Sunday, 26 July 2015

Caught Between A Rock And A Slippery Place

I've worn out my Shimano R320 shoes. The uppers have held up well but the rubber nubbins on the soles have worn down and are not replaceable, and the ratchet clasp on the main strap has weakened to the point that it slips loose as I ride.  

Meanwhile, the Speedplay Light Action cleats fitted to them when new are pretty worn, with one bolt missing and the others so worn down they'll have to be drilled out if I want to recover the blue wedges between the cleats and the 3-hole-to-4-hole adapter plates. 

My immediate inclination was to buy exactly the same again... only to find that the R320 shoe has been discontinued in favour of the latest incarnation, the R321 which, unlike the R320, does require heat molding to the feet. I'm not inclined to go down that route -- after all, feet swell and even change shape throughout the day. (And... it's really difficult to find the all-black colourway in stock!)

So I decided to step back for a re-think. 

I love my Speedplays pedals and cleats. I love the huge supportive platform and most of all I love that 15 degrees of non-spring-loaded float. It's true they are a pain to keep free of contaminants which even in the smallest amounts can cause the cleats to seize up. But I've been willing to make allowances for that "design flaw" out of appreciation for the bigger-picture approach Speedplay take to cleat design, with knee comfort being the overriding priority. 

However, on our French tour last May, I found one other little drawback (which frankly hadn't troubled me much before) suddenly became a very big problem when touring, in particular when using ferries. 

Like other road cleat systems, there is a big metal protrusion on the bottom of your sole. This has led to the stereotype impression that they make you waddle like a duck. On a more pragmatic level, road cleats are bare metal and thus have  no traction on smooth floor services. Floors may be wooden, stone, brick, tiled, linoleum, you name it. In most situations when out on a ride and stopping for breaks, a little care is all that's needed. It's probably the caution needed, more than anything else, that prompts the wearer to shorten his/her stride, stiffen the knees and indeed walk like a duck. I use Speedplay's Coffee Covers on most occasions when I dismount, even for short periods of time. I've developed a system whereby I always have a pair of covers in a convenient place. They come out, go on, come off, go back into the designated pocket. It does take a few seconds but I feel it's a worthwhile use of time to ensure I feel more secure walking around in my road shoes. I've only rarely slipped -- or felt in danger of slipping -- on most floor surfaces, with the covers fitted over my cleats. 

But on ferries... the long ramps into the car decks, the decks themselves and often the stairs (and sometimes laddies) up to the passenger decks, are all... metal.  So, if for whatever reason, I don't fit the covers on just before leaving another surface (usually asphalt, which has little slip risk), then it's like stepping onto an ice rink.  

The problem arises when embarking and disembarking. On arrival at the port, we go through several checkpoints (passport control, etc). This is usually done on the bike, without dismounting, just unclipping and straddling the bike while doing the necessary with the port official behind the desk, then clipping in and riding off. Eventually though, you end up in a lane or queue, waiting for the invitation to board the ferry. The wait can be very short or it can be very long. There is no warning as to which it will be, and no interim announcements to manage your expectations. Usually, we dismount immediately and stand beside our bikes. Five minutes later, we lay the bikes gently on their sides so we are free to move around a bit, stretch and visit with our friends also queued up waiting. Sometimes, after 10 minutes, I sit down on the ground. Rarely -- but it has happened -- some indication is given that we may be waiting some time and I dig my plimsolls out of my pannier and actually change shoes! 

Then the port staff signal 'Go Go Go' and it's a mad scramble to get on the bike and pedal off in the direction indicated. Even the split seconds needed to take off and stow the cleat covers feels like too much time. I fall behind.

But then! Suddenly we're told by another member of port staff to dismount! Immediately! And traverse a sort of bridge that joins to the ramp into the boat. And guess what? The bridge is metal. Sometimes it's mesh or grating, with big gaps and holes. And then you're on the ramp of the car deck itself and it's solid metal. With big metal studs sticking up. Or metal grooves in a chevron pattern. 

And it's not even as if you can learn a certain routine. Because one member of the port staff wants you to ride, while another wants you to walk, and it's never the same instructions in similar circumstances. Ride the ramp up, walk the bridge, ride down the ramp into the car deck. Oh wait, no, this time it's ride the ramp and the bridge, then dismount and slither and slide down the ramp. Oh for chrissake, now it's walk up the ramp... and the bridge... and the ramp. Who knows. All I know is that I want my feet to stay securely under me, and I desperately want to not always be the very last one scrambling to get on the boat with cleat covers on or cleat covers off or.... where the heck did I put them in that last mad panic to get back on the bike? And where did everybody go??

In other words, road cleats are wonderful on the bike if you can stay on the bike. Limited, planned times off the bike are manageable. Having your strings pulled, with no notice, at the whim of port staff is just hell. 

So. Here I am after two years being cossetted and supported by my Speedplays, looking for the very first time at Shimano SPDs. 

I've used MTB/touring shoes before, when I first went 'clipless' in 2011, on the advice of my phyiotherapist following my knee surgery. I used Speedplay Frog cleats, because my physio did not want my knees to be affected by spring-loaded tension. I used Frogs for a year maybe a little longer, until my knees were well enough recovered not to be at risk from wrenching and jolting, and up to the point where my tracking and alignment issues became serious enough to move me towards the big platforms of Speedplays (with the Light Action pedals having the lowest tension/resistance when unclipping). 

So it is with some trepidation that I am (temporarily at least) abandoning Speedplays and giving Shimano SPDs a try. After driving myself nearly mad reading reviews, both by customers and the industry, I have purchased these new shoes and A530 dual-sided pedals. 

(mine are silver, not black)

I have set the SPDs up on the Cross Check (including adjusting saddle height to account for significantly more stack under the foot, and swapping out the shoes' insoles for ones I already know to be comfortable) and ridden up and down our road numerous times without spotting anything that is an obvious deal breaker.  I will try commuting with them tomorrow. If things go well during the week, then I'll swap the pedals over to the Enigma at the weekend to try them out on a longer ride, when Adam and I reccie a possible new FNRttC route. 

I cannot foresee how this will go. I am really apprehensive about compromising even a smidgeon of the support and comfort my Speedplays give me. I hope that if there is any adverse effect on my knees, I'll know fairly quickly. 

I do have a safety net in place. With my road shoes and cleats worn out, I made an appointment at Cyclefit in a few weeks' time, to look at road replacement options. As a Plan B, this is definitely the more expensive option, as I think the obvious choice would be to try Speedplay's new Aero version of its Light Action pedals, which provide an integrated rubberised surround that should be more "walkable" -- or at least minimise the ice rink factor of walking on metal surfaces! 

Meanwhile.... it's 5 weeks and 4 days til we leave for the Low Countries. I can't wait!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Another Cycling Blog... That Isn't A Blog

Sorry it's been quiet the past few weeks here. I have several product reviews coming up but meanwhile have been busy designing and building the new website for The Fridays aka the Friday Night Ride to the Coast 'crew'. 

It's nearly ready pending tests of the newsletter system but hasn't yet gone live. Here's a sneak preview of the home page. 

Yes, this was created on the Blogger platform but will be published to a custom domain. No, it will not work in any way like a blog! It has a static home page, for one thing, and new articles will not appear there but under 'Latest News', with appropriate lead-ins from other pages on the site and indeed other websites. 

It's been fun re-learning HTML code and I'm very pleased with the result, both in terms of appearance and functionality. 

Monday, 29 June 2015

Action 100 Charity Ride on 30th August

I have just received news of a charity ride at the end of August to raise funds for Action Medical Research, the well-known children's charity that has Paddington Bear as its mascot. I have never posted on the blog before about such events, though I do participate in at least one charity bike ride a year myself. 

In any case, Ellie's email was so charming and not at all pushy... and I do believe this is a ride that may appeal to a few readers and is certainly a good cause... so here you go!


25 June 2015

Charity seeks riders for Action 100 cycle challenge

The Action 100 cycling challenge will take place from Bristol to London this summer and children’s charity Action Medical Research is calling for riders to sign up now for the event on Sunday, 30 August.

The ride has raised more than £1 million for the children’s charity since it was first held in 1982, when it began in Bath; these days the start line is in Keynsham just outside Bristol.

The 114-mile route for this amazing sportive, Action’s original cycling event, takes riders across five counties to the very welcome finish at Staines Rugby Football Club.

The route, which was revamped last year, takes in the picturesque market towns of Chippenham and Marlborough and crosses the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to Newbury before skirting Reading and Bracknell, skimming past Windsor Great Park and on to Hanworth.

Coach travel and bike transport is available back to the start venue, with riders able to collect their bikes on the same day.

This event is part of the charity’s popular RIDE100 series of one-day bike rides that take place in fantastic cycling locations across the UK. All include chip timing, food and water stations, lunch, marshals and mechanics. 

Cyclists participating in the Action 100 will be raising money to help fund medical research into conditions affecting babies and children. Action Medical Research has been funding medical breakthroughs since it began in 1952. The charity is currently supporting work around childhood cancer, Down syndrome, epilepsy, and cystic fibrosis, as well as some rare and distressing conditions that severely affect children.

Among the research the charity is currently funding is a study taking place at the University of Bristol. Around one in four children who undergo surgery to remove a tumour from the back of the brain – the cerebellum – develop a distressing side effect called cerebellar mutism syndrome.1 They lose the ability to speak and have difficulty coordinating their movements; although their condition normally improves with time, children are often left with permanent disabilities. Professor Richard Apps is looking for a way to improve surgery and stop children developing these life-changing disabilities.

In another study at the university, Professor Andrés López Bernal is researching the natural processes that control labour and childbirth. Around one in 20 pregnancies worldwide ends with the mother going into labour too soon and having her baby prematurely2 but a dire lack of understanding of these processes is limiting our ability to help.

Places for the Action 100 are limited so make sure you register soon. Sportive entry is £38, or the Fundraiser option costs £25, with participants committing to raise at least £40 sponsorship for Action Medical Research.

For more information about the Action 100 and to register, visit

- ENDS -

  1. Wells EM, Walsh KS, Kademian ZP, Keating RF & Packer RJ. The cerebellar mutism syndrome and its relation to cerebellar cognitive function and the cerebellar cognitive affective disorder. Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews 2008; 14, 221-228
  2. Beck et al. Bull World Health Organ, 2010, 88:31-38

To read glowing reviews of last year’s Action 100, please visit

For more information about Action Medical Research, please contact Ellie Evans, Fundraising Communications Officer, on:
T: 01403 327480
Follow us on Twitter at @actionmedres and @amr_events  
Like our Facebook page at

Action Medical Research is a leading UK-wide charity working to save and change children’s lives through medical research. We believe that the diseases that devastate the lives of so many of our children can be beaten. We have been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 like the first polio vaccines in the UK, ultrasound in pregnancy and the rubella vaccine – helping to save thousands of children’s lives and change many more.

Just one breakthrough, however small, can mean the world. Charity reg.nos 208701 and SC039284.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Rock Creek Weekend

(Arachnophobes may want to give this post a miss...!)

I write this sitting at my desk at home in Bedfordshire. But this time a week ago -- and a whole world away -- I was sitting next to a camp fire in the forests on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.

My trip 'home' centred around final goodbyes to elderly parents in failing health. But almost as precious  in my memories will be the camping trip that brought me and all four of my sisters together for a "girls only" weekend retreat.

We drove from our parents' home in Roseburg up the North Umpqua River, passing a seamlessly shifting panorama of scenes from our childhoods. I say 'childhoods' because the age gap between eldest and youngest is 19 and a half years, and our memories from this area span all of that plus another 20 years, then (for several of my sisters) after a long gap, another 7-8 years of hiking in these mountains, camping along its streams and 'ridge running' its spider web of old logging roads.

I was travelling "light". I had my (re-packed) carry-on bag from my flight, plus this:

We took two vehicles, each carrying only two people but towing one of these:

My youngest sister's family-built teardrop, after she sprayed it
inside and out with ant & spider poison (a precautionary step that paid off)

Monday, 8 June 2015

Life's Latest Lesson: Don't Panic

Based on the way my knees felt, I returned home after our three days of cycling in France thinking I may need to start preparing for the next round of knee surgery sooner rather than later. 

Backstory -- or, how Grumpy Knees Came To Be

I had an arthroscopy on my left knee in October 2010. There was so much damage to the cartilage (which started degenerating when I was a child), the surgeon said: 

  • I have removed as much as I dare and still leave you a little bit of cartilage for at least some 'cushioning', but what's left is still quite damaged; 
  • Further procedures like this will not be an option (for this knee; for the other, rinse and repeat); 
  • Frankly, if you need another invasive procedure, that will be the end of your cycling*. 

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Tandem Dreaming

FNRttC Burnham © The5MileCyclist 2013 

Adam and I love our Circe Helios Duo and we've done two Friday Night Rides to the Coast on it. However, the value it brings to our life lies much more in its cargo-hauling capabilities. We haven't used it in tandem mode enough to get my stoker position and fit completely sorted to my satisfaction. What we have is okay for 50-60 miles and it's an easy set-up when swapping out from cargo mode the day before a tandem ride. 

However, I do ponder from time to time the possibilities that might present themselves if we had a road tandem with the sizing for captain and stoker optimised for us. At the moment, it's no more than idle speculation and musings, as I linger over stories, reviews and photos on other blogs, such as --

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Fridays' Tour de Normandie 2015 -- Day 3: Honfleur to Dieppe (via Harfleur, Le Havre and Rouen)

Posts about previous days of this tour: 

Sometimes things don't go to plan. 

Sometimes I argue with my body, knowing I need to win. 
(Usually, my knees are playing at being drama queens and need to be told to "shut up".)

Then sometimes the body says something to which there is no possible reply; it's game over.  

On a drab, damp Monday morning, about 5k out of Honfleur -- having (yet again) had little sleep, conquered a migraine in the wee hours, then fallen down the stairs on the way out of our accommodation -- the body spoke and that was that.

Let me rewind a few hours.

My day started at 5am -- with a migraine. An injection followed and two hours later I was very nearly recovered, from the migraine at least if not from the cumulative lack of sleep which was almost certainly its trigger.

We had to be dressed, packed, loaded and round the corner to the meet up point at 8am. We had plenty of time, as we had bought a few groceries in Houlgate the previous day, so ate "breakfast" while we packed without losing any time.

All was going well until the very last minute, when, arms full, I descended the narrow steep angled staircase and somehow missed the last step altogether. Down I went. I didn't drop anything but my head hit the wall. (By the way, that's how I discovered where my errant Polar cyclocomputer was: in my cycling cap. And briefly between my head and a wall. Ouch.)

I sat against the wall for a few minutes taking stock. I hadn't lost consciousness and didn't feel dizzy. Psychologically shaken but fairly certain I hadn't broken or sprained anything, I stood up and loaded my bike.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Fridays' Tour de Normandie 2015 -- Day 2: Bayeux to Honfleur

Posts about other days of this tour: 

I am up to my neck in revision ('exam prep', for the Americans) but want to get these French ride reports written while I still remember the stories!  

Sunday (day 2) consisted of 65km of just about the best cycling ever, followed by 35km of what Martin summed up as "the worst afternoon I have ever spent on a bike". (I agreed. Others may have said similar beyond my earshot.) Fortunately, I have ample photographic evidence of the first and very little of the second. 

Up early, I started my day with the most comprehensive self-massage of my calves and lower hamstrings as it's possible for a non-qualified person to do! My knee joints felt 'tight' and the outside of my lower right leg also felt stiff and a bit painful. A massage helped tremendously but the relief was short lived. (I've since learned more about key trigger points in muscles I'd never heard of -- unfortunately, they are nearly impossible to "get at" in one's own legs.)

Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Fridays' Tour de Normandie 2015 -- Day 1: Brix to Bayeux

Posts about other days on this tour: 

On Saturday morning, we needed to be ready to leave the Ibis Hotel at 8.15am. Gordon and Martin* would lead us all to Brix for the Official Tour Start at 9am. 

We woke at our usual time of 6.15am and set about showering, dressing and packing. We had found out the night before that breakfast options in the hotel would be severely limited (i.e. only croissants, which I can't eat) so we would need to seek out breakfast elsewhere. Also, our bicycles were locked in the beverages storage room in the hotel, a factor we had to account for as we packed. 

At 7am, we presented ourselves to the McDonald's next door, to find the driver of a delivery truck the only sign of life. Aha, the sign on the door said it opened at 7.30. Half an hour is an awkward period to fill, when you are mostly packed up but can't retrieve your bicycle yet to finish off and load up. So we watched a little television (what?!) and then went back. 

Three cyclists were inside, having already ordered and sat down. Ironically, they were the only ones in the entire group I did not know at all**. We exchanged nods and smiles. Our main focus of attention however was this -- 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Bike Sizing: Stack And Reach

When it comes to bike size and fit, the industry has suddenly started talking a new language. And high time too. 

I am flying out to Oregon in a few weeks and for the first time intend to cycle while I'm there. Details are still to be confirmed but one option I've been looking into is hiring ('renting' for the Americans) a road bicycle from a bike shop. But my bitter experience has taught me that stock sizes provided by mainstream manufacturers simply do not fit me. Nonetheless, I have indulged in two short periods of daydreaming about renting a bicycle utterly different from my own, just for the sake of it. 

As it happens, the only two models of bicycle available for me to hire are
  • the Raleigh Capri (year/model and precise build not known)

the 2015 Raleigh Capri Carbon 1 (not available in the UK)

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