May 9, 2010

Getting the right fit

Filed under: Cycling — joel.cass @ 2:04 pm

Recently I have been researching how to get the best fit on a bicycle. Every now and then I notice that my knees might get a little sore, or my elbows. And of course there’s the backside pains that occur after every long ride. When looking at any sort of ailment that arises from cycling, the most common recommendation is to get the right fit.

Many bicycle stores offer this as a service, but as a customer I would like to know that they are doing the job properly, because what can occur is that you end up with some lackey who just wants to do a half-arsed job so they can go back to standing around and talking about helmet styles with their co-workers. So it’s good to have at least half an idea about what they’re doing.

So, this is what I have gathered from various sources on the Internet as well as from books and word of mouth.


The best sort of pedal is the SPD, or clipless pedals as they are called. Mainly because they allow you to transfer power for the full 360 degrees of rotation. They’re easy to get in and out of, and also mean that you can have a pair of shoes just made for riding. A good shoe makes the ride more comfortable as the pressure is evenly distributed across the stiff sole. Only drawback is that walking in the shoes is at best, uncomfortable and at worst, impossible.

I would recommend shimano’s mountain bike SPD pattern as it is easy to clip in and out of, and allows a generous amount of lateral movement so your feet don’t feel locked in. Plus there are hundreds of shoes available for this pattern.

I have tried cages and was keen on them, however they’re bulky, mark your shoes and the straps don’t last long. Furthermore, getting your foot out of the cage can be difficult after a long ride. But they are OK for occasional riding.

If SPD’s are not your thing, then I would recommend BMX-style pedals – the metals ones with the pins in them – because they do have such a large footprint and the pins stop your feet from moving around, you can transfer power throughout about 270 degrees (from about the 10:30 position through to the 7:30 position).

The important part with any of these options is that the shaft of the pedal is lined up so that it intersects the ball of your feet. This is the most comfortable and efficient position and it should be obvious when riding the bicycle. Many sites talk about toe-in and toe-out, especially on SPD’s. In my opinion, it’s not that important. Tune them so that they point straight forward and the free-play will allow your feet to toe-in or -out. If you see a pattern emerge where your feet are always pointing in or out, adjust the SPD position then.

Type of Saddle

In my opinion, padding on a saddle is nothing more than marketing aimed at misleading the ill-informed public. The first saddle I purchased was a clunky thing with about 2-3cm of “gel” padding on it. Although it was marketed as a “comfort” saddle it was painful. The padding meant that the saddle was pressing against every part of the body – the tailbone through to the sensitive bits, not to mention the extreme chafing caused by the front of the saddle rubbing up against the inside of my legs.

Furthermore, a saddle is meant to have some give, e.g. it acts as a big leaf spring that absorbs some of the shock. Thick padded saddles have none of this – in fact they are often reinforced underneath by a network of plastic bracing that holds the padding on.

The best sort of saddle is one with little to no padding – saddles in the “performance” category, or leather suspended saddle are best, because they do have a springiness to them and do not press up against every part of the body. Any good saddle will also have a void area in the middle – this is not always obvious, some saddles look even at the top but if you look at the underside you will see a bump for the void area.

Saddle Angle

There is only one answer – the saddle should be level. To test for this, place your bike on a flat surface, unloaded. place a board over the saddle and then place a spirit level on the board. The spirit level should be even. Adjust the position until it is, and then mark the position with some liquid paper or similar. After that, take it for a ride and bring an allen key along. Make minor adjustments until it’s comfortable. Use the mark you made with the liquid paper as a reference point.

Saddle Height

The saddle height should be adjusted so that you can just touch the pedals with the heel of your foot. You should be dressed in your regular cycling outfit when you test this out. Then, go for a test ride and see how it feels to ride, stand (2-3 minutes is best), and get on and off your bike. I find that my seat actually has to be a bit lower then recommended just so it isn’t so difficult to stand at lights or get on and off the bike.

Saddle Position

This is by far the best advice I have read about adjusting the fit of the bicycle. The saddle should be forward just enough so that if you hang a piece of string with a weight at the end from the inside notch on your knee, the string will intercept with the shaft of the pedal. This makes sense, as it means that at the most critical angle of the stroke (where the most power is transferred), your leg is not reaching forward or buckling backward, which means that there is less strain on the knee joint.

After I made this adjustment, all my knee pains just went away. as simple as that.

Handlebar Height

Doesn’t really matter and in my opinion is more personal preference than anything else. Personally I like to keep the handlebar low as it means that I will be leaning forward, reducing wind resistance and also distributing more of my body’s weight away from the saddle.


The best thing to do is to stand on your bike, lean forward on the handlebar and spread your fingers out so that they are pointing straight out from your wrists. Then, there should only be a few (5-10) degrees that your fingers have to move before they are touching the brake levers, and (on mountain bikes) the gear levers should be as close to the brake levers as possible, so that there is no issue of reaching between the two.


April 30, 2010

Dump the trains for a new cycling utopia!

Filed under: Cycling, Musings — joel.cass @ 4:45 pm

Obviously it’s been a while since I last caught a train… They are so slow! It’s been well over 20 minutes and we’ve moved around 7km – that gives an average speed of about 21km/h.

21km/h? That’s a relaxed pace on a bicycle. Even on a bad day my average speed will not go below 25km/h. Which gets me thinking: why don’t we rip out the railway tracks and just convert the entire network into a big cycleway?!

It would be awesome, truly. The gradients are tame, the routes are straight, and the paths would be away from dangerous motor vehicles and pedestrians. It would be a cycling utopia.

If only it were possible. Oh well. Still, it’s a great thought. Ms Keneally, are you listening? You’d be able to ride your bike EVERYWHERE! And you might not even need to bring a bodyguard along, either.

Think of all the money you’d save – no more bulky rail bureaucracies, no more expensive repair bills for faulty infrastructure… Seriously, give it a thought!

April 12, 2010

Sunny days in Olympic park

Filed under: Cycling — joel.cass @ 4:21 pm

This was too nice to keep to myself. This photo I took last Friday (8th April) at lunchtime. The weather was fantastic.

I would strongly recommend people get out there whilst the weather is so good.

April 10, 2010

Cyclists shouldn’t have to ride on Motorways…

Filed under: Cycling — joel.cass @ 11:55 pm

Seeing stuff like this makes me never want to ride on a motorway, and with good reason.

Cyclists mowed down by truck.

It’s becoming an old story. Another truck hits something because of fatigue. It seems almost inevitable that most bad road accidents are caused by tired truck drivers. But what really is the problem here?

First of all, infrastructure. If we had proper cycleways following all our motorways and freeways, just as they do in many other states, the cyclists would never have to use the emergency lanes in the first place.

Second, cruise control. I believe these accidents happen because drivers can chuck the engine into “auto-pilot” and get used to thinking that there’s little else they have to do after that. It means drivers do not drive to conditions, and if they do become tired and lose consciousness, the vehicle will not keep travelling at top speed.

Third, combating fatigue management with something other than paperwork. Making equipment such as fatigue detecting devices compulsory, and also implementing compulsory alcohol and alertness tests on interstate routes (e.g. at weighbridges), could make a huge difference.

Lowering speed limits and perhaps outlawing the use of cruise control for trucks within 100km radius of CBD’s, along with better fatigue management practices might improve the track record for trucks on our roads, but by far setting up real cycleways following (but not part of) our motorways would guarantee that horrible incidents like this never have to happen again.

My deepest thoughts and condolences go out to Mr. Williams and best hopes for the 3 other cyclists in recovery.

March 14, 2010

Misty mornings at Bobbin Head

Filed under: Cycling — joel.cass @ 11:03 am

It seems that Bobbin head is becoming a regular ride for me. The hills have gotten smaller and I’m not getting as lost as I used to. This certain morning in particular I had left home at around 6:30am and reached the valley by 7:30. What a sight it was, I’m not sure whether it was fog or low lying cloud but it was magnificent watching the air move over the water. The pictures don’t really do it justice.

Bobbin HeadBobbin HeadBobbin Head

January 3, 2010

The trip to Bobbin Head

Filed under: Cycling — joel.cass @ 11:39 pm

I don’t really know why people love hills. The trip from Meadowbank to Bobbin Head has two of the biggest, scariest hills I have had to climb. Kissing Point road is a 6km climb with a 17% incline right at the end of it – just when you’re all but drained of energy. The next obstacle is getting out of the valley at Bobbin head. The trip to the north is a hard 5km climb with undulating hills and the climb to the south is a steady 4km climb.

This is my third trip out this way. A constant drizzle and a chilly wind from the east made the ride even more entertaining.

However, once the destination was reached it felt somewhat ‘worth it’. Once in the valley, a quick diversion to apple tree bay revealed a nice spot to rest and watch the water go by, the sounds of the bush in the air and the occasional fish jumping out of the stream made it all the better.

I cannot admit this was the best day of my life, in fact it was probably the worst. I left home for this trip in the worst state possible – I was looking fir pain. However a few minutes by this stream seemed to make all the world’s problems disappear.

December 7, 2009

Magpie Evasion Strategy Part 3: It works!

Filed under: Cycling — joel.cass @ 8:35 am

Some of you may remember my earlier post from over a year ago regarding the cable tie helmet:

Magpie evasion strategy part 1: The cable tie helmet

Well, I can gladly say that I went for a whole season without being hit by a bird, with much help (I believe) from the cable tie helmet. I have been followed and squawked at, but unlike last year before I discovered the cable tie helmet, I have not been hit, once!

Furthermore, I see more and more people adopting the cable tie helmet – so I suspect it works for them too?

I also suspect part of my strategy was about being more aware of nesting birds and how they might come to attack. I have kept my distance from known sites and have not tried to “wave off” or look back at swoopers – simply keep the ears open and look to the shadows!

I found an interesting site on swooping birds today: Interestingly enough, the Indian Minor does not get a mention. I find these birds to be the most aggressive of all – however I have never been hit by one, they did set off a rather aggressive magpie I passed last year.

October 9, 2008

Magpie evasion strategy part 2: It seems to work

Filed under: Cycling — joel.cass @ 8:38 am

So far it’s been 4 weeks (or more?) since I cable tied my helmet. I haven’t been swooped once yet. Well, not by a magpie at least. I did get swooped by an indian minor on the way home last week – all I noticed was the pure shock of the bird as it hit my spikes. Some nasty squawks and a ruffle of feathers and he was gone.

Using your gears

Filed under: Cycling — Tags: — joel.cass @ 8:36 am

Since the warmer weather came to Sydney and the days become progressively longer, there has been an influx of pedestrians and cyclists on the streets, making my once quiet ride to the city a rather busy one. For the most part this is ok, except for the occasional braindead pedestrian that freaks out when they hear my bell or the occasional ‘competitive cyclist’ trying to make me feel insecure, it’s mainly good.

But if it’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s the cyclists who don’t know how to use the gears on their bike – and this mainly goes for the road cyclist types, and the occasional noob. In my mind, if you don’t use them, lose them. Go single speed, or whatever, then you have an excuse for lifting off the seat, tearing all your leg muscles and risking an accident.

The ironic part is that it doesn’t make you go faster – the optimum pedaling speed is around 90rpm1 – which is not possible to do at length going uphill in a high gear. Often I can just go straight past these people that don’t gear down without blinking

Today a stupid cyclist tried taking off in high-high and almost stacked it right in front of me as we were crossing a reasonable busy road. I told him to use his gears – he muttered something back at me when we next passed – probably that he didn’t need them. Eh, tell me that while you’re getting knee surgery after being hit by a car because your chain snapped at the next intersection…

September 24, 2008

Driver / Cyclist education

Filed under: Cycling — Tags: — joel.cass @ 9:57 am

This is a comment I made against an ignorant journalist’s article regarding the conflict between drivers/cyclists on our roads.

I ride almost 20km to and from work every day (meadowbank-sydney). I see a lot. I have almost been run over on two occasions in the last two weeks – both in the same area, near birkenhead point. A lot of “rat runners” drive through here to avoid the congestion on Victoria road. I always used the alotted cycleway to the left of the road.

On both occasions, drivers have unpredictably driven into the cycleway (where I ride) to avoid speed bumps. The first time I had to slam on the brakes so hard that the rear wheel lifted (and I was going uphill at that). The second time I was going downhill and saw it coming so avoided it by slowing down so I was behind the car when they did so.

Even so, motorists should be aware that it is *by law* that they should never use emergency lanes, cycle lanes, bus lanes, footpaths etc to avoid speedbumps. They should also be aware that *by law* they need to give way to other vehicles on the road (including cyclists).

On the same note, cyclists should be aware that they need to give way to motor vehicles as if they were driving a motor vehicle. Cyclists should also be aware that they need to give way to pedestrians.

In my mind, there should also be permanent cycleways on main roads – I am talking about Victoria Road in particular. I often use the footpath when following this road as I have had too many close calls from ignorant drivers who speed past. In my mind there should be bus lanes following the entire stretch of this road from Parramatta to the city as it would make the ride for cyclists all the more safer.

In reply to some of the comments made by others, cyclists are regarded as road-worthy vehicles by the RTA. They are only regarded as pedestrians when they dismount the bike. Team cyclists are annoying, agreed, but just be patient. Any abuse or misconduct towards them would effectively be breaking the law so get used to it.

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