Curing Old Aches (Just For Cyclists)

I’ve had a lot of aches and pains from cycling in the last 14 months or so – and I’ve had back problems, tendon problems and so on. Cutting a long and tedious story short (because all medical stories are tedious), I’ve identified the so-called Q-factor as a source of problems.

The Q-factor is the distance between a cyclist’s feet when on a bike – bottom bracket width, crank thickness and offset and the pedals all contribute.

Pedal Extender saving the day!

With apologies for the photo quality – it shows a pedal extender on a very dirty and well used bike

During 2013 I rode most of my miles on a bike with a bottom bracket and crankset fitted around about Christmas 2012. It’s one of the new design Campagnolo ones – and it’s narrow. It turns out that that’s the cause of a lot of very ‘in the joint’ hip pain, and possibly also pain in the tendon behind the knee.

I’ve identified this (and eliminated the other niggles I have from the picture) by dint of riding very little for some weeks, doing what few miles I’ve done on a mountain bike with a wider Q and finding that helped a lot on the pain front; finding hip pain returning on riding the narrow Q bike again, and now trying out Specialized Pedal Extenders – and finding they’re making a big difference for the better.

Perhaps it’s because I’m in my 50s and have a lot of years of riding at a wider Q that’s making the narrower sizing a problem, but if you’ve an otherwise unexplained pain come on in your hips, knees or ankles, and you’re now riding a narrower Q-factor, this could be something to consider.

Shocking For Everyone

Earlier today, if you’d been around the Bath Road/Twyford area in Berkshire, you could have endured the mildly shocking sight of a fat old bloke riding an old fixed wheel bike. You’d probably have thought something along the lines of ‘he looks like he’s struggling a bit’, and if you could have said as much to him, he’d have agreed. He’d have bemoaned that he couldn’t pedal much over 100rpm, mentioned that he felt just a little bit on the cold side of right, admitted that he was feeling very aware that he was an over-weight ex-smoker, and added that because this was the first time out on a fixed wheel bike for quite a while, it was all a bit of a shock to his system.

If you’d been able to speak to him at the end of the ride he’d also have added that riding a fixed wheel for the first time for ages on a cool day with the added frisson of heavy rain was even more of a shock to his system, because rain it most certainly did for the last 10 miles or so.

Needless to say, that fat old man was me, and that was one very tiring, soggy jaunt. The obvious conclusion, of course, is that I must do it more often.

A Cinelli Record handlebar stem - for readers of a certain vintage

A Cinelli Record handlebar stem – appreciated by readers of a certain vintage

It’s All About Rhythm (Just For Cyclists)

A short ride with a friend who’s a keen, happy but a relatively infrequent and new rider.

I’m not a great cyclist – never have been and never will be. I started young but didn’t ride much for many years, and now I’m in my fifties, fat and an ex-smoker to boot. However, riding 4-5,000 miles a year means I am quite experienced when compared to the average and it’s interesting to ride with someone who has far fewer miles in their legs. Nearly every time that happens, the big thing that strikes me is their lack of rhythm.

‘Cadence’ is the term used in cycling circles – your pedalling speed and rhythm.

On the whole, if you can get an even and smooth rhythm to your pedalling you’ll find cycling a lot easier. The question of the speed at which you pedal can be argued about. I’d say it’s generally better to pedal quicker than it is to push hard to achieve the same speed but, that said, when I was a lot younger I tended towards pushing harder. It has to be what best suits you, but whatever you opt for, if you can do it smoothly, at an as even a pace as possible, you’ll find the going easier over time.

Newcomers do often wonder at all the gears on a bike – the point of them is to enable you to vary the gear you’re riding in by quite small amounts as the route you’re on demands, so that the amount you’re pushing and the speed at which you’re legs are going around remains as constant as possible. In short, if the route you’re on is changing, even slightly, you should be changing gear to match it. With each even small rise, each even gentle descent, each turn into a headwind and so on – as it varies so you should be using the gears to keep your legs turning smoothly, pushing as hard as you’re comfortable with.

At least, that’s the theory.