If you close your eyes and think, “bike fit”, what do you see? Most people will probably say a saddle. This is completely understandable; the saddle is likely where riders experience the most sensitivity and is certainly the most intimate connection they have with the bike. Feet on the other hand tend to be overlooked, even though they are just as - or arguably even more - important to achieving the correct fit. Shoes and pedals are often thought of as not only a separate purchase and therefore fitting process, but a separate element altogether.
As bicycle fittings are concerned, you could call this getting off on the wrong foot. While each of the three points of contact (feet, saddle, hands) must be considered when determining a rider’s position, feet are quite literally the foundation of the fit. Not only can negligence here lead to issues with the feet themselves, such as numbness, hot foot, metatarsal pain and pressure elsewhere, but instability or misalignment can travel up the chain and present itself in other aspects of your fit. On the other hand, taking the time to properly align and support the feet will reduce discomfort in the feet themselves, improve knee tracking, stabilize the rider on their saddle for better hip and lower back function, and improve pedal stroke both in terms of dynamics and symmetry.
The foot-shoe-cleat-pedal interface has the greatest potential to gain or lose power of any area on the bike. It is also the interface with the most complex series of adjustments, and the most potential to set up incorrectly. When fitting a customer, either for new equipment or with their existing gear, we look at each aspect independently to ensure proper interaction with all of the other elements.
Because your feet themselves are the only part of the equation that we can’t change, this is where we start. Initially, we’ll observe you off of the bike and assess your arch height, what angle your feet naturally adopt, where your feet strike and release while walking, whether your arches collapse under pressure, and how these movements track through your ankles, knees and hips. We’ll also ask questions about your daily routine, injury history, and anything else that you may be concerned is impacting your riding. These insights will inform any changes we make once we get you on the bike.
Next we’ll evaluate your shoes, paying particular attention to your insoles. Most folks will measure for length and width to determine proper sizing. If you’re lucky, an experienced salesperson will advise you as to what specific lasts or materials are best suited to your needs. What we often see overlooked (and is likely absent from your shoes altogether) is a quality set of insoles. Because many people have no need for orthotics in their normal shoes, they presume not to need extra support in their cycling footwear. However, cycling is unique in that the foot remains relatively static throughout the range of the pedaling motion whereas the various joints are constantly loading and unloading pressure while walking. This restriction of the natural phasing of the foots movement is why properly supporting each contour underneath the entirety of the foot is so crucial in a cycling shoe. In addition to increasing comfort, a good set of insoles will also increase your efficiency on the bike. By preventing arch collapse and therefore restricting medial/lateral movement, they’ll keep your feet locked in their most efficient position and improve your power transfer to the bike.
Once we’ve got you in the right set of shoes, we’ll need to mount your cleats. There are three planes to consider: fore/aft, inboard/outboard and rotational. Cleat fore/aft position will generally start between the first and fifth metatarsal heads along the length of your foot, although it’s quite common to settle on a cleat position just rearward from here. Inboard/outboard position is generally determined by your skeletal structure, using washers, elongated spindles and sometimes even bolt-on extensions to increase your stance width (or Q-factor) as necessary. Rotational position is where things can get tricky. Generally, your pedaling stance will mirror your walking stance—if you walk toe-out you’ll pedal toe-out. However, insufficient arch support can cause the heel to creep inward, leading to the false impression that the cleat would need to be excessively angled to match. Being sure to have your feet properly stabilized within the shoe first can eliminate the need for extreme cleat placement, and allow the whole system to work more harmoniously.
Finally, we have pedals. There are many considerations to be made in terms of cost, construction and materials, but from a fit perspective they all serve the same purpose. Where they do vary functionally with regard to fit is in their available adjustments—and those adjustments are there for you to take advantage of. A good rule of thumb is that if you are not adding release tension to your pedals, you should be on a pedal with lighter release action.
There is a lot to be gained or lost from an optimal or sub-optimal foot-shoe-cleat-pedal interface, so it’s worth getting help to dial yours in. Not only is it important to have a second set of eyes help evaluate you, they need to be in the head of someone with the necessary fitting experience, product knowledge and access to equipment too. Whether you’re just after new shoes, or in need of a more comprehensive fitting, Savile Road is here to help you get off on the right foot this season. If you'd like to schedule any of these services or are interested in learning more, give us a call at (518) 439-4766 or fill out the form below.