Cycling & Your Feet
More than 100 million Americans enjoy biking, either for recreation or commuting to work. The greater Seattle area is a great area to bike. While a great workout for most of the body, feet play a vital role in cycling. They are responsible for the transfer of energy from the body to the pedals, which makes the bicycle move.
Keeping the alignment between the hips, knees, and feet is the most efficient way to operate a bicycle. Lack of proper body alignment and overactivity are responsible for the most common foot problems related to biking: Achilles tendonitis, sesamoiditis, shin splints, and foot numbness or pain.
Cycling Shoes & Pedals
For the casual or recreational cyclist, a typical athletic shoe used for running, walking, or cross-training is perfectly fine for biking. Just be sure that the sole is firm and not worn down so that it grips the pedal to avoid slipping.
For more serious cyclists, next to bicycles themselves, proper shoes are the most important piece of cycling equipment. In general, cycling shoes should have a stiff sole and fit snugly around the arch of the foot and heel. The more stable and less movement inside the shoe, the more power can be transferred through the entire foot to the pedal. Also look for shoes with ventilated uppers to keep feet more comfortable. Advanced closure systems vary, including Boa® closures, ratchet straps, and Velcro straps -- or some combination. You can choose whichever feel most comfortable to you. However, less expensive shoes with lacing systems can pose a safety hazard if laces get caught in drive chain.
The type of biking you do can impact your choice of shoes as well. For road cycling and racing, shoes that have stiff soles, a narrow heel, and snug fit are best. For mountain biking, the shoes also need a decent tread for better grip and a more rugged sole. Custom cycling orthotics can help improve foot alignment and increase power transfer with the pedal stroke.
Many serious road cyclists will clip-in their pedals. Occasionally there is foot related knee pain which can improve with pedal systems that allow for torsional movement referred to as "float". A pedal system with higher levels of float will relieve stress on the knees during cycling. The clip-in systems allow the rider to transfer power from the body to the pedal in both the up and down motions of the leg. Most modern systems use metal or plastic cleats in the sole of a shoe that attach to bindings on the pedal. These are a good choice for road or race cycling, but they do take some adjusting to initially. Practice clipping in and out on a spin bike so you can do it quickly to avoid embarrassing falls. Also it takes practice to learning how to lift the leg on the upstroke. Note the cleats make the shoes more difficult for walking. Clips are generally not advised for mountain biking since the foot comes off the pedal frequently.
When buying cycling shoes, remember to take the socks you plan to wear with you when trying on cycling shoes to make sure the fit is right. Custom Cycling Orthotics can be made low profile that will accommodate most cycling shoes and should be worn when buying new shoes as well.
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