The Power of Insoles in Bike Fitting

This article was originally published by Tom Wiseman at www.cyclingsolutions.net.

There is a great deal of debate in the bike fitting world about shoe insoles. Some fitters love them and use them in every fitting while some fitters don’t believe insoles make a “hill of beans” difference. In my bike fitting practice, I find myself often using insoles to solve problems with not just the foot but also pain and discomfort all up and down the kinetic chain. Like a different length stem or a set of extended pedal spindles, insoles are just one piece of equipment that might help solve issues I encounter during the process of a bike fitting.

“Stock insoles are just a flimsy cover for the inside of the shoe.”

Over the years I have used a wide variety of insoles. Everything from Solestar, Pearl Izumi, Shimano, Lake, E-Soles, and G8 Performance among others. Some are more expensive and some are not. Some are heat-moldable and some are just a simple “slip in” that are not much better than the woefully inadequate insoles that come with the majority of cycling shoes. One thing that almost all fitters I have spoken to agree on is the “stock” insoles of cycling shoes (or any shoes for that matter) are just a flimsy cover for the inside of the shoe.  

While fitters admittedly use insoles for a wide variety of reasons, the primary reason I use an insole is to increase foot stability. Without going into a ton of detail about feet, they are the main connection and point of power transfer to the bike and work in 3 planes of movement. I like to describe the stabilization of the feet in cycling similar to the difference between standing on flat ground and standing on an exercise ball or Bosu ball. It is surprising how many people have trouble standing on flat ground as demonstrated with a Romberg’s Test. Now put your feet on a dynamic machine traveling at 20mph on varied terrain while your legs spin at 90+rpm. It should be extremely clear how stability plays a roll in control and efficiency in cycling. 

Proper Insoles Provide Stability

How does an insole (any insole) improve the stability of feet? They do this in a couple of ways. Improving the brain’s awareness of where the feet are in space is a concept called proprioception. This is achieved by stimulating the nerves of the foot located in the fascia along the bottom of the foot. For some people, this is a “game-changer” for stability on their bike. When their feet start working better as a result of the brain’s improved connection neurologically with what has been a black hole at the feet, stability up the kinetic chain is often greatly improved. Another way stability is improved with some people is by making the shoe shape more closely resemble the foot. Some people have high arches and aside from the proprioception component, the weight of their body is poorly supported by the shoe. Improving contact across the whole base of the foot and spreading the load out over more surface area help some people find stability without having to claw their toes in the front of the shoes. Sometimes this also helps with hot spots and numbness by loading a larger surface area and relieving pressure at the forefoot. 

Years ago companies like Superfeet and Pearl Izumi were the go-to insoles here in the United States because of easy availability for many fitters based in bike shops especially. E-Soles was a great option with several arch heights but some people found the immobile fixed arch too intrusive or uncomfortable. Some of the heat-moldable insoles from companies like G8 Performance and Lake Cycling and even moldable shoes from Bont work well but are still not as versatile and require time for proper setup. The Pearl Izumi insoles provided some adjustability with both different arch height options and forefoot wedges that slipped into “pocket” like spaces cut in the insole. These were somewhat effective well but did not provide options for people with very high arches and did not flex enough for some people to find comfort. Many other companies were viable options but importing them from overseas was too expensive and not cost-effective for sales in the USA.   

The Best Value and the Most Versitile

Given all this time working with so many different types and styles of insoles, I have found some achieve better results than others. One, in particular, seems to be not only the best value but also the most versatile for bike fitting specifically. The G8 Performance 2620’s are the best I have found for all these issues described above and more. These were first only available from Australia but with the great people at BikeFit now importing them to the states, prices have dropped and availability is better.  With 5 different arch heights and the ability to place the arch in a variety of positions under the foot, these are capable of getting that custom fit necessary to solve my client’s issues. They even offer heel wedges to attach directly to the insole for a clean and finished look. They are durable and easy to clean making them a long lasting and exceptional value for both road and mountain bike use. Because of the flexibility built into the arches, the G8 2620 allows the foot to still operate the way it was intended and flex and move while in a rigid shoe. 

I encourage everyone to pull their insoles out of their cycling shoes and give them a good inspection. If they look badly worn or folded and curled, toss them in the bin. You do not want to touch them let alone take them out of your shoe? If they are not making your feet happy and you are experiencing pain or numbness give me a call and set up an appointment to have these things looked at and remedied. The power of a good insole can be felt all the way up the kinetic chain to your head in a stable and powerful position. When your feet are stable the pelvis is more stable. When the pelvis is more stable the core below the diaphragm works less and saves energy. When the core below the diaphragm works less the chest and ribcage can relax and expand to take in more oxygen instead of trying to stabilize an unsteady pelvis because of unstable feet. The kinetic chain is entirely effected by the ability of the feet to apply force smoothly and efficiently. The option is to suffer in a pair of shoes with insoles like the ones pictured below. Happy riding and cheers to you.

Tom Wiseman

www.cyclingsolutions.net

BikeFit Propels Team Rwanda: An Interview with Coach Sterling Magnell

BikeFit Propels Team Rwanda

Team Africa Rising is Team Rwanda.  An initiative formed in 2006, the founders, management, and coaches have elevated some members of the program of 25 riders to the international level of competition.  Their objective, from the Team Africa Rising website: “Our mission has been to not only recruit, train, and compete in cycling, but also to teach and train the next generation of coaches, mechanics, nutritionists, etc. for the program by modeling the necessary infrastructure of running a first-world cycling program.”

Team Rwanda recently competed in the Cascade Cycling Classic and we were honored to connect with their dynamic and influential Coach, Sterling Magnell, while the team visited the U.S to discuss the rise of Team Rwanda and how BikeFit powers them.

BikeFit: Tell a little bit about yourself and Team Rwanda.

Sterling Magnell: I coach the National Cycling Team of Rwanda. We strive to cultivate our young riders into the best ambassadors and sports men and women they can be. Ultimately, turning professional and riding in the international peloton.

BF: What is your main goal with the team and where are you in your process of reaching it?

SM: My ultimate goal is to replicate myself in terms of knowledgeable coaches and directors that can grow the sport on every level, understand, train and look after the athletes from juniors to young riders navigating their first years on pro teams. I’m making good progress. I have coaches that are able to do many of the things I normally do, so I’m at the point where I can delegate. We still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding international nuances and the finer sciences of cycling and training. Bike fit is a big component.

BF: How is the team doing this year?  What are your goals for the rest of 2017 and 2018?

SM: The team has had a ground breaking year. We medaled in the TTT at the African Continental Championships.  That was a first for us! Rwanda will host in 2018; our goal there is to take gold. We also finished 2nd overall in GC at the tour of Eritrea. No small feat and our best showing ever. That result reflected our riders beginning to understand how to use their strengths tactically and a willingness to follow instruction.

BF: You mentioned bike fit before as a big component in the science of cycling and training.  How does BikeFit help the team?

SM: BikeFit is at the core of every single bike fit I do. So every single rider on the national team, juniors, women, and men has been in my shop. We ride Sidi shoes with LOOK pedals, so everybody gets a proper fit and I keep their numbers and notes on file. Some riders just benefit from a proper fitting bike. But more than a few riders have overcome strange or serious biomechanics to go from good to serious contenders.

BF: In your opinion, how does bike fitting affect performance?

SM: My belief is that in terms of physicality, mechanics, and power, it’s absolutely foundational.  Going from bad mechanics to properly compensated balanced mechanics can add up to 5% to an already elite rider’s top end. For a new athlete working from the ground up, the difference is more or less immeasurable.

BF: What do you think of our wedges?

SM: So far I’ve found everything I need in the products that BikeFit currently ships. The wedges allow for every augmentation I’ve needed to make. I especially like the ability to custom build small changes to insoles to relieve pressure points. Many riders are coming from a village life where they grow up typically wearing sandals and their feet have a few nuances or maybe injuries that when accounted for, really increases the comfort of that kid as a professional athlete.

The wedges also allow for the body to line up with the machine. Riding a bike isn’t a natural action to perform physically, at least not strictly speaking. The body is a series of levers, all of our muscles pull not push. So when the body is locked into a fixed machine, allowing the body to be fixed to that machine in a way that the natural movement of those levers following smooth, straight, efficient pathways is essential. On top of that, when you take into consideration that a week of training for a professional bike racer includes upwards of 100,000 pedals strokes. Even a small imbalance, repeated that many times makes a huge difference.

BikeFit Wedges Team Rwanda
Wedges Leg Alignment Team Rwanda

BF: Can you tell me a story about how some of the bike fitting changes impacted an individual rider?

SM: My favorite story to date is Joseph Areruya. His heels were hitting the cranks and his left knee would shoot over the top tube when we first started working together. He’s a super powerful rider that is time trialing and climbing often well in excess of 400 watts. He has an unusual physiology for cycling with wide frame and stance, so he needed a few more wedges than your average rider. But once he got his foundation built up and he wasn’t losing power, he’s been able to forge ahead. He just recently won stage 4 of the Baby Giro d’Italia. The first UCI Europe win for a Rwandese rider.

To learn more about Team Rwanda and Sterling Magnell, please visit their website: https://teamafricarising.org/africa-rising/

BikeFit provides Team Rwanda with tools and products for bike fitting.

 

Sterling Magnell Team Rwanda

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