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Saddle Height, Leg Length, Cleat Shims… and the 10-Second FREE Alternative to Addressing Having One Leg (Slightly) Longer than the Other.
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.
The Goldilocks Saddle Status and the Position Proposition; Attaining True Perfection in Your Saddle Position – and Transferring That from One Bike to Another, Easily
Now, I’m going to keep this as simple as I can, for an insanely difficult and controversial topic. There are three things at play that pertain to positioning the saddle properly, and two that go to the size of the saddle that are absolute musts to achieve something close to perfection. Maybe “really, really close”.
First and foremost, I’ve never found there to be a saddle that corrects for a lack of saddle time. There are comfortable saddles, sure, but time must be spent in the saddle. There’s no way around this.
Before I get into locating the saddle, let’s talk about saddle size and style. The general rule is, the more flexible you are, the flatter the saddle you can comfortably ride. The less flexible, the more contour you’ll want in the saddle. The contouring of the saddle allows the hips to open up when you ride in an aggressive, road bike position. Getting the contour of the saddle to your liking is a big piece in this puzzle of perfecting the saddle.
After contour, there’s width. I’ve read, from much smarter people than I, that a saddle that isn’t wide enough is excruciating. This hasn’t been my experience at all. My problems have always centered on saddles that were too wide. Now, there are interesting things at play here. First, the more aggressive a position we ride in, the thinner the saddle should be. The more upright we ride, the wider the saddle.
I can comfortably ride on a 143 mm saddle on our tandem, but those are excruciating on my road bikes. I rub the insides of my of my pelvic bones on the edges of the saddle in an aggressive setup. On my Trek 5200 (below, left) I run a 138. On my Specialized Venge (below, right) I run a 128 that is pure heaven next to a 143.
After we get the contour, next we move to width. I was measured at a 143 mm width, but that works for an upright position, call it the tandem riding position I mentioned earlier. The more aggressive I ride, on my two road bikes, the less width I want. When it comes down the the bottom line, I don’t mess with what works and keeps my heinie happy. I just roll with it.
The best way to figure your saddle width is to get measured at a shop that has a proprietor or two who know what they’re doing. Make sure to let them know how aggressive your setup on the bike is (if they don’t already know), or take a picture – or even the bike – with you to get measured.
With that out of the way, we’re going to get down to the nitty gritty and position. I’ve been of two minds on this. For a while, I was like, “Yeah, saddle height is important, but as long as you’re close, say within a few millimeters without going too high, it’s all good”. I disagree with that point currently. I’ve got an exact number that works on all of my bikes – and by exact, I mean that word. Before we get height drilled in, though, I should get into the fore/aft positioning of the saddle, because we do this first because this affects the up/down location.
Simply stated, on a road bike, the fore/aft position gets a normal rider’s leading edge of their knee directly above the pedal spindle when the feet are clipped in and the pedals are parallel to the ground. I like to check this when I’m setting a new saddle by getting the height close to where I want it (my personal norm is 36-5/8″ on the nose, maybe a 32nd of an inch less). Then I warm up for a minute or two and check the level by setting my crank arms parallel to the ground and running a 4′ level from the pedal spindle up to the leading edge of my knee. That should be plumb, up and down.
With that set, I move to the height. I’ll go with the 36-5/8″ and give it a ride, preferably outdoors because the trainer just doesn’t do the real world feel justice. Then I set the tilt of the saddle, while I’m out, so I’m perfectly balanced and cradled with my hands down in the drops or on the hoods. Once that’s done, I can drill in my saddle height over the next few rides. 36-5/8″ is close enough, but I may lower it just a touch if something doesn’t quite feel right over, say, 100 miles in a few days.
And that’s how I get to my Goldilocks saddle height position. It’s not too high (any higher and I’ll have some form of pain), it’s not too low. It’s just right.
It’s a lot of effort, yes, but it pays off… in the end.
I couldn’t resist.
What Does It Feel Like To Have Your Saddle Too Low, Too High… Or When FINALLY Attaining Goldilocks Saddle Status?
So, my wife and I were on our tandem Sunday. She’d mentioned that she’d like to have her saddle raised a little after our ride Saturday. I knew mine was a little low, too, but I forgot to raise either.
A day earlier, as a part of my normal yearly maintenance on the tandem, I’d removed, cleaned and lubed both seatposts. While I marked the insertion depth with electrical tape, I must have installed both seatposts just a hair lower than they’d been before. We’re talking less than two millimeters here.
So, what does it feel like when a saddle is slightly too low?
First, if we’re only talking about a millimeter or two, you’ll be slightly robbed of power. It’ll feel like you’re working too hard for the speed/power you’re generating – but not as much as it is if the saddle is too high. Second, when you pedal hard, which happens a lot on a tandem, it’ll feel like you’re jamming your sit bones/butt into the saddle as you pedal if the saddle is too low. Over the course of 20 or 30 miles you’ll develop a hot spot on your heinie that can be relieved by standing up, off the saddle, but it’ll get worse as the miles tick by. I’m not talking about a “chaffing” hot spot, either… I’m talking about an actual hot spot from the pressure of sitting too hard on the saddle to get the pedals ’round. This is a sure sign, more than what your pedal stroke feels like, that your saddle needs to be raised. Again, mine was just a millimeter or two (same for my wife’s), but I developed the aforementioned hot spot and I could literally feel my sit bones jamming into the saddle as I rode.
Now, the cool thing is what happened when we pulled over to the side of the road so one in our group could take a nature stop… I quickly raised both saddles and we rolled.
We were 2-mph faster and the hot spot pain went away immediately. For both my wife and I.
Now, if the saddle is too high, the pain is different. It’ll be on the inner-thighs from your legs bottoming out at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Your hips will rock as well, to get your foot to the bottom of the pedal stroke. Finally, your power to the pedals will be greatly affected because you’ll have to rock your hips to get to the bottom of the pedal stroke.
The key is to find the “butter zone” in betwixt too low and too high. Once you do, it’s magical. Maybe try a tandem…
Friday was a bowling night. I showed up early and threw a few warm-up games. Wait, let me back up. I took Monday off. Went to a concert out of town with my wife Tuesday, so nothing. Wednesday, we slept in and rode the trainers early. My wife had a nail appointment set for the afternoon so I went to the alley we bowl at for our league on Sunday evening for some practice. I threw seven games, I think. Two warm-up and five that “counted”. I averaged a 198 and was exceedingly pleased with that. I needed to figure out how to use my Hammer Scorpion on those lanes to be successful as my reactive solid Brunswick is too much ball. I also wanted too cement the final transformational changes I’d made in how I throw the ball before Friday night’s league. I was successful on both counts.
I rode the trainer Thursday and ran a couple of bowling training drills in the spare bedroom setup I’ve got.
For Friday’s league night, I don’t like riding the trainer beforehand – it just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Okay, now I’m caught up. A few warm-up games, one with my wife who’d had her ball drilled to better fit her fingers before she headed out to spend time with our daughter and our daughter’s boyfriend. Practice was a little sketchy. I was trying to start with the Scorpion but I just couldn’t get it to stop skidding and hook up early enough. I switched to the Brunswick with four frames left in the last game and struck all four.
I started out with the Scorpion for the league games and struggled getting out of the gate. Four frames in, I switched to the stronger Brunswick Quantum Evo and didn’t look back. First game 159, second 204, third 207. Now I know what to do for both venues. Hammer for Sunday night, Brunswick for Friday. I also threw three more games with Noel and Craig after the league – one finding new lines game, then two that counted (224 and a 197)
Saturday morning, my wife had a hair appointment with our daughters in the morning. I rode on the trainer as it was well below my cutoff temperature to ride outdoors (it was 11 F or -12 C). My trainer session was excellent. I rode hard. Now, my wife’s hair appointments with the girls are quite epic. They take hours. So, after my time on the trainer I cleaned up and went out to lunch with my three-ball bowling bag in the car. I chose the Friday night league alley for some more practice at my wife’s suggestion. I wasn’t expecting much, figuring I’d be tired.
I could hardly hold onto the ball for the first game. I had all kinds of problems. Keeping my wrist cupped properly hurt, my fingers weren’t working very well, my hip hurt above my plant leg… I felt old. I didn’t count my first game. I couldn’t get warmed up, either. I told myself I’d throw a second and if I didn’t ease into being comfortable, I’d go home. Mid-way through, I loosened up. I didn’t count that game. By the end, I was throwing the ball like I should and I started sliding a little earlier with my plant leg, which took some pressure off the hip. I threw a 180, a 214, a messy 168, followed by a fully dialed in 232 and finally a 189. I was tired with the 189, finishing with a 197 average. I headed home and pulled in the driveway just 30 seconds before my wife. I took an AdviNol (aka TyleVil) and laid down on the couch with my wife for a most-excellent nap.
This morning, it’s cold again and we’ve got snow coming (worst early spring I can remember, but that changes next week). I’ll ride the trainer beside my wife and then we’ve got our Sunday night league tonight. I woke up sore after having slept in well past 5am (an enjoyable rarity). I feel old… and that’s meant in the “physical” meaning of “feel”, not the emotional. On the emotional level, I’m honestly sad that I feel this way. There once was a time I could do anything I wanted and I’d be healed up for the next day. I’m more active than most, especially with tennis season coming up.
I can’t get over the nagging thought I might be over the hill. For real. I’m an active over the hill, sure, but… I can’t help but wonder…
The Great Pillow Proviso; How I Went From Wracked with Pain to Feeling Half My Age… with Nothing More than a Different Pillow
Now, you might be wondering how this has anything to do with fitness or cycling, but if you’re too much pain to want to ride, guess what?!
I wrote about this before but the difference in how I wake up in the morning is so stark and astonishing, I felt I had to give it one more post. The reason for the surprise was that I went from fine to hurting so badly when I woke up in the morning that I had to head straight to the medicine cabinet for a couple of AdviNol (Advil & acetaminophen) just so I could get moving in only three days.
I was hurting after the first night on the new mattress. I put that to bowling. On the second morning, I was worried that maybe I’d been mistaken about the new mattress. I couldn’t figure out why my lower back and hips were in so much pain all day long.
I woke up in the middle of the night on night three on that brand new mattress that should have been perfect for me thinking, “What in the f*** is going on here?!” I put the pillow I’d been using on the floor and laid back with my head on the mattress with no pillow and I could literally feel the pain begin to melt away. After a few minutes I grabbed the second pillow that had been between the mattress and the wall at the head of the bead and slept the rest of the night on that. This pillow is nothing special, I’ve had it for years, but it fits my head and neck just right. The other pillow, the one that caused all of that pain and now resides permanently betwixt the mattress and wall, is one of those new-fangled memory foam pillows that cost an arm and a leg and is all the rage. It should have been spectacular for what my wife paid for it.
I woke up two-and-a-half hours later feeling much better. The next morning I felt even better and by the third morning I felt like I’d gotten a perfect night’s sleep and felt like I should. No pain meds, up and at ’em long before the alarm. On the fourth, I felt younger than my 51 years… like I expected I would sleeping on a brand new, perfectly fantastic mattress. Here we are two weeks later and I actually look forward to going to bed at night – I’d rather sleep in our bed than on the couch.
The only difference being a pillow that works and one that doesn’t. I have no advice on how to pick a pillow, because I have no idea why my cheap pillow works and the expensive one makes me feel like I’m 90. I just know my experience. I do know this, I’m going to pay a lot more attention to my pillows in the future. I can’t believe the difference!
How to Improve Your Bowling Game: Hole Layouts and A Little History of What Works, What Doesn’t, And Some Thoughts on Overuse Injuries
I took bowling in college (or “at university” if you’re from across the pond). I chose the classic layout for that class. Now, the old classic layout had one massive flaw; you were hard pressed to get decent revs out of the ball to get it to hook into the headpin. Basically, you turned your hand around the side of the ball with all three fingers in the holes and released as your arm passed your leg/hip. You could definitely get the ball to hook, but it wasn’t the best for repeatability.
Unlike me, a friend of mine chose the fingertip grip of the ball for the same course – the true fingertip grip where you’re hand was stretched as far as possible. Your fingertips form a claw-like catch for the grip tips while your thumb is buried to the second knuckle in its hole. Throwing like this puts a lot of torque on the ball and with the hand so stretched, the thumb naturally comes out first, easily… the only problem is, with all of that tension on the hand, forearm and wrist, tendon problems became prevalent for anyone who bowled a lot.
Thus, a new, hybrid method was created to stop the snapping of tendons (literally). This new method of throwing a ball down the lane takes a lot of the stress out of throwing a bowling ball. The holes are closer together so the hand is not under such great tension. In fact, they’re now advocating something of a “let the ball roll itself” approach to coming off the hand. Well, at least till you start climbing to elite status where there’s a whip/yo-yo effect at the bottom of the arm swing that imparts massive revs to the ball. And this is where we can get into trouble again, at least for we old-timers and amateurs. See, bowling has become a lot about getting revolutions on the ball… 350 to 500 rpm.
I took a three screenshots of a pro’s release all three within a split second of each other. Look closely at how his arm cocks and de-cocks at the bottom of the swing. I can see that motion leading to many shoulder, elbow and wrist reconstructive surgeries in the future. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it. We can’t torque our body like that without repercussions.
I could ask a doctor for a professional opinion here, but I think common sense should be good enough for this blog post; I don’t think a person can move like that without it causing problems in the distant future (I will look into that professional opinion, though).
Now, that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to surgery if we want to bowl (and bowl well). What this means is I believe we can find a happy, repeatable medium where we can get some predictable revs on the ball without getting too deep into that snapping motion:
Now, I’d agree with anyone who claimed this isn’t as bad as the old tendon stretcher fingertip claw throw, but the question is, is that whipping action absolutely necessary? I can see why it’s done, but I don’t think it’s absolutely needed to bowl well at a Friday evening league bowler level. The key here is repeatability. If I can slot my speed and rotation in using the thumb out, fingers up the back or side of the ball, throw but not worry about the super-hi-rev “snap”, I can have my bowling without the possible surgery that comes with the extra revs when I’m older. I’m exploring this, anyway.
I’m working on another post in which I’ll show off my at-home practice hack that has me working on a release drill, a half-swing release drill, in my bike room till my heart is content (and my arms are tired – I’m practicing right and left handed so I’ll be able to switch hands should the need arise – this happened to a good friend of mine and it broke his heart).
My wife and I picked up a new mattress a while back. I’m a soft mattress kind of guy. My wife likes something a little firmer, so we compromised on what we felt was a great medium.
We got it home and I LOVED it. My wife, not so much. It was a little too firm and it hurt her hip and back. She went through quite a bit of pain and after a short test period, decided to trade it in for a soft mattress. I was ecstatic. The current one was good enough, but a true soft mattress? Oh, it was going to be awesome!
We got everything worked out and picked the new, upgraded mattress we wanted, agreed to terms and the exchange procedure and signed on the dotted line.
We took back our medium mattress and picked up the new one last week. We put the required mattress protector on, then our sheets, then our pillows… then went about the rest of our day. That first night was spectacular.
The second, after bowling a little too excessively Friday evening, was a little rough. I figured it was too many games and didn’t worry about it. I loosened up after a bit and forgot about my tragic tail of pain and woe the night before. I woke up Sunday in a lot more pain. It was brutal. I took a couple of Advil/Acetaminophen pills and, after a cup of coffee, fell asleep on the couch. I woke up fine and put it to too much bowling on Friday and Saturday (I took my wife and daughter for a few games Saturday).
After watching my favorite quarterback on my new favorite team with the Super Bowl last night, I crashed… and woke up at 2am in agony. This was not bowling. I was worried it was the mattress… I didn’t want to have to go through the return process again.
Then I realized I’d been using the wrong pillow. It was one of those “just dawned on me” things. I switched pillows to something less bulky and heavy and fell back asleep. I woke up a couple of hours later feeling like a new me. My back pain was gone.
If I’m sleeping on a firm mattress, it doesn’t matter what kind of pillow I use, it’s going to cause me some severe pain. On our new mattress, though, it didn’t compute that the pain could be caused by it. My body said otherwise, though. Until I switched my pillow and could feel my body relax and the pain and tension ease. I was shocked at how quickly everything changed. And how much better I feel this morning compared to yesterday.
Update: It’s the next morning. I woke up with zero lower back pain today. Zero. No AdviNol, no trouble bending to the floor to pick something up… in fact, no bending to the floor to stretch my back out enough to walk around! Two days ago I was wondering if I was just getting old and the pain just caught up with my active life. Today I feel ten to fifteen years younger than my 51 years.
All because I changed my pillow.
Also, please see Niall’s comment below, as he is a professional.
I got home from work, fully intending on riding on the trainer even though I’ve been taking Mondays off since November. I’ve had a nagging sense of “I don’t wanna” on Tuesday’s when I go to start the week again that’s been bugging me for a few weeks, now, and I got a little angry with it last Tuesday.
I get to Monday and think, “alright, a day off!” and all is well. I have a nice evening, sleep well, then get through Tuesday just fine at work until I get home and it’s time to ride and I start thinking, “maybe I should take another day off”… then I have to moderate an argument with the melon committee about getting on the bike or not. This is entirely unacceptable.
So, yesterday, rather than mess around with the argument, I just told the whole committee to sit down and shut up, “it’s easier to keep a train rolling that start one from a stop”, I explained and rolled my bike out of the bike room to set it up on the trainer.
I was rolling shortly after 5 and had one of my better trainer sessions of the new year. It was made slightly easier, of course, by watching Predator, the original Arnold movie.
And so it was. I had a sparkling dinner with Mrs. Bgddy and our daughter, watched the Rams and Matthew Stafford thrash the Cardinals and drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face. It will be easier, tonight, when I get home to roll my Trek out of the bike room and hook it to the trainer. Whenever I try to embrace “days off”, I always come back to the same concept of keeping a train rolling.
Sure, it’s because it’s true, but mainly because I know me… and after 29 years in recovery, there’s one main concept I have no problem embracing: To Thine Own Self Be True.
Ride hard, my friends. Or pay your doctor to be one of your best buddies.
I stepped outside to take a feel. I’d heard the wind chime playing it’s song but it was technically supposed to be warm – well, above freezing by a degree, at least. It was still quite dark and Mike, Chuck and I were due to roll out in half an hour. Freezing drizzle.
The dirt roads were already out of the question, impassable by bike with a layer of compacted snow and ice we’d be riding mountain bikes on paved roads. With the freezing drizzle the paved roads were out, too.
I texted Chuck I was out with the freezing rain. Mike called in the second I hit send on the text. He confirmed the wisdom of my dropping out when he said he had to walk on the grass to get down to collect his Sunday paper. No way I was riding in that, and Mike was out, too.
I set up the bikes on the trainers and my wife and I had a nice spin to 6 Underground. I was 30 minutes into it when I realized I didn’t have to talk myself into getting on the bike, and I was on my sixth ride of the week – so I could have easily justified a day off. Thankfully, that’s a little more like me.
I received a text from Chuck right around that point that he’d gone out anyway and braved the sleet and freezing rain. It didn’t go well. He went down (though from the sounds of it, not too hard). The bike was fine but I’m sure he’ll be bruised up today.
And that’s exactly why we ride the trainer after freezing rain. It doesn’t matter how fat your tires are on ice. Once you lose it, you’re down before you can blink.
The rest of the day was phenomenal. I spent the whole day in my pajamas watching football and napping intermittently. It was better than a swift kick in the pants. I didn’t do very well with watching what I ate over the weekend, so that starts today.
How You Can Really Tell Someone is Working at Their Recovery; Seek to Forgive Rather Than to Be Forgiven
This was a part of a random reading last night – part of the St. Francis prayer.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Check. In fact, if you want to see the head of a hater explode, love them. That one is tough, but not too difficult.
Where there is doubt, faith? Easy.
Where there is darkness, light? Got it in spades, baby. No problem.
Where there is injury, pardon? “Sur… wait, huh?”
“Oh, you know; it’s by forgiving that we are forgiven”.
And so is unleashed a string of curse words that isn’t fit for print… “That @$$hole left the seat up!”
“Erm… do you leave the lid up?”
One of the hardest things to get right in recovery is looking at ourselves first. If you want to know which person you should ask to be your sponsor, pick the one who can forgive others before worrying about themselves. That’s the person who will show you what they did to be happy and content.
That’s what you want.
Today’s exercise: Spread a little forgiveness today. Somebody out there in your life deserves a break. Give them one. And make it a practice. That’s what I’ll be doing.