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Science works: Specialized’s Body Geometry fitting system

In association with
26 Feb 2021

While Specialized’s technology helps to create winning bikes, its understanding of the human body leads the real revolution

‘Cyclists live with pain. If you can’t handle it, you will win nothing. The race is won by the rider who can suffer the most.’ 

Eddy Merckx’s mantra of pain and suffering has been central to the sport of cycling since its inception. From the mammoth slogs of the first Tour de France to the faces of agony etched in history, including The Cannibal himself.

It goes beyond the pro peloton though. Even us mortals put ourselves through it, we even have dedicated ‘pain caves’. Yet it has long been the goal of Specialized to eliminate pain from cycling.

Ever since 1997, when Dr Roger Minkow revolutionised the saddle, Specialized’s Body Geometry products have focused on the contact points between the body and bike, i.e. saddles, gloves and shoes, with their ‘Ergonomically Designed, Scientifically Tested’ ethos.

Body Geometry uses scientific theory, research and testing to solve bike riders’ problems in those key areas with an emphasis on proving that the developments solved the issue.

‘It has to do at least one of three things,’ says Scott Holz, senior programme manager of Body Geometry, ‘improve your performance, increase comfort, or reduce the chance of injury.’ Each of these things has to not only happen in theory, but go through rigorous testing to prove beyond doubt that it is the case.

A step ahead

In terms of ticking those boxes, Body Geometry shoes actually do all three. ‘The foot is a super complex structure and super important for pulling our bikes forward,’ Holz says. ‘It can be a point of discomfort for many riders and because there are so many things that are biomechanically attached to it, if somebody has knee pain it could very well have been caused by what’s happening in the foot.’

There are three Body Geometry features in Specialized shoes: the Longitudinal Arch, Varus Wedge and Metatarsal Button. The first problem arises in pedalling the foot, which is the opposite motion to what it’s meant to in walking and running – the arch’s natural shock absorption system ends up wasting the energy it generates.

‘The majority of your power comes from the front part of your pedal stroke and you’re pushing down. So that initial force is just going into collapsing your foot and your arch down into your shoe so you’re absorbing a fair amount of energy before you actually start moving the pedal,’ Holz explains.

‘Now you’re trying to get your foot out of the way quickly, that’s when the foot releases energy back into the pedal and is pushing energy in the wrong direction on the back side of the pedal stroke.’

The Longitudinal Arch is built into the outsole of Body Geometry shoes, with extra insoles when more support is needed, to fill the gap created by the arch in your foot, ensuring pressure is evenly distributed and every watt of power is saved.

The 1.5mm Varus Wedge fills the gap created between the normally flat sole of the shoe and the naturally tilted foot. This aligns the knee and straightens the leg, which both reduces the risk of injuries and increases power and efficiency to the extent that riders can go an average of ten seconds longer in full gas efforts.

Finally, the Metatarsal Button sits under the transverse arch, just behind the ball of the foot. It lifts and separates the bones in the forefoot, minimising pressure on the nerves and arteries and in turn eliminating both hot spots and numbness.

Due to the Body Geometry philosophy, all of that has been tried, tested and proven to work, with scientific journals even publishing the findings of how the shoes improve efficiency and how the correct shoe setup reduces the chance of knee injury.

A marathon and a sprint

Specialized’s newest shoe, the S-Works Ares, shows how Body Geometry and the ideas behind it help to consistently innovate. On paper the Ares is made for the world’s best sprinters, helping them to achieve maximum power and efficiency in the closing seconds of the toughest races going.

Like all the other shoes, it starts with those three Body Geometry features and a template shoe.

Specialized worked closely with sprinters including Green Jersey winner Sam Bennett to figure out his individual problems, identify potential solutions and test the science and the feel.

That process resulted in a brand new Y-shaped closure system, inner mesh sock and strap construction that not only maximise power transfer but make it extra comfortable. So comfortable that it’s being embraced throughout the peloton – Specialized says up to 70% of its WorldTour riders may wear the shoes this season.

That may seem irrelevant to the average rider, however it all starts at the top.

As Holz explains, the pro lifestyle is the perfect testing ground: ‘Even the normal challenges that we have riding a bike, they’re exacerbated ten times. So if there’s something that kind of bothers you on your bike, imagine having to deal with that for eight hours at a time.’

Using Body Geometry, Specialized can make shoes that simultaneously solve the problems of individuals and maximise comfort and performance for everyone, from pro riders to first time riders.

That scientific approach allows Specialized to be truly specialised in making equipment that takes the pain away from cycling.

‘Cycling should not be painful,’ Holz says, ‘the whole thing of suffering on a bike, you just don’t have to. You shouldn’t be suffering.’

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