by Dan Empfield 11.15.02

About two-and-a-half years ago I wrote about a shoe wizard named Jim Rice. I revisit the subject now, because I revisited the subject yesterday. I visited the subject in his Encinitas shop, and I did so because I was in need of new orthotics.

I needed new orthotics because my old orthotics were in my running shoes, which are missing, as are a variety of other shoes around the house. This coincides chronologically with the acquisition of a couple of new dogs. There may or may not be a causal relationship, but some of the other domestic footwear has since been found in the primitive wilds around our home. I will no-doubt find these old orthotics at some point, but my running cannot wait until I do. So down to Jim's I went.

I need orthotics because I'm an overpronator. I don't know how many people really need orthotics but I know that I'm one of them, and my running career would last about a week if I was forced to run orthoticless.

I've intended to write about Jim's orthotics for some time. Jim has never made me orthotics. But he's worked on the orthotics others have made for me. I'd decided that my next orthotics ought to be made by Jim, so I can have one-stop shopping (previously Jim would fix whatever it was I didn't like about my $350 orthotics).

There are several nice aspects about the orthotics Jim makes. First, there is the technology he uses (more on that below). Second is that the technology easily lends itself to follow-up orthotics. Third, the same guy that "casts" the foot makes the orthotic—no two or three or four hands (and margins) inbetween me and my orthotic. Next, Jim's "$350 orthotics" cost only $200 for the first pair, and $100 for each pair thereafter. And finally, Jim's orthotics are going to be made better than any others I've had.

Besides the fact that Jim Rice knows feet—and shoes—he's got himself an interesting gadget. To be sure, he's not the only one who'd using this technology, but it's nice to have the right guy using the right tool.

You stand on this machine and little plastic "needles" about the size of wooden match sticks come up out of the bottom and detect where your foot is. This generates a map of your foot, or footfall. Jim determined that for me a metatarsal support would be a good idea, and so he had me get back on the machine with a facsimile of the support in place, and another map of of my footfall was made.

This "map" is then saved as a digital file, and can be used to make a new orthotic in the future, and/or changed to alter the next orthotic you need made. The file is transmitted to a CNC mill in the back of Jim's shop and, presto, a "blank" is cut and made into the orthotic I'll need. These "blanks" are not unlike the blanks of foam that a surfboard shaper will use (different foam of course). Jim will also choose from a variety of blanks. Several are dual density (as in the image just below), and the one he'll use depends on whether you're a supinator, a pronator, heavy or light, and so forth.

The orthotic comes out of the mill looking essentially the way an orthotic looks (bottom right image), but then it's got to have the posting and upper and all that applied. I like these types of orthotics because they're "semi-rigid" and while they might not last as long as a rigid orthotic they're going to bend with the shoe. The rigid orthotics cause the shoe to resist bending, and as a result your heel is more likely to come slightly out of the back of the shoe when you plantar-flex.

You can have your orthotic the next day with a system like this. Perhaps even same-day service is possible, however Jim's is a very busy shop, and that's less likely.

Of course it's impractical to come to Jim's shop if you're not a SoCal resident. I write about Jim, however, to give readers an idea of getting a good orthotic can be done, and perhaps this is as it ought to be. Maybe it's a good idea to try to seek out the "Jim Rice" in other metropolitan areas.

Jim broached the subject to me, asking about how that might happen. "Is there a way to expand this service to something not unlike Lenscrafters for feet?" he asked me. Perhaps there is. Plenty of smart Slowtwitch readers who're tired of making baskets full of money in a "normal" industry ask me about opportunities in the greater triathlon industry. Usually I tell them the secret of how, by virtue of working in the bike business, one can end up holding a million dollars: Start with two million. Maybe in Jim Rice's case, however, there's something better to work with.

For those Slowtwitch readers proximate to our favorite shoe dog, here's the contact info:

Sole Performance.

165 S. El Camino Real, Ste K, Encinitas, CA 92024 (El Camino @ Encinitas Blvd., LA Fitness Shopping Ctr).