Cycling demands a lot from the legs and feet. Not just because of the forces involved, but because of the repetition: knee flexion and extension (for an average cyclist) occurs about 4800 times an hour at an average of 80 revolutions per minute. And race cyclist do considerably more.
Soft tissues and joints of the lower limbs are, therefore, susceptible to repetitive stress and injury.
Most cycling injuries develop when soft tissue (muscle, tendon, fascia and ligament) is damaged from repetitive stress that occurs quicker than the body’s ability to repair it. Common problems include injuries to the knee, thigh, hamstrings, ankles and toes.
To minimise the problems, it’s important that a cyclist’s foot sits straight on the pedals, and the heel sits directly under the ankle, so the downward force from the leg is centred on the foot on the pedal. If you have a low arched or high arched foot then you may be more likely to develop problems, because these conditions can disturb the alignment of the leg and increase stress at the joints.
Shoes are very important, too. For the casual or recreational cyclist, a typical athletic shoe used for running, walking, or cross-training is perfectly fine for biking, as long as the sole is firm so that it grips the pedal properly. Devices such as toe clips, or placing insoles within the shoe can be used to improve the foot position and stabilise the foot on the pedal. This may help to improve leg position leading to greater comfort and increased power when cycling.
For more serious cyclists, shoes should have a stiff sole and a good fit – the more you can reduce movement inside the shoe, the more power can be transferred to the pedal. Also look for shoes with ventilated uppers to keep feet more comfortable.
Handy tip: remember to take the socks you plan to wear with you when trying on cycling shoes to make sure the fit is right.