My wife and I both have a one leg shorter than the other. Ironically, mine’s the left. My wife’s is the right. I don’t quite know how that would throw a tandem off kilter, but we manage. Happily. To an extent.
There are two things you can do to address one leg being shorter than the other on a bicycle; lower the saddle height so the shorter leg gets its proper extension, or shim the shorter leg by putting a shim betwixt the cleat and the shoe sole.
For me, I can live with lowering the saddle to my left leg’s length. That doesn’t work for my wife. The issue is that with the saddle lower than you’d like, when you start putting power to the pedals, you tend to sit harder in the saddle which creates all kinds of bad interactions with the saddle. With the saddle high enough for her left leg, her right hip socket bothers her immensely. That meant we had to go the shim route.
Now, shimming a cleat works a treat for a road shoe where you duck-walk with exposed cleats anyway. On a mountain shoe, shimming the cleat exposes the metal to the ground instead of the sole lugs. That, my friends, is no bueno. If you’ve never tried to walk metal on rock, tile, hardwood, laminate or concrete, that would be because you’re smart or lucky (or both). This makes shimming the cleat on a mountain biking shoe a little more dangerous… and that’s what we use on the tandem, so it was suggested, rather intelligently by our local bike shop owner, that we simply take an insole from an old shoe and slide it beneath her cycling insole. Brilliant!!!
Now, me being me, rather than get my wife an insole, I bought her a new pair of exceptional cycling shoes. They’re not top-end, but they’re a fair bit nicer than mine. Then, I took the insole out of her old mountain bike shoe and slid it into her new shoe beneath the new insole.
38 miles later and my lovely wife reports the hip pain is gone. I may update this post if we run into problems in the near future, but those of us who have put an obscene amount of time in on a saddle will tell you, generally speaking, you know when you get the saddle right. My wife is one who puts an
obscene outstanding amount of time in on a saddle.
Note: While the additional insole is a fantastic idea, it’s not exactly a scientific remedy to a short leg… for instance, what if the width of an insole is too much shim? We could be throwing too big (or too little) a fix at the issue and create another. However, free is worth a try to see if it works.