As an athlete three things puzzled me when it came to cycling equipment. Now primarily as a coach those same three issues have shifted from puzzling to quite annoying.
Grievance 1- The Q factor on kids bikes is insane and unhealthy and would injure any kid who wants to ride a lot. Kids hips are not even remotely wide enough for how their bikes are designed. I wince every time I see a child ride past with their poor little knees forced into a position that means they have to stand up on their pedals and after 20 seconds to stop their knees aching. Solution- Design bikes around the standard kids anatomy. Moving on…
No 2- Cycling components companies need to start suppling cranks that are appropriate to the bike size being sold.
I know it’s more convenient to have 3 crank sizes that suit average to taller men or women but component brands it’s time to slightly inconvenience yourself in the name of doing the right thing by your customers and wind back the unintentional ’shortism’ that has been around too long.
The crank length that comes standard on every small and extra small road and TT bikes is nearly always way too long for comfortable cycling, especially comfortable time trialling. Coaches and the bike fitters we refer to have to spend way too much time finding the very rare appropriately sized cranks that enable a more suitable hip angle for the smaller rider. For any reader who doesn’t ride much an optimal hip angle creates a far more comfortable position that can drastically change the enjoyment of a rider on a bike, minimise hip, back, knee injuries and for those who care about performance, generally enable a far more aerodynamic position.
No 3 and by far my biggest gripe which brought me to reviewing Bont Cycling shoes..
Cycling shoe designs rarely match the shape of the human foot!
Ask almost any cyclist how their feet feel after 3 hours of cycling. Hey, even ask them after just an hour will do and for many the words and sentiments ‘numb’, ‘aching’, ‘excruciating’, ‘I hate cycling and my life’ start to flow forth…
For centuries, especially for women, feet have been forced and distorted into a nonsensical and narrow pointed shoe. To make things more insane we even expect women to add a big spike underneath the heel to really create a true torture device known as the ‘high heel’ and consider that the height of classy fashion.
High heels aside, even relatively flat shoes, even for running and cycling for both men and women are shaped more for fashion than function with a point towards the centre of the front and width dimensions that don’t come close to matching the anatomical dimensions of the vast majority of human feet.
I was acutely aware of what happens to the human foot when you free it from the footwear prison that society expects when moving to a small island with my family at 11 years of age. No-one wore shoes there, not even at school and so I got around barefoot too.
In a relatively short amount of time my feet started to spread to the point that when I was shipped off boarding school and had to start wearing shoes again it was near impossible to find a school shoe that could encompass the girth of my feet that had now finally been allowed to spread like 2 million years of human evolution had meant them to be.
I’ve since encouraged hundreds of athletes over the years to stop wearing shoes whenever they safely can for walking around and at rest. When they do wear shoes ensure appropriate width and they consistently witness the same foot spread I enjoyed in my youth.
For the joy of the reader and to demonstrate how poor ‘most’ cycling shoe designs are I cut up a traditional cycling shoe to demonstrate where my foot aligned with the shape of their design.
What’s crazy is even I thought this shoe fit relatively well for me when cycling and was less problematic than most cycling shoes, as soon as I cut it to pieces, even in this shoe I thought was wide enough you could now easily see without the forefoot upper how much the traditionally shaped sole didn’t even come close to working in with my foot shape. Severe ‘overhang’ on both the big toe side and the lateral aspect of the foot as soon as the upper was removed to constrain the foot to the shape of the shoe.
Yes, this is all very anecdotal but again, if you ask any rider how their feet feel after a few hours of cycling the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming.
The other area cycling shoe companies need to do some basic market research on is cleat placement. Cycling shoe brands, please set aside 10 mins out of your day to go and check out where everyone is running their cleats. You will quickly find that any serious cyclist is running their cleats as far back as their shoe will allow.
Even then, for most cyclists, that’s not far enough back.
Then spend another 10 mins asking staff in the office to put their runners on and do a 30 second all out effort on flat pedals on an indoor cycling trainer and take a close look at where they place their foot on the pedal to get maximum efficiency. They’re definitely not riding on their toes like most cycling shoes cleat placements force riders to do. For the majority, they’ll position far more towards the mid foot over the pedal spindle.
When you factor in that most people have to run their shoes a size too big to get enough shoe width, meaning the cycling shoe ends up too long, the cleat placement often ends up even further too far forward then is optimal.
As an athlete who for much of my career was sponsored by one of the best bike brands both in terms of quality of the bikes but also in terms of how much they catered to individual needs of each triathlete and cyclist they sponsored, I was super lucky in that I just asked them to drill the holes 6mm further back than is standard and booyahh all my achilles and calf issues I thought were caused from my running quickly resolved.
The RPG coaches are often seeing similar results with reducing consistent lower limb issues thought to be caused by running by drastically changing cleat position on their cycling shoes with no change to running shoes or run load. Of course we can’t ask bike companies to re-drill the holes (except with Bont’s fully custom shoes) but there are mid foot cleat adaptors that we do regularly use. While they add weight and look pretty clunky that’s preferable to injured athletes so we tend to roll with that method.
Shimano and Bont are two of the brands that give the option of going far back enough with their cleat placement. For those that may not be aware there is a little plastic bit your an flick out of the bolt holes in Shimano shoes that allows you to go another few mm further back and thankfully Bont understand that the pressure of the pedal spindle needs often needs to be slightly behind the ball of the foot not on it or in front of it so from 2023 Bont are now also offering slotted cleat holes that allow a bunch of additional fore and aft positioning in the Vapor 2023 model.
With Shimano shoes you should be able to get cleat placement far enough back. It could but doesn’t necessarily solve the shoe shape issue not matching their foot that many people will have although they do have quite generous width sizings that could work for some.
Bont offer a range of widths for a especially wide feet and for even more special feet you can go full custom to account 100% for the weirdness of your foot shape. For full disclosure, RPG have no financial relationship with Bont beyond the fact they offer a generous discount code to the RPG team athletes. I chased them hard for a discount code for our athletes because I was tired of our athletes having to endure foot pain when cycling, they certainly did not approach me.
The shoes are not cheap. I get it. However, when you consider what people spend on everything else in cycling or triathlon having comfortable feet and one of the more sturdy cycling shoes out there that should last you a decade if you look after them, it starts to make a lot of sense.
Attached are a range of standard offerings along with full custom (shoes built around a custom foot casting) to demonstrate what is possible.
Some of these shoes are for people with serious issues which can’t be solved in any other way but full custom. Take the white Vaypor S for example, this customer has surgery scheduled for some serious bunions but wants to ride their bike in the meantime while the Vaypor S in Hologram is for a customer with a deformed foot. Some people simply need to go full custom. However for many, especially given full custom might not be an option with the cost of living getting a bit crazy Bont offer four widths as standard and most people will solve their issue simply by getting an appropriately wide cycling shoe.
This is not original advice but it’s certainly the advice that the longer I’m in this game the more I realise just how true it is.. ‘invest in the contact points of your bike’. Consistency of training matters, volume matters BUT to make that all happen, investing in the contact points of your bike should be of utmost importance. A comfortable rider is a fast rider when it comes holding consistent power the longer the duration of the ride.