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 people are having with not just foot problems but 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 an issue I encounter during the process of a bike fitting.
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 with cycling shoes (or any shoes for that matter) are really 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 a 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 having your legs spinning at 90+rpm. It should be pretty clear how stability plays a roll in control and efficiency in cycling.
But how does an insole (any insole) improve stability of feet? They do this in a couple of ways. Improving the brains 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 better 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 very high arches and aside from the proprioception component the weight of their body is being supported poorly by the shoe. By making better contact across the whole base of the foot and spreading the load out over more surface area 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 no way to move the arch around under the foot and some people found these too intrusive or uncomfortable because of the arch location being immobile. 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 to set up properly. The Pearl Izumi insoles offered some adjust ability with both different arch height options and forefoot wedges that slipped into “pocket” like spaces cut in the insole. These worked pretty well but had no 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.
Given all this time working with so many different types and styles of insoles I have found some get 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 position the arch in a variety of positions under the foot these are capable of getting that custom fit necessary to solve my clients 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 great 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.
In closing I would 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. Do you 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.