What You Need to Know about Road Cycling to Enter into the Sport, whether You want to fit in… Or not.
Okay, there are two competing ways of looking at this. There’s the kumbaya way, where we’re all just happy cyclists who are out having fun and riding our road bikes, and nothing matters…. The cycling clothes you wear, the helmet you don, tee-shirt or jersey, shaved legs or hairy, let’s all just hold hands and be happy cyclists! Right?
I do subscribe to that way of thinking, too, at least partially. What matters is that we’re happy and we ride within our means (financially as well as capability), with a smile on our face. As that goes, damn “the rules”. Ride hard! Woohoo!
Now that’s well and good for a f***in’ Hallmark card but real life tends to be a little more… erm…. real.
Most people, while they want to feel good about themselves, there’s a flip-side to the coin; We also don’t want to feel self-conscious and out of place. This where real life enters into the mix and makes the dough a little sticky. If I’m anything, I’m a realist. I don’t believe in sticking my head in the sand, hoping the world will be a real-life musical because it isn’t. Ever. I also believe that saying and writing that road cyclists shouldn’t have to wear padded Lycra cycling shorts, while nice and lovely, is detrimental to noobs, because unless you want to explore riding a bike as an expensive form of self-flagellation, well you’re going to need a few things, no?
Here you have a woman who just wants to be a cyclist like her friend and she reads a kumbaya article about how all in cycling is Zen and we’re all a group of touchy-feely friendly people who wear anything we like and just push the pedals and enjoy each other’s company. There is no judging here, it’s all peace, love and spokes… So she shows up in a pair of coolots, some knee-high socks, a Dory tee-shirt and her matching Finding Nemo©®™ cycling helmet with a smile on her face – only to see 40 hard-legged road cyclists with skin-tight kits that match their bikes, aero helmets, and glistening guns.
How awesome is she going to feel waiting for the ride to start? Panicked, that’s how. She’ll want to throw her bike in the car and leave… Why would we want to do that to somebody?! That’s bordering on cruel and unusual punishment when you really sit down and think about it. If you want the picture of the out-of-place guy, you’ll have the tighty-whities hanging out of the cycling shorts, cotton tee-shirt half-tucked in, $15 Kmart cycling helmet riding a steel bike from 1985 fitted with down tube shifters that squeaks every time the crank goes around. I’ve met that guy, too.
Road cycling is a persnickety form of cycling. We ride fast bikes and wear fast clothes – even when we aren’t all that fast and need more practice pushing away from the table than pushing the pedals. In many cases our clothing matches our bikes, as do our cycling helmets, shoes, sunglasses and just about everything else (see above)… We wear these things because A) They look awesome, but also B) Because they make the ride comfortable. Riding any of my road bikes would be torturous without padded cycling shorts that fit well. Also, it would be considerably harder to keep up with my friends if I were riding in a baggy tee-shirt rather than a form-fitting jersey.
Let’s talk about the guns… The only reason I shave my legs is because doing so makes the guns look awesome.
That’s a period at the end of that last sentence. I don’t even care that it’s vastly more aerodynamic. Shaved legs look better on a bike. You don’t have to like it, but that doesn’t change that it’s a fact. This is the one area that any noob can safely choose to ignore, though. You won’t be ostracized for choosing to leave your legs hairy (though a trimming every other week with clippers goes a long way to keeping the guns tidy) – and you’d better be able to hammer out some hard miles.
In other words, we don’t wear any of that shit to make you feel bad or inadequate. We wear all of that crap because it’s quite necessary, especially when you ride faster than average (20+ mph for an average) and spend more than four hours on your bike at a crack. 20-30 minutes? No worries, but try cranking out a century wearing a tee-shirt, shorts and your underwear. The word “chafed” doesn’t do justice to the hell you’re in for when you step into the shower after the ride.
There are, however, ways to play around the edges. When I got into cycling I didn’t have much in the way of disposable income. I bought a used race bike from the local shop for $750 and fixed it up (meaning I cleaned it up real nice). I wore cheap shorts because that was all I could afford. I had mountain bike shoes and pedals for both my mountain and road bike because I couldn’t afford road and mountain shoes and pedals… same with my helmet. I still felt a little out of place with all of those folks out there with their $8,000 super-bikes and their new Castelli kit, but I hung in there and I bought a new piece of kit every now and again, when it could be afforded – and I never went high-end if I couldn’t absolutely afford it. I looked for sales at my local shop and pinched pennies at Nashbar if I needed something and money was tight. Little by little, I got to a point where I could not only ride fast enough to fit in, I accumulated the wardrobe as well – then I had to turn around and do the same for my wife. The most important part was learning to ride well, though. The rest of the junk is superficial.
The main point is this, my friends: Any noob cyclist can choose to feel like they don’t fit in. There are so many ways to feel uncomfortable out there I wouldn’t bother trying to list them. In the end, what fits us in is how we ride. If we ride strong and confident, a lot of the glitzy shit doesn’t matter. That’s what’s really not important; the glitzy stuff… You do need some cycling shorts if you’re going to be a roadie – it just is what it is. You don’t, however, need a $300 pair of Rapha bibshorts.
If after you’ve put in your saddle time, gotten your kit sorted, and become a solid cyclist, you still feel uncomfortable because you don’t have the expensive, glitzy shit, go see a shrink ’cause you ain’t right. You’re not supposed to compare your insides to someone else’s outside… and if you don’t know what that means, ask the shrink. Ride hard and hold your head up. Riding well is all your friends will really care about anyway.
My friend, theandyclark sent me this in a comment on my last post… I can’t tell you how glad I am to have fallen into cycling like I have:
You know those nasty, blended vegan, green goop smoothies… The smoothies they say are an “acquired taste” that, in terms of flavor, really come in somewhere between dirt and your lawn clippings?
I tried one. Once. It was much worse than I’d imagined it could be.
They are great for weight loss though. Blend one up, take a sniff of it (or a tiny sip if you must, to get maximum stomach turnage), then pour it right into the toilet. Save yourself the trouble of trying to choke that $#!+ down.
That and a cup of coffee, and there’s your breakfast. Three or four calories on the daily count.
Wait, I’ve had an epiphany! Why not just buy a bike, ride the wheels off it and opt for the bacon, egg and cheese bagel instead?
Yes, indeed. That’s more like it.
Four Days, 110 OUTDOOR Miles… And it’s about Time, too! But, the COLD – something about building character, blah, blah, blah…
Friday: 17.6 miles
Saturday: 33.5 miles
Sunday: 41.6 miles
Monday: 17.6 miles
Friday was cold, but it could have been worse. At least the sun was shining.
Saturday morning was worse. Well below freezing. It was so cold, only my buddy Mike and I were dumb enough to ride. Thankfully, not much wind and some bright sunshine kept it reasonable.
Sunday started cold but the abundant sunshine warmed things up quickly. I was underdressed so I started out chilled but within a half-hour, I was perfect.
After work on Monday I was tempted to put some time in on the trainer but the sunshine drew me outdoors into the wind. Oh yippee. You know, 38° (3 C) is a lot colder when the wind is hitting you in the face at, let’s see, 15 mph wind, 18 mph speed… 33 mph… crap, anyway it was cold and I was underdressed – and this time there wasn’t the warming up part from the day before. I was so cold I didn’t have to wash my long-sleeve thermal jersey – there wasn’t enough sweat to get it wet.
So now, because I write a blog about cycling and recovery, I’m supposed to offer up the normal B.S. about “building character” or something. Not this time. I want me some Spring, dammit. Riding in the cold sucks. I freaking hate the cold.
Still, four days outside still beats the trainer by a mile. Or 110.
On the plus-side, the Trek is handling (and looking) great…
I’ve owned a cycling helmet or two and I’ve also written a post or two on helmet fashion…
I’ve tended to stick with Bontrager or Specialized simply because that’s what the local shop carries – I’m more partial to the shop than brand.
This post isn’t about fashion or color scheme though, this one will get right down to safety – and not from a protection standpoint either. All helmets have to meet the same standards. This post is going off the rails, and getting into something I didn’t know was a thing until a couple of weeks ago.
I picked up a Bontrager Starvos Mips a couple of weeks ago because Specialized did away with the S3, and I planned on riding the 5200 more this year anyway… I retired my two year-old S3 and donned the Starvos for my first ride.
The first thing I noticed was the perfect fit of the straps – it was truly awesome and far better than anything I’ve owned with a big “S” on it. I also loved the boa closure system – top notch… I headed out the door, threw leg over top tube, turned right out of my driveway into a headwind and the wind noise was obnoxious. Headwind, crosswind, even with a tailwind, the wind noise was horrible – so loud I couldn’t hear traffic coming up behind me.
Friday I couldn’t stand another day on the trainer so I went out solo with the new dome protector. The wind noise was distractingly loud. I was thinking it had to be me, that I simply needed to get back in the groove again. Maybe the winter had been too long… Two vehicles snuck up on me in the first five miles. That had never happened before, not even when I was a noob (see that last photo above – still makes me laugh at how little I knew).
By the time I was pounding out that last mile I was driving myself nuts. It couldn’t be me, it’s like the helmet split the wind and it was slamming directly into my ears, that’s the only way I can describe it. When I got back to the house I left my bike outside and went in to grab my old Specialized S3… sure enough, I could (and did) hear a car coming about 400 yards sooner. It wasn’t me, it was the melon cover. Fortunately, because I do most of my shopping at a brick and mortar store, the owner swapped it out for me.
Folks, all helmets are not created equal.
I really hate to add one more thing to be aware of, but this was a big deal for me. I liked that Bontrager helmet, but I couldn’t live with the amount of noise it created.
And before you take to the comments, it wasn’t the straps. The straps fit better than anything I’ve ever worn.
The Noob’s Guide to Cycling; What it Feels Like when a Cleat is out of Alignment (or even just slightly off)
The feet are the second-most important connection point on a bicycle, the first being the butt. It’s difficult for me to favor one over another (feet or butt), but the hands are easy and the feet, well they’re a little more resilient than the heinie. If I’m not riding on a saddle that works for me, I feel like I’m riding on barbed wire after 30 or 40 miles and I’ve never experienced anything that comes close to that feeling with my feet.
The photos above were taken at a bit of an awkward angle but they show the natural angle of my feet, even if I was trying to clear my knees to get the shot. Now, before we get into this, don’t think this is how your feet should look clipped into a pedal. I always recommend getting the first set of cleats lined up at a shop. After that, one can use the numbered hashes on the bottom of the shoe to line up cleats on new shoes.
With that out of the way, lets get to the question in the Title, What does it feel like when a cleat is out of alignment?
If you get one cleat that’s a little out of alignment with your natural foot/ankle/leg/knee movement, usually the “off” feeling will present in the foot if it’s a minor adjustment needed, and in the ankle or knee if it’s major. I’ve never had a cleat so far off that my ankle or knee hurt, but I’ve read enough about it. Put simply, I have a local shop that I can trust to get me fitted right so if I’ve got a major part of the leg hurting bad enough for me to notice, I’m not going to bother with self-diagnosis or repair, I’m going straight to the shop to get it sorted.
That said, the minor adjustments present themselves in the foot or ankle and I can tell you exactly and with great specificity how that feels – and more important, what to do about it. First though, let’s get one thing out of the way – where the cleat should be on the shoe front to back. Just behind your big toe knuckle, on the outside of the foot, you’ve got a bone that sticks out just a bit from the side of the foot. The outermost point of that bone is important. Next, there’s a line on the side of your cleat, slightly off-center. That line goes slightly behind (towards the heel) the point of that outer foot bone. From there, it’s just a matter of lining the cleat up, and there are several videos available on YouTube that show simple steps for how to do this yourself, if you wish, or you can always get this done at your local shop.*** The placement of the line on your cleat in relation to the foot bone described above has changed over the years. It used to be the popular thinking that the line would go in front of that bone, toward the toes. The thinking was that gave you more leverage but it put a lot of pressure on the toes and ankle.
Now, if you’re a little off, sometimes it’ll take a bit of time to figure it out. I rode the whole entire winter on the trainer (the best place, IMHO, to diagnose minor imbalances) before figuring out in the last couple of weeks that my right cleat was just a little off (less than a millimeter at the cleat – a little movement at the cleat goes a long way by the time you get all the way out to the heel). Last night I rectified that by loosening the cleat bolts partially and sliding the heel of the right shoe to the right slightly. The minor uncomfortable feeling went away immediately.
So, what does it feel like?
For a minor, < 2mm adjustments at the cleat, it’ll feel like your foot is twisted against the shoe and that your float is used up in one direction. Assuming you’ve got float in the pedals (grey or red cleats for Look Keo’s). This will likely present minutely at the ankle as well. It will feel as if you’re working against the float, meaning your cleat is off enough that the float gets used up because your foot is trying to naturally straighten itself. In my case, my heel was maybe 1/4″ too close to the crank arm and I would occasionally get the feeling my float was all used up – the idea is to have the cleat dead-on so you’re in the middle of the float when you pedal normally. A quarter of an inch at the heel isn’t much at the cleat, let me tell you.
For major adjustments >2mm at the cleat, you won’t have any float one way and your ankle, likely your knee as well, will have pressure torqued against it. If your cleat is off that much, I would suggest you discontinue riding immediately until you get the problem fixed because you’re not supposed to feel torque on your joints when you’re riding. It is possible you’ll do serious damage to your joints if you continue riding like that – even irreparable harm.
Now, to put a bow on this post – don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit with your cleats if you know your way around a bike – especially if your feet don’t feel quite right when you’re clipped in. Just remember, small pain equals tiny moves, and a little goes a long way with cleats.
***”You can always get this done at your local bike shop”… Unless you bought your shoes online. If you did, expect to pay through the nose, as is right and good, to have your cleats aligned. Mine were done for $35 total but I bought everything at the shop. Expect to pay double that if you bring your internet stuff in to be fixed at a brick and mortar shop. Their rent is expensive, and they sell stuff at a profit to afford to be there. If you cut that profit out by purchasing your stuff online, expect to make up for it elsewhere.
It “felt like” 8° at 8:00 yesterday morning. Not your eight degrees, in the EU or UK. No, I’m talking about the ‘Merican 8°. You call it -13. And also “too damned cold for cycling”. So do I for that matter. My phone started ringing at 8:03, my buddy Mike calling to say he was riding in the basement.
I did some work. It was so sunny outside I couldn’t stand it. Not a cloud in the sky, but holy man was it cold. I just kept working – the temp was due to go all the way up to freezing at some point in the day (about fifteen degrees below normal, as has become the new normal this winter). I decided to shower up and hit a noon meeting rather than mope around all day. Halfway through the meeting I knew I was going to ride at home as soon as I got home. I didn’t care how cold it was.
I was wheels rolling by 1:35, and it had not warmed up. I think it was only 26° (-3 C). I was into the wind for the first half of the ride and it took my breath away more than once – but I was outside, and anyone who rides a bike will tell you, outside is way better than inside… Then I hit tailwind and all was well.
Thoughts about how tough that first half was went the way of the wormhole. After tinkering around with my front derailleur adjustment for a minute, I hammered it up to 23-24 mph (37 km/h) and kept it there. Well, I kept it there for a few miles and ran out of gas a little bit. That first day back after a week or more on the trainer, sucks.
I finished up with 17.6 miles in a touch over an hour. I was okay with the results as cold as it was outside. I showered up, worked a little more, and took my eldest daughter out for barbecue after dropping the youngest off at a birthday party.
I would have been a lot happier if it had been about fifteen or twenty degrees warmer but beggars can’t be choosers, and I was beggin’!