28 October 2015

Solestar insoles -- relief for the feet

Over the years, I have suffered occasionally with various degrees of pain in my feet while cycling. Later on during some one day rides, I would get "hot foot" -- if you have had it, you know what it is: the nerves in your foot are telling you the foot is hot, burning hot.  Sometimes it would go away by doing one-leg riding exercises and easing the pressure off my left and right feet alternatively.  Other times I would need to get off and rest for 5 minutes before continuing.  Other times, I suffered the same tingling numbness I remember from lacing ice skates too tightly ... accompanied by searing pain as the blood re-entered the feet once the issue was addressed.

Solestar road insole - side view.  What is so special?  Read on.
Solestar road insole - top view.  Just another insole?  Well, no!
On PBP in 2011, my feet hurt, a lot. I was practically in tears at times.  I wore regular road shoes and regular cycling socks.  A big mistake for that length of event!

So what have I done over the years to manage and even eliminate foot pain?

1.  Proper cleat placement. This is the first step -- in my case I need to make sure the cleats are far enough back on my shoes so that I am pushing on the pedals directly with the balls of each foot.

2.  Larger but proper fitting shoes.  Toes wedged in are not good!  Narrow shoes are not good! Especially on VERY long rides like PBP, it is good to have shoes that give a bit of extra room.  I now generally ride one size larger shoes than I did 5 or 10 years ago ... for the same size feet.

3.  Shimano cycling sandals.  I love these for shorter rides, and my feet feel great.  But they are too flexy for me to work on rides over 100km.

4.  Metatarsal pads.  I tried these after reading some about the causes of foot pain ... but I am not convinced they had a significant impact.  Some of them were downright uncomfortable.

5.  Double and/or thicker socks.  Sometimes I avoid thin cycling socks in favor of thicker wool socks, or double socks.  This can make a big difference.  Recently I would never try a 400km, 600km or longer event riding without double socks -- the inner thin wool and the outer thicker wool.  Wool definitely.

All these steps have helped, to the point where even on a 600km ride I do not worry much about foot pain, as long as I avoid a hammering style of ride.  But there is one other major piece to the puzzle:

6.  Insoles.

I have never gotten custom orthotic insoles, but I have tried a wide range of aftermarket solutions available in cycling shops and on the Internet, as potential replacements for the insoles that come with my shoes.
Sidas insoles -- did nothing for me.
"Powerstep" -- with metatarsal pads glued on -- did not get the job done.
Downright painful!
Another common insole with different swapable arch supports for different feet.  Nope.
The only ones I have that have "worked" for me over the long term are called Bill Peterson Powerbeds.  I got them back in 2002 or 2003, and have never found them since.  As you can see below, mine are pretty ratty.  (I never should have tried gluing metatarsal pads into them.)

Powerbeds - upper side
Powerbeds - underside

Just as I was thinking I really needed a new pair of insoles, my friend David Marx at RGT Enterprises started to import and distribute a brand of insole.  Perfect timing!  These are called Solestar.  Designed in Germany.  David swore that I would love them, and that I would notice a real difference if I used them for at least 7-8 rides.

He was right!

I rode in the Dolomites and PBP with the MTB version, and enjoyed almost no foot issues.  (Well, there was that one extra long day in the Dolomites when I pushed way too hard for way too long and had a little pain, but otherwise no problems.  No foot problems at all on the 1230 kms of Paris-Brest-Paris!  Again I am practically in tears ... but tears of joy instead of pain.

David warned me that it takes awhile to notice the difference with Solestar.  Why?  Because they are designed to keep your foot much straighter and more stable in the shoe than otherwise.  This helps your pedaling motion and can even sometimes solve knee or ankle issues.  It may (according to manufacturer claims) even increase your power.  Also, because your legs stay in the correct plane, your stroke is a bit longer than before, and you may even need to adjust your saddle after the first 4-5 rides, raising it a few millimeters.

These insoles are very popular with top riders -- Andre Greipel, Fabian Cancellara et al endorse on the Solestar website.

Unlike other store bought insoles, they are thick where they need to be, thin where they need to be, they are stiff and flexible just where needed.  They hug and stabilize your foot.  There is even a depression at the rear center so that the large bone at the rear of your foot can sit down and your heel is low enough in the shoe.  They are NOT like cheap one-size-fits-all inserts that are cut to fit in your shoe.  You must get the right size.

The MTB and Road versions retail for 14,000 yen, a fraction of what custom orthotics or high end shoes cost.  With an MTB and a Road pair, if I use them exclusively for a few years, I can get that cost down into the ~1 yen per km range.  Well worth it for happy feet.

Solestar - MTB version

Solestar - Road version

This photo STARTS to show the special features.

Solestar "black" - sprinter's model.
David Marx's model friend "Igor"
Thank you, Solestar!

21 October 2015

Sunday in the Hills

This past Sunday I got in my first regular Sunday ride in the hills west of Tokyo in a long time: since before I left for the Dolomites and PBP in July.  The occasion was the visit of Christian S., a German rider based in Australia who comes through Japan from time to time (and, I understand, reads this blog).  We rode out and as far as the T intersection where N and S Akigawa separate, at Hinohara town hall, with Andrew and Dan. Dan distributes Ritte bikes in Japan, as well as clothing under the Cyclism name (note the color coordination on his MAAP jersey).
Andrew, Christian, Dan and David ... posing with the Sky Blue Parlee Altum R
The weather was beautiful, and we did a traditional route -- up the Akigawa, Kobu Tunnel, then back via Lake Tsukui and Onekansen-Doro.
The steps toward the swimming hole at Motojuku are tempting today ...
(oops, the name of the intersection is no longer Motojuku ... now Tachibanabashi?)
On the Akigawa climb.
From near the entrance to Kobu Tunnel
A beautiful day
We stopped for a lunch on the south side of lake Sagami at Restaurant Shu.  Much more civilized than sitting on concrete in front of a convenience store.
Dining outside in perfect weather
Artistic hitching rack for bikes! 
The hitching rack comes complete with locks -- just take the key to lunch!
Incredible cyclist accommodation I could not imagine a few years ago.
At the end we did a detour off Onekan and rode over steep hills (Google Maps' walking route) to GS Astuto near Ikuta Station in Kawasaki.

The bike Tim rented to Christian.  This seems to be Chinese, not Japanese?
And probably means "specially fast" or "fastest"?
Tim was not at the shop, Christian could not raise him quickly via mobile, and I needed to race back into Tokyo to meet someone at Tokyo Station, so in the end Christian left the bike at C Speed for Tim to pick up.

All in all 177 kms for me on the day -- longest since PBP -- and a fun ride.  Hope Christian will be back through again, and that I'll see Andrew and Dan again before long.

The Idaho Stop becomes the San Francisco Stop?

One interesting factoid from Cycle Oregon:  in Idaho cyclists do not need to stop at stop signs.  These are "yield" signs for cyclists.  No cross traffic -- roll on through!  So the law has adjusted to fit the behavior of 95% or more cyclists.  What a great idea.  Besides, well, in Idaho how often is there actually cross traffic at a stop sign?

But now, according to an article in today's NY Times online, San Francisco is considering the same thing.  Incredible.