Five Points of Contact (1)

Touring is not racing, but it can have its own sources of pain. Yet as long as I have the five points of contact with the bike under control, the rest of the body just works.  If I get these five points wrong, I have to compensate for sore back, shoulders and neck etc. In all this, the legs that we might expect to be really painful mostly just work, in my experience. 

The five points are hands, feet, and backside. When you talk about these at your local bike shop, look for the older folk who ride distance, especially if you are no longer in your twenties. What can a 22 year old, who cheerfully admits he's never ridden 15km in his life— he does mountain biking— know about endurance riding, let alone how it affects a 50 or 60 year old? 

Bike fit is important, and a subject of its own, which I'm not going to cover here. Search the net. You probably don't have to pay money if you have a good local bike shop. Assuming your fit is about right, what counts for touring and distance cycling?

 

The Hands
Hands, wrists, and shoulders, do an enormous amount of work. On a day with lots of climbing, it's my shoulders that feel the strain, not the legs.

Do wear gloves. They protect against sunburn. They keep you warm. They provide padding against the handlebars. They provide a lot of protection if you come off.

When you buy, make sure the fit is not too tight; this can cause numbness, or chafing, and it also prevents you from adding cotton gloves underneath.

Under-gloves are my preference. Other folk prefer full finger gloves for cold or rain.

If you are doing very long rides, consider adding extra padding to the gloves, especially if you will be covering metal roads, or very rough bitumen. I use neoprene and contact cement. Be aware that a few milimetres extra width from this padding can change your hand position on the bars. You may need to trim.

Make sure the saddle fit is not putting extra weight on the hands and shoulders by sliding you forward. You should not have any sense of having to keep pushing yourself back on the saddle.

A standard drop handlebar has tops, drops and hoods— three different riding positions. This varies the pressure points on the hands, as well as the back and butt. Keep moving position.

With a flat bar, unless you fit bar ends,  the riding positions are essentially reduced to one only, especially if you have lights and trip computers mounted on them. I have "cow ends," which have more curve than "ski tips," which gives me three positions, plus better climbing purchase than straight bar ends. I've also padded the main part of the bar ends which I use.

The rule of thumb: if it's numb something's wrong. Move things around. Check your seating.

The Feet
Wear cleats. Cleats keep the feet in the most efficient pedalling position. I've had a couple of near misses when I've drifted or been blown into the gravel, and I think the cleats were instrumental in staying upright. The stop the feet slipping, or being bounced, off the pedals. This is certainly the case with unexpected potholes.

For touring and distance rides, I prefer mountain bike shoes. They make life a lot easier if you have to walk. This is not always a hill problem; you can meet unexpected sand or gravel which makes walking the safe option. The recessed cleats mean you don't feel like a duck wearing a suppository. They are also more comfortable around camp, and can allow leaving a second pair of shoes or thongs out of the load.

The cleats can be moved. Work out your best fit. Mark the shoes. Your local bike shop should have a gauge to help with fitting.

You can wear toe clips, or toe clips and straps, which are still vastly better than nothing at all. But I'd never go back after the experience of using cleats.

Numbness
Feet will go numb on a long day. It can become very painful. I frequently take a foot out when rolling on a smooth surface, and shake, curl the soles, and flex the ankles. Resting on one foot or the other when coasting also helps.

If you find numbness is worse in the afternoons, check how much your feet are swelling during the day.  I start the day with a loose fit to the shoes to allow for this, and loosen the shoes off more if I am needing to go to wool socks in the evening. It makes a noticeable difference.

Another area to check here is the tightness of your booties, if you are wearing them. If you have wide feet like me it is difficult to find booties that are not tight over the feet, and therefore causing numbness. I make sure I keep the velcro straps that go under the feet on mine only tight enough to stop things shifting.

Actually pushing the bike for a kilometre gives a different kind of massage to the foot which can sometimes help.

If you are riding with toe clips and sneakers, be aware that light soles cause narrow pressure points on the feet. Riding shoes are designed to spread the pressure, especially road shoes. The mountain bike shoes provide more flexibility at a cost to stiffness. I have compensate for this, a little, by placing heavy (2mm) plastic inserts I cut out of some old scuba flippers under the insole.

Insoles do compress. You can buy them after-market. My current ones are better than the original. As always, consult your LBS. 

Podiatrist
I have wide feet with an unusual bone structure. The Podiatrist added more padding under the insole to spread the toes. She also shaved-- I kid you not!-- shaved the soles of my feet to take of excess callous. This is painless and made an instant difference to numbing problems. Lots of riding can cause a callous build up, and / or shift the fat pads in the feet.

Keep moving
The main enemy is "riding dead"; that is, sitting like a bag of wheat in the saddle. Shift position. Rotate arms, shake hands and feet. Arch the back. Send the chin down on the chest. I choose a speed beyond which I let the bike roll while I loosen up. On long flat rides, and on long hills, I make sure I am out of the saddle every few minutes.

I've found that an hourly stop for three or four minutes, off the bike, makes an enormous difference to comfort. On endurance rides I still do this… often by walking alongside the bike. The main time loss in these rides occurs if you wait for places to prepare food, not if you take time to walk or rest.

Active Riding
Don't thump in the bumps. Get on your feet.
Find the truck rut, or the best surface. Use the road.
Get out of the saddle for small rises, rather than dropping a gear and staying seated.
It all helps.

Tyres
Wider tyres and lower pressures decrease the hammering that comes up from the road.

 

Andrew Prior (2016)


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