I thought for sure I had looked there. My wife looked there too. They were about two feet from the bed but you had to get down on your hands and knees to see them there. I looked under the bed, I looked under a bench but I had not gotten down to look on top and toward the back of the box.

Oh well.

Now, all of my riding gear is together in a corner of my bedroom. So the next time I plan to ride, I will be able to gather it all, without rummaging or searching and all aggravation free.

Mountain Bike Shoes for Road Biking?

Here’s an idea I’ve been rolling around in my head for awhile…

I’ve been riding my current shoe/pedal setup for over two years now. But I’m wondering if there’s a more comfortable arrangement. Now, I’m not having any major foot problems. In the heat of summer, I get the occasional hot spot on my foot, usually if I’m putting in more miles than usual on a hot day. But those don’t occur during most of the year.

It’s just something I’ve seen, really. Bikers who wear a less aggressive cycling shoe — a touring style or mountain bike shoe, and who use pedals that fit those shoes but offer a flat platform as well

Lots of long distance cyclists and touring cyclists seem to use these, like the ones in the picture. I see those shoes, and I think “comfort.”

Only problem is, they’re SPD-style cleats, which have a fairly small area, and I’ve seen anecdotal accounts of people getting hot spots more often with SPDs than a delta-shaped cleat. I figure if the SPD cleats were coupled with a flat platform, it might make a good combination for comfort over distances.

The pedal I have in mind is both SPD-compatible, but offers a wider flat surface for the foot. It’s the Shimano A520, and is described as a “road touring” pedal with a “practical” platform. It looks like it has the width I would want on a longer ride. It comes at a reasonable price.

What’s the big advantage an SPD-compatible shoe offers? It’s supposed to be that you can walk more easily in these shoes, since the cleats are recessed into the sole. But you know, I don’t really care about walking all that much. I can get from my bike to a convenience store counter just fine with the shoes and cleats I have.

So, why am I even thinking about changing shoes and pedals? No reason in particular. I have mentioned before that I expect my riding to evolve into something more laid back than it has been. And it strikes me that a more laid back shoe would help foster that kind of riding.

I don’t suppose I’ll act on this idea anytime soon — it’s just, as I said, something I’m rolling around in my head. I’d like to get your input, though. What do you think? Do you use a touring shoe, or a mountain biking shoe, on road bike rides? What pedals do you couple with them? Or is it not a big enough deal to bother with?

Tighten Your Cleats!

On a recent ride, I turned into the parking lot of one of those stand-alone Walgreen’s drug stores that seem to have cropped up on every other corner, when something didn’t feel right.  My right foot was looser than it usually is.

I stopped at the edge of the lot, used the opportunity to drink from my water bottle, and then I sat on the curb to take a look at my shoes.

The cleat on the right shoe had come loose.  Not catastrophically – I could move it a little with my hand – but the constant pressure in the pedal had loosened it up.  A few quick turns of the screws with my 4 mm Allen wrench, and it was solidly back in place.

I hadn’t been experiencing the same feeling on the left shoe, but decided to take a look anyway.  Sure enough, I could tighten those screws about a half-turn each as well.

I do periodic checks of the bike between rides, making sure the tires are in good shape, that everything moves smoothly.  I guess I’ll have to add a non-bike equipment check, too, and look at those cleats every couple of months.  It could save some headaches down the road.

These Shoes Cook! Bont ctt-three Review

Guest poster Don Blount’s search for the perfect bike shoe took him to the Antipodes – in a manner of speaking.  He likes what he found.

I had never heard of Bont. Ever.

Now the company is like my new best friend.

I began searching for new cycling shoes for a simple reason – my feet began to hurt after rides. The Cannondale RS3100 cycling shoes I had worn for two years were great for getting me into biking but I was riding harder, longer and farther. The results I was getting were not the same. I figured the shoes, which were actually free with the discount I received from Performance Bike when I bought my bike in 2008, had just run their useful life.

So I began looking for replacement kicks.

From a fit issue I needed a shoe with a wide toe box and a narrower heel. And I wanted something better fitting and stiffer than my outgoing shoes.

I looked off and on for a few months. I was off the road for two months because of injuries from a fall, so I was not in a hurry. I also took time to get over the sticker shock of upgraded shoes.

Then on a late Saturday night someone in my bike club’s e-mail group excitedly mentioned Bont and how the shoe was being made available in the United States. I had never heard of this 36-year-old Australian company that outfits Thor Hushovd and the Cervelo Test Team among others.

The Bont ctt-three

I settled on the ctt-three. The deal with a Bont shoe is that it has a “fully heat moldable carbon monocoque fiberglass chassis.” Seriously, pop these babies in the oven at low temperature for a bit, put them on, stand in them for a few minutes and they will mold to your feet. In other words, it becomes a custom fit shoe. They were perfect for someone with my shoe-fitting issues.

Chef Don.

I have ridden about 950 miles in the Bonts, I think they are great. They are much stiffer than my old shoes, yet lighter at 295 grams. They flex little and transfer power well. And I really like the look too.

The downside? They took some breaking because the entire shoe – sole and upper were much stiffer than my old shoes.

I purchased my pair online in October for $207, a price comparable to other shoes that interested me. Since then I have found them online for as low as $150, including shipping. This is considered the company’s entry-level model. The top of the line shoe in this category, the ctt-one is a fully carbon shoe that costs about twice as much. I did not have to spend nearly that much and am quite pleased with the Bont ctt-three.

Shoes – Tight or Loose?

Okay, here’s one for you.  I have a dilemma.  It’s about shoes.

When I got my shoes two years ago (is it that long already?), I made sure to get size 44s, instead of the 42s I normally wear on the street (Yes, speaking metrically makes me feel veddy continental).  The theory is that since my feet swell up during exercise, the extra room in the shoes would keep them from squeezing my feet too tightly, causing hot spots, numbness, and a whole plethora of other bad things that happen to feet on a long bike ride.

My wife has been complaining about her shoes, too.  She’s had hers even longer than I’ve had mine, and they seem to have served her very well.  Both of use have Specialized shoes, which aren’t cheap.  They have carbon soles, so we get no flex when pedaling hard.  But in warm weather, her feet get pinched, and cause her a lot of discomfort (I’m bringing up warm weather in December, because our winters are pretty mild compared to the rest of you folks, and her most recent complaint about her foot was within the last two weeks).

I bring this up now, because recently I was reading an article — I forget if it was in print or online, but as I recall, it came from a source I regard as reliable — that said you don’t need to allow for extra room.  In fact, it said biking shoes should fit snugly.

About five or six years ago, when I bought my last pair of running shoes (before I stopped running), the sales clerk told me to get a larger than normal size to allow for the swelling my feet would do while exercising.  I did, and they worked out great.  I’ve even started buying street shoes a half size larger than normal.  But since seeing that article, I’m confused.  Should she stick with the shoes she has, and look for other means of relief?  Or should we go shopping for new shoes, and do what I did — get a couple of metric sizes larger?

Readers — what’s your take on this?

When Should Cleats Be Replaced?

When riding earlier this week, I had a heckuva time trying to engage my cleats. Usually, I can click in without looking, but on this particular ride I missed the pedal every time. That’s especially bothersome when trying to cross a busy intersection, even when the cross traffic is stopped by a red light. When I got home, I took a look at my cleats:

Yipes! The right one, especially, the one I use to click in almost exclusively, seems to be beyond worn. No wonder I couldn’t get the cleat to engage the pedal. It’s a far cry from what they looked like when they were new:

Then, I joined our regular Sunday morning club ride today. About halfway through the ride, I realized I was having no trouble getting the cleat to click into the pedal. I was — still am — baffled. Why did it give me such trouble four days ago, but not today?

And just when should cleats be replaced?

I know from experience that they should be. The cleat I had in my previous shoes wore this badly, and once it came right out of the pedal at a bad time — when I was applying power to climb a hill. In fact, that happened more than once, and the second time I crashed because I lost control of the bike.

So I’m going to get a new set of cleats ASAP. As I said, they’re obviously way past replacement time. But just when are cleats worn badly enough to merit replacement? Are there things to look for that serve as replacement clues?

Numb toe update — the new shoes worked

Long-time readers will remember about a year ago I used to regularly carp about a problem with my feet. Specifically, my left foot. More specifically, the little toe on my left foot. It would go numb after riding much more than an hour, and bother me for the rest of my ride.

I tried a number of ways to deal with it, including fastening my shoe straps as loose as possible, adding arches of various sizes and shapes, and even cutting a gash along the side of the shoe. Nothing worked.

I finally concluded the problem was not with my foot, but with the shoe. They were cheap Chinese-made shoes that I bought when I first took up biking. Fine for rides of an hour or less, I just couldn’t keep wearing them on the distances I wanted to ride.

My wife came to rescue, when she bought me some new shoes for Christmas. They’re by Specialized, and are one of their premium models with a rock-hard carbon sole. I exchanged them for a larger size, figuring that since feet swell with exercise, a larger shoe would minimize the toe numbness.

Well, after nine months of experience in the new shoes, I can report that they work. I haven’t had a numb toe since I first put them on.

Wouldn’t a larger pair of the old brand have done the same thing? I can’t say for sure, but I know those shoes don’t come with carbon soles — just nylon. So there’s going to be some flex in the sole, and that could lead to the same problem. More likely, it would lead to a hot spot on the foot. Either way, the old adage rings true once again: You get what you pay for. When it comes to my feet, I’ll pay the price to keep them comfortable.

Cleat position

Some things, I just can’t stop experimenting with. Like ways to make my feet feel fine after a long bike ride. Yes, this is sort of another post about my ongoing numb toe problem — but I think I’ve come to grips with that.

This time, I want to tell you about something I’ve tried with the cleats on my biking shoes. When I first complained about numb toes last summer, I got a suggestion to move the cleats back about one-quarter inch. I did, but didn’t see much difference, and with those older shoes, it didn’t help my numb toe any.

When I got the new bike shoes for Christmas, the bike shop installed the cleats, and put them right over the ball of the foot. That was okay, but the toes pointed just a little bit to the inside, and I could feel strain on my knees when I rode.

My feet naturally splay out a bit when I walk, and something I read somewhere (I gotta do a better job of citing my sources — in my real life I do academic research, after all) said your cleats should place your feet in a way that matches your walking gait. So I fiddled with the cleats a bit, and now my toes point ever so slightly outward. But then I remembered something else I read somewhere else (this would never get through peer review) that said just go ahead and move the cleats all the way back. So I did.

shoe1If you look closely, you’ll see the little ruler markings right behind the cleat. The photo was shot from slightly behind the cleat; if you looked straight down at it, you wouldn’t be able to see the marks at all.

I’ve been on several rides since doing this, and I can hardly tell the difference. Some riders seem to think you get more power to accelerate and climb with the cleats this way. Maybe — I can’t vouch for that. I can vouch for there being no negative effects from the cleats back this far.

And there are some who say that even all the way back in the slots isn’t back far enough. Endurance cycling coach Joe Friel takes what I might would call a radical view. In a post on his blog from two years ago, he said you should mount the cleats as far back toward the heel as you can. He’s mounted cleats below the arch of his foot, and thinks you’re likely to get even more power if you mount them back farther still.

That’s not me. I was uneasy doing the cleats back in the slots thing, and even though it seems to have worked out fine for me, I’m not going to drill holes in the soles of my shoes and play around with cleat placement. I’m still unsophisticated when it comes to training — I just ride — and for now, my cleat position suits me just fine.

Those new shoes are working out

It’s been a month now since getting my new cycling shoes, and they seem to be providing the relief my chronic numb toe needs. I can think of two reasons for the improvement: the shoes are a size larger than the ones I’d previously used, so there’s less squeezing of the foot when they swell with exercise, and they have a more adjustable strap system.

They use a rachet tightening strap at the top. I’ve been finding through trial and error that while it’s tempting to snug down that strap, it’s probably not the best idea. On a recent ride, the foot was bothering me when I stopped for a rest, and I found that the strap was just a little too tight. It seemed fine when I started out. Loosening it a couple of clicks did the trick.

I’ve concluded that the problem is with my left foot itself.  There must be something in its physiology that makes it a little different from the right foot.  It may be something that I have to live with.  However, it’s not giving me anywhere near the bother it used to with the old shoes, and for 90 percent of my riding, my foot is now fine.  So the shoes are working, and it looks like I won’t have to resort to any cockamamie solutions like slashing the mesh upper to ease the pressure on the foot.

My numb toe posts have gotten a lot of traffic over the past few months, continue to do so.  I don’t have any revelations that will help with the problem. For me, it turned out to be the shoes. So, I guess the only real advice I can give is: Don’t skimp. Buy one of the top name brands. Do your research. Road Bike Review is a good place to visit, and Performance Bike customers can leave reviews for each piece of equipment that outfit sells. Yes, they’re only anecdotal reviews, but taken as a whole, you can get a pretty good idea of what to expect.