You’re on a long ride or tour. After several hours on the bike, your feet start feeling hot and uncomfortable. This isn’t the first time. Standing on hills makes it worse. You start looking for a roadside stream in which to douse your sizzling dogs.
I developed a bad case of hot foot on a transcontinental PAC Tour, which covered 3,400 miles in 24 days. During the final week, my feet felt like some fiery-eyed devil was attacking with a blowtorch on every pedal stroke.
Hot foot is a common malady on rides that last 3 hours or more, so it affects century riders, tourers and cyclists who just like to go long. The primary cause is the tendency of feet to swell during long rides. This increases pressure inside the shoes, which, in turn, compresses nerves. The result is a burning sensation in the ball of the foot and tingling or numb toes.
Some Suggestions for Avoiding Hot Foot
Avoid snug-fitting shoes. You may never suffer hot foot if your shoes allow normal swelling without become restrictive. Try on new shoes while wearing your riding socks so you can get an accurate fit. Do it later in the day when feet are a bit fatter. Most shoes come in half sizes. If you’re on the fence, opt for the larger pair.
Spread the metatarsal bones. These are the 5 finger-like bones of the forefoot. When I returned from PAC Tour, I made a beeline to Andy Pruitt at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine with my tale of woe. He ordered custom cycling orthotics with a small dome just behind the metatarsal heads. This bump spreads the bones to prevent pressure on the nerves that run between them. It worked great for me and has been the solution for many other riders. Pruitt later collaborated with Specialized to develop the Body Geometry line of shoes, which have a metatarsal dome built into the insole.
Make an emergency dome. If you’re on a tour and suffering, check the foot-care section of a pharmacy. You may find “metatarsal buttons” that you can stick to your insoles. If not, you’ll see a number of foam or moleskin products that you can adapt. Remember, the insole buildup goes in the center, just behind the metatarsal heads in the depression adjacent to the ball of the foot. This is about one-third of the distance between your toes and heel.
Move cleats rearward. This has been the salvation for many long-distance riders. The idea is to reduce direct pressure on the ball of the foot by moving it in front of the pedal axle. For most riders, simply sliding the cleats to the rear of the sole slots will do the job. Some riders, however, need to drill new cleat-mounting holes to get back far enough for this trick to work.
Loosen straps. Even if a metatarsal dome is in place and your shoes fit perfectly, they’re likely to begin feeling tight as a ride wears on. As soon as you sense it happening, loosen the straps and/or closure system. In the typical road shoe with 3 straps, it’s mainly the top one nearest your ankle that makes the shoe feel secure during pedaling (like an old-fashion toe strap). You can keep it snug because it has the least effect on forefoot pressure. The lower straps can be loosened a lot without harming pedaling efficiency.
Things may be slightly different with the new Boa closure systems. Some have a combination of straps and the filament closure that is dialed-in for tightness or looseness. So, depending on the particular model, just try to loosen the section of the shoe nearest the toe box and ball of your foot, in particular.
Wear thinner socks. And if that doesn’t help enough, switch to thinner insoles , and socks. Or don’t use insoles at all. Your shoes will be roomier, allowing feet to swell without compressing nerves.
HOT FOOT BLUES
I been on my bike
Since quarter to nine
Been a real good ride
It’s been mighty fine
But them last few miles
I had to earn
Cos my cleated feet
Were startin’ to burn
There ain’t much more painful
When your feet get so hot
‘Cept a cramp in the ham
Like a Gordian knot
So I’ll loosen the strap
To soothe that poor pup
And maintain my cadence
So I can keep up
I got them hot foot blues
It’s them hot foot blues (or: And they’re burnin’ in my shoes)
I can relive my numb hands
By makin’ them move
But I got to be pedaling
To stay in my groove
Well, I been out there for years
Adding miles, dodging cars
I’ve had a few crashes
Picked up a few scars
But it’s not so much fun
When your foot is slow cookin’
You got to proceed on
And make sure you’re still bookin’
Now when the match is applied
You un-click and click
Shake it around
It may do the trick
But remember this well
When that foot fire ignites
Just hold on to your focus
And your goal within sight
bike fitness coaching says
Fred, you are absolutely correct. If your feet swell, time for a bike fit. Why? Feet swelling is an indication that the calves are not engaging. One main purpose of the calf muscle is to pump the blood from the lower extremities back up toward the heart. When properly engaged, the calves are very efficient at pumping blood back up the chain, in fact, I usually need to tighten my shoes several times during a ride. It’s only after the ride when I stop at the car that my feet start feeling tight in my shoes.
Chris Burkhardt says
For some reason, taking Tums antacid turns off the hot foot immediately. I learned this on a hot day during a 600K brevet from another rider after enduring pain for 50 miles. Now I never leave home without it.
R Jenkins says
Scott Renz says
Hot Foot Blues: Where’s a “Like” button when you need it? LOL
Robert Wilimzig says
Something that Coach Fred Matheny failed to mention regarding hot foot is switching to a different pedal. The Look Keo series have significantly larger platforms to give the ball of the foot a larger surface area to spread out the forces. The switch worked for me as well as a number of my riding friends over the last few years.
Jeff Wallace says
Shoes than clip on to the pedals (aka “clipless’) put pressure on the same area of the feet, exacerbating hot feet. A good solution is to (a) get flat MTB shoes that have a steel shank in them, and (b) get wide flat MTB pedals that have little screws in them. The little screws provide non-slipping support on the pedal. The result is the freedom to move your feet on the pedals when your feet get sore and the ability to quickly get your foot out the pedal when you need to (no more crashes with your feet stuck in the pedals!). The combination of the two is less than 1/4 price of the clip-on shoes and clip-able pedals!
The insoles I have with that metatarsal support seems to make things WORSE . . .
Jeff Kadet says
To achieve the result of moving the cleats rearward, I have for many years used Power Grip straps along with a mountain bike shoe (with no cleat on it). By using the XL size and making the on-the-bike size large enough to have my foot on the pedal at the middle of the foot rather than at the ball, I’ve pretty much solved the hotfoot problem.
I highly recommend this approach. Either the Power Grips Fixie Strap Set or the XL Power Grips Strap Set will work, as both use the XL size. Available at: http://www.powergrips.com/strap-kits/
Hope this helps some of you looking for a simple solution.
Richard Mapp says
After suffering from hot foot for many years I have found a solution for me. This is to cut a cleat shaped triangle in the insole which takes the load off the centre of the foot and spreads it to the outside or even a very thin foam insole from a shoe shop helps instead of the contoured ones that come with the shoes.
I’m experiencing severe pain in my toes when I cycle but only with my cleats on and I want to try anything to alleviate this problem. Can you send me a picture of what you’ve done ?
Hi Richard send me that pics off cut out.i love my cycling but the hot feet let me cycle less.i sleep with elevate feet helps a bit.regards
Paul Shreenan says
My hotfoot is happening along the right side of my right foot , exactly at the 2 hour mark.. From the edge of the small toe to the mid foot. Its starting to affect the ball of my foot now, but is very painful. Any suggestions?
Paul Shreenan says
I’ll try some of the above suggestions. Thinking of simply taking an anti inflammatory after the first hour or 90 minutes.