Feet in Cycling

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

Our feet are made up of a total of 52 bones – 26 in each foot – and that is one quarter of the total number of bones in the entire human body. It is no wonder that there is a profession, i.e. podiatry, in charge of looking after our feet.

The biomechanics (or mechanical structure and function) of the foot is complex due to the number of joints involved, and our feet function quite differently in a weight-bearing versus a non-weight-bearing setting. In a weight-bearing activity such as walking or running, there are three phases completing the cycle of the foot going from heel to toe. During a non-weight-bearing activity such as cycling, the foot does not go through these three phases of a gait cycle.

In cycling, the foot is often in a horizontal or plantarflexed position (toes pointing down). Quite commonly, cycling shoes come with soles allowing for cleats to be attached and clipped in to bike pedals. These pedal systems allow the shoe to be firmly held onto the pedal, with the forefoot (or “ball of the foot”) as the main contact point between the foot and the shoe during cycling. Let’s hold that thought there for now and talk about cycling shoes for a moment.

The anatomy of a cycling shoe includes three important components: the sole, closure mechanism and heel counter.

Quite different to a walking and/or running shoe, it would be recommended that a cycling shoe has a stiff sole throughout the length of the shoe to minimise flexing, which is mostly beneficial for power transfer, but also helpful in preventing unwanted foot movement WITH the shoe. The lesser flex the shoe allows, the lesser flex the foot has to undergo.

A good closure mechanism enables the foot to be securely fixed inside the shoe. It would be disadvantageous to have any unwanted foot movement INSIDE the shoe. Similar to a walking shoe, any extra movement within a shoe can fatigue the intrinsic muscles of our feet. Lace-ups are the recommended choice due to an evenly-spread pressure over the top of the foot. BOA cord fastenings, ratchet buckles and Velcro straps are other available types of closure mechanisms.