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Often described as one of the toughest bike races in the lower 48 states, the Arrowhead 135 challenges even the most prepared riders. This is a journal by a non-athlete's participation in an event where starting is often just as much a challenge as finishing.

boots, again
December 13, 2011
So it's been a while since I updated the blog, and it's been a busy few weeks so this will be a somewhat long report...

Training, other than pure riding, got kind of broken up for a couple of reasons. Thanksgiving day I ran a 10K with my daughter and kind of blew out my calf muscles. I wasn't surprised that it was hard for me - i'm not really a runner - but i was kind of surprised at how wrecked my legs were the next day. And the day after. :-)  Anyway, I hit the P90x recovery week, thanksgiving break and trying to recover from this run all at the same time, so I need to get back into a solid strength training routine.

Cycling has been pretty good, overall. Managed 500 miles in November with commuting and the long weekend rides. December has a less, but still good, pace going. A week ago I did the river bottoms in the snow again which was good. Except the part where I crashed. Into a creek. And got pretty wet. Its a bit of a story in itself but a small creek had washed out the trail and created a big crevasse. But before settling into a particular channel, the overflow over the trail created a big area of ice, and by the time I saw the crevasse I was on the ice. I tried to slow down, and my wheels went out from under me and I slid right into the creek. Splash. Fortunately I had good clothes on, and the only real problem was my fleece gloves were soaked. It was pretty warm - above freezing, so it wasn't really a dangerous situation, but my hands were getting cold. In the end I stripped off the fleece and just used my bare hands inside my mitten shells, which worked ok until the very end of my ride. The mitten shells are not really waterproof so the falling snow had begun to soak them. I was glad to get home that day.

Yesterday's 50-odd miles down there was a lot different and more pleasant. The trail itself is now a mix of dirt and snowpack, depending on how much sunlight the trail was getting. And it was again pretty warm, 30s, and so with sunshine it was not hard to stay plenty comfortable. One of the benefits of needing to train for something like the Arrowhead was the necessity to get out on the trail, and it was an enjoyable ride. I doubt that I would have gone riding were it not for the need to be training, and would not have had the experience. I went further than I have gone on this system, and still have yet to run out of trail. At one point the trail went between these absolutely massive oak trees. They must be over 100 years old (hundreds?). There were other parts of the trail that went though obviously very old oak forests - the benefits of a non-developable flood plain.  I just want to say again how much better this is to ride than the trails I was doing last year - its a lot more fun,  interesting and pretty. In defense of last year's efforts, however, at this point we had a lot more snow. In fact, it was exactly a year ago that we got a nice blizzard and over 16 inches of snow in one day. That made such a huge mess of everything for weeks. And the snow just kept coming.

One thing the few inches of snow (and quite cold temps that followed) did for me last week was prompt me to change pedals back to flats and ride with a warmer and fully waterproof boot. Commuting like this after riding this bike with clipless pedals made me realize how much more efficient being clipped in is.

[I realize this is a little confusing. "Flat" or "Platform" pedals are kind of what non-cyclists generally think of as pedals - you can wear any shoe and there is no mechanical connection between the shoe and pedal. A really long time ago in the history of bike racing, people discovered that "toe clips" - a cage that you slip your foot into that is attached to the pedal - improve performance a lot. So until the 80s or so a lot of bikes came with toe clips or pedal clips. Around this time manufacturers began developing pedal and shoe combinations that had an even better mechanical connection using a cleat on the bottom of the shoe that would lock into the pedal - they called these "clipless" pedals because they had no toe clips. This is why I'm "clipped in" when using "clipless" pedals - and also why I hate English...]

So this kind of sealed the deal for me about finding a solution that will enable me to keep my feet warm and also be clipped in on the Arrowhead. The bottom line is that if you properly attach a metal cleat to the boot, you're probably going to have to compromise the insulation value. Pretty much no matter how you slice it there is going to be a metal-to-metal connection from the outside to the inside of the boot. This is a risk. But the gain in efficiency is huge. Lots of guys have used variations of manufactured cycling shoes/boots and survived. I decided the risk was worth the efficiency gain, went down to my basement shop room, and set about hacking up my boots. Having decided to do this, I wanted to accomplish it as soon as possible to have enough time for testing and / or to replace the boots if there was a major problem.

The first step was to figure out exactly where to position the cleat on the bottom of the boot. I used photos of the bottoms of my boots and photos of the bottoms of the shoes Eric wore last year and used the computer to kind of overlay the images and establish a general position front-to-back. The cleat cannot be in the center of the boot - they are too wide. If I put the cleat in the middle, the inside edge of the boot would rub on the crank and it would be like having a little brake on each pedal stroke. The question is how much offset is necessary to avoid this. I took some pedal measurements, estimated how wide the boot would mush out while pedaling, checked Eric's shoes, and made a best guess.

From there I used a razor blade and Dremel tool to remove the necessary rubber cleats from the bottom of the boot (slicing my finger in the process), and used a hand drill to make some holes for the bolts. The rubber sole is very squishy, so a power drill would have just heated up the whole thing and really all I was doing is not so much making a hole as path for the bolts. I still had to "screw" the bolts through the sole. Because the sole is thicker than a typical cycling shoe, I needed a trip to the hardware store for longer bolts. On the inside, I used the plates from my old mountain bike shoes. The bolts go though the bottom of the boot and screw into a metal plate on the inside - this keeps the cleat from ripping off the bottom of the boot.

After getting things lined up and attached (which wasn't as easy as it sounds), I tightened the cleats down and tested them on my pedals. The first try was kind of a fail - the cleat would not release from the pedal - the boot sole was twisting. I had to pull my foot out of the boot and then release the cleat with a screwdriver. I tightened the cleat down more - really cranked on it - and that helped. However, I could see that the bottom of the boot was getting distorted and the sole was really compressing. This was bad for the insulation and the bolts were coming up inside past the plate. On the other boot, having the cleat tight enough to keep from twisting meant it would not engage properly; the sole was squishing around the engagement points. It was obvious that there was just too much pressure right on the small area of the cleat.

After some consideration, I cut an aluminum plate from some stock aluminum bar to go between the cleat and the bottom of the boot. That would spread the force out over a greater area as well as keep the sole from squeezing up around the cleat engagement points. Not that I wanted to add more metal to the situation, but being able to get my foot in and out of the pedal easily is critical. In any case, this solved the issues and the boots now working like my other cycling shoes.

Here is another tip. After I added the outside plate to the bottom, my bolts would not reach the inside plate, even though I knew that once I had the cleat tightened down they would be plenty long. So here is what I did: I took a really long bolt (something I had kicking around) and threaded that through one hole and tightened it down. This compressed the sole enough to allow me to put the proper bolt in the other side and get that started. Then I removed the long starter bolt and replaced it with the proper bolt.

The big question now is what have I done to their cold weather ability. Part of the solution will be to add a second insole. Last year I removed the original insoles and used cold weather SuperFeet insoles, which I liked. I did a test where I put the original insole back in over the cleat plate and then put the SuperFeet insole in over that. Everything fit ok, but obviously there is less space inside the boot for my feet and socks. If I feel like they are too tight, I'll pull the original insole back out and try to find something else to put over the cleat plate. Another possible change would be to replace the outside plate with something other than aluminum - a stiff plastic perhaps.

So the next steps are to go for a couple of test rides to see if the new cleats give my foot any discomfort, and wait for some cold temps to see if they cause any problems that way.

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