Monday, July 29, 2013

Put me back on my bike (with new shoes)

New shoes!
What have you been doing post-Etape? I've put on two kilos. I've also played football for the first time since February. Oh, and I bought new shoes.

Given I was meant to be commuting on my first road bike, I bought mountain bike shoes. Then much better mountain bike shoes (my first pair were from Sports Direct and cost me £19 if I remember rightly).

When I upgraded to the Felt, I bought better mountain bike pedals and kept the shoes. My thinking was, until I was good enough not to have to walk on a climb, I shouldn't have road shoes.

About a fortnight before the Etape, after getting angry while trying and failing to clip in repeatedly, I promised myself a decent pair of actual road shoes (plus pedals) if I finished without walking. I did.

So the day after the pros rode the Etape stage, when Voigt showed us how you're meant to descend Revard and Quintana showed us how you're meant to climb Semnoz, I took my new shoes and pedals out for a spin.

It was my first ride on the Felt since Annecy, my bike time being limited to commutes on the single-speed in the last couple of weeks, and there were problems.

I hadn't put the handle bars on right. I at first though they were simply at the wrong angle, but it became increasingly clear I just hadn't done them up properly as they angled lower and lower making gear changes and braking an issue. A quick pit stop a few ks from home to adjust and fully tighten fixed that.

My indexing was also off, with the bike slipping in and out of the big gears on the cassette in climbing mode. Not good. But not easily fixable or serious enough for me to try and address it roadside either.

One of my cleats on the new shoes was out of alignment too, seeing my foot angled too far inwards, and my saddle was too low. I increased the saddle height. Which felt wrong for a while, but then right again after a bit.

But the shoes-pedal combination. Wow.

My first experience with road shoe cleats hurt

Now, I'd gone out and bought quite good shoes (the best under £200 according to one survey, which I'd got for a lot less than that thanks to discounts) so it's hard to say if it was the pedals or shoes making the difference.

But the power. The connection to the bike. Out of the saddle it was the best I've felt - letting me stay up longer, more easily. In the saddle was great too. I was poring in power and set a series of new bests (two secs off a top 10 place on one flat stretch - putting me 22nd out of 2,361 people). There was just one problem. Clipping in.

My left shin currently has four rather large bruises on it, from when I missed the clip pushing off. And generally I was pushing off from traffic lights. So not the best time to skid off the top of the pedal.

Mountain bike pedals are double-sided, so they're always the right way up. Mountain bike shoes have a load of grip, so I was quite handy at cycling on them even without being clipped in.

This combination? My foot just skidded off the top of the pedal.

Old shoes - grippy and I was used to them. Also, they got me round the Etape
I was a bit cocky early on, trusting to gravity and not even looking down to clip in and clipping in first time. "This is easy," I thought.

I got that it was a different process. I tended to almost stab my foot into the MTB pedals. With these the plan was to hook the top (a bigger target) then roll my foot into the clip. Worked like a dream.

Until I missed one. It's a lot harder to clip by feel alone when only one side works with the cleats. It's also a lot harder to pedal un-clipped-in. This was the first pedal-shin-thwack moment.

There were four more. I became really rather cautious setting out from stationary. Very cautious indeed. It didn't always help (as the three subsequent shin-pedal interactions show).

I'm guessing it's a learning process, and that I'll get back to a place where I can clip without looking or worrying again. Although perhaps not riding out the saddle un-clipped-in, the way I can on the MTB set up.

But from the feel and the way I could apply power, I also think that's probably worth it.


  1. Interesting Mr Andrews. Having had my road bike for around three months, and doing my third century on Sunday, I too am considering this purchase.

    All a bit daunting!

    1. Don't change your riding position! I learnt this the hard way.

      New shoes - all good. But you need time to adapt to different position on the bike, so possibly wait until after the London 100..

  2. Good read James. My recommendation would be to look at Speedplay pedals. I think they're the best road pedals anyway, but coming from MTB they have the added advantage of also being double-sided. Slightly higher maintenance over time than Shimano etc, but otherwise excellent.

    1. Thanks Nick - now why didn't I think of that sooner...