Saturday, 11 July 2015

Time to Change

It is a fact as you get older that your body has a way of reminding you that you are no longer 18 years of age.  The spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak.  I suffered with knee pain in my right knee when I raced decades ago.  It forced a lay off from riding the bike for around 3 weeks at one stage.  Turns out that it was probably caused by having flat feet.  A conversation at work with a colleague who hard similarly suffered resulted in a visit to Hospital and the use of orthotics was recommended to correct the problem and casts taken.  I got two sets, one specifically for cycling and the other for everyday use.  Problem solved....or so I thought.  What I hadn't reckoned on was wear and tare to the knee joints over the years and arthritis in my right knee.

Years ago when I started cycling, pedals came in various styles for road, track and touring, but toe clips and toe straps were 'de rigeur'.  Rigid wooden soled cycling shoes with plastic shoe plates for use with quill pedals were invariably Italian, Sidi, Duegi and the brands imported by the late Ron Kitchin.  His catalogue 'Everything Cycling' was a drool fest for an impecunius teenager.  My first proper cycling shoes were a pair of Pete Salisbury leather shoes bought through his 'ad' in the back of 'Cycling'.  The shoes had a smooth flat sole to which I affixed T.A. shoe plates (a Ron Kitchin line) from my local bike shop run by a clubmate.  These were used for training, racing, commuting and touring. 

Pedals fitted to my bikes at the time were racing bike - Campagnolo Record quill road pedals.  There was a mail order cycling assessories company 'Freewheel' which sold it's lines via a glossy colour catalogue.  One of the lines they carried was 'Miche' pedals and hubs.  The hubs were a copy of Campagnolo 'Gran Sport' and the pedals were a copy of Campagnolo Super Record with the black anodised alloy cages.  However the axle was steel, unlike Campagnolo which was Titanium.  These pedals were good value and quality for the price paid and were fitted to my hack bike, however their achilles heel was the lack of spares.  Anyway, I digress. 

I seem to remember 'Look' pedals and shoes were the first of the then new generation of 'clipless' rigid cleat systems.  The pedals were single sided road pedals but Shimano later introduced it's double sided SPD pedals.  These were much better for general riding and touring.  These have been my preferred option with suitable shoes, however I started to suffer knee pain which became very uncomfortable at times.  After investigation it was diagnosed as arthritis.   Medical advice was exercise and learn to put up with the discomfort.  At times easier said than done.

I rode a vintage two day event a couple of years ago when I had been suffering a lot of knee pain.  I was apprehensive about the ride but decided to try it anyway.  Back to quill pedals and toe clips, very alien when used to SPDs.  However, I didn't suffer any significant discomfort when using the pedals, even when pushing down hard on the pedals, a big change for normal.  A couple of other longer rides using toe clips and pedals have convinced me to ditch SPDs.  I have converted my normal bikes back to quill pedals, toe clips and toe straps without ill affect.  

A friend recently on a vintage run related that he found that toe straps were too long.  Modern leather toe straps - I use 'Zefal Christophe' are thinner than the older best quality 'Alfredo Binda' which used to be a lot harder to fit through the quill pedal.  It was common practice to put a couple of twists on the toe strap while threading though the pedal.  It is a lot harder to describe than to show in a photograph.  I have to say my relative unfamiliarity with toe clips and toe straps have soon disappeared, old skills have been quickly re-learnt.  My enjoyment of cycling has improved due to the lack of on the bike knee pain.  My knees have certainly endorsed the change from SPDs.


  1. My very brief recent flirtation with cleats caused an old knee injury to flare up worse than it has in decades. Still hasn't gone away. Went back to clips and straps; so far so good.

    I believe cleats impose unnatural movement on your legs. We aren't made to move like metal machine components. Toe clips allow some variety of movement, so you get more natural, less debilitating joint function. Anyway that's my theory.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Robin

      Thank you for your kind comments. I have had a problem with my knees for years due to flat feet. Once I got the problem treated and orthotics for my shoes it settled down and I could use SPDs. I found them ok at first but gradually the knee pain returned. I did a two day V-CC ride using toe clips and quill pedals without any problems. I then fitted them to my utility bike with positive results. I have now ditched SPDs completely and returned to toe clips and quill pedals. I do not use any shoe plates on my shoes. I agree with your comments about movement and joint function. Hope it allows you to enjoy pain free cycling once again.