Since the invention of the bicycle, man has been inspired to hop on and ride wherever his heart desires. It is also fair to say that since the invention of the bicycle man has had problems integrating with it. After all, a bicycle and its contact points are symmetrical, while a human is not.
With your foot being the point that transfers most of the power you apply to your bike, it is not surprising that for many, “hot” or numb feet is a common issue. As an experienced bike fitter, I have seen many, many people with issues like this and they are normally related to these 3 things:
Shoes too Narrow
What typically happens is this scenario, is that due to the the shoe being too narrow, the metatarsal bones which sit just behind the toes are forced to sit too closely together. The result is that the small nerve which runs through the ball of the foot to the toes gets compressed and, you guessed it, the toes go numb. How do we fix this? The best option would be a wider shoe. There are also other easier, less expensive options out there. You can opt for a thinner insole, or thinner socks to give your feet more room, or even a specialist insole which has a raised metatarsal “button” in it which helps spread the bones and relieve the pressure.
Cleats Too Far Forward
Possibly THE BIGGEST reason cyclists I see for bike fitments have numb toes, is the fact that their cleats are too far forward. A similar principle in regards to the above applies here, except this time it may not be the metatarsal bones who are the culprit, but rather the increased pressure from the cleat which is sitting too far forward and agitating the nerve. Typically, having the cleat directly beneath the ball of the foot is tolerable for most people, but for some people it can still cause agitation. The best way to remedy this is to move the cleat back 2-3mm at a time until you find the position that relieves the numb sensation. It’s important to compare apples with apples here. Make sure you compare the difference in sensation to a normal ride you do, and not a ride much harder or longer than you are used to. Doing this will give you a false comparison and not an accurate reflection of the adjustments you have made.
The sport of cycling has made huge technological gains in recent years. This also goes for cycling kit, helmets and shoes. While the shoes have improved significantly over the years, the reality is that most of innersoles that come in the shoes suck. Your shoe may be worth R 5000, but the innersoles probably cost 50c to make.
Having an innersole that offers your foot the correct level of arch support is hugely important. Firstly, it ensures that your foot doesn’t collapse as it applies power to the pedal, and will help ensure your knee tracks straight through your pedalstroke. Secondly. having the correct amount of arch and heel support means that the power you transfer into your pedals is spread through a wider surface area in the shoe, not just the ball of the foot. This results in increased blood flow throughout the foot and, you guessed it, happier feet for longer! Good third party brands to consider in South Africa are Specialized, SofSole, or a fully customisable option such as FootBalance.
These are just a few of the issues that can cause numb feet. If you’re still struggling after trying some of these, it’s recommended that you see an experienced bike fitter. Nothing can beat an experience, objective opinion.
Until next time, happy cycling and keep it Rubber Side Down!