A newer member of my cycling club jumped on our Yahoo group with a question.

“I am having some pain in the outside of my right foot that has been slowly building over the past few weeks,” he wrote. “I used custom orthotics (pronator) when I used to run to alleviate plantars. Unfortunately those orthotics are too thick to fit in my cycling shoes. I found some footbed systems from Gyro and Specialized on line that provide some additional arch suport.

Has anyone had similar issues and what did you do to solve it?”
I’m always interested when I hear people complain about foot pain. I went through that mess several years ago, when I started cycling. In my case, the problem was a poor quality bike shoe. Once I got a pair of Specialized Body Geometry shoes, my foot problems ceased. But his pronation problems are different than the complaints I had with my feet. I waited to see what other club members had to say.
“I use the Specialized inserts and they are excellent,” opined one fellow. No details.
“I too use Specialized inserts,” said another. “They form fit and last a good while. However, if you are a pronator you may need a custom orthotic.
“Also there are several options for increasing your Q factor (distance between pedals) to offset the ankles. I use 25mm Knee savers (they come in stainless at 30mm too and 20mm Titanium). But you can also just purchase longer spindles for Speedplay pedals and possibly others too. “
Knee savers. Hadn’t heard about them for awhile, and I didn’t know this rider was using them. I wrote a post about them several years ago. I’m not sure they’re the kind of relief the original poster was looking for, though.
“Try the Sole thin footbeds on Amazon,” wrote one of our better female riders. “You heat them in the oven and then custom mold them to your feet. They work really well imho, I use them in my cycling shoes and love them.” She supplied a link to the item.
I don’t use orthotics, but I do have insoles in a pair of my walking shoes. I love the extra comfort they give. When riding a bike, though, the relatively flat insoles that come with the shoes are adequate for me. I’ve experimented with insoles in my biking shoes, and find I don’t need them.
But what about you? What kind of advice would you give the original poster? Do you have custom orthotics for your bike shoes, or do you use the moldable insoles, or just off-the-rack from Dr. Sholl’s things?

Watch Out For Pedal Wear!

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel says if you’re having trouble with your cleats — the trouble might not be with your cleats.

I’ve been having a little trouble clicking in and out of my pedals as of late. I thought the likely culprit was my cleats. Upon inspection, they were certainly quite worn, but what surprised me most was the condition of my pedals, a pair of Shimano road-style 540s. On both, the body cover plate — a replaceable piece of plastic (metal on higher-end models) that spans the width of the pedal — was completely worn away at the tips. Compounding matters was that where the tips were gone, my cleats had actually worn rather significantly into the aluminum, leaving a pronounced dip, especially on the outside of each pedal. The end result is that my foot was likely sitting quite canted in the pedals…and my pedals were permanently damaged.

The Shimano 540. (Click to embiggen.)

In hindsight, I spotted a clue in a recent photo. I had done one of the MS150 rides, and the event photographer had captured me at various times throughout the course. In several of the photos, I noticed a strange, inward angle to my foot. Now I know why.

I’ve seen plenty of coverage on when to replace your cleats, but very little on when to replace a pedal. If you ride Shimanos, look closely on the instructions. You’ll note that the cover in question is actually considered a “consumable” part, and that the cover should be replaced before “any part of the body cover becomes flush with the pedal.” Yikes — I was way past that stage. If I had kept a closer eye on things, I probably could have simply replaced a cheap (about $6) piece of plastic. Replacing them as they showed wear would have saved the more expensive pedal body from permanent damage.

A little more food for thought: In many ways, you do get what you pay for. When I first made the switch from a mountain bike and hybrid to a road bike, I reasoned that the cheaper products were good enough for me. Hence the 540s, which are Shimano’s entry-level road pedal. With time, however, I’ve come to appreciate the extra quality that can be found in some of the pricier equipment. The Shimano 105 pedals I’ve stepped up to certainly aren’t top of the line by any means. I found them new on eBay for only $55. The 105s, however, are far closer to the higher-end Ultegra pedals. The shape itself flares at the axle, giving the rider a wider, more solid platform underfoot. The 105s also feature a metal cover plate, secured with two small screws. It’s still considered consumable, but certainly it won’t wear at the rate of the 540’s plastic.

Shimano 105. (Click to make larger.)

 I doubt very many people have actually replaced the part in question. On this morning’s ride, I asked a friend if I could see his pedals, which are the same as my previous model. Unclipping one foot, he seemed surprised as he looked down to see the plastic cover almost completely gone…and a pronounced chunk worn out of the pedal’s aluminum body.

Mountain Bike Shoes for Road Biking?

Here’s an idea I’ve been rolling around in my head for awhile…

I’ve been riding my current shoe/pedal setup for over two years now. But I’m wondering if there’s a more comfortable arrangement. Now, I’m not having any major foot problems. In the heat of summer, I get the occasional hot spot on my foot, usually if I’m putting in more miles than usual on a hot day. But those don’t occur during most of the year.

It’s just something I’ve seen, really. Bikers who wear a less aggressive cycling shoe — a touring style or mountain bike shoe, and who use pedals that fit those shoes but offer a flat platform as well

Lots of long distance cyclists and touring cyclists seem to use these, like the ones in the picture. I see those shoes, and I think “comfort.”

Only problem is, they’re SPD-style cleats, which have a fairly small area, and I’ve seen anecdotal accounts of people getting hot spots more often with SPDs than a delta-shaped cleat. I figure if the SPD cleats were coupled with a flat platform, it might make a good combination for comfort over distances.

The pedal I have in mind is both SPD-compatible, but offers a wider flat surface for the foot. It’s the Shimano A520, and is described as a “road touring” pedal with a “practical” platform. It looks like it has the width I would want on a longer ride. It comes at a reasonable price.

What’s the big advantage an SPD-compatible shoe offers? It’s supposed to be that you can walk more easily in these shoes, since the cleats are recessed into the sole. But you know, I don’t really care about walking all that much. I can get from my bike to a convenience store counter just fine with the shoes and cleats I have.

So, why am I even thinking about changing shoes and pedals? No reason in particular. I have mentioned before that I expect my riding to evolve into something more laid back than it has been. And it strikes me that a more laid back shoe would help foster that kind of riding.

I don’t suppose I’ll act on this idea anytime soon — it’s just, as I said, something I’m rolling around in my head. I’d like to get your input, though. What do you think? Do you use a touring shoe, or a mountain biking shoe, on road bike rides? What pedals do you couple with them? Or is it not a big enough deal to bother with?

Speedplay Pedals – Are They For You?

One of the welcome side effects of my recent bout with gout had nothing to do with pharmaceuticals. Rather, a cornucopia of information about selecting the right pedals flowed my way, as friends, acquaintances, and downright strangers offered their ideas about how to combat or prevent knee trouble.

It’s all in the pedals, they said. Specifically, Speedplay pedals.

We’ve looked at Speedplays before. In any discussion of pedals, Speedplays have their loyal adherents.

The main attraction is the amount of float they offer. It’s called “free float,” or non re-centering float, and allows the foot to follow its normal path through the pedal stroke. One of my fellow club members says that feature can really benefit bad knees: “Most pedal systems these days allow for some natural ankle rotation, but Speedplay is one of the few systems that allows for ‘free’ float, meaning that there is no resistance due to the pedal trying to move your foot back to a centered position if you tend to rotate too far. This can be good for knees that have been aggravated by a poorly positioned cleat – cycling is actually one of the best rehab activities for knee injuries.”

Another club member, who uses Speedplays, says that free float feels different than any other pedal: “With Speedplays, you initially feel like you are skating on ice until your feet find the angle they want to be at (yes, I dangle participles). Two rides max and you will be dialed in.”

Not all of them have unrestricted float. Yet another club member (as you can see, my fellow clubbies love to talk about pedals, as well as other accessories) weighs in with this opinion: “The fact is that most of us don’t need as much rotation as Speedplay allows, which is why they introduced the Zero model, which allows you to reduce the range of motion to match your pedaling style. They’re remarkably easy to set up, and have solved pretty much all of my knee issues, including those caused by having too much available float.”

Speedplays come in four basic models, the Light Action, Zero, X, and Frog. Each is available in titanium, stainless, or chro-moly. The Zero is considered a pro-level pedal; the Light Action a recreational pedal; the X an ultralight version, and the Frog, a mountain bike pedal that has been adopted by roadies as well.

The Frog looks different than the other Speedplays, because its cleat can be recessed in the sole of the shoe, like a Shimano SPD cleat. That makes walking around in them easy.

So, what’s NOT to like about Speedplays?

Penny-pincher that I am, I passed on them because of price. MSRP generally ranges from $115 for the cro-mo versions to $325 for the titanium ones. But a lot of bikers who spend their money more wisely than I pass up other fripperies and put their money where it will do their cycling the most good.

Some riders don’t like the “rocking” sensation they get from the pedals. But Speedplay apparently has dealt with that. One of the guys from the club says it’s a thin steel shim, and it stops the lateral rocking motion:  “I highly recommend them to ALL Speedplay users – $10, and they’re called the ‘Carbon Sole Protectors.’ They also stiffen the cleats and provide a harder surface contact patch between the pedal and shoe.”

It’s clear that those who use Speedplays generally love them. Another acquaintance has had a long-term love affair with them: “I had an ACL rebuild and have been riding Speedplays for the past twelve years. That, plus ibuprofen, has kept the inflammation to zero. Still riding the original pedals and on my third set of cleats … Just keep ’em out of the mud!”

Okay, I’m interested, because of their potential to solve knee problems. But I’m not about to make the switch yet, because my Shimano SPD-SLs offer me a wide platform, and they’re comfortable. I wish they had more than six degrees of float, though. Maybe if I save my pennies, in another year Speedplays will be worth considering.

More on pedals – why Speedplay?

The Speedplay Light Action pedal.

The Speedplay Light Action pedal.

The other day, when I did a post about clipless pedals, I heard from a number of Speedplay owners, both in comments and in emails, extolling their particular pedal.

Speedplay users seem to be passionate about their pedals. You don’t get that kind of reaction from Look or Shimano SPD users. How come?

One of the advantages of the Speedplay seems to be the generous amount of float they offer — altho just as in other brands, the amount of float varies from model to model. But it would be nice to have more play in the pedals I use. They have six degrees of float, and sometimes I feel that I can hardy move my shoe around at all.

With my particular knee situation — I had 60 percent of the meniscus removed from my right knee 15 years ago, and at that time the surgeon told me my ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments) in both knees had atrophied down to stubs after they were torn in a softball mishap back in the 1980s and had never been attended to — I think the Speedplays could help me a lot.

Speedplay cleat.

Speedplay cleat.

They’re smaller than equivalent Looks or others, and at first glance, don’t seem to offer as much of a platform as some of their competitors. But the unique cleat they use probably takes care of that. Speedplay cleats are relatively large, in my opinion. The combination of the flat round pedal and the broad cleat, I’m told, give all the support a cyclist needs.

But the cleats are also the part of the Speedplay assembly that gets the most criticism, at least from what I’ve read. Note the four-bolt pattern. To fit bike shoes, which take two or three-bolt cleats, you must use a plate that attaches to the cleat. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about how easy it is to clog the cleat with mud and gunk while walking on them. Cleat covers are highly recommended.

One of the reasons I’ve never seriously considered Speedplay is their cost. Their models seem to range from about $115 – $325, depending upon their materials. My pedals cost a whopping $59, and they replaced a pair that cost around $40. Is the extra money for the Speedplays worth it?

Wait a minute. A quick perusal of a couple of online bike catalogs shows that Shimano and Look pedals run in the same price range, generally. They might have some low-end pedals that cost a lot less, but for the most part, Speedplays are very competitive with those other brands.

I’m happy with the pedals I have on my bike. They’re only a year old, so I expect to be riding on them for quite some time to come. But if and when I do replace them, I think I’ve have to seriously consider the Speedplays.

Peddling pedals

Recently, I got into a discussion with a friend about pedals. Now, pedals are not a big deal with me. Since I started riding clipless, I’ve stuck with the Look-style pedal, although I currently ride on Shimano SPD-SLs, which have a slightly wider platform than the Looks. But our discussion got me to wondering? What pedal preferences are there? Is there a clear-cut leader?

I suppose we could get into the debate between clipless, toe clip, and platform pedals. But I’m going to skip that. I assume that most readers come here because they’re road bike riders like me and therefore, have adopted clipless pedals (which you really clip into, but that’s another post).

A Speedplay pedal.

A Speedplay pedal.

I noticed when talking about cleat position a while ago, several readers chimed in with the praises of Speedplay pedals. These are the small round pedals that attach to a cleat that resembles no other. Speedplays come in several different models, with varying amounts of float. That makes them attractive to me, because the six degrees of float on my pedals seems restrictive. Speedplays are pricier than most other pedals, however, which is why I chose to pass on them.

A Look Keo pedal.

A Look Keo pedal.

Look pedals are the daddy of the clipless. You need shoes that will fit a three-bolt cleat. The Looks, and those like them, clip solidly into the pedal, to make you feel as one with the bike. Pedals shaped like Looks and Shimano SPD-SLs are weighted at the back, so they point up when the rider is not using them. I always chuckle when pulling away from a stoplight during a group ride, as everyone tries to find the clip-in position. Some do it faster than others. Click, click, click.

Other riders prefer Shimano SPDs.

The Shimano SPD.

The Shimano SPD.

These pedals take smaller two-bolt cleats, that recess into the shoe’s sole. Mountain bikers make use of these, but many road bikers like them because the recessed cleat lets the rider walk normally — a nice option during a stop at a coffee shop during the ride. I’ve never used these, and I wonder if they give the rider as solid a connection to the bike as the Looks.

The mountain-bike style SPD pedals look uncomfortable to the layperson. How about it, SPD users? Do SPDs provide a good platform for the foot? Or do they cause some discomfort during a ride?

I you were starting road biking from scratch — knowing now what you didn’t know then — which pedal system would you recommend, and why?

Another fall? You gotta be kidding

Raced home after work this afternoon to get in a ride before dark.  We have a cold front coming through tonight, and this might be the last warm weather ride I’ll have for awhile.

Did the usual run to the Veloway.  It’s an easy way to get in a quick 15, or 18, or 21 miles, depending upon how much time is available.  I’ve been bad this week — haven’t ridden since last Saturday.  I was looking forward to a few brisk laps around the course.

The Veloway is mostly flat.  But on the back side, about halfway around, there’s a short, but steep hill.  I hit the bottom of the hill at about 20 mph, and did a quick downshift to spin up the grade.

hillThe camera always flattens hills.  This one is much steeper than it looks.  I crashed near the top, on the left.

I must have shifted down more than one gear.  The pedals started spinning fast and free.  My right foot unclipped from the pedal, which caused the bike to lean left.  I lost control.  The front wheel went off the left side of the track, onto a sloping gutter.  No way to recover.

The scrape on my shin stings, but that's about it.

I'll be nursing a large scrape on my shin.

The bike went over on its left side.  I managed to stay almost upright, except that my right leg scraped across the front derailleur, and my left hand scraped the rocks along the track.  Otherwise, no endo — no major bruises.

I got the bike up and pushed it across the track, out of the way of any other riders who might be behind me.  A quick damage assessment found the handlebars knocked askew, and my nice bar tape was scuffed down to the bare metal — but not where my hand contacts it.

Once I straightened the bars and checked myself over, it seemed things weren’t too bad.  I hopped back on and finished a 15-mile trip (The crash happened just over four miles into the ride).  The bike rode fine.

I still can’t believe I lost it on this easy hill.  I’ve ridden the thing hundreds of times — and that’s just this year.  It just shows to go ya — you can never take things for granted.