In the past, cyclists had two choices... purchase a pair of "stock" cycling shoes (off the shelf- fit as is) or, pay to have a pair of very expensive custom shoes made. Thanks to advances in technology, manufacturers now have the ability to provide a third option... a "semi- custom" cycling shoe. This option allows a consumer to customize the fit of "stock" cycling shoes, keeping the price of a "semi-custom" shoe to about half the cost of a "full custom" shoe.
Why is having a comfortable shoe that fits your foot like a glove so important in cycling? It's all about power transfer. In order to get 100% of the power from the pedal stroke transferred to the pedal, the entire foot must push evenly against a stiff platform (sole) of the shoe, otherwise energy is lost. Shoe design is all about getting the entire surface area of the foot to push on the sole of the shoe. The only way to truly accomplish that, is to have a one-of-a-kind shoe built to fit a specific individual cyclists foot.
What is the Difference Between a "Stock" shoe, a "Semi-custom" shoe, and a "Full Custom" shoe?
Every cycling shoe is made from a 3- dimensional pattern of the human foot. These "patterns" are called "lasts". Every cycling shoe manufacturer has a library of "lasts" that are proprietary to their brand - one last for each size shoe in their line. (NOTE: This is why a size 40 in one brand of shoe may not fit like a size 40 in another brand of shoe.) In addition to size, some manufacturers also have several sets of lasts made in different widths (narrow, regular and wide) to accommodate even a larger range of foot shapes and sizes.
To make a "custom" cycling shoe, a plaster cast is made of the cyclists feet. These plaster casts are then used to create a one-of-a-kind last from which a fully custom shoe can be built. Full custom shoes are great for cyclists with unusually shaped feet, or for people with sever foot problems.
There are several ways that manufacturers can take their stock cycling shoes and "customize" the fit of a Stock cycling Shoe:
Traditional Semi- Custom Shoes:
Manufacturers take the stock last that most closely matches the cyclists foot, add temporary modifications to the last based on foam impressions of the foot to build the shoes. For more information look at: D2 Shoes
Advances in technology have given manufactures the ability provide retailers with scanners that create a 3-D image of an individual cyclists foot. Using the data from the scan, the retailer can build a custom modular footbed on-site; or send the data to the manufacturer so that a fully customized footbed can be manufactured for that individual cyclists. For more information look at: Bontrager, Specialized
Heat Moldable Shoes and Footbeds:
Manufacturers have the technology to provide retailers with a small oven that can heat stock cycling shoes to a temperature that will allow the shoe to mold to the cyclists foot. Once the shoes and footbeds cool the shoe remains in the shape of that individual cyclists foot. For more information look at: Lake, Louis Garneau, Pinnacle Racing, Shimano,