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Holy Footbed Shims, Batman! You’re Amazing! Cycling and How to Know You Need to Shim a Cleat, What It Feels Like… Before and After

I’ve been cycling, enthusiastically, since 2011. I’ve gone through professional fittings and become adept enough at the process I can fit myself on a bike with ease, and can even manage to help set my wife up on her new bike (who happens to be a lot harder to fit on a bicycle than I am… but mainly because I can’t feel what she feels). Point is, I know my way around setting a bicycle up. Not enough to be cocky about it, of course. We must make that distinction, because otherwise everything comes off as cocky in writing.

Anyway, every year, around this time in February, I start feeling some pain and tenderness in my left… well, just in front of the sit bone area from my inner leg hitting the saddle on the bottom of the pedal stroke. Only on the left side. Eventually, I contemplate lowering the saddle to keep this from growing into something more persistent and painful. In the past, I’ve gone that far, only to raise it again once I got back on the road after winter because it felt foreign.

Also, almost every saddle sore I’ve gotten in the last decade has been on the left side, in the same exact place.

I knew my left leg was shorter and that this was likely a problem, but I figured the saddle sores were fairly normal (and I would get one on the right now and again), so I left well enough alone and rode through the pain of the sores every now and again.

Then, my wife and I were on the phone Saturday afternoon and she said I should stop by the shop to say hi to Matt and the fellas. First, I know, that is sexy as hell – especially considering there was a massive sale going on… I LOVE MY WIFE! While there, I picked up a few tires I’d need for the season and on a display I saw a size 43/44 footbed and shim set from Specialized marked 40% off. I thought, why not give that a whirl. So I bought the set and headed out to meet my wife.

I get everything ready the next morning before our trainer ride.

I started out adding a 1.5mm shim to my left foot but that didn’t feel much better, so I added another 1mm shim and hopped back on the trainer… and the difference was utterly astonishing. So much so, I was interested to go an extra ten minutes just to see if my left leg would start talking to me like it normally does.

Not a thing.

Just like that, I’m sold. I put two shims in my left mountain bike shoe as well, which I’ll use on the tandem and on my gravel bike. And so easy!

Now, this isn’t all perfect and I’m going out on a little bit of a limb because Specialized’s shims aren’t exactly set and forget. They’re a little thicker on the inside than the outside which is meant to straighten the foot. There’s a very good chance I’ve simply rolled my foot too far out which can cause problems as well. To that end, I switched out an old set of S-Works footbeds for a new set and I cut up the left footbed to match the shims I put in my first pair of shoes and I put the footbed shim in my second pair of road shoes to see if I could tell the difference. That’s the cheap and easy way of fixing a leg imbalance.

Anyway, the important thing is, I’m excited for this season, to see if I can escape without saddle sores. I’m especially interested in seeing what happens on the tandem where the vast majority of one’s time is spent saddle-bound.

And that brings me to one final point about Specialized. While they’re treatment of small shop owners is enough to give me the vapors, when it comes to the equipment they make, they really show a lot of give a shit. Tinkering with my shoes and their footbeds, I was shocked to discover that there was virtually no difference between a footbed in a mid-level mountain bike shoe footbed and a pair of $425 carbon fiber-soled S-Works shoes. It was literally the same footbed with different brand writing… and a few different lines pressed into the mold to give them a different look. Same weight, same density, same size and shape.

You hear about “trickle down technology” with Shimano quite often. I never expected to see what I saw when I pulled my shoes apart over the weekend.

Note: Technically, in the Title, I wrote shimming a “cleat”. I don’t shim cleats because that’ll make the cleat a little more proud and therefore dangerous, especially for a mountain bike shoe. I prefer to shim the footbed for safety.

Clipless or… Erm… Pedals Without Clips… Erm Flat/Platform Pedals?

I believe I’ve seen all of the videos GCN has put out on flat/platform pedals vs. clipless. For the uninitiated, “clipless” refers to a lack of toe clips and straps… you still, ironically, clip into clipless pedals.

What they rarely cover in the whole discussion is foot position, though they did for a second or two in the imbedded clip.

First, clipping into clipless pedals, to spoil the clip and add my two cents, is only slightly more efficient than using platform pedals with little screw-in flat spikes and mountain specific shoes without cleats, until you get out of the saddle and sprint. At that point, a person who has used clipless pedals will feel vastly safer to hit the gas harder because their feet are connected and secured to the pedals.

Having ridden a 30-mile loop with the Elite A-Group on Tuesday night on a set of platform pedals (though, admittedly, the pedals I used were the cheap, stock plastic platforms without spikes). At a decent pace and cadence, it’s simply too hard to keep your feet in what I approximated was the proper position.

And that word, “approximated”, was the important part of that sentence, folks. You have to guess… and at 90-rpm, guessing where your feet should be gets old in a hurry. Especially bad is when you’re a little off and you can’t move your foot in little increments while moving at that rate of speed. What I ended up experiencing was a lot of pain from having my feet in the wrong place on the pedals to work the crank efficiently for my ankle, knee and hip joints. For that reason, I’ve never bothered with trying platforms again. Perhaps cycling at a less aggressive pace wouldn’t prove so difficult.

Next is the mountain bike issue (and this applies to potholes on the road as well – especially bunny-hopping an unexpected pothole). When descending, you can experience everything from roots to rocks making the descent tricky. If your feet are clipped in, you don’t have to worry about your feet bouncing off the pedals. The spiked platforms wouldn’t be as bad as straight up plastic, but I’ve always felt better being connected to the bike in clipless pedals.

In the end, the choice to go clipless or platform will come down to choice. This commentary is included to help those new to the choice to make a reasoned choice. It’s always an interesting topic.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments. What a great topic for well-reasoned discussion based on experience. Great stuff.

Picking the Right Co-Motion Tandem for You… A Look Through Our Eyes At Our Choice.

I did some research yesterday morning for a friend looking at picking up a new tandem and I thought it would be fun to go over our choice and why we made it. The coolest part, and I mean this down to my baby toes, is that my wife took such a big role in the choice. I expected she’d just sit back and let me roll, but she was right in there with me as we kicked around the choices for different tandems. She made two excellent points that led to us getting the exact bike we wanted.

She also just got upset that I’m typing too loud and fast… so, it’s not all palm trees and paradise. She says it is palm trees and paradise… paradise doesn’t have the staccato notes being drummed out on a keyboard. I’ve softened my tapping. And I’m laughing out loud.

Anyway, I knew we wanted to go with a Co-Motion tandem. Our first tandem was a Co-Motion Periscope and we absolutely loved it. Our experience with our first tandem made the choice of manufacturer easy… all we had to do was figure out which model we wanted. Now, I had lightweight horse blinders on, so when I figured out how to pay for this (cash, no financing), I was stuck on the Macchiato – Co-Motion’s top of the line race tandem. They use the highest grade aluminum tubing you can get, with carbon fiber everything and a Gates belt drive instead of a sync chain. It is, without question, the best of the best (unless you shell out $20,000+ for a Calfee).

When I got all googly-eyed explaining the Macchiato, my wife let me finish and said, “Well, if we’re truly going to ride this bike everywhere, why don’t we get the gravel bike version like Chuck & Libby”. I checked the specs on it… the only difference was alloy bars, seat posts and crank and we could fit 45mm tires on the bike instead of a 28mm max on the Macchiato. Oh, and internally routed cables. I don’t know how much I like that, by the way… that’s a long rear derailleur cable! Anyway, our friends’ Kalapuya (it’s pronounced Calapooia) is quite light, in the upper 20-pound range. My wife’s second fantastic idea is going to knock ours out of the park. She said, “Oh, and I want a second set of road wheels so we don’t have to mess around with changing tires to ride on the dirt.”

We had to pick my jaw up off the floor with a spatula. I love my wife! So I ordered a set of Rolf Prima tandem wheels with the bike, so now we have one tandem that can do anything we want.

Now, cycling is an exceedingly expensive hobby when you want all of the bells and whistles. Co-Motion tandems are that, times two. This is the place where one bike with two sets of wheels for road or dirt makes sense because buying a road and gravel tandem is simply a monetary and logistical nightmare. For us, because our plans involve traveling by car with our camper, we chose the lighter alloy gravel bike. They make a fantastic steel version that can have couplers added to it so the bike breaks down into sections for travel overseas. A friend chose the steel version of that bike for exactly that reason.

So, the choice can be broken down into a few sections.

Who will be using the bike? Is this for a tandem couple or the couple and kids? If you’ve got kids who might want to ride on a tandem, the only option I know of is the Co-Motion Periscope (Scout or Torpedo – flat or drop bar). The stoker (or rear admiral) position can be adjusted to suit a rider any height between 4’2″ & 6’2″. The flat bar version is a mountain bike while the drop bar can handle pavement or, in a limited sense, gravel. You would definitely need a Thudbuster seat post for gravel and the tire width would be limited to 32 mm, but it’s a great family tandem.

For my wife and I, we had a Scout that was turned into a Torpedo for six or seven years and it was awesome. We’d high hopes of involving our kids in cycling and that worked to an extent, but not quite as well as we hoped. Still, we made tremendous use of our tandem but with the kids getting older, it was time for us to look into something that fit us as a tandem couple better. As I wrote above, the Kalapuya was the natural choice for what we needed the bike to handle. The flip side to the alloy Kalapuya, but with a steel frame, is the Steelhead. Same components, just on a steel frame so the couplers can be added.

For those who have eyes on racing, or flat-out speed, the Macchiato or Robusta (alloy) or Supremo or Carrera (steel) are the four racers. Again, for travel you get the steel frame with the available coupler option (it isn’t cheap but beats renting/hiring a bike abroad).

There are a few more models out there, but that generally covers everything… except learning how to ride a tandem with your partner. It takes a lot of want to, but my God is it worth the effort!

Bicycle Paint Repair; The (Best) Easy Way to Fix Chipped Paint

Early last spring during a spring cleaning round, my wife came out of the garage in tears. She was trying to lift a folding table over my prized Trek 5200 and accidentally scratched the paint on the top tube. It was down to the paint layer, through four coats of clearcoat, but not down to the primer.

We had just begun fixing our marriage and she was distraught that something this big might throw our whole marriage recovery into a tailspin. With the old me, I would have given her reason to worry. With the new me, it wasn’t even going to be a blip. In fact, I looked at it that my wife’s being as visibly distraught as she was as a sign we were making immense progress. That epiphany alone made having my frame scratched up worth it.

In fact, I considered leaving it as it was as a reminder of where we’d been and how far we’d come. Besides, the easy way to fix a chip or a scratch is with nail polish, but that’s not exactly the prettiest best way to fix a chip or scratch. Put simply, it fills ugly. The best way to fix a scratch or a chip is to airbrush the color and clearcoat over the scratch/chip after its been sanded down. I don’t have the equipment or patience for that. My wife, however, asked me about fixing it months later, so we started looking into nail polish. The old black polish I’d used on the frame had mysteriously grown legs and walked away… likely to the room of one of my daughters, but who knows, I could just have easily misplaced it. We’ll never know at this point, because my wife did me one better while we were out roaming Meijer (it’s a massive grocery/everything you need for daily life warehouse). She suggested this:

I didn’t know it at the time but my wife was a genius. The scratches were located on the exact top of the top tube, so when I laid the gel nail polish over the scratches, gravity pulled the polish into the scratches and the nature of the gel formula made it so the scratches filled much better than I would have expected. In fact, unless you really know what you’re looking for, you won’t find the scratches without an up-close visual inspection.

So, that’s my new trick, folks. Nail polish is, without question, the easiest way to cover up a chip or scratch in the paint. If you really want to cover the imperfection the best you can without pulling out an airbrush, try a “gel-like” polish and get that blemish facing “up” so gravity will help you fill the area without leaving ugly edges.

If you look at the fine print above, it’s a “gel like” polish. Apparently certain gel polishes require a UV light to harden – my wife says these are referred to a shellacs. Being the male of the species, I don’t know a thing about nail polish, but some quick Google searches produced the results that there are “gel” polishes that require setting with a UV light to set. Also, shellacs are, according to Cosmopolitan Magazine, the mix of regular polishes and gels and still require UV light. So, the “gel-like” polish is a regular polish, without the hassle of needing a UV light to set it. And now I know way too much about nail polish.

Just a Kind, Happy Holiday Reminder!

I realized, yesterday, that things are going WAY too back to normal. The one good thing about the pandemic was that it made staying the f*** home when you were sick, acceptable.

In the spirit of the Holiday Season, please remember, to the sociopathic, narcissistic shits, nobody else wants your illness. If you still don’t feel well, you’re still contagious. If you still choose to go out, stay away from people, douchebag.

And wear a freaking mask so everyone else knows to keep their distance because you’re choosing to go out.

Sheesh.

Happy Holidays!!!

Why I Don’t Choose to Get Drunk or High… Or, Conversely, Why I Do Keep Choosing Recovery. Part 10,990

That 10,990 isn’t a random number. That is exactly how many mornings I’ve woken up and asked God to keep my raging alcoholic in his cage in my mind for another day. That version of me is in there with my angry self and they’re both doing pushups and pullups, trying to outgun the other at the gun show. Sometimes I wonder how I make it with those two dolts.

Not really.

I don’t often imagine opening the cage door, anymore. I’d never trade the fantastic life I have today for guaranteed misery. No chance.

I only feel gratitude and the hope I’ll have another day (or 10,990) to pass on my experience, strength and hope.

Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle happens.

The Gimmick of Being Different; Bicycle Manufacturers Jump the Aero Shark

Have you noticed that almost all bikes, with the exception of a gimmick here or there, look alike (I’m looking at you, Specialized, with that preposterous rear shock on the Diverge that looks like it’ll change the saddle angle so it jabs the nose into… well, not a good place to have a saddle nose jabbed into)?

How about the Trek Madone with that seatpost modification that… well, I don’t even know what the hell the point is?

Here’s the fun part; look at Canyon, Trek, Specialized, Giant, Cervelo… the king of the heap being Pinarello. With the exception of the gimmicks, they’ve come to resemble each other so closely you could slap any of their logos on the other and believe that was the actual manufacturer.

Well, maybe we would have to leave Pinarello out of that bunch. They employ more gimmicks per square inch than everyone else combined. I actually look at the F-12 frame and wonder if Dr. Seuss was in on the design phase. Not the person who wrote the Dr. Seuss books… I’m talking about a living, breathing Dr. Freaking-Seuss.

Sadly, this is the way of things now that everything is aero tested in a carbon fiber sausage mill with a wind tunnel. When you have a bicycle, a fairly simple machine, wind is only going to move around that thing a certain way. If you’re going for the most aero, eventually everything looks like everything else. And thank goodness one frame is two seconds faster over 40km than another! In a wind tunnel, of course. Not necessarily outdoors where it actually, you know, matters.

Rant over. That was fun! Perhaps we’ll just stick with our old-school cool steeds…

WordPress Wants to Know What My Feelings Are About Eating Meat…

Oh, how I hate the fascists…

This is a screenshot of a post I just started working on:

I hate this bullshit. My feelings about meat are this; I’ll always eat meat. Meat is fantastically healthy for human consumption under any honest scientific metric that is used, and as important, or more so to the human diet, than vegetables. Arguing against this is futile, dishonest, and usually just plain stupid.

Worse, what do people with Celiac disease eat if there is no meat? See what I mean about the ignorance? It’s hard enough to go through life with a gluten sensitivity, going through life where gluten really harms you is twice as hard. Almost impossible if all you’ve got left will kill you.

WordPress, it’s none of your business what I feel about eating meat. It’s necessary and I’ll be plunking off squirrels, rabbits and birds in the backyard before I stop eating meat. And there are many more vastly more adamant than I am.

You don’t want to start a discussion about meat. You’re not thinking this all the way through. You envision a world without cows and farm animals. What you’ll get is far worse. Try a world with no wildlife because it’s being eaten by those who won’t sit still for the pampas bullshit of others who, from their gilded cages, pronounce they want to change the world into what they deem “better”. Do us all a favor; jump off a building. A very tall one. Save us the misery of putting up with you. Or better, before you attempt to change the world, worry about cleaning your part of your parents basement, first. At least then, maybe you’ll realized just cleaning yourself up is close enough.

This is what my feelings are about eating meat; you suck.

How To Set Up A Bike For Someone Else; Pitfalls and Problems to Avoid… And The Thing That Made It Easy To Work On My Wife’s Bike.

The hardest thing about setting up a bike for someone else is trying to navigate around what they’re feeling. It’s real easy to look at my own setup and know that I have to drop the nose angle a little, or if I need some upwards tilt on the hoods to keep my hands from going numb. What do you do if you’re trying to fit your wife to a bike? I tried to approach this using what worked for me, only to learn my wife needed something a little different. I threw myself into research and, thank God, there was enough decent information out there from reputable fitters that I could make some good choices and put as much effort into setting my wife up as I did my own bikes.

The first thing we have to do to set someone else up is develop a language that we can both rely on. Assuming you’re the more experienced, this will fall on you. Use your patience here, especially if you’re working with your spouse. If you don’t have any, get some. In a pinch, try Xanax or Valium. I’m kidding. Don’t do drugs.

For saddle height, get it close, say within a couple of millimeters, first. Then work on fore and aft positioning. Start out with the old “heels on the saddle and pedal backwards without rocking the hips” trick to get close.

Next, for saddle position fore and aft, think backwards. Use a level or plumb bob to get the knee over the spindle if possible, or a little forward of the spindle if necessary because of the bike’s geometry. If your victim pin cushion guinea pig the person you’re working with feels like they want to skootch their butt back as they’re riding, you move the saddle forward. If they feel like they want to skootch up, you move the saddle back. Basically, move the saddle to where their butt wants to be, not vice-versa.

Next we’ll work on saddle tilt. I didn’t know this nine months ago. A female’s saddle will typically tilt a little more that what we learn in bike setup school (YouTube) because of the shape of their pelvis in relation to a male’s pelvis and saddle. This video helped my understanding what I was working with in setting up my wife’s bikes a lot. It was a game changer in setting up my wife’s bike:

In the end, we want the saddle to cradle us whether we’re on the hoods or in the drops. We don’t want to slide forward which will require bracing ourselves with our arms and lead to neck and shoulder issues, and we don’t want the saddle nose pressing into sensitive areas when we’re in the drops. Look for the middle ground. It is there.

From there, we can start looking at setting the saddle height perfectly. When I was setting up my wife on our tandem and her road bike, this exposed a neat difference in switching from road to mountain pedals. My bikes are almost identical in height going from road to mountain shoes. My wife is different by about a quarter of an inch. Also, as we narrowed in on her “perfect” saddle height on the tandem, she began having hip pain on one side. One leg was longer than the other, and this became clearer as we were professionally measured for a new tandem we’d ordered. My wife hated lowering the saddle so her hip pain could subside. When the saddle is too low, we tend to push our butt into the saddle and this leads to a hot spot wherever your butt hits the saddle. Raising the saddle clears this issue but meant my wife had to ever-so-slightly tilt her hip to get down to the bottom of the pedal stroke. We put an extra insole insert in her right shoe to bring her right foot into level with her left. No more hip pain and her saddle was high enough she didn’t grind her butt into it.

There’s one final trick to setting up a bike for someone else… I like to go for a slow ride with my wife after we’ve set up a bike for her. I bring a 4 & 5 mm Allen key with me so I can make adjustments on the road to suit how she actually feels riding the bicycle outdoors. Ten miles should take an hour with six or seven minor adjustments along the way. This has proven to be the final key to getting her bikes as close to perfect as I can get them.

Once I got the first bike right, I simply repeated the process and already established the feel and vocabulary needed to repeat the process, quickly.

I’d written this post over two days and it never really felt complete. It struck me this morning why. I’d missed one important point that makes working on someone else’s setup… erm… work. For my wife’s bikes I committed myself to putting as much enthusiasm into setting her bike up as I had for mine. That’s really what made it click in my mind.

When Cyclists Discriminate Against Cyclists (and When It’s Okay to Act Like a Jerk… And When It’s Not)

Certain cyclists will read that Title and immediately think I’m referring to the Lycra-line… fast cyclists dolled up in their Lycra, cruising down the road at ridiculous speeds in pace-lines, all exclusive like. You think they hate everyone who isn’t like them.

Oh, there are a few who fancy themselves as above other cyclists. There are @$$holes who reside in the Lycra-lines. They don’t hold an exclusive line on being douchebags, though.

How about the clown show cyclist? That knucklehead who shows up on the steel bike with the Campagnolo downtube groupset? It’s like 90 degrees out (38 C) and they’re in the sunblock arm and leg covers (different colors, of course – white arm covers, hi-viz leg covers) with the hi-viz everything else, including their neck gaiter… in fact they’re so hi-viz it’s hard to look at them in the sunshine… with so much sunblock on, they’re even whiter than their arm covers. And, with four taillights (all cheap and barely visible during the day) and a front blinkie that can double as a steel cutter in a pinch.

That’s the one who has no problem telling anyone who will listen the real problem with cycling is that the fast Lycra-clad crowd won’t slow down to ride with the slower crowd – especially a new rider…

They’re so angry and sure of themselves, they don’t even know they’re discriminating against those who are different, just the same. Better, they’re discriminating against the faster cyclists solely based on the assumption the fast crowd won’t bother to lower themselves to do what the clown refuses to do themselves.

Dudes and dudettes, here’s the deal; if you ever start a conversation with “there oughta be a law limiting how fast people can ride a bicycle”, you’re likely that which you claim to disdain so much. If you read this and think, “that’s bullshit, those motherf***ers need to slow down!” Do me a favor and walk over to the mirror and take a good, hard look.

You’re the problem, too.

There are @$$holes on both sides of this, and I don’t mean to excuse the Lycra-lines, either. At least the Lycra-lines know they’re jerks, though. Imagine someone in the fast crowd saying there should be a law that establishes a minimum speed limit of 15-mph! The funny thing is, the Lycra-lines may look down their noses at others, but not so far that they believe the behaviors of others should be regulated to match theirs. Looked at that way, that’s a level of pampas even the snobbiest of Lycra-clad semi-pro roadie wouldn’t stoop to.

We all need to be better people. Be good and decent to others first. And remember, the biggest jerks are always the regulators who believe the answer to everything is regulating our bad behavior… almost exclusively the bad behavior of others, though.

Regulations for thee, not for me, as they say.