15

Sometimes I use bike for a week long trip camping along, doing maybe 200km per day riding on asphalt road. In the end, my feet have bad smell, which is not super strange or concerning, but it does seem a bit unhygienical to do so, especially if I don't have an opportunity to take a shower, I have a feeling I might get some feet fungus.

I tried riding barefoot once for short time and everything went well. I don't have sensitive feet and my pedals are mostly flat, so it's not a pain to pedal.

Now, I've almost never seen anybody else doing it so there must be a downside or danger to it? Does anyone have any experience on this?

  • 20
    Not particularly more or less safe - until you have an accident, when the injuries to unprotected feet are likely much more significant. Have you considered open mesh shoes, and do you wear socks (you should) ? Use Baby wipes when no shower is avalible. – mattnz Jun 9 at 21:11
  • 2
    @Mast Going barefoot is almost always much more hygienic than wearing shoes, if you make a distinction between clean and hygienic with the latter meaning absence of bacteria and fungus and stuff and the former absence of harmless dust, soil, plant parts, etc. – Nobody Jun 10 at 10:32
  • 2
    Get some SPD sandals. – whatsisname Jun 10 at 20:39
  • 4
    @Graham Nope, have you ever hiked in leather boots (hiking or military style)? It is necessary to stop, get the boots off and let the feet dry (and ideally change the socks for dry ones). Good modern shoes can be way more breathable, even if at the expense of waterproofness. – Vladimir F Jun 11 at 6:17
  • 3
    If you haven't even run barefoot, you should never ever try cycling barefoot. – 9ilsdx 9rvj 0lo Jun 11 at 6:31

12 Answers 12

34

It may well become uncomfortable after pedalling for some time, so don't rely on a quick test ride to check.

More importantly though, you need to be able to stop the bike based on the need to stop, and put your foot down without examining the ground for broken glass, thorns etc. It's not completely unknown to strike the sole of your shoe on the ground, like pedal strike, and this would hurt quite badly in bare feet (there's one roundabout I've done this several times, due to a combination of the camber, turning onto a hill, and having to pull away fast because of a poor line of sight). If you ever bump your foot on your front wheel turning at low speed, that could become unpleasant too.

Let's face it, all cyclists get stinky shoes and feet . And a bad smell doesn't mean a fungal infection. Letting your feet and preferably shoes dry out at the end of each day is a big help. That's the time to go barefoot

  • 13
    Spraying those hand sanitizers onto your feet and shoes will get rid of majority of the potential infection. If you injure your foot while riding, that's significantly worse than having whatever that can happen from a fungal infection. Just compare worst case scenarios and decide if going barefoot is worth "preventing" stinky feet. – Nelson Jun 10 at 2:41
  • 1
    Comparing worst case scenarios requires also weighting with their probability. One may always conceive a new improbable scenario that is worse than any scenario before. – gschenk Jun 10 at 13:55
  • 2
    @Nelson I agree with your comment but comparing worst cases alone isn’t sufficient: Every formal risk assessment involves both hazard (= the magnitude of damage) and risk (= the likelihood of damage). High hazard scenarios are often acceptable or even preferable if the risk is comparatively (very) low (but in the case of cycling barefoot that simply isn’t the case). – Konrad Rudolph Jun 10 at 14:24
  • 1
    @Nelson Triclosan and friends are all off the shelves, or soon to be off the shelves, in most countries now. Those antibacterial/antimicrobial products never really worked anyway and are probable endocrine disruptors. Just washing your feet is fine. – J... Jun 11 at 12:55
9

Nope - no way no how and never would I ride without shoes.

Sunburn I live not-far from a large hole in the ozone layer, and the sun can be brutal. As a child I once wore Jandals (thongs/flipflops) to a beach carnival and suffered severe sunburn on my feet, and that was through sunblock.

Damage I've never damaged my feet in an accident, probably cos I wear shoes all the time. However some toe-overlap or a passing plant could do more damage to your exposed skin. Thorns and biting bugs would have better access to skin.

Power How would you attach cleats to your feet? Toe straps and cages might be a workable substitute, but I have never liked them.

I also don't ride without gloves or a shirt or pants or a helmet. I also ride with glasses all the time cos else I can't see the road 8-)

But Cycling is all about doing what works for you. So try it for 3, 6 or 12 months and then report back here. The best answers are often the ones provided by the question's Original Poster and based on experiences.

  • 9
    "How would you attach cleats to your feet?". Surgery to have a cleat plate bolted to the sole of the foot of course. – Andy P Jun 10 at 11:02
  • 2
    Are clip on pedals used much at all outside of really serious bikers? – JPhi1618 Jun 10 at 16:11
  • 4
    @JPhi1618 I would say 200km a day is a really serious biker! ;-) – Matt Holland Jun 10 at 17:27
  • 4
    Regarding accidents: I've broken several bottom bracket axles, and once even a crank. And boy have I been glad to have shoes on my feet... – cmaster Jun 10 at 19:01
  • 1
    I recall as a kid, my friend got his foot stuck below his pedal, while coming down a very steep hill. He had shoes on at the time.... there was nothing left of the 'top' of his shoe after this experience. – djsmiley2k Jun 11 at 19:53
5

My usual summer solution is sandals. The more open, the better the air circulation.

I would not ride bare feet on a cycle where I may have to put my foot on the ground unexpectedly. I have been bare feet on a delta trike which is very stable. And then only in low traffic areas, where I am familiar with the roads. And even then I have easy to slip on footwear within reach from a sitting down position. (A basked on the front of the trike.)
Stepping down from your bike, with your weight on your foot as you need in some circumstances, can be a disaster if there is something sharp on the ground.
Having a sole of a sandal between your skin and whatever sharp on the ground is a big help for your health.

Getting too much sun on your feet is a risk, especially if your trip is in the sun, your feet are still white and/or you are in risk of skin cancer as almost all of us are. Socks in sandals (at least part of the day) will help you there. Socks on bare feet while cycling is less useful.
Sandals with closed tops can be a help there as well.

And for those people who want to click into pedals, there are special cycling sandals just for that.

How safe sandals are compared to enclosed shoes depends in the design of the sandals, how you fall of your bike (if you fall) and details like that. Bare feet have no protection at all. When you meet something that damages your feet, they will get damaged all around as there is nothing to protect them.
Riding commuting in the Netherlands (basically bike lanes and little road traffic roads) I have never had problems with my skin. But I am aware of the odd scratch and nettle burns. And I know that my feet do run risks and I am willing to take those.

  • 1
    I ride with sandals on trails too. In fact, I ride almost exclusively with sandals. – Hosch250 Jun 10 at 14:42
  • Along these lines you may want to recommend sandals with clips. Here are the ones I ride with: exustar.com/index.php/products/shoes/sandals/sport-sandals/… – Lincoln Jun 10 at 19:22
  • If the OP is worried about stinky feet, sandals are (IME) much worse than shoes. But they're more comfortable for temperature. I used to commute with sports sandals in summer, and tracked down a pair with fairly enclosed toes. Now I have SPD pedals and not SPD sandals it's not an option – Chris H Jun 11 at 14:17
5

I haven't tried doing a week long trip barefoot, but for everyday life I mostly go barefoot in summer+. I have done it enough to be sure that it won't become uncomfortable with time and the main reason I use shoes on longer tours is because I like to use clipless shoes/pedals for performance.

  • Make sure that your pedals are really suitable for this. In my experience, the more flat plastic areas for your foot to rest on the better. People might look down on plastic, but in this case really don't go for metal. I have Shimano PD-T421 on both of my bicycles, but they are combo pedals, if you go barefoot exclusively I'm sure you can find better.
  • Make sure that the soles of your feet are reasonably strong. If it hurts to run (or even just walk) around barefoot on asphalt/gravel/natural trail, then it will hurt even more if you need to quickly put down a foot. The only way to train for this is to walk barefoot a lot (and 3 months of winter is plenty of time for the soles of your feet to go back to their untrained civilized state). It takes at least several months to build up the soles so that you can comfortably walk around barefoot everywhere.
  • Keep in mind that the ground can become really hot in summer. Burning the soles of your feet is not fun. And in my experience heat tolerance grows much more slowly than mechanical tolerance.
  • In general I wouldn't do performance oriented cycling barefoot, because that increases the risk of accident and you don't want an accident barefoot.

Touching the wheel with your foot is no problem - light touches don't hurt (well, if you had spikes, even a light touch would probably cause a rather bad wound, but spiked tires and going barefoot don't mix in general) and your reaction time is much faster when something touches your bare foot versus the same thing touching your shoe, so hard touches don't happen. And my main bicycle has a lot of overlap, I have hit the wheel hard when using shoes and being clipped in.

You could also just ride barefoot for a couple of hours at a time - half a day of barefoot riding should be plenty to kill off unwanted life on your feet and help to let your shoes and socks dry somewhere on the outside of your bags.

  • The martial arts exercises for toughening your hands and feet will work for keeping your feet in shape through the winter. Basically get a tub of gravel and scuff your feet through it regularly. – Perkins Jun 10 at 20:52
  • @Perkins That sounds nice, I should try that. – Nobody Jun 11 at 8:35
2

I regularly cycle barefoot for short distances during summer or when it's raining and I don't want to get my shoes wet. (Note: I live near the coast, where it never gets cold enough to make frostbite a significant risk.) I've dealt with the spikes on my pedals by taping foam around the pedals, so now cycling barefoot is perfectly comfortable. I haven't done it for long distances, though, so I can't comment on whether it stays comfortable.

The only injury I've gotten in a few years of doing this happened when my chain slipped and I drove my big toe straight onto the tar. That hurt. I don't have experience with other injuries from cycling barefoot, but the risks other posters have pointed out (like stepping on something sharp, getting sunburnt or having your feet badly scratched) also seem real and fairly probable. One more thing to consider is that if your brakes fail and you have to stop using your feet, you're going to wish you were wearing shoes. Ouch.

I've chosen to take the above risks because of the comfort and convenience that cycling barefoot brings. I no longer walk around wearing wet shoes all day, I no longer have to deal with flip-flops falling off or tripping me, and cycling in summer feels much more pleasant. I acknowledge that stubbing my toe into the road would have caused much less damage if I'd been wearing closed shoes, but I still think that all-in-all the decision to cycle barefoot has been worth it for me.

The biggest drawback, from my perspective, has been social. As you've pointed out, cycling barefoot is unusual, so people question it and sometimes make fun of me. That's unpleasant, but again, I've chosen to do it anyway.

2

tl;dr: Riding barefoot when used to it does not increase the risk of an accident. It just causes the results of the accident will be worse. It's like a helmet - it does not prevent you from falling, it just make it harder to crack your head open in an accident.

If you are used to walking and running barefoot - even without barefoot shoes - on tarmac and gravel you won't have issues with pedaling and risks of sunburnt. Your skin is accomodated already to withstand the resulting load. I do often ride my bike barefoot for <1 km ways and i have steel pedals.

The drawbacks come to the surface when something unwanted or unforseen happens. You won't have allways the time to find a spot to step on slowly so risks of cutting your sole are almost for sure. Also dislocating of joints or breaking the bones is much easier without the support a shoe gives you. You should also consider that taking care for your feet robs a time and effort you can give to care for other parts of yourself - it's a los easier to keep ballance with unhurt feet, for example.

1

Well, the obvious downside/danger would be a lack of protection for your feet.

I can't recall the exact situation, but I was once riding barefoot as a kid and rode too close to a curb. I ended up scraping my foot on the curb while riding fast. Needless to say it was pretty painful.

I suppose as long as you're willing to take the risk (or inevitability) of road rash on your feet, there's nothing wrong with it.

An alternative would be to use foot powder of some sort to control smell and moisture.

1

In the past I sometimes rode barefoot (fortunately no accidents). But one time, turned a little too hard and scraped my toes (uncomfortable). As mentioned before, never know what might be on the pavement that could be harmful to your foot.

1

Probably not, you might be alright around the block. But you take your chance, if nothing goes wrong, then fine. But if anything happens such as crashing, or having to make an unexpected evasive manovoure, then no shoes is going to hurt. Especially by the sounds of it you are not barefoot all the time, so your feet are going to be pretty delicate. Sandals hmmmm, I would'nt, driving all your toes into the ground hurts a lot. I had that when the chain slipped, bent a few toe nails back!!

And even if the above does not put you off. Riding longer distance or regularly will put a lot of pressure in a small area on your foot. This happened to me when going up and down ladders all summer barefoot, result plantar fascia, on both feet which took a year to heal.

0

What kind of shoes are you using?

I usually sweat a lot on my feet but this has never been an issue with proper cycling shoes. Some of them even have ventilation holes in the sole.

I think riding barefoot would require special pedals with a flat surface and would be quite demanding for your feet muscles. It would also be easy to slip of the pedal. I think it’s possible for short distances but not a good idea over longer distances.

  • Actually you can grip the pedal with your toes if needed. The only way to slip off is to not pay attention. – Nobody Jun 12 at 17:17
0

A shoe like this would provide most of the benefits of riding barefoot while still negating the negative effects.

https://www.biketiresdirect.com/product/shimano-sh-sd5-cycling-sandal

0

All I know is I've always hated shoes and when I was 9, I cut off one of my toes in the spokes.

  • So your answer to the question is is "very unsafe" ? Please use edit to expand your answer with more information. Was it the front wheel or back wheel? How did your toe end up in the wheel - was it an accident or just turning? How has this affected your riding since then? – Criggie Jun 13 at 3:33
  • I just said what I said. It's the only thing I can think of that could happen. But, I gotta say, it really hurt my feelings when The Simpsons had their Cletus song, which said, "Some folk'll never lose a toe, but then again some folk'll" – Lisa Kelly Jun 13 at 3:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.