Holy Footbed Shims, Batman! You’re Amazing! Cycling and How to Know You Need to Shim a Cleat, What It Feels Like… Before and After
I’ve been cycling, enthusiastically, since 2011. I’ve gone through professional fittings and become adept enough at the process I can fit myself on a bike with ease, and can even manage to help set my wife up on her new bike (who happens to be a lot harder to fit on a bicycle than I am… but mainly because I can’t feel what she feels). Point is, I know my way around setting a bicycle up. Not enough to be cocky about it, of course. We must make that distinction, because otherwise everything comes off as cocky in writing.
Anyway, every year, around this time in February, I start feeling some pain and tenderness in my left… well, just in front of the sit bone area from my inner leg hitting the saddle on the bottom of the pedal stroke. Only on the left side. Eventually, I contemplate lowering the saddle to keep this from growing into something more persistent and painful. In the past, I’ve gone that far, only to raise it again once I got back on the road after winter because it felt foreign.
Also, almost every saddle sore I’ve gotten in the last decade has been on the left side, in the same exact place.
I knew my left leg was shorter and that this was likely a problem, but I figured the saddle sores were fairly normal (and I would get one on the right now and again), so I left well enough alone and rode through the pain of the sores every now and again.
Then, my wife and I were on the phone Saturday afternoon and she said I should stop by the shop to say hi to Matt and the fellas. First, I know, that is sexy as hell – especially considering there was a massive sale going on… I LOVE MY WIFE! While there, I picked up a few tires I’d need for the season and on a display I saw a size 43/44 footbed and shim set from Specialized marked 40% off. I thought, why not give that a whirl. So I bought the set and headed out to meet my wife.
I get everything ready the next morning before our trainer ride.
I started out adding a 1.5mm shim to my left foot but that didn’t feel much better, so I added another 1mm shim and hopped back on the trainer… and the difference was utterly astonishing. So much so, I was interested to go an extra ten minutes just to see if my left leg would start talking to me like it normally does.
Not a thing.
Just like that, I’m sold. I put two shims in my left mountain bike shoe as well, which I’ll use on the tandem and on my gravel bike. And so easy!
Now, this isn’t all perfect and I’m going out on a little bit of a limb because Specialized’s shims aren’t exactly set and forget. They’re a little thicker on the inside than the outside which is meant to straighten the foot. There’s a very good chance I’ve simply rolled my foot too far out which can cause problems as well. To that end, I switched out an old set of S-Works footbeds for a new set and I cut up the left footbed to match the shims I put in my first pair of shoes and I put the footbed shim in my second pair of road shoes to see if I could tell the difference. That’s the cheap and easy way of fixing a leg imbalance.
Anyway, the important thing is, I’m excited for this season, to see if I can escape without saddle sores. I’m especially interested in seeing what happens on the tandem where the vast majority of one’s time is spent saddle-bound.
And that brings me to one final point about Specialized. While they’re treatment of small shop owners is enough to give me the vapors, when it comes to the equipment they make, they really show a lot of give a shit. Tinkering with my shoes and their footbeds, I was shocked to discover that there was virtually no difference between a footbed in a mid-level mountain bike shoe footbed and a pair of $425 carbon fiber-soled S-Works shoes. It was literally the same footbed with different brand writing… and a few different lines pressed into the mold to give them a different look. Same weight, same density, same size and shape.
You hear about “trickle down technology” with Shimano quite often. I never expected to see what I saw when I pulled my shoes apart over the weekend.
Note: Technically, in the Title, I wrote shimming a “cleat”. I don’t shim cleats because that’ll make the cleat a little more proud and therefore dangerous, especially for a mountain bike shoe. I prefer to shim the footbed for safety.