Fitness questions and answers for June 13, 2007

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Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at fitness@cyclingnews.com. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com) is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese (www.davepalese.com) is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com) is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com) is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com) has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com) is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Steve Owens (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.

Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.

Brett Aitken (www.cycle2max.com) is a Sydney Olympic gold medalist. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971, Brett got into cycling through the cult sport of cycle speedway before crossing over into road and track racing. Since winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Scott McGrory, Brett has been working on his coaching business and his www.cycle2max.com website.

Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Michael Smartt (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach with Richard Stern Training. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology and is USA Cycling Expert Coach. Michael has been a competitive cyclist for over 10 years and has experience coaching road and off-road cyclists, triathletes and Paralympians.

Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns MyEnduranceCoach.com, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Arch cleat position at the Giro?
Arch cleat revelations
Arch cleats for my competitors
Magic X pedals
Heart rate: drops vs. hoods
Twisted hips
Neck pain
Riding no handed
Pedalling angle problems

Arch cleat position at the Giro?

I am not sure but it looked as though Liquigas might be riding with cleats set farther back than is the current norm, more like arch or a bit farther forward. Riders looked a bit more flat-footed than I usually see. Any idea if this is true? I noticed it during the final parade stage in the Giro while Liquigas was leading the final laps in Milan. Just a thought/question.

Nicholas Adler

Steve Hogg replies:

I don't know. As I mentioned previously, there are a couple of big timers using midfoot cleat position but that will become obvious over time.

There has been another rider, Thomas Rohregger, using midfoot recently who has made a minor splash. Since he switched, he has been giving some of the big names a hard time on the climbs. I have included some photos that a friend who takes a close interest in Euro cycling sent me.

Rohregger's cleat position and improved performance on the climbs of the Henninger Turm and Giro del Trentino (lead up race to the Giro) apparently occasioned some discussion on the Italian TV coverage. My contact also said that the named climbers were talking to Rohregger quite a bit after the Giro del Trentino race.

That is all I know. Whether that had any influence on Liquigas, or whether indeed Liquigas are using a more rearward position, I don't know.

Arch cleat revelations

I'm a reasonably competitive triathlete from South Africa, 33 years old, have been doing tri for about three years and was formerly a swimmer in my youth.

In response and agreement to Dave from Colorado's email about arch cleats. Firstly I have moved my cleats back to almost the centre of the shoe and it definitely has improved my speed and endurance which is especially noticeable when climbing or standing.

I was thinking about doing it before I came across your articles because I was suffering from continual lower leg injuries (stress fractures etc) from running and being a triathlete was searching for a way to reduce the amount of work my calf and soleus muscles were doing while riding in order to see if less fatigued muscles would prevent this.

Well the improvement has been dramatic and the extra speed on the bike is a real bonus. I was able to move my cleats about 3cm further back than was possible with Speedplay pedals and Specialized triathlon shoes by drilling a single hole further back and turning the base plate around. You have to be careful because there is no room for error if they aren't lined up because you will have very little lateral movement to get your shoe closer or further from the crank after doing so but with a ruler, pencil.6mm drill bit and a steady hand it isn't too much of a problem. I am willing to send pics if you like.

After having done this I feel there is still some extra power to be gained by going back a little further maybe 1.5cm or so and am planning on doing this by buying the fore aft adjuster base plates by Speedplay which allow 5mm extra rearward movement (because they are reversed) and having them machined and bevelled to give me that extra 1cm.

The reason I say this is because I can still feel that my I am resisting the downward thrust of my quads with my lower leg muscles which apply upward pressure in order to prevent your ankle joint from angle from becoming more acute in order to get the wattage into the cranks. Somewhere along the length of your foot there is a point of balance where all your quad power goes into the cranks and your lower leg muscles don't have to resist this power.

Simply put, if you were designing a piston or some other mechanical devise that had a straight shaft (your leg) driving a round bearing (your crank) you wouldn't add an ankle joint into that machine because you would have to add another piston or hydraulic devise in order to hold that joint stiff.

It doesn't matter if you're a butterfly, diesel engine, or cyclist the fewer joints involved the more economical the machine. The next step I guess would be for bike manufacturers to move the bottom brackets as far back as possible, almost touching the back wheel to avoid the overlap of the front wheel which is inevitable when moving your feet forward, adding a little bit more rake on the forks wouldn't hurt either, or making slightly longer top tubes since your centre of gravity is more forward.

And as for hamstring tightness, it is simple to avoid by moving your saddle more forward because I suspect that it is as result of the new angle that you would be pushing now since you have effectively close your hip angle slightly. My biggest problem is that I've had to put a longer and negative drop stem on my bike to make sure I'm in the same aero position I was in before making the switch.

I guess that's it then, just one last thing is that having made the switch I will never ride any other way - it is logical, simple and most importantly, faster! Plus I have had absolutely no injury problems since, am biking and running more k's a week and the handling improvement is noticeable.

David

Steve Hogg replies:

Thanks for passing on the tip regarding moving Speedplays rearwards. I don't know exactly where you have your cleats, but ideally you want the pedal axle more or less under the middle of the arch of each foot. If you can achieve that, you should resolve the last niggle you mention.

I am happy that you got the result you sought and what you say about the performance gains is in line with what I and others that have tried it are finding. It would be nice if a few shoe manufacturers offered a shoe that allowed midfoot cleat position as an option. It shouldn't be too hard to redesign the sole of a shoe so that it had two sets of 3 hole mounts. Early days yet though, and if that is to happen, I suspect it will take some time.

Regarding frame redesign, I am about to take delivery of a frame with a longer top tube and front centre and a shorter stem with altered steering geometry to make allowances for the different feel of a short stem. It is a bit of an experiment but it will be nice to ride without the amount of toe overlap that I currently have. Once I got used to the toe overlap, it hasn't been a problem, but I had to re-learn how to track stand and change a few walking pace riding habits. All things considered though, I wish I had woken up to this kind of cleat position 30 years ago.

Thanks for taking the time to pass your experience on.

Arch cleats for my competitors

I have tried the mid-foot arch cleats and I want everyone to start riding in this position. My testing has proven a 10 percent decrease in power, along with reduced endurance. Perhaps this is why cleats have been in the same position since the late 19th century.

While the arch cleat may alleviate problems for riders with weak ankles or under-developed calves, it has no benefits in racing situations. It does have a similar effect as putting the saddle way back. This probably explains why some riders sense improvement, comfort, or efficiency. Many riders today have moved their saddles forward in imitation of triathletes or various time trialists. This may be more aerodynamic, but it does not use the muscles as efficiently as a normal saddle position.

One quick comment on odd pedals, such as the drop pedals sold by Side-Mount. I have not tested them. However, when I asked the company to back up their claims of better power, speed, and aerodynamics; their only reply was 'rider feedback'. They have no scientific research, no power charts, just their say-so.

Tim S.

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

You need to go back and re-read the posts re: arch cleats, but I would take her world championship medals vs. your pseudo test as proof that different alignments work differently for different riders.

However, Max Testa (one of the world's top exercise physiologists who at one point was working with 35 of the top 50 UCI ranked cyclists) recently completed a study at his lab on cleat position and efficiency and clearly found (p<.001 that as the cleat moves posteriorly cyclists are more efficient. i am not sure to publication date for study but know it is pending.>

For you to make the blanket statement that: "it has no benefits in racing situations" is inaccurate, as proven by multiple world road championship and recent Tour de l'Aude winner Susanne Ljungskog. Personally, I have found a point of diminishing returns and am about 8mm behind the axle which is right in line with Steve Hogg's thinking for cleat alignment.

Steve Hogg adds:

I read Tim's mail with some interest. Good luck to him and his opinion. I wish I had such certainty in my life. My experience of bike position to date, and it's fairly extensive, is that the more I learn, the less I am certain of! So when a correspondent has such certainty in their views, I worry a bit.

Anyway for your info and amusement and possibly to convince Tim to look again, here is how I heard about this and what convinced me to try it. When I first heard about the arch cleat thing, I was skeptical based on very limited experience with it, and then only as a rehabilitative measure. I started corresponding with Gotz Heine and it turned out we know some of the same people in Europe.

I checked him out with them and everything I was told was that "the guy is worth listening to". He is a an ex pro who rode the Giro and Paris Roubaix as a 19 year old, resolutely anti drug, and has been a team director of minor teams for years, where his focus in a variety of ways was to improve athletic performance without drugs. Drug use is rampant at all levels of Euro cycling. He is also a chiropractor and naturopath but is not airy fairy in any way. A more down to earth guy would be hard to find.

After much correspondence he impressed me as a thinker who made sense, so I bought a pair of his shoes to give it a go. I did as he suggested and just dropped my seat and bars until it felt okay which was 18mm. I rode 30 kilometres and felt very strong but slow. Huge gears seemed easy, but no ability to rev and I am a bit of a peddler. I also got semitendinosis tendon soreness behind both knees and had to ride the last 10 kilometres home very slowly while thinking "don't know about this cleat position". The other thing that was obvious was that riding off the seat felt terrible.

I pulled my bars and stem back up the 18 mm and put my usual shoes on to ride to work that morning - and felt like I had never ridden a bike before! I was out of sync and felt weak and powerless. I kept riding until my position (which has been largely unchanged for years), felt normal again. That took more than 50 kilometres. That really made me think. If a 30 km ride with arch cleats effected a change in motor patterns that quickly, then to me, it seemed like there might be something intuitively right about it. Well at least enough to explore further.

Here is the rub. I am far better than average functionally, but did a lot of stupid things in my youth. This means that to be comfortable and powerful on a bike I have to work around some major injuries. When I decided to persevere with the arch cleats I found that I had to start again in terms of ticking all the boxes that allow me to ride pain free. My seat ended up 30 mm lower and I mad other changes too. The torque analysis proved invaluable for this.

Three months later, I am riding better than I did 15 years ago by any measure. Improved TT times, recovering more quickly. Training intervals that used to flatten me now tire me but that is about it. Even in short sharp, lots of sprints riding, I am performing better, though I have had to change tactics a bit. I no longer can out jump most people but I find the harder the effort, the more I seem to have left in comparison to guys that I would normally measure myself against.

Now I have torque analysis data on nearly 100 people. All show a broader, flatter torque curve with arch cleats. I have simple apparatus. SRMs with torque analysis with wooden platforms attached to pedals. That way, foot position can be varied in relation to the pedal axle with ease bare foot. With many, there is no immediate change in their curve with a radical change in foot position. But if you hammer them on the trainer for 40 minutes to an hour in the arch position, their curve starts to smooth out noticeably. That is all the time that it takes. Probably analogous to the 30 kilometres that it took me.

Of these, a dozen or so have been convinced to go to arch cleats immediately. For the rest, they think: ‘yeah it works but I don't want the expense and complication.' None of the dozen are interested in going back though a few have had similar experiences to me: that it took a reassessment of their whole position to get results.

I am interested in Dave's reference to the Testa test and if I could trouble you Dave to send me a link when it is available. I know a well qualified exercise physiologist and a biomechanics professor who are trying to get funding now to do a study on arch cleat position. This is uncertain at this stage but what is motivating them is that the exercise physiologist is an ex elite rider who I convinced to try arch cleats and his experience with it has been positive. I will know more in several months.

So Tim, you not getting a result means that you didn't get a result. There may be a multitude of reasons for that. What your experience doesn't mean is that there is no merit to the idea and that others shouldn't try it if they are that way inclined.

Magic X pedals

Hi Steve, I read your comments concerning the Magic X pedals with great interest (I believe now endorsed by Bernard Hinault). I've been studying them for the last week or so and have been very intrigued by the idea. I've raced as a cat 2 for many years and have always had difficulty attaining a comfortable position while riding in the drops on long and hard efforts (or TT's over 20km).

Simply put, my gluteous maximus cramps so severely I have to return to the brake hoods just to finish the race. I assume my long legs and short upper body are the problem, since I've experimented extensively with saddle position, frame size and stem length to no avail. I've also tried a stretching program without noticing any significant improvement. In sum, I can't ride in a low position for very long without cramping.

One change that seems to help is reducing the pedal stack height (for example, custom shoes with Speedplays). I'm guessing this is because my legs do not have to rotate as high in the pedal circle, reducing how far my gluteus maximus must stretch. Consequently, I'm theorizing the Magic X system would reduce my problem even further because it would effectively lower my stack height another 8.5mm.

Some additional comments concerning Magic X pedals:

-Their web site is vistadeal.com.

-They make a frame that is designed around their pedal/chainring system.

-With their integrated pedal unit (cranks and pedals together with the pedal bearings located inside the crank arms) there probably is no increase in Q factor over a standard bike.

Any input you might have would be much appreciated.

John Thompson
Minnesota, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

You know more about them than I do. I have looked at the site and yes, they are interesting and I don't want to prejudge them. However, this is not the first time this idea (dropped pedal) has been around. Shimano did one (AX pedal) in the 70's, a Euro friend tells me that there was a Siligardi pedal in the late '80's (not strictly a pedal but a short secondary crank that attached to the normal pedal axle hole and then had the pedal of riders choice attached to the secondary arm) and I have seen more than a few home made versions.

There is no problem with dropped pedals if it can be done with a lighter weight and reasonable Q-factor as these have not been strong points of dropped pedal systems in the past. What I said before is correct though. If you work out how far the dropped pedal sits below a normal pedal platform and then move your cleats back that distance rearwards on your shoes, your foot will be in largely the same relationship with the pedal hole of normal cranks with the altered cleat position as it will be with pedal axle hole of a dropped pedal. Simpler method, largely similar result.

A foot moves in a circle that is translated from the circle transcribed by the pedal axle by the distance between sole of foot and centre of pedal axle. Shoe sole thickness and overall height of cleat and pedal platform determine the distance at the top between the two translated circles. If you do go ahead with the Vista pedals and/or cranks, I would be interested to hear how you fare.

However, as you say, there can be an advantage in the sense of reduced hip and knee flexion over the top of stroke, depending on the pedaling technique of the rider. If your glutes give you grief on the bike, it is very likely that you are overly tight in all the wrong places. It may be that you need to move your seat forward because your glutes shouldn't be working hard enough to cramp while riding a bike, assuming a reasonable level of function, unless you have radically long cranks or a seat too far back for who you are functionally.

Heart rate: drops vs. hoods

This is just something I was pondering while on a ride, and wondered if you had any information on it. In races, the outcome normally is decided by the person who is the freshest at the end.

It seems to me that aside from aerodynamics, if I were ride on the hoods my heart would have to work harder to pump the blood to my head because I'm more up-right. Conversely, if I were to stay in the drops my head would be lower, and to me it seems logical that my heart would be working less.

Does this make sense? Have any studies been done in this area

Darryl Perry
Mililani, Hawaii

Scott Saifer replies:

Yes, sitting up increases heart rate for the same output of useful work, but no, that does not in itself limit racing performance. The heart is generally not the limiting factor. In long races the limiter can be hydration or fuel. In shorter races it is generally fatigue locally in pedaling muscles.

Of course it can always be a mental lapse or absence of tactical sense, but extra heart beats by themselves do not put one at a disadvantage. Of course sitting up also increases wind resistance and work done by the leg muscles, even when the rider can't feel that the work is harder, so sitting higher is generally disadvantageous for reasons not related to heart rate.

Twisted hips

My left leg is longer than my right leg - roughly 1.5cm in the tibia. However on the bike, my hips have rotated such that my long left leg is functionally shorter than my right. When I drop a plumb line from knee, my left knee is 2cm behind the pedal and my right knee is 2cm in front of the pedal spindle! I had a 1/2cm worth of shims under my right cleat (my measured shorter leg), but now I am thinking of removing them (should I ship up my functionally shorter leg to straighten things out?)

At times, I can feel myself hanging off to the left side of the saddle, but recently (last few years), I feel as though I've been sitting more on top of the saddle. My odd body is causing me some serious pain in my perineal area - not surprisingly on the left side in one particular place. I assume that the pain is being caused by pressure on the left side as my functionally shorter leg stretches at the bottom of the stroke. The pain is especially bad when I am racing or going hard (read: in the drops or hunched over).

When I remove my saddles, they are always bent/worn so that there is a noticeable drop on the left side. Most recently I tried the Selle SMP saddle. Initially is was super comfy...until a lot more riding and then I felt like I was sitting on the left edge of the seat.

How can I regain some level of comfort and/or straighten my crooked hips!?

Ben

Steve Hogg replies:

What you describe is not epidemic but far too common, i.e. the measurably longer leg is the functionally shorter leg on a bike. A life time of exerting greater torque at the hip with longer leg, can cause the ilium on that side to rotate inward or rotate forward or both, pivoting on the sacro iliac joint. Either way, the function of the sacro iliac joint is compromised. This causes the longer leg sided hip, ilium and lower spine to function as a unit rather than separately. There may be various other complications; sacral twists and interesting patterns of asymmetric muscle tightness and so on.

Here is what you can do:

1. Firstly and most importantly, do whatever is necessary to function more symmetrically off the bike. It won't be only on the bike that you are like this, it is just that you don't have any pain off the bike (or don't mention it if you do). The absence of pain off the bike is a poor indicator that all is well. Training yourself to function more symmetrically will probably need to involve an assessment by a switched on structural health professional and plan a regime of self-improvement. They can advise and help but ultimately you have to do the work. This option is the ONLY 100% solution. You may need manipulation, massage, stretching, core strengthening, a heel lift, shoe build up, orthoses and possibly more.

2. There are mechanical measures that you can put in place to improve things on the bike in the meantime. There are two seat posts that should help. The first is the FSA K Force Lite, in 0 mm, standard or mega offset. If you get one of these, make sure that you get the latest version with the 3 piece Data Head. There are two small pins cast into the top of the upper half of the seat rail clamp. The pins locate the seat rail clamp over the centre of the shaft and sit either side of the longitudinal upper piece that the two seat rail clamp tightening bolts screw into. If these pins are ground off, then the seat rail clamp can be moved 12-13mm either side of the centre line of the seat post shaft. If this is to work for you, then you would move the seat off centre to the right to make the left leg reach further and perhaps sit more symmetrically relative to the centre line of the bike.

3. It is more likely that you should try an American Classic J Post seat post. The seat rail clamp assembly is minimalist and secured by a single bolt on the side. The design of the post means that if you mount your saddle and don't tighten the bolt you can tilt the seat up longitudinally by 5 -6 degrees and then tighten the bolt like. In your case, raise the left hand side of the seat and probably point the nose off centre to the right as well. Raising the left hand edge of the seat won't stop you dropping your hip, but it will limit how far you can drop it. Twisting the nose of the seat to the right will help square you up pelvically, providing you cope. Some do, some don't.

You have the shims under the correct foot; i.e. the shorter leg (unless your long leg and hip are incredibly, incredibly, tight which is possible but not likely) but it is unlikely that 5mm is enough. Bear in mind that you hang away from the short leg, have a lower right leg that is 15mm shorter than the left. 5 mm is very unlikely to be enough of a shim. The lower limb points more or less downwards through its pedal stroke and so the shim has to be more close to what the discrepancy is.

Added to measurable difference is the increase in effective difference that is caused by your twisted way of sitting. You will need to move the shimmed cleat further back relative to foot in shoe than the non shimmed cleat to reduce rocking torque. There is a point of diminishing returns with this. As you increase the shim, you reduce the short legs' need to reach but moving the cleat further back increases its need to reach.

4. Seat height is crucial as is the amount of packing under the right cleat. If your reach to the right hand pedal is even a few mm too much, you tendency to favour the longer left leg will kick in even more so. That's what you are good at and your brain and body are trained that way.

5. The bottom line is that if your estimate of a 40 mm difference in forward position of the knees is correct, then you are in bad shape and at the upper edge of what I have seen. Mechanical measures like 2 and 3 can help, but are no substitute for a solution. The real solution is 1. I have seen people with similar issues of the same severity as you describe and experience has taught me with many of them, to refuse to attempt the job until they tick the off the bike boxes first. Otherwise, in some cases both parties waste a lot of time and effort for limited gain. Fix the body and you will fix its relationship with the bike.

Best of luck and start the process of introducing yourself to your own body.

Neck pain

I have begun to ride a new tri-bike which I will use next year. At 49 I find the low position pretty tough on the neck, therefore, I simply look down over the wheel more than normal.

Do you know of any neck exercise, or stretches I can start doing that might make a long ride more tolerable?

Joe Jackson

Steve Hogg replies:

I can't help with exercises but why ride a position where you only look up intermittently?
Raise your bars until you can see where you are going comfortably.

Regarding general advice on stretching. I don't know anything about you but it is unlikely that your neck and upper thoracic spine alone is holding you back from looking forward. Take up a whole of body stretching regime and over time you may solve your problem. In the short term give serious consideration to adapting your bike to fit you rather than the other way around.

Riding no handed

In the last two years I've noticed that I'm unable to ride with my hands off of the handle bars. Almost immediately the bike leans to the left. In order to eat, pee, or show off my biceps I have to counter lean way right. I do have a very small 4mm functional leg length difference so I've just assumed that this was part of the cause of my left leaning blues.

However, I often question this because I have no problem riding hands free on my mountain bike. I noticed today that the front wheel doesn't sit centered in the fork. The wheel looked leaned to the left. I centered the wheel and my no hands problem got worse. So then I pushed the wheel as far left in the fork as my drop out would allow and the problem went away. Interestingly, I also felt very square on the bike too.

Could these results suggest my hands free problems aren't primarily due to my leg length difference but more so from an unbalancing of my bicycle? Alternatively, could an asymmetrically laced rear wheel unbalance a bike? I am curious to ride the bike farther than around the block to see how I feel (i.e. does my right hand which goes numb on long rides still do so) but I'm totally freaked out by the thought of the wheel slipping and eating it.

Are their any ways to check whether my bike is out of balance? In the history of the universe has anyone ever heard of something like this? Moreover, I find all of this fascinating and wonder if angling the wheels slightly could be a novel way to balance the rider out on the bicycle.

Michael Kemp
East Lansing, MI, USA

Scott Saifer replies:

It sounds to me like 100% of your problem with riding hands free is due to the bike and not to your leg length discrepancy. It's odd that you'd have to twist the wheel in the fork to anything other than its neutral position to be able to ride hands free. Any chance your fork or frame might be bent?

Pedalling angle problems

I am male, 19 years of age and am starting on my first season doing crits and time trials, mainly riding with the university road team. My problem originates from having feet 30 degrees to my knees.

This cannot be sorted (consulted an orthopedic doctor) and it causes the inside of my heel to collide with the rear chain stays and excessive rubbing on the crank arms. On climbing on occasions my feet have even forced beyond the float of my look cleats to tread on the big ring of my FSA compact chainset. Even with the free arc limiting on the pedals I am still wearing away my shoes, crank and chainstays.

I would appreciate any suggestions regarding improving pedalling efficiency and decreasing component ware.

David Brett

Scott Saifer replies:

I am assuming you mean that your feet point out at 30 degrees away from the midline of the bike. That's a huge angle and well beyond the design capabilities of standard pedals, cranks etc. I've never had to help a client with such a large angle before, but it sounds like what you need is to get the pedals a lot farther from the bike.

I'd suggest talking to a machinist about making a pedal-crank adaptor for you. Maybe one of the other panelists has another suggestion.

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