Sunday, July 5, 2009

Foot Position on the Pedals

I put about 40 miles on my mongrel (and it's looking more mongrel-like every day) Motobecane Grand Touring this weekend. I don't have a computer on the bike, but based on previous experience with the base routes, I'll call the rides 15 and 25 miles each, give or take. The first ride was yesterday, the Fourth of July. I rode with a friend, sort of exploring our way around my town the way I never have before. The change is that I'm on a clear path, now, to selling my place, and want to pick up something smaller in town.

That ride was fun, but also a bit eerie. There was absolutely nobody out and about, and it was like Stephen King's novel The Stand had come true, or something. It was a ride of about average length for me, and was at a relatively relaxed pace. But my knees felt like crap the whole rest of the day and into this morning.

This morning I hopped back onto the Motobecane, with every intention of doing my normal 21-mile solo route, plus maybe explore an extra loop around the back side of one of the lakes along the way. My goal was to take some time to focus on the bike today -- to really listen to what it was telling me, and figure out what else it needed before calling it done. The bike didn't have a hell of a lot to say, honestly -- I've pretty much worked out all the kinks. But my knees were telling me that I needed more saddle height.

Unfortunately, I'm at the seatpost's maximum extension already, so as I hit about the 4 mile mark, I started thinking about cutting the ride short and picking up a longer seatpost in 26.0. Not growing on trees, but not too hard to find, either.

But then I started feeling like a big wuss, and I really wanted to get out for the extra distance, because the weather has been so bad and it was so good today. Which got me thinking about an article that Grant Peterson had posted on his Peeking Through the Knothole blog a few weeks ago. It was just a blurb, really, celebrating a Cycling News article reporting on a new bike shoe that mounts an SPD cleat at an alternate location -- under the arch. Anyway, the bit from the article that came to mind was that if you ride with the pedal under the arch of your foot, rather than the ball, you need to lower the seatpost to accommodate the change in biomechanics that stems from taking your ankle and foot length more or less out of the picture. My saddle was too low... lower your saddle to ride from the arches... Bingo!

Now, I used to pedal from the arches, like probably most people did when they first started riding. And I pretty much spent my teens grafted to a bike, blissfully unaware that I was pedaling wrong. I only started pedaling from the balls of my feet when I was told that I should (in my twenties), and that behavior was reinforced (cemented, really) by moving to Look pedals (and by the way, I had my left knee scoped years ago because I wore the cartilege away on a ride, after I installed my own cleats misaligned -- get them fitted if you're using clipless pedals!)

The Motobecane is fitted with what are probably its OEM touring-style MKS pedals, and I ride it in a pair of old Lake mountain bike shoes whose heel has been (sort of) stuck back down with Shoe Goo after it peeled off. The open pedal style means there's no conflict with my mountain bike cleats when I ride in those shoes, and the lugged rubber sole gives me a good grip. So I thought about it for a minute, then relocated my feet farther forward on the pedals, and began pedaling from the arches. "Ugh, this sucks!" I thought, at first, and my quads started to burn pretty much right away. But the truth is, the sucky feeling didn't last long. And though it took me a couple of miles to alter my spin (slower) and figure out which gears to use (taller), I have to say, it wasn't bad. The Cycling News article mentions "dieseling along" (diesel cars generally produce more torque and run at lower RPM with taller gearing than gasoline cars), and it seemed an apt description. And the other thing I noticed is that riding unsecured works much better from your arch than from the ball of your foot. There's not nearly as much tendency to push the foot forward and off the pedal. There is toe overlap with the front tire on this bike, but I survived that, and suspect I generally will.

In terms of feel, I'd sum up the change as "less ankles, knees and calves; more quads and hams". I didn't feel as fast, but I didn't have a computer to tell me whether I was or not. And though I'm pretty much ready for a nap as I write this, my calves feel fresh, and my knees don't feel any worse than they did yesterday. So I think I'm going to leave the Motobecane's seatpost as-is, and enjoy the bike in an arch-pedaling setup. I'm also going to pick up another computer so I can compare ride time, average speed and spin speed across configurations, and take some comparative rides on my Kestrel and my Motobecane to see what's up. That's not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it's data and should be interesting.

If nothing else, it'll be good to use the different positions on different bikes as a way of cross-training muscle groups. Wow -- that almost made me sound like I have interest in riding competitively, which of course I don't. Still, if I can strengthen my legs while also avoiding having to buy a new seatpost, then so much the better.

Anyone else play around with ball-pedaling vs. arch-pedaling?

The back side of that lake, by the way, was beautiful. I have a new loop!

All for now,


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