Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cycling Orthotics #2

As for this older post, I added orthotics to my shoes.
Honestly it took me a while to get the benefit from it, because the addition of orthotics changed completely the set-up of the bike/saddle/cleats/whatever... so putting the insoles in the shoes it is only the first step.

As I think can be useful for fellow "poorly shaped" cyclists, I try to summarize what I did (from the beginning):

- I have a severe degree of bow legs. Actually, the problem is even trickier because the kneed themselves are not too bad, but is the tibias which are terribly curved inward.
Obviously, the curve is not symmetrical in both legs...

- after a lot of hesitation, I gave up my fight with the hostility to idea of wearing orthotics and got suitable stuff from a qualified podiatrist.
The podiatrist worked out a shape for the insole so that the feet get tilted "outwards" to align the feet to the ankles and to the lower leg. The inversion of the foot is now compensated by the inside thickness of the orthotics..
(see the old post for close-up pics of the carbon fiber insoles).

- Now it is worthy to mention on HOW I was set-up BEFORE the orthotics:
the whole set-up was done with the purpose of trying to get the feet flat on the pedal. As for the natural shape of my legs, the shoe would land on the pedal only touching the outside. To go flat, I had to "compress" the system and push the feet as much as possible outward on the pedal as to give them enough "tilting" space...
bottom line, I was:
- very low on the saddle
- feet pointing outwards, while the ankles were almost touching the crankset
- cleats in the most inside position of the show (means feet moved outwards as much as possible).
- knees were always touching the top tube under effort
- the pressure on the pedals had a huge side components because of the shape of the legs. A lot of force was lost and also it happened often that my pedal axles got bent or the bearings got loose because of the non straight force application
- knees totally NOT aligned with feet on the pedal: feet were more outside then the knees and the knees were describing a oval during the pedal stroke.

Once I wore orthotics without changing the overall set-up, I felt "strange" and not really feeling major improvement.

So I went for a real bike fit from a professional and with some iterations, here the outcomes:

- the saddle height was increased 15mm (i know, it is huge... I did it in 3 steps)
- saddle brought back of 10mm
- complete change on the position of the cleats, which are now fixed in a way where my feet are no more pointing outwards, but straight and also very close to the crankset.
- on top of that all, I also added 2 wedges (from to give additional tilt to the feet and therefore even more alignment with the lower leg. These wedges are awesome idea and could really solve a lot of problems for people with leg/knee issues.
- to make the set-up easier, I also switched to Look red-cleat with more floating

All together, now the push from the legs goes to the pedal in a straight way and the whole system tight/tibia/ankle/foot works without too many dispersion of force (before, most of the muscle effort was spent in keeping the legs/knees/ankles in a straight line.. now it comes naturally because the orthotics and the wedges aligned the system).
Working with a "straighter" leg, also gave the opportunity to increase the saddle height to a better working angle for the knee, thus increasing also the power of the stroke.
I can not give a % of improvement, but my climbing times on some measured courses considerably improved after the changes...

Here you can admire the set-up (the wedges are those yellow)

Now I will need to work on further refinement:
a) the right leg is spot on 100%..
b) the left foot is still not striking 100% straight and I am considering whether either adding an additional wedge or further increasing the saddle height and change the cleat position
c) I will switch pedals to Speedplay (which are simply better...), also because my Look Keo are already showing signs of fatigue (bearing got loose because of the transversal component in my pedal stroke...).
Speedplay allow more cleat adjustment and the whole show/pedal interface is better.

Probably the best way to tune-up the set-up is to place the bike on the trainer in front of a mirror, stick reflective sticker on the knees, film the pedaling and go for different slight adjustement until you can reach a good alignement between knee and pedal or at least avoid many parassite movement of the knee (seen from frontal view).

For the HW, you can use any videocamera or digital camera with video function.
For the SW, I would recomment to download this program which is open source and do the job in excellent way.
I personally did not complete yet this stage, so I will keep posted once I have videos to show and the final results.


bingalingding said...

wow- if someone told me to raise my saddle 15mm I would tell them where to go! Who did you use out of interest?

Also on the pedal front I beg to differ that Speedplay is the way forward- you can't tighten the spring tension to lock your feet in the way I like it at least. Also, though it might sound counter intuitive (esp. for a Campagnolo man) I go with fixed position Shimano pedals & cleats upon advice from a fit specialist in UK who worked with me when I had knee problems. Bearings are better than Look also. As long as you can pedal straight float just adds extra strain on your knee by having to stabilise the foot. Get it right and you're singing. But yea, everyone's different!

by7 said...

@ bingalingding:

Ed, I know that the matter is very personal...

a) about the saddle height, the addition of orthotics changed completely the set-up on the bike...
we could say that the "functional" length of the legs increased and also I do not need to pedal anymore with wide open feet (duck style...).
So it was a real game changer...
In earnest, I always preferred to keep the saddle a bit lower because I got used like that during my MTB/XC years, but I knew that I was too low...

2) about the speedplay pedal: I will try them and report back...

3) about the fixed/floating cleat: yes, I also read several press on the matter. In my particular case, my legs work differently when I stand up from the saddle and with floating cleats I can adjust the foot angle.
the main draw of speedplay is that you can adjust the float in a linear way from 0 to 15 degrees so you can start with larger float and than narrow down the float as much as you find the right cleat position

All said, It is a fact that my legs are "abnormal" and out of standard because of the bent in the tibia, so the usual practices might not be the most suitable