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Check Your Crankarm Bolts… Especially On A New Bike. And What to Do If Yours Needs To Be Tightened After Every Ride

Jess, my wife, recently pointed out that we’ve had some crankarm issues over the years. Because there were always distinct causes for the issue, and because we’ve always addressed the causes before they became a problem, I never gave it much thought.

After our little mishap on our brand new top-end tandem the other day, where the bike was completely perfect and that crank arm fell off 7-1/2 miles into a ride, and an extended conversation with my wife (and a short one with Matt Assenmacher), I decided to start checking the crankarm bolts a little more regularly. Well, a lot more regularly, especially on the tandem.

Now, I have it on authority that Campagnolo makes the best crank as far as crank bolts go, so I can accept that. A close second would have to be Shimano for my money. Now, that’s just my experience. Yours may differ.

Over the years we’ve had a Shimano 105 crankset come loose on us (but it was on my wife’s bike and I was drafting her when it started to go bad so it was fixed before it was a problem), we’ve had a FSA crank loosen up on us (wife’s gravel bike, but there was a massive quality flaw in that particular crank), then our tandem – a bike with just under 200 miles on it, seemingly out of the blue, and that was utterly catastrophic though we managed to keep the rubber side down.

As it turns out, it’s common for the bolt(s) just loosen up over time and effort so they should be checked regularly to make sure they’re staying snug – especially on a new bike. In fact, I’ve had to check my Specialized S-Works crank fairly often as well, now that I think of it, and it loosens quite easily with hard riding. That’s a long story for another post, though.

In the case of our tandem, the crank bolt is a two piece bolt. The outer screws into the crank arm and the inner pulls the two crank arms together. When I set my crank, I must have set it perfectly because it’s staying tight. I’ve checked after every ride. My wife’s crank was loose too when mine fell apart, though, and that’s loosened up with every ride we did until I decided loosen the outer bolt so the inner would get more “purchase”, thinking there needed to be more threads engaged on the crankset.

And that was exactly the answer. After our 40-miler Monday, the crank was just as snug when we got back as it was when we left.

And so, a lesson learned.

Cycling, Dealing with a Shorter Leg and Ditching the In-shoe Shims…

Several weeks ago, I wrote about trying shims inside my left shoe, under the footbed, to deal with a slightly shorter left leg.

I’ve always liked to have my saddle exactly as high as is possible without causing… issues, but over the winter, when I spend entire rides in the saddle, I’ve noticed that my left side bottoms out slightly more than my right. Adding 3mm worth of shims under the foot bed helped a ton. I don’t know as I was any more symmetrical on the bike, but I could feel the difference in the undercarriage.

That came at a cost, though. My left foot would go numb on a regular basis. I tried letting out the Velcro strap, but that only helped minimally.

I rode with a friend outdoors a few weeks ago and my foot was numb before we hit 15-miles. That’s exactly when I knew those shims were going into the recycling bin.

I ditched them the other day and now I have to decide whether or not I want to lower the saddle a couple of millimeters to see if that’ll alleviate my issue. Typically, when I lower my saddle any more than where it’s currently at, I tend to feel like I’m grinding my butt into the saddle when I put the power on. This causes more pain than does having the saddle maxed out.

Or I could simply shim the cleat on my road pedals… but that doesn’t solve the mountain bike shoes for the tandem because the metal cleat sticking out further than the lugs is really bad for walking… Whatever I decide on, it’ll beat a numb foot after fifteen miles any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Ah, to have my problems!

What Happens When One of Those Big, Nasty Bike Manufacturers, Like Trek, Buys Your Local Shop?

So, what happens when Trek offers to buy your local shop and turn it into a Trek store? It just so happens our local shop was sold to Trek and I was ready, for once in my life, to get all bitchy about big corporations, corporate takeovers and… well, blah, blah, blah.

My daughter worked at that shop. My other daughter’s boyfriend works there right now. And I was distraught. I was certain this was going to be some kind of corporate “you’re only going to get Treks now, you greedy consumerist pigs” kinda vibe.

Then Trek offered the owner a fair deal and gave him the opportunity to sell off all of the stock they wouldn’t be able to sell. They gave him an even better deal in the non-compete clause of the agreement. Fair, right down to the letter and the owner, my friend, is exceedingly happy. They interviewed all of the mechanics that I care about and offered them a great benefit package and an excellent wage. My daughter’s boyfriend is so happy and excited, he’s actually thinking about making a career with Trek. I’m sure my repairs will cost a little more, but that’ll be money going to people I really care about, so it’ll be worth it.

Check your prejudice, folks. I had to check mine. Trek might be a bunch of silly do-gooder hippies, but from what I’ve heard, they take care of everyone involved in a “takeover”.

Honestly, I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m glad Trek bought out the local shop.

Thank God I have a Trek!

Holy Footbed Shims, Batman! You’re Amazing! Cycling and Shimming a Cleat; Part Two: How and What I’m Using Based On How My Feet and Legs Feel

Initially, I started with a whole Specialized set of new footbeds and six shims. The set normally goes for $50 but I picked up a great deal on a local shop sale. I’d been planning on testing all of this out at some point, but I pretty much had my bikes set up so my shorter left leg really wasn’t much of an issue until late in trainer season. All of that time in the saddle with no out of the saddle adjustments meant a sore spot just in front of my sit bone on the left side.

I tried the shims, first. There are two kinds, a 1mm and a 1.5mm. One deals with pronation and the other with supination. I tried the orange 1.5 first and really couldn’t feel much of a difference. I stacked the 1mm on top of the 1.5 and gave that a whirl. Disco.

I rode with the double shim setup for a few days and liked the feeling – it felt as though I was more centered on the bike and my left side wasn’t bottoming out on the saddle.

However, it wasn’t perfect. I developed a little soreness in my knee that I didn’t like. I decided to take on of my old footbeds and cut it to the shape of the shim to see if I had any more luck with that. The bodged footbed felt amazing when I started riding. I was certain this would be the way to go… right up until I really started smarting on the top of my knee, just behind the kneecap. I knew this was bad, especially after only 20 minutes. I dismounted immediately and put the shims back in place. The pain subsided entirely and I finished my session.

And so now I know what too much shim does!

Hood Angle as It Relates to a Road Bike’s Cockpit Fit and Finish

One of the mechanics at the local shop, a super-fast kid just shy of pro caliber, once told me that all of the cool kids set their hoods parallel to the ground, so guess how I set my hoods up?

Correct! Parallel to the ground. Because that’s what the cool kids do. Err somethin’.

I rode like that for the better part of the time I’ve been cycling, until the other day. I watched a video on YouTube the other day that centered on exactly that, and it turns out, not surprising in the least, riding that way is not very good for the wrists. Now, what shouldn’t be surprising is that I knew I didn’t like riding like that. I’ve known that for a while. It wasn’t horrible, of course, but it wasn’t all that great, either.

I just happened to pick up an angle finder app on my phone for this, and I can tell you this: the Venge was dead zeroed in terms of hood rise. The Trek had a 2° rise. I think that’s shown in the photos, but you have to look pretty closely to see it.

So, the other day I got to thinking, maybe I’ll change that hood angle, after all. Especially on the Trek, because the stem is just a hair long and if I bring the hoods up, it’ll naturally shorten the reach to the hoods.

Now, the suggestion in the video is for between 10 & 20° of a rise in the hood angle. My arms come in a little steeper so I cut that down by 2° and now the Trek and Venge are within a couple tenths of a degree from each other at 8.2 & 8.3° respectively.

I rode for the first time with my hoods at the increased angle Friday and I absolutely love it. My shoulders are much more comfortable with the slightly shorter reach and I love the fact I don’t have to de-cock my wrists to reach the hoods anymore.

I don’t know if my bikes will look quite as sharp, but I have to face the reality; I’m starting down the path of being an older cyclist. It’s at least time to start acting like an adult on the bike. It’s also going to be exceedingly fun to set up our new tandem when it finally gets here. It should be a matter of weeks, now.

I can’t wait.

What’s the Fastest Tire Pressure for a Tandem?!

Much has been made of tire pressure over the last few years, but mainly centered around road, gravel and mountain single bikes. What about tandems?!

My wife and I ride 30-mm Specialized Turbo Pro tires and we’ve been riding 100-psi for quite a while, but we’re not your sleight, sub 160-pound cyclists. We could be, but American barbecue just tastes too damn good. We rode 28s in the same brand and line for a year before at the same pressure… and even with Michigan roads, we’ve only ever had one pinch flat, and the feel was fantastic. In my opinion, we’re at the right pressure for those tires and our current weight.

The simplest way to explain this, without getting too deep into the nerdy weeds of cycling’s geekdom is that we want the lowest pressure possible without pinch flatting when you hit something reasonable. Now, this is not the easiest thing to find, obviously. It’s not like you’re going to want to take six spares and a floor pump out with you so you can figure your optimal pressure, so here’s what my did, in a nutshell.

We started out at the max pressure for the tires, I think 125 or something. Unless you’re a really big tandem couple, that’s way too much pressure, and I knew that from being way too geeky about this stuff. So, I dropped 20-psi off that right from the beginning. Then, I had to consider we’re two people on two tires (not two on four), so my normal 85-psi on my 26mm tires for my road bike wasn’t going to be enough. We went with 100 and gave it a run. I hit a couple of railroad crossings on that ride and everything was smooth. Next ride out I dropped five psi and everything was fine but the ride felt a touch squishy… bouncy when we really got into a rhythm. I dropped five more the next ride and we pinch flatted. 100 psi it was.

Now, some will have us running to a tire pressure gauge that’ll give us the nearest tenth of a psi and try to dial it in to the nearest psi. In fact, I could be that silly… but my wife wouldn’t put up with that ridiculous shit, so I keep it simple to the nearest five psi.

I roll 90-ish psi on my Trek 5200 with 24mm tires, 85 on my Specialized Venge with 26mm tires and we roll 100 psi on our tandem… with zero pinch flats.

I’m down as low as I want to go without being silly… and without squishing when we sprint. And that, my friends, is the proper balance.

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.

Our New Tandem is Almost Here… and An Unexpected Note on New Bikes

Jess and I spoke with the owner of our local shop yesterday and he gave us the report he’d spoken with Co-Motion just the other day and found out our tandem is coming along right on time; it looks like the very end of February or beginning of March at this point – perfect for the start of the 2023 season.

Jess and I were getting excited yesterday, talking about new adventures for next year after having been through our total marriage makeover which is proving to be better than either of us hoped for.

My biggest problem is I haven’t made enough to retire at 53-years old. Had I, it’d be all over but the shouting. Sadly, I’ve got another decade and some change before that’s a possibility, but I can be patient on that front. We still have a lot of excellent adventures on the horizon.

Now, on another note, I have had to change my understanding a little bit on new bikes; they’re not terribly over-priced… at least, not as much as I once thought. The Trek Emonda, at 18 pounds and costing $5,000, comes out the door with Shimano’s Di2 105 groupset and legit 35mm carbon wheels. Folks, for what I have into my bikes and considering what the world has been through, that’s a fair deal.

Even Specialized has a fairly legit equipped Aethos that comes with DT Swiss wheels and SRAM Rival eTap 12-speed for $5,200.

I’d go with the Emonda any day of the week and twice on Sunday for $200 less than the Specialized, by the way.

If Specialized were to quote Ken Miles (or, technically Christian Bale) in Ford vs. Ferrari, “If that was the beauty pageant, we just lost”. Even with the eTap drivetrain.

All of that said, I’m liking Trek a lot more these days. I’ll have more on why at the start of the season. I’m glad I own a Trek that I love to ride.

Buying the Cheap Cycling Stuff; Is It Worth It?

I won’t lie, I had a serious laugh watching that clip. Never mind that he wore the shorts inside-out and the shorts were two sizes too small (oh, my was that funny) and that they ordered a jersey four or five sizes too big. Even if they’d gotten the sizing right on the battery operated heated vest, the jersey and shorts, he still would have looked a little goofy… because that cheap stuff, next to the good stuff, does look a little crappy. It’s not horrible, mind you, and maybe that’s why they played with the sizes as they did, but I own some of that cheap stuff and I can unquestionably tell the difference between a $150 Specialized pair of bibs and the $40 Coconut jersey and bib kit that I paid $56 for.

Hell, my wife asked me to refrain from wearing the bibs out in public.

So, the real deal is just as GCN presented it; you can tell the difference between that cheap stuff and the good stuff. The materials feel better, the bibs stay where they should better… and the good stuff looks infinitely better. As for the helmets, I really don’t know. You’ve really gotta watch out for the knock-offs because I’ve seen some pretty scary stuff centered around knock-offs and Specialized helmets. I don’t know if I’d want to trust my melon to just anyone, if you know what I’m sayin’.

With that said, look, if you can’t afford the expensive stuff, and believe me, I know how hard it can be to shell out the big bucks for that stuff, maybe buy a couple of the cheap kits and start saving for the good stuff. You don’t have to go all “top-of-the-line”, either. The midgrade stuff is vastly superior to the cheap stuff… and I have the hot spot experience to know what I’m talking about.

Or writing about.