Are Your Feets Too Big? Toe Overlap and the Cautious Cyclist by Tamia Nelson

Toe overlap seems high on the list of some cyclists’ concerns. What about it? Are your feets too big? Well, I’ve got news for you. It’s usually No Big Deal.

If you’re a cyclist with biggish feet who rides a smallish frame, you’ve probably noticed that your toes occasionally rub against your front fender when you make tight turns at low speed. This is usually No Big Deal, though if the bump comes at the wrong time—or if you (a) don’t have fenders, (b) ride a fixie, or (c) are having a really bad day—it can bring you down. The phenomenon used to be called “toe-clip overlap,” but since few riders nowadays use toe clips, it’s often shortened to “toe overlap.” And here’s how it looks from the rider’s seat:

Toe Overlap (c) Tamia Nelson

The overlap shown above is considerable. Overlap is dependent on…

  • Your bike’s frame size and geometry
  • Wheel and tire size
  • Crank length
  • Whether you’ve fitted fenders
  • Whether or not you use toe clips
  • The size of your feet

Tight, short-wheelbase racing frames are less forgiving than long, laid-back tourers, while the combination of big (700C) wheels on small frames makes for bigger problems. (Which is why some makers—Surly is one—fit smaller 26-inch wheels on smaller frames.) Fenders and toe clips further reduce clearance, as do long cranks, though at least the fenders give you an audible warning that you’re about to make contact with the wheel. Do I have to explain why big feet increase the likelihood of overlap? I didn’t think so.

OK. Toe-clip overlap is like the weather. It happens. And some people get rained on. If you’re one of the unlucky ones, you’ll want to know what you can do about it. Well, here’s some good news: You really don’t have to do much. Overlap isn’t a concern when you’re going straight. Even when you head into a turn at speed, your lean does most of the work. Your bars—and therefore your front wheel—hardly move from the straight-ahead position. So overlap becomes a problem only when you have to make tight turns at low speeds, and your first few close calls usually teach you how much to backpedal in order to avoid being brought down. Fixie riders can’t do this, of course, which is why overlap is more of a nuisance for them.

All in all, though, it just isn’t something most of us need to worry about. Of course, if you’re unlucky enough to experience a lot of overlap, and if you often need to negotiate heavily traveled roads at slow speeds, dodging and weaving around potholes and double-parked cars, you’ll want to put in some practice time in an empty parking lot before venturing out onto the mean streets. (Wear your helmet. Elbow pads might be a good idea, too. Parking-lot asphalt is unforgiving stuff.) For the rest of us, however, toe-clip overlap really is No Big Deal. It’s certainly not a good reason to reject an otherwise satisfactory frame—even if your feets are too big!

Sitting Pretty (c) Tamia Nelson

This article is an update of one originally published on 15 April 2014.

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.