Saturday ride – new pedals = new legs?


Today was a second attempt on the ‘widowmaker’ climb out of Bonner.  Last week I managed to climb the concrete path (average 5%, probably 8% in parts) without dying.  However, the grassy climb (well over 5% and probably 10% average) was well beyond my abilities.  Pedalling was hard enough but I simply couldn’t stay balanced long enough to make any sort of attempt at it.  Several times I went off-piste because I couldn’t keep the front wheel down and in turn, couldn’t ride up the steep track.  And since I use clip-in pedals, it gets a bit hairy when you start to tip and you need to get your foot out.  It’s even worse when you’re trying to take of and you can’t quite engage the pedal.  At best I rode 10% of the track, walking the rest.  My colleague Amandeep stopped a few times but did ride the entire length.  His effort was telling as after a short climb I asked him to take my picture and it took him 2 minutes to get his gloves off!

So in preparation for today’s ride I purchased flat pedals.  My reasoning was that I could move my knees in and out much further and retain balance much more easily.  I could also start off without struggling to engage.  The reduction in power, because I could only push down on the pedals and not in a (more-or-less) full circle, should be balanced by… balance, I reasoned.

Time ATAC and Shimano SAINT pedals. Big difference
Time ATAC and Shimano SAINT pedals. Big difference

The difference is quite obvious when the pedals are compared side-by-side.  In the picture above, the spindles are both aligned to the solid line on the left; it appears different because of parallax.

  • Width (from crank): 120mm vs 85 mm
  • Contact width: 100mm (20mm~120mm) vs 60mm (25mm~85mm)
  • Weight: didn’t measure, but the Saint pedals are lighter.

The ride, the climb, the pedals!

I wore an old pair of 3/4 cross-trainer shoes.  While the grip was not perfect and slips did happen, grip was regained very quickly and without interruption to pedalling.  (Though I will have to modify my bunny hop style.)

Back to the climb Take 2: everything was suddenly less frightening.  The climb was no flatter than last week and I suspect that my front wheel lifted on the same bumps.  The difference was that I could remain upright without much thought or effort.  This was a real surprise.  I had expected to be moving my knees side-to-side in a rather comical way to maintain balance, but that was rarely necessary.  I had to stop about 6 times and I admit to walking a very steep section of about 10 m, but I got up that bloody hill.

The rest of the ride was the border track, then the flat Pipeline Rd, up to Goorooyarroo and along to rejoin the Pipeline Rd.  Instead of dropping to Horse Park Drive for an awful ride back to the cafe, we turned around at the peak of the Pipeline Rd and returned to Mulligan’s Flat North track, through Forde and back to Cafe Guru (Canberra’s own coffee, don’t you know.)

It’s true that the pedals did not hold on to my shoes like clip-ins.  There were a few moments when my shoes slipped, but never far enough to be bothered by it.  But there was something else happening beyond balance…

Balance is not the only thing, grasshopper

There was something better about these pedals and I reckon it was the increased width of my feet.  I suspect that up until now I have been pedalling with my feet too far inboard.  Moving my feet out by 30mm or more has obviously changed the alignment of my legs.  I noticed my quads being used for first time in a while; I think that my hamstrings (and lower legs) have been doing most of the work.

It felt like I was using more of my thigh muscles, with the result that they hurt all over.  No, it actually felt like the work was spread out a bit.

Here’s the 3D flyover version of the route.  And no, I can’t embed it for you… http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/render_route_video?route_key=4968668242483609601&site=mapmyrun.com

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