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RBA Q&A: Solutions To Your Problems

April 2, 2012
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Although sometimes unavoidable, toe overlap can be tricky to deal with at slow speeds and U-turns. Remembering to keep your foot forward in the direction that you’re turning will keep your foot and wheel from contacting.
I recently bought a new bike and am now having a toe-overlap issue. I ride a 54cm bike and have never had a problem with overlap on previous bikes. What’s the deal? Is it the frame’s geometry that’s causing my woes? Can I do anything about it, or is it something I just need to get used to?
Albany, New York
Paraic McGlynn, director of operations at FASTER (a cycling performance center specializing in wind-tunnel 3D analysis bike fitting and testing), responds:
Toe overlap is due in large part to the geometry of the bicycle. The most common brands in size 54 all have very similar front-center distance (the distance between the bottom bracket and the fork dropout). The front-center distance of your bike is fixed by the geometry of the frame; however, other opportunities exist to manage toe overlap.
Crank-arm length, shoe size, cleat position, fenders and tire size are adjustable items that influence toe overlap. Changing cranks is expensive, but you should check that your bike has the 172.5mm cranks that are standard on most 54cm bikes. In order to reduce or eliminate overlap, you have to balance your cycling needs (tires/fender) and your morphology (body shape), which drives the length of your crank and your foot-pedal interface.
If you are spending long periods on your bike, mild toe overlap (1-1.5cm) could be acceptable to ensure the correct foot-pedal interface. Toe overlap is not uncommon on a 54cm frame, but it can be easily managed if you are aware it exists and know what to do about it. Be cautious at slow speeds, especially doing U-turns. Train yourself to remember to keep your foot forward in the direction that you are turning so you avoid foot contact. If you feel it is an issue riding, get a coach to teach you how to ‘lean’ through a corner rather than steer through. Toe overlap is manageable with a little attention to your technique and surroundings and should not impact your enjoyment of your new ride.
I was at the Nevada City stage of the Amgen Tour of California last year and was surprised by how many staff [members] there were for each team. I know that each team has a director and mechanic, but what do the other four or five staff members do?
Sacramento, California
Jim, for a team to compete at a race the size of the Amgen Tour of California is a considerable undertaking that requires a very minimum of six staff members.
Starting with the boss, the head director or director sportif, who is in charge of the entire team, riders and staff. He (or she) has a big job of coordinating the whole team, as well as handling the team meetings with the riders before each stage. The director also drives the team car in the caravan, giving tactical advice to the riders during the race. There will usually be an assistant director to help the head director out and to drive the second caravan vehicle.
The mechanics have one of the hardest jobs on the circuit. At the very least, two mechanics are necessary to handle the cleaning and maintenance of the equipment. Every day, the bikes are washed, lubed and thoroughly inspected, minimizing the chance of a mechanical issue. During the race, the mechanics ride in the team caravan vehicles, helping the riders with wheel changes or bike swaps, if necessary.
In French, the word soigneur means, ‘to care for,’ and this is just what the two or three soigneurs do for the riders. They handle the massage, first aid, laundry, water bottle and food preparation for each stage, as well as handing out musettes (feed bags) in the feed zones during the race. On one of my former teams, we had a soigneur who would do yoga with us every day, helping us keep relaxed and flexible throughout the race.
One of the more behind-the-scenes jobs, but no less important, is the driver of the team truck and trailer. The driver of the team rig is responsible for getting to the hotel, setting up the mechanics’ workstations, and getting all the riders’ luggage into their rooms before the stage is over. The next morning, they pack things back up and head off to the next hotel.
The riders have the easiest job out of everyone: eat, sleep and race. The entire staff is there to ensure the riders can be 100-percent focused on attaining their best performance possible. So, when the team wins prize money, the staff is included in the split, same as the riders. One rider’s victory is truly a team effort-staff included.

I am 53 years old and ride 150-200 miles a week. I broke my femur in a skiing accident over a year ago, and I still haven’t been able to get back to the same level prior to the accident. I don’t have time to ride more, but wonder if there is anything else I can do to regain the fitness I had before? I’ve thought about lifting weights to help get the strength back, but since I don’t have any weight-lifting experience, I’ve been hesitant.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Joe Friel, author of The Cyclist’s Training Bible, responds:
James, when you were riding, I assume you were on the roads doing long workouts. If so, then the fitness you had was primarily aerobic endurance complemented by muscular endurance, and perhaps even anaerobic endurance-depending on how you trained. To re-establish that same type and level of fitness would require endurance training, such as road riding, mountain biking, running, cross-country skiing, swimming or something similar. Traditional weight training will build excellent muscular strength, but only a small amount of aerobic, muscular and anaerobic endurance. In the gym, one of your best strength options for such results would be circuit training with high reps, low loads and long sessions of many sets. So what you do for training really depends on what you want to accomplish in terms of fitness. If you decide to go this route, I’d highly recommend hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions to help develop an effective routine and help refine your exercise skills. Good luck!
For more advice from Joe, check out his blog here.
I’m finally going to give in and admit that I can’t climb like I used to. The past two years haven’t been kind to my fitness, and I’ve come to one conclusion: I need easier gears! My bike has a 53-tooth big ring and 39-tooth small ring with an 11-26 cassette. The gearing is just too much for me on the steep climbs of Napa Valley. I want to be able to keep my cadence higher on the climbs and not have to stand up over every hill. What are my best options? A new cassette, smaller chainrings or a different crank altogether?
Napa, California
Sometimes it can be tough to swallow not being able to dance up a climb like you used to, Carl. I know the feeling. I’m packing around the equivalency of a small child in my midsection right now, and I swear the climbs have gotten steeper since I retired from professional racing.

Leave the 53/39 standard cranks for the pros and flatlanders. The standard crank’s 130-bolt pattern makes a 38-tooth chainring the smallest that it will fit; this doesn’t offer a low enough gear for most enthusiasts.

It sounds to me like you’re in the market for a set of compact cranks. With your standard 130mm bolt pattern crank, the smallest inner ring you can use is a 38-hardly the difference you’re looking for. A compact crank has a 110mm bolt pattern, allowing you to use a 50/34 chainring combo. A low gear of 34/26 would knock off 6 gear inches from your current 39×26. That’s enough to help you enjoy riding uphill again. With a 50-tooth outer ring, you’ll lose a little on the top end, but not nearly as much as you gain with your climbing gear.
Just about every crank manufacturer is producing a compact version of their standard crank, so you will have a variety to choose from at different price levels. Other than switching out your old cranks for the compacts, you’ll need to slightly lower your front derailleur. You might also need to take a link out of your chain to accommodate the smaller outer ring, but it’s usually not necessary. Before you know it, you’ll be aiming for every climb in the valley!
The smaller 110-bolt pattern on a compact crank allows a chainring as small as a 33 tooth to be used. The difference in gearing from the standard crank is enough to go from surviving the hills to actually enjoying them.

Neil Shirley is a former professional cyclist, current Road Bike Action assistant editor, and a coach of both amateur and elite-level cyclists. Got a question for Neil? Send it to RBA Q&A.


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