Question on Foot Pain & Cycling Shoes

Hi Everyone - looking for some experience & advice on foot pain and cycling shoes for a fairly new cyclist:

This past weekend I completed the Belgian Waffle Ride in North Carolina (Wafer distance…70 mi) and this was my longest, hardest effort on the bike to date - finished right around 5 hours. While I wasn’t competitive in the results, I really pushed myself harder than I’ve ever pushed before on the bike and had a fantastic experience…with one exception: About 3.5-4 hours into the ride my feet started hurting and it kept getting worse to the point where I couldn’t wait to get off the bike over the final 30 minutes. The pain was only in my forefeet (both sides, not arch pain, just forefoot) and feels directly related to pressure mashing down on the pedals (kind of a mix of numbness + pressure…not a single area hot spot or friction/blister pain, also the pain doesn’t feel like nerve pain…I ran track in college and feels similar to how my forefeet would feel after a 10k in spikes on the track).

I feel like the solution is a pair of shoes with a stiffer midsole. Does that seem plausible? The shoes I have are a decade old from when I tried to get into cycling but it never took. Its a pair of Shimano M088 MTB shoes…I believe they were a standard entry level/inexpensive shoe when I bought them. They have served me well, fit great, very comfortable but I’ve never ridden as far, as long, or as hard as this weekend. The pedals I am using are similar to the Shimano PD-M540 pedals (don’t know the exact model but they look like those)…not a huge platform, but not eggbeaters either - I don’t think pedals are the issue but happy to consider that as a possibility.

My question: is a stiffer shoe what I should look for, or will a insole achieve the same thing and I can wear out the shoes I have?

If you have any shoe recommendations I’m all ears. I have a normal width foot (can wear shoes that tend to be more narrow), high arch & instep and ride gravel with plenty of regular road mixed in. While I did a lot of hike a bike at BWR, that is not my normal ride.

Thanks in advance for any help!

The pain you experience is likely due to excessive tension in your feet. In addition to the two possible solutions that you have mentioned I’ll add moving your cleats further back if possible. This could alter the pressure point so you can pedal more relaxed.

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Another thing that can help to spread the load is to get an SPD pedal with a bit of a cage as the SPD is quite a small contact area which can cause ‘Hot Spots’.

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Despite this common assumption, it’s seldom the case and not really a help for issues like hot spots. See the following reviews and pics, especially “The myth of contact area” section in the Enduro review, to show that the actual cage contact is minimal at best. It’s not a solution for this problem IMO.

There is likely a shoe and setup solution that is more appropriate in this case.


With such a long ride, it’s almost a given that you were taking in some form of energy drink/goo, etc on the bike. My advice is to have your uric acid levels tested as you may have gout. I do. It’s awful and it severely limits how well I can fuel for big efforts on the bike.

Thanks - this is helpful info…appreciate the reply.

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I have a similar problem when wearing certain shoes. I have a wide, yet low volume foot, which makes getting a perfectly fitting shoes tricky. What happens to me is i have to tighen my shoe more to take up the volume, which then puts side pressure on both side of the ball of my foot and that eventually leads to numbness and pain. Try on a lot of shoes and really pay attention to how your foot fits in them.

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Doesnt sound like anything serious beyond “you pushed the hell outa yourself for 5 hours”

Before you start getting worried, theres some easy things to try. For starters, get some new shoes. Try on several different ones. Pull out the insole and see how your foot actually fits on it or if your foot is hanging over the edges. If youre over the edges, thats where your shoe is compressing your metatarsal and the interdigital nerves. See “Neuroma”. Spend some money on good ones. Theyre a once in 5-10 year purchase…youll get your moneys worth!

Have a look at some insoles. Im a huge fan of Solestar. Insoles made for cycling shoes. Alternatively, check with your insurance to see if they cover orthotics. Lots do. If so, when you get your feet scanned/molded for orthotics, bring the insole from your new shoes so they can have the dimensions. Theyre typically made to fit sneakers, not cycling shoes. Youll want a small metatarsal pad built into the orthotics.

Unless you have a history of gout, that would be so low on my differential diagnoses that wouldnt even be a discussion if I were treating you

If all else fails, get it checked out!

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Thank you; appreciate the reply. I just ordered a pair of Shimano RX8 shoes and will add an insole if I’m still having some issues. I do not think Neuroma is the problem (definitely not gout) but agree with you it was probably just the effect of mashing pedals for 5 hours straight without the experience of ever doing that before. But, new shoes can’t hurt and the RX8 should be a way higher quality shoe than what I’m currently using. Thanks again.

How tight do you have your shoes? A simple solution is to have the front of the shoe looser and have it tight around ankle area where it’s important. Your feet will have swollen / expanded over that duration. Another thing we do in ultra rides is move the cleats as far back as they can go. If you are not racing then simply taking shoes off for a while whilst stopped can alleviate it.

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The pain can be:

  • you clamping down on your foot too much pushing your foot bones down.
  • not adjusting your shoe as your feet swell/shrink throughout a long ride.
  • not being tight enough letting your feet slide too far forward iinto the shoe
  • your forefoot being too wide for the sole, overhanging the shoe
  • too little arch support letting your foot spread out too much,
  • arch support too far forward making your foot work wrong
  • wrong curve on the sole.
  • cleat placement too far forward and not left/right enough.
  • cleat bolts too long, poking your insole.
  • Pedaling at too low of cadence (putting too much torque to your foot)
  • broken sole

I don’t suspect the shoe is too floppy, but it is 10yrs old.

Insoles are going to run about $50 - they are not more cushioned, only shaped differently. I’d try on a few different pairs of comparable shoes in different sizes. See if your size is pretty far off. You can get a pair of decent MTB shoes for $100 - Shimano XC5, Bontrager Foray ; Fizik X5; Giro Recon; Spec Recon

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