Q: I’m having trouble setting up my cleats on my spd shoes. I’ve been using them for years but over the last 18 months or so my feet never feel as if they’re lined up the same. Specifically, my left foot always feels as if it’s further in front of the axle than the right foot, no matter how exact I set up the cleats. My guess is that the arch in my left foot is flatter than my right one or something which is leading to this feeling. I haven’t been to the doctors about this and I don’t think it’s worth seeing a physio as I’m not actually injured or in any pain, I just wondered if you had any advice or knew of any exercises to help make pedalling more comfortable?
Andy Weston, Lancs
A: Firstly check that you are setting up your cleats correctly and remember to match the cleat position individually to each foot not to try and make each shoe’s setup identical. The ball of your foot should be directly over the pedal axle, put a bit of masking tape down the inside of your shoe and with your shoe on palpate till you find the knuckle of your big toe, mark the middle of this on the masking tape, this determines fore and aft. Next check the angle of your cleats by sitting on a table and hanging your legs over the edge with your shoes on. This will help you gauge the angle of your toes, you might find the angle your feet hang at is different in which case you will need to set the cleats at different angles to accommodate this. To see if your hunch about a flattened arch is correct try this really simple test, put a piece of card on the floor, step into a bucket of water and then step on to the card and walk a step or two. Look at the damp patches your feet make, you will be able to see how flat your arch is and how it compares to the other foot. Specialized have developed a whole range of products to help correct riders foot position on the pedals and make cycling more comfortable. A Specialized dealer will be able to analyse your feet and recommend one of their three insoles to help with your foot position in the shoe. They can also offer shims for between your cleat and shoe to help keep your knee and ankle in a more neutral position. If you do start to develop any pain see a physio straightaway, over use injuries can be a pain to clear up and the longer you leave it the worse things will get.
Q: Is it safe to ride in shorts all year round? I feel constricted wearing tights (plus they look stupid) so I wear shorts all year round. My girlfriend reckons I’ll ruin my knees but so far I feel fine. Is she just being a boring girl?
Tim Lokes, email
A: Andy Pruitt in his book “A Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists” recommends that knees stay covered up with tights or knee warmers until air temperature is above 65 farenheit, which is pretty warm by British standards. Your knees are not covered by any fat, the body’s natural insulator and the tendons of the knee lie close to the skin with no protection from the cold. Cold tendons and ligaments are more susceptible to damage as they will be less flexible. Cold knees are less lubricated and free in their movement which also adds to the potential for injury as well as plain old discomfort. I can understand why you find some tights restrictive but a good pair of Lycra Roubaix tights, three-quarters or knee warmers should stretch and move like a second skin, try a few pairs on. Avoid anything with Windstopper on the front though as they are far less flexible. If you feel self-conscious in tights you can still wear your baggies over the top. You might think tights look silly but some people might say that hairy purple knobbly knees covered with goose bumps don’t look much better.
I’M A WIMP!
Q: I’ve been riding off road for a couple of years now having spent a few years riding on the road. I’m pretty fit and can keep up with my mates on any flat or uphill trail. My big problem is that I’m a wimp. When the trail goes down I start to panic and worry about crashing and if I come across anything steep, I normally end up walking. Are there any training courses, books or DVD’s that could help improve my riding technique to the point that I’ll be confident riding anything I find on the trail?
Simon Bateson, London
A: The only way you are going to improve your confidence and your bike handling is through time on the bike. Confidence is a big part of good bike handling, the more successful experiences you have the more your confidence will grow. This will mean going back to basics and starting small. At the moment you aren’t giving yourself the opportunity to build positive experiences. If you are rushing to keep up with your mates then you are more likely to ride badly or simply get off and run down something so you don’t get left behind. Fear of crashing makes you tense, staying relaxed will make it easier to flow and absorb trail vibrations, if you are relaxed you are less likely to suddenly grab a handful of brake. If you are slowing down excessively because you are scared then small bumps become bigger obstacles. If you trust your mates get them to help you. Pick an easy trail and ask them to ride it slow enough to allow you to follow them. If they are experienced riders they will be able to show you the best. Novices tend to see the scary obstacles where as an experienced rider will be able to spot the most efficient line through them. The problem with only seeing the obstacles is you tend to ride toward what you are looking at, following the rider in front will help you learn to see things differently. Riding with a group that is less physically fit might also give you more chance to focus on your bike handling. There are several companies that offer one day coaching and mountain bike holidays, these would be an excellent way to improve, riding in a group with similar goals and with an expert rider who is there to help you will encourage you to try stuff you’d otherwise run. Look for companies that use qualified mountain bike leaders. There are plenty of great l DVD’s out there, watching how riders move their body around the bike and looking at the line choices they make will help as well giving you inspiration and excitement for your own riding.
However reading books and watching DVD’s doesn’t always translate onto the trail, real life experience of watching and following others and getting someone to critique the way you ride will help you more.
HOW YOUNG’S TOO YOUNG?
Q: Dear MBR, my 11-year-old son is getting really keen on off-road riding and we now spend at least a couple of weekends per month away riding. So far our longest ride has been about 2 hours and he coped admirably, beating his old Dad up most of the hills! To be honest, I think he’s now capable of joining me on some longer moorland rides, maybe up to four or five hours including stops for food and drink of course; I just wanted to know if it was safe to take out such a young lad on that length of ride? I always make sure he eats and drinks plenty whilst out riding, but obviously I don’t to damage his long -term development. Hope you can help (and keep his Mum happy).
A: Going off for a whole days mountain biking with Dad should be a fun and exciting experience for your son, however it is important to bear a few precautions in mind. Pre-adolescent children tend to prefer their exercise to be intermittent, they will run or ride in short blasts then want to rest and recover before doing it again. This is a very different exercise style to an adult who rides steadily and continuously so revise your route accordingly. Young children aren’t as good at measuring their effort as adults; if someone told you to ride as hard as you could over a set distance you would be able to calculate in your head the highest effort you could sustain over the course so that you would reach the target in the minimum amount of time. A child will just run — or ride — as hard as they can irrespective of whether they can sustain the effort, often causing them to fatigue before they reach the target. It’s worth bearing this example in mind when you ask your son how he is feeling and how much further he can manage.
In early puberty your son’s bones will increase in length but muscles do not grow at the same rate. Muscles are put at a lever disadvantage by the growth of the bone and can become tight, putting stress on tendons and bones of long levers. This could make him more prone to over use injuries if he does a lot of mileage. “Growing pains” or specific knee or joint pains in active children should be investigated. The most important thing for your son is to enjoy mountain biking so that it becomes a lifetime pursuit, without cosseting him too much you avoid allowing him to become over fatigued and have a bad experience of cycling which could potentially put him off. Plan routes together that loop close to home so that you know there are short cuts back if he is getting too tired or loses interest. To a certain extent it should be up to him when he goes out and how often so that they excitement stays fresh. Frequent breaks for food and drink and a chance to look around will fit the intermittent exercise style kids like. Also remember in hot weather that kids don’t sweat as much as adults and are less able to manage their body heat when exercising so make sure he is always well covered up and you don’t do challenging rides in the heat of the day.