The SOLE Active Thin footbeds with Met Pad are customisable orthopaedic footbeds for your shoes. They promise to provide more support than standard insoles, but although they feel supportive when walking around, it's not clear how much difference they make to cycling comfort and performance.
- Pros: Well-built, recycled materials and recyclable packaging
- Cons: Expensive, didn't seem to make much difference when on the bike
The Active footbeds come in what claims to be completely recyclable packaging (a nice touch) and are made of recycled wine corks (another nice touch). SOLE generally comes across as a good, sustainable and responsible business, which made me warm to it even before getting started with these footbeds.
The footbeds are made of what looks like four layers of material – a thick cork layer on the bottom; what seems to be a second, thinner cork layer in the middle; a thin green spongy layer; and, finally, a very thin fabric layer on top, which is the orange layer you see in the photographs.
The footbeds are certainly more shaped than a standard flat insole that might come with a new shoe. The arch is high, with thick cork beneath, and there is a pronounced ridge that rises up just behind the ball of the foot. The stiffness and thickness of the material varies over the length of the footbed. The heel is very stiff whereas the forefoot area is much more flexible and soft.
The packaging suggests that the insoles can be further customised to your feet either by wearing them for a while until they adjust or, to speed up the process, by popping them in the oven for a few minutes before standing on them. I went for this latter approach and found it easy to judge the heating thanks to the heat-sensitive sticker that came on one of the insoles. This made it effortless to know when they had heated to the right temperature, which happens to be 71 Celsius. A few minutes standing up straight and the footbeds were, apparently, moulded to my feet.
I tried the SOLE footbeds in a pair of Lake shoes that I had been wearing for review for a while. The immediate first impressions were, on the one hand, that the underneath of my foot was a bit more supported when I stood in the shoes and, on the other hand, that the shoes were somewhat tighter on my feet than they had been with the standard insoles. Even though these are SOLE's thin model (it also does a medium and a thick model), they were still noticeably thicker than the normal insoles that had come with my shoes. The feeling of extra support in the middle of my sole was appreciable, albeit not dramatic, as I walked around the house.
I was interested to see how the additional support on the arch and behind the ball of the foot affected my comfort and performance out on the bike. And this is where I ran into an issue, because for all my positive feelings towards the company, I couldn't feel any appreciable difference with these footbeds. Over several rides of varying length, other than occasionally feeling my foot was slightly squashed owing to the thicker insole, I just couldn't feel any benefits from the additional shape or support. In fact, generally I forgot about the insoles as soon as I was clipped in.
You could argue that forgetting about the insoles is a good sign, as that would mean they're doing their job without fuss. But that would only be true if there were some sort of performance benefit, or reduction in post-ride discomfort. But I didn't notice any of these benefits.
After a few rides, I even got scientific and swapped one of the SOLE footbeds for the original insole that had come with the shoe, to see if I could see a difference when the SOLE footbed was run side-by-side with the standard insole. Over several more rides, I again noticed no appreciable difference between the two shoes or how I felt after a ride. My power meter revealed that my left-right power balance was exactly the same whether I used two, one or none of the SOLE footbeds. My pedalling comfort and power were just the same whatever.
SOLE claims that these footbeds are good for cyclists and runners. It's totally plausible that the benefits would be felt more acutely when running, but this is a cycling website and so I focused on cycling for this review. And out on the bike, I just couldn't perceive anything except slightly increased tightness the whole time I wore these. It's a shame, as otherwise I really warmed to SOLE as a company, and appreciated its environmental and sustainability efforts. I wanted to be impressed, but was actually just underwhelmed.
Mind you, the thin footbeds would definitely be a workable – albeit expensive – solution if you've got a pair of shoes that you like, but which are half a size too large for you.
It's also possible that I'm far less sensitive to foot comfort than other people. Against this possibility, I should point out that SOLE does offer a 90-day money-back guarantee, so if you've been struggling with shoe comfort and are intrigued to try some orthopaedic footbeds, you could at least do that risk-free with these. In particular, I've never had trouble with hotspots on my feet when cycling, but if you have, you might want to see if the greater support from the SOLE products help out.
Well-made footbeds from a well-meaning company – but it's hard to feel any real difference on the bike
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road.cc test report
Make and model: SOLE Active Thin with Met Pad Footbeds
Size tested: 10
Tell us what the product is for
Sole claims these give "Trusted customizable comfort with a metatarsal pad designed to keep your foot in its natural resting position and relieve pressure in the ball of the foot. This footbed features SOLE's trusted customizable support, the addition of Polygiene® odor control technology, a moisture-wicking topsheet and an eco-friendly 100% recycled cork base.
"With no cushioning, these footbeds are great for tightly-fitting footwear such as cycling shoes, cleats and running shoes."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
From the manufacturer:
Provides lightweight support
Reduces plantar fascia strain
Promotes natural foot alignment
Supports and separates toe joints
Distributes weight and pressure equally
Heat and wear moldable for customized fit
Significant benefits of recycled natural cork
The materials seem to be nice quality and the construction seems solid.
They didn't make much difference to my cycling performance and I couldn't perceive much improvement over my cheap stock insoles.
They still looked quite new after hundreds of km.
They fit very well, and as advertised. These thin models were still a bit thicker than standard insoles; even thicker models are available from the manufacturer.
The sizes seem true to the manufacturer's claims.
There's a little mass to them in the hand – slightly more than a normal shoe insole – but you don't notice this when you're wearing them.
They fill the shoe a little more than a standard insole and provide a little pressure under the foot – in a good, supporting sort of way.
They're really quite expensive, and for that price I'd expect to see some clear advantage to my cycling, or my comfort on or off the bike, but none of this was there.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
I couldn't perceive any real change in comfort or how I pedalled when wearing these. Wearing one of these in one shoe and a standard insole in the other did nothing to change my pedalling or power delivery.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
They have the potential to deal with slightly-too-large shoes.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
They don't really change the feeling of cycling shoes that much – certainly not enough to justify the price.
Did you enjoy using the product? No
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? No
Use this box to explain your overall score
The insoles seem well-constructed, but after wearing them I couldn't perceive any real change in comfort or pedalling performance.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cannondale Synapse My best bike is: Whyte Wessex One
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, audax and long-distance riding
A research psychologist by day, Ian spends quite a lot of time on bikes, particularly commuting between Bristol and Bath or doing audax rides. For years he was an ultradistance runner, but this came to an end when he realised getting back onto a bicycle offered the chance to race over much more preposterous distances. In recent years he has ridden in the Transcontinental Race, the TransWales and the North Cape 4000. He has even finished first in some of these.