Dr Hutch column: Nothing revitalises a jaded cyclist like the click of new cleats
'New bar tape, neatly applied, feels faster than a new bike'
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If, just suppose, the joy you take from cycling started to wane a little, what would you do? It can happen occasionally. You just feel that the whole thing needs a bit of a kick to make it sparkle again.
As true bike riders, the way we’re supposed to deal with it is via “more” cycling. Try a different route, perhaps. Swap your riding companions for some different ones whose anecdote about allegedly beating Chris Froome in some time trial somewhere you haven’t heard already. Or try a new training programme, or a new race target.
Or we can just do what we know we want to do, which is go shopping. Buy something that will add to the excitement, improve performance, make you a more accomplished rider. (Or, more to the point, make you look like a more accomplished rider.) A new toy. It’s an instant fix and it even helps the cycling economy so it’s basically a charitable donation.
The question is, what? I’m going to tell you what I buy myself as a little treat, and you’re not to laugh at me. It’s pedal cleats. A nice new pair of cleats, which click in with a satisfying “clunk”, feel secure, don’t wobble about, and disengage with a crisp “snap”. There is even something satisfying about fitting them to the soles of your shoes with shiny bolts. For the money there is nothing to beat it.
Compare it with buying a new bike. There’s no point in doing that right now, obviously, you need to wait till the spring before you can ride it – or if you do buy it now and promise yourself you’ll wait till the mud stops, you won’t. Then for probably well over a 1,000 pounds all you’ll have bought yourself is guilt and self-recrimination and a bike covered in muck, just the same as your old one.
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Even if you wait till spring it is, at most, about 10 rides before it’s not “your new bike” and just “your bike”. Is that better value than, say, 100 pairs of new cleats?
It’s not even as if the actual performance benefits of a new bike are all that exciting – you don’t really know until you take it to a race whether it’s really made any difference or not. Schrödinger’s excitement is no excitement at all. In the days when the only performance metric about a bike that anyone cared about was weight, you could at least pick it up and emit a small gasp of pleasure. That doesn’t work so well with aero-drag, stiffness and grade of carbon-fibre.
The thing about a new toy is that it’s not about performance, but perception. What matters is that it feels different. Nice new bar tape, neatly applied, feels much faster than a new bike. New sunglasses are almost as thrilling. And in the depths of winter, I promise you there is almost nothing to match the life-affirming wonder of a new pair of gloves. It’s the things you touch and feel that make the most difference.
If you simply have to spend money, buy a bike computer – a little more expensive, but the one big plus with these is that you don’t even need to go cycling to play with it. You can sit on your sofa rearranging the screens, and pass every evening for literally weeks trying to get it to pair with your phone.
The sheer shallowness of this does bother me a bit. New toys, for a lot of us, work embarrassingly well as motivators, when really we ought to be above such things. One day perhaps we’ll grow up into the sort of people we know we ought to be. In the meantime, buy yourself some new cleats. You will not regret it.
How to...ignore a noise
The single most common topic of discussion on cycling social media groups (other than “Should I buy a new bike?” “Yes!”) is funny noises.
From the bottom bracket usually, often when out of the saddle. Or sometimes once per pedal revolution. Or totally random.
Many is the rider who has driven themselves to clinical certification trying to track such things down. It doesn’t help that bikes are accomplished ventriloquists – that noise from the bottom bracket is probably a loose saddle rail, or a noise from someone else’s bike altogether.
The other solution is to ignore it. Very few annoying noises are signifying anything very profound – if they were something serious it wouldn’t be the noise that would be your first concern.
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In general, it takes only a couple of decent-length rides to tune most noises out – like a ticking clock or the hum of an air conditioner it becomes part of the background, then fades away. You can tell you’ve mastered it if you ride with someone else, and they say, “What’s that noise? Is that my bike or yours?” and you honestly think it’s theirs because, while you can hear it when they mention it, it’s a noise you’re sure you’ve never heard before.
The happy upshot of that will be that not only has your bike ‘stopped’ making a noise, your mate will be up half the night with the Allen keys trying to fix it.
I’m writing to confess to something from my past. Many years ago, when a standard wheel had 32 spokes and a racing wheel had 26 spokes, I decided I needed to upgrade.
Alas, as a teenager in the dreary 1970s, I couldn’t afford it. So I had the brilliant idea of adapting the wheels I already had. I decided to remove every fourth spoke, which would, by dint of elementary arithmetic, reduce the number of spokes from 32 to 26.
What I didn’t realise until a little too late was that of course every fourth spoke is on the same side of the wheel.
Yours, Alec Tibbs, via email
Subscribers got to read all four of Dr Hutch's columns this month...here's what you missed out on
Unpredictability is the lifeblood of racing, but when it rains on your parade you better be prepared to ride through it
The brouhaha over Boris' ill-advised bike ride was quickly weaponised by those with an axle to grind. Plus ça change...
A puncture prompts some first-class generosity from a passing postie and stirs up a mixed bag of reminiscences from the Doc
This column originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.
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Michael Hutchinson is a writer, journalist and former professional cyclist. As a rider he won multiple national titles in both Britain and Ireland and competed at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. He was a three-time Brompton folding-bike World Champion, and once hit 73 mph riding down a hill in Wales. His Dr Hutch columns appears in every issue of Cycling Weekly magazine
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