Tuesday 6 October 2009

Those shoes that go clicky-clack

Magdy Szubanski copped the rough end of the pineapple last week when she went on an extended anti-cyclist rant on some TV show that I have never heard of.

Many people claimed to be offended.

I was not one of them.

After all, I routinely rant, in much less decorous terms, at just about everything in life, and I regularly call for the summary execution of WRX drivers. An armed cyclist is... I don't know. Hopefull a good shot.

The day that we can't indulge in a good rant against some segment of the population is a day when our liberty has been crushed just a little bit more.

Part of her rant was directed at those "stupid shoes that go clicky-clack when they walk into cafes".

I wear those shoes, and I will now try to explain why.

Back when I played team sports like hockey (badly, and violently), rugby (even more badly) and AFL (incredibly badly), we wore shoes with lots of sprigs in them. The sprigs were essential for maintaining grip on grounds that were often a slough of mud with a thin coating of woe-begotten grass. I played fullback in our 3rd grade hockey team. That meant that when the opposition was attacking (which was almost all the time, as our forwards were pathetic), my task was to charge at the opposing line and tackle the bloke with the ball. Not rugby tackle, but tackle them with my stick.

Now being fast and fairly muscly at that time, and not always terribly agile, there was many a time when the tackle consisted of my hip and shoulder collecting the opposition forward in the chest at high speed and the forward then gasping for air on the ground as I took off after his mates, who now had the ball. That always involved doing a rapid 180, as I had been running away from our goal, and they were now running towards it.

On a dry ground, I found that I could pull such a tight turn with those sprigs that I could reach out and touch the grass with my left hand (the hockey stick would always be in my right hand, and I always turned to the left). Only a mental patient would play the game without sprigs. Or top caps. In my last game, I had to use a borrowed pair of shoes that had squishy toes. A stick aimed at the ball missed the ball and hit my toes, half ripping my big toenail off. After limping off the ground, I removed the shoe to find a sock covered in blood. One always wears the correct footwear.

But enough of that. I am supposed to be talking about cycling. However, I do remember those sprigs going "clicky-clack" on concrete, and no one ever said, "Why do those idiots wear sprigs?"

The thing going clicky-clack is a cleat, which is a block of metal that is screwed onto the base of the cycling shoe. That cleat is shaped so that it clicks neatly and solidly into the pedal. The idea is that your shoe is essentially welded to the pedal, so you can apply the maximum power in the right place.

I read a training manual the other day which said I should be aiming to achieve a cadence of 100 - which means my feet should be rotating the cranks 100 times per minute. My natural comfortable maximum rate is 90 - apparently most people have to train their nerves of all things to fire fast enough to work up to a comfortable rate of 100. I can go faster than 100 - I was clocking a cadence of 116 on a fast section coming home tonight, but that was me watching the cadence meter on the bike and wildly over-reving to see how high I could go.

What has this got to do with anything?

When my cadence hits 90, the legs are pumping so fast, they'd be flying off the pedals if I was not clipped in. Ever had that happen on an old push bike? You get the revs up too high and your feet depart the pedals and the pedal whooshes around and collects you in the back of the ankle. Ouch.

The other thing with cleats is that instead of just pushing with your legs, you also pull on the upstroke. That gives you a much smoother action. I often see blokes on chunky old bikes giving it their all going up hill, and if they don't have cleats, their action sounds like RR-rrr-RR-rrr-RR. You can hear it - they put the power down, then there is a gap with no sound whilst the other foot comes over the top, and then the other leg pushes down and you get an RR. But because of the nature of the mechanics etc etc, there are "long" time lags where you are putting down no power at all.

With cleats, you get almost continuous power, because each legs pushes and pulls, rather than just pushing. That is something that takes a while to get used to.

The other thing is that they position your foot in the best bio-mechanical position. Some cyclists actually wear out their knees or snap their Achilles tendons due to bad seating and footing setup. If you get it wrong, you legs rotate in the wrong plane, and your knees go. If your stroke is too long, you can do your Achilles in. The cleat is positioned so that you push through the ball of your foot in the right plane - if you have old style pedals, the pedal always ends up under your arch, which is the wrong place to push from.

Now cleats are also an utter pain in the arse when you are not in the saddle. Walking in them is an invitation to fall over and break something, like an arm or a cocyx. I walk like I am treading on eggshells - very sloooowly and caaaaarefully.

Yes, I could take my shoes off before walking into a cafe, but in winter, that is an invitation to frost bite. Besides, some fat unfunny comedian would probably chose that moment to tread on my foot, clad only in a sock.

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