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Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel

Carrie Cheadle, MA ( is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese ( is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Fiona Lockhart ( is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier ( is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT ( is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg ( has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick ( is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

Scott Saifer ( has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel ( is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Richard Stern ( is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer ( is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Kim Morrow ( has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Fitness questions and answers for October 24, 2005

Piriformis syndrome
Antibiotic side effects
Leg length discrepancy
EPO and drug use
Narcolepsy, modofinil, and racing
Saddle fore/aft and stem length
Winter recovery
Boil washing shorts
Max HR
Saddle fit
Stationary riding
Custom orthotics

Piriformis syndrome

In response to Andy Bloomer's reply regarding piriformis syndrome, does he notice any difference in leg strength related to the numbness? I self-diagnosed myself with piriformis syndrome about 18 months ago, and notice that my left leg (affected leg) is significantly weaker than the right. My physio thinks that the numbness could be causing disruptions in the firing of the hamstring muscle.

Does he have any suggestions on convincing my physio on my condition? I'm currently being treated for numbness radiating from my left gluteus down the back/side of my leg, usually stopping at the knee. My physio is currently convinced that the numbness is caused by a disc issue in my back and is treating me accordingly. Any help is much appreciated.

Darik Russell

Andy Bloomer replies


Obviously Dave is far better qualified than myself to comment on your condition, all I can offer is anecdotes of my symptoms and what works for me and I may have incorrectly labelled what I have as piriformis syndrome. I get no weakness associated with the pain although I do get exactly the same symptoms; tightness in the butt and numbness/pain sometimes as low as the back of the knee. What I do to alleviate it is lie on my back, flex my right knee to 90 degrees with the right foot flat on the floor, place the left foot on top of the right knee then slowly draw the right knee toward the chestuntil I feel a stretch on the left butt.

Your physio may be treating you with 'McKenzie' type stretches (hyper extensions of the back) which did nothing for me and sometimes made the symptoms worse

Now that I've explained what I do it might help Dave to understand what might be wrong with us both.

Dave Fleckenstein replies


If I might be so rude to interrupt, I have some thoughts on your condition, as this is something that I treat with frequency and have posted on in this column previously. The branch of the sciatic nerve that is most associated with the piriformis corresponds with lateral calf sensation and pain. This is the "true" piriformis syndrome, and I find that the term "piriformis syndrome" is given to any buttock pain without differential diagnosis. (Indeed people have labeled me a "piriformis syndrome" rather than stating the more obvious...) Most often, the pain that you are describing truly is associated with a nerve root irritation, and I would look more aggressively at those sources of injury, particularly given the weakness that you state you have.
Interestingly, many people get relief of back pain with piriformis stretching, but not because the piriformis was the source of the pain.
Check out another old post to see if this helps to explain.

Antibiotic side effects


Thanks for all the informative articles in the past. If you haven't covered this topic, I have a question regarding possible side effects of this "nuke and pave" antibiotic my doctor prescribed. When he gave me Avelox (Moxifloxacin), he warned me not to exercise. At all. Walking, yes. Hiking, no. No riding, no lifting, no yoga or pilates. (No drinking, thanks to another drug he assigned me - great, now how am I going to spend these two weeks?) However, I found this in the drug literature:

"Fluoroquinolones [Avelox's classification] may rarely cause inflammation or even tearing of a tendon (the cord that attaches muscles to bones). If you get sudden pain in a tendon after exercise (for example, in your ankle, back of the knee or leg, shoulder, elbow, or wrist), stop taking the fluoroquinolone and check with your doctor . Rest and do not exercise until the doctor has made sure that you have not injured or torn the tendon."

Now I'm confused. Can I do some easy spins on the trainer, as long as they don't stress a tendon? Could I easily do yoga or pilates?


D Turner
San Francisco, CA

Kelby Bethards replies


I do not know if they have had any ruptures of tendons with Avelox, but like you said it is what we call a class effect. The risk of tendon rupture is rare, but a risk. I think your doctor was just being very cautious. It is impossible to do any exercise without "stressing" a tendon, as every muscle has a tendon that connects it to a bone. But, like you said, mild exercise may be perfectly ok.

I guess the question I would have is why are you on Avelox, as it does seem like a big gun to me for someone as generally healthy as cyclist tends to be? The problem I would see with Yoga or Pilates (especially the latter) is that they certainly would stress tendons. Anything that stretches a muscle, stresses a tendon. The one we (physicians) tend to worry about with the fluoroquinolones, is the Achilles.

So, for the short period of time you are on Avelox for, just be careful. It won't hurt you, but a ruptured tendon would.

Leg length discrepancy

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question (in detail, I might add). I know how hard it is to answer these kinds of questions without having all the information, but I figured I would see what you thought about possibility of the shorter side pelvis being anterior rotated. I truly enjoy reading your column and respect your opinion. The largest leg length issue I've had to deal with is a rider who had one side 4.0cm shorter than the other from a bad fracture (the result of being hit by a car). I corrected for half the discrepancy but he was still experiencing ITB and knee pain on the shorter side. Perhaps I would have had more success with your 5mm:1mm suggestion. Thanks again.

Adam Baskin

Steve Hogg replies


Good question. I don't know, I try to answer on the basis of what people tell me and what my experience tells me is the likely occurrence. I have answered similar questions before in greater detail canvassing the issue that you raise, and sometimes [quite possibly erroneously] assume that people have researched the archives. The basic tenor of query was that the gent concerned had a leg length discrepancy and was getting conflicting advice on whether to use a heel lift or a packer. I felt that I answered that correctly. He didn't ask "do I indeed have a leg length discrepancy?"

To broaden the scope of your query somewhat; the only thing I will believe regarding leg length discrepancies is a waist down x ray in a standing and hence load bearing position with limb segments measured from joint centre to joint centre. I don't have those facilities but inferences can be made. I liken human bodies to an incomplete jigsaw in that I may never be able to see the entire picture, but if I have enough pieces, I can make a reasoned judgement. In the sense of positioning someone, I examine them thoroughly and make them jump through some metaphorical hoops. That gives me info about their function and symmetry.

Ultimately though, I don't care how a given rider presents off the bike, I only care about how they function on the bike, the rest is background info. The key on the bike is to start at the pelvis and work outwards. If there are pelvic asymmetries of function on the bike, do whatever is necessary to resolve or minimise that. Then continue outwards to the legs, torso and arms. This sometimes means that people with no measurable limb length differences may end up with a packer or not, depending on how they function, not how they measure. Occasionally too, people with measurable discrepancies may need no packer, again depending on how they function.

In between those is every possible permutation. One interesting case that I had last year was a gent with what appeared to be a 12 - 15mm measurable discrepancy. He was extremely flexible and because of the way he compensated [sat slightly askew on the seat in a way that defied my various attempts to straighten him] left with only a 3mm shim under the cleat of the short leg. Now that he was alerted to the asymmetry, he saw various people and over time effectively "decompensated" in a postural sense. He is into detail and as well as seeing a good physio and chiro, had all his walking shoes modified [the soles removed, a 10mm full length buildup fitted and the soles reglued/stitched]. His good flexibility allowed him to cope easily with this. Over time, because he had "decompensated", I needed to increase the buildup under the cleat of his short leg to 12mm. Lastly, your last sentence doesn't sit well with me. No theory, fact! There will ALWAYS be a compensation for a leg length discrepancy.

There are a variety of ways to compensate, some of them very individual. Equally, there will ALWAYS be a compensation for a functional leg length discrepancy. It too may take a wide variety of forms, some much more common than others.

Adam Baskin then responded:

I'm just wondering; how do you know that the leg length discrepancy isn't being caused by a greater anterior pelvic tilt on the shorter side? That would sort of throw a wrench in your entire compensation theory.

Adam Baskin

Steve Hogg replies


When there is a discrepancy of the order you mention, then often it's impossible to gain a good cleat position taking into account what I have previously said about moving the cleat back 1mm for every 5mm of shimming. Often custom shoes need to be made with a build up in the sole and altered placement for the cleat mounting holes on the built up shoe. The cleat position I have mentioned on various posts tends to equalise loads front and rear on the upper limb and knee, and so may be an option.

Differing crank lengths needs to be thought about and things like that. I am not trying to second guess you, you can see your client, I can't, but if your guy still has strain in the hip flexors and knee, he may well be over reaching on that side. There is always a way with leg length discrepancies no matter how large.

I have some time at the moment so here are two quick stories:

1. Polio victim: 50mm of leg length discrepancy, five shoe sizes of foot length difference, 75 mm of arm length discrepancy, and small hemi pelvis, all on right side. I could not pack up the short leg cleat more than 10mm because the rider had limited control over the withered leg and could not cope with a larger packer than 10mm.

Effective solution [after much trial and error] - redrilled right shoe so that cleat of long leg was just in front of heel. This stretched the long leg out much more and allowed me to lower the seat height. 10mm shorter crank on right side, re-drilled right shoe and moved cleat to under toes [very limited ability to exert force on this leg, it basically coasts, so cleat position not an issue] which allowed short leg to reach further. 10mm packer under right cleat and steel seat rails bent so that seat rolled to right about 15 degrees. Because of polio, he has never been able to ride off the seat, as the withered arm will not support weight, so none of these things I have listed were a problem. To cope with shorter arm [which has no strength] I reversed a Spinaci bar which allows him to shorten his reach noticeably on the short side. He already had all his controls on the left bar.

Result: Previously had considerable back pain after 30kms on bike. Now has no pain on 120km rides which is longest ride he does regularly. Understand too that this man is not Joe Average and neither can the solution be average.

2.Vietnam vet: had the rear third of his right knee shot out, was missing all but big toe on right foot with a lot of forefoot amputated and missing 50mm of bone length in femur. This left him with a massive pelvic tilt to the right and large scoliosis with single full length of the sacral/lumbar/thoracic spine scoliosis. Lives in a remote area and had never had any kind of intervention. No pain walking, plenty of back pain on bike. Had x rays of spine showing permanent lengthening of vertebrae on outside radius of scoliosis and shortening of the vertebrae on the inside radius of the scoliosis. Pedals massively toe down on right side and drops heel noticeably on left side. The limiting factor is the right side hip/lower back is locked up massively. This means that if his right cleat is packed beyond 20mm his right ilium lifts off the seat at the top of the stroke.

Solution [other than rejigging seat and bar placement]was to put him in custom made shoes, which given his damaged right foot, were substantially different in shape and size, with a 20mm build up in the sole of the right shoe. After some mucking around, I realised the best solution was to accept his asymmetric pedalling style and set the seat height at a reasonable height for the longer leg and build up the shoe of the short leg only enough so that he didn't lift the right ilium off the seat.

Result: He looked substantially different on each side but was smooth and pain free.

I only tell you this to illustrate there is always a way, if you think and observe long enough and hard enough - best of luck with your 40mm client.

Dave Fleckenstein replies


Your question is valid and one that we touch on frequently. Here's an older column that discusses this. I know that in multiple columns Steve has addressed both true and functional leg length discrepancy. We write these columns having often answered similar questions in the past, and tend to take these issues as part of the current conversation. I can tell you that, being one who views asymmetries very suspiciously and is slow to jump and correct them (mainly because of poor intra and inter-relater reliability in measuring them, as well as the fact that small asymmetries are the norm), Steve's methods are quite effective.

EPO and drug use

I was just wondering what EPO does that helps the body so much and consequently means it is a banned substance. Also what are the side effects? I've heard that it can cause blood clots. I'd appreciate your view, thanks.

Chris Bowie,


Pam Hinton replies

Hi Chris,

Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone that tells the bone marrow to, "make more red blood cells." EPO is produced in the kidney when the amount of oxygen present in the tissues is abnormally low. Factors that cause low oxygen concentration in the tissues are: impaired lung function; heart disease; anemia; and lower relative oxygen concentration in the atmosphere due to lower atmospheric pressure (altitude) or due to an artificial hypoxic environment (hypoxic tent).

EPO causes stem cells in the bone marrow to develop into red blood cells (instead of white blood cells or platelets). The most immature red blood cells released from the bone marrow into the circulation are reticulocytes. Initially, the reticulocytes can make more hemoglobin, but they lose this capacity as they transform into mature red blood cells; this process takes approximately 3-5 days. The ratio of reticulocytes to mature RBCs will increase with EPO use and it is sometimes used as evidence of doping. Mature RBCs have a lifespan of about 120 days. Once they are no longer functional, RBCs are degraded in the liver and spleen. The iron is "scavenged" and transported back to the bone marrow for use in hemoglobin synthesis.

Everyday, approximately 300 million RBCs die and are digested. In one year, 6 pounds of hemoglobin are recycled. In a healthy, endurance-trained male about 40-45% of blood volume (i.e., hematocrit) is red blood cells. A 2002 study of 169 male national team cyclists found that the average hematocrit was 45 ± 3 %. A hematocrit of 50% or higher is "suspicious" of blood doping, either by transfusion or by artificially stimulating production of red blood cells. As the proportion of blood cells in the blood increases, the blood becomes viscous and does not flow as readily through the blood vessels. The combination of thick blood and low resting heart rate is the explanation given for the deaths of several pro cyclists while they were sleeping. To increase your hematocrit without endangering your health, you need to stimulate red blood cell production and provide your bone marrow, the nutrients that it needs to make new cells. Endurance training, particularly high intensity interval training, stimulates red blood cell production by creating a temporary oxygen deficit during exercise. Beyond training, you could stimulate red blood cell production by spending approximately four weeks at altitude (if you currently live at low altitude).

The improvements seen in performance with altitude training last approximately two weeks after returning to sea level. Alternatively, you could buy or rent an altitude tent. Without the necessary nutrients, no amount of training or altitude exposure will increase you hematocrit. Obviously, iron is needed to make hemoglobin, but vitamins B12, B6, and, folic acid are needed for DNA synthesis and cell replication. Take care.

Andy Bloomer replies


Put simply, EPO is a naturally occurring substance within the body linked with the production of red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen around the body so theoretically the more you have the more oxygen you can transport leading to better performance in endurance events that derive energy from aerobic metabolism.

The hematocrit value you may have heard of is the percentage of blood that contains the formed elements and typically represents around 45% of the total blood volume in a healthy male subject (around 40% in females). The vast majority of these formed elements is made up from red blood cells so the hematocrit can be used as an indirect measure of red blood cells. The remaining portion of the blood is plasma (around 55%).

The artificially produce version of EPO was developed to treat conditions where a patients own stores of EPO created insufficient red blood cells. When administered to a healthy subject it has the effect of producing greater red blood cells than normal and therefore increasing the hematocrit. If left unchecked, the hematocrit could increase too much leading to the blood becoming more viscous than usual and running the risk of forming clots with dangerous consequences (strokes and heart attacks for example).

Early problems with EPO abuse were that you could not test for it as it was a naturally occurring substance (you can't test positive for EPO) and you could only infer abuse from an unusually high hematocrit. That was the reason the UCI imposed the 50% rule. Anyone with a hematocrit of over 50% was suspended from racing to protect their own health. They were not automatically branded a cheat as there was no way of saying whether their level was artificial or otherwise. Hope that helps - other panellists may know more on the subject

Narcolepsy, modofinil, and racing

I've been reading about other issues related to training and optimal performance [quite a nice section, by the way], but I have not seen my medical condition addressed for some time.

Unable to race the past few years because of a nagging back injury that seems to be improved, I am now facing a return to the sport I have loved for decades. But my narcolepsy is making a return to fitness a daunting task. Where I would expect to be tired because of the ever-increasing demands placed on my system, the normal overnight recovery after a long training day takes longer [I suspect] because I am just plain tired, and give in to the sleep that is all-too-common with narcoleptics.

But the one medication that actually HELPS me without elevating my heart rate to unnaturally high levels - modofinil [brand name PROVIGIL] - is, as I understand it - a prohibited substance. What can I do? Will a doctor's prescription suffice? The last time I raced, I was taking provigil under my doctor's supervision, and my sleep and workouts were at a wonderful equilibrium. Have things [rules and such] changed since 2002?

The mostly reverend Mr. Grandpa Kim,

The orphanage, capitol city, Iowa

Kelby Bethards replies

The mostly revered Mr Grandpa Kim,

You are in a tight spot. (Not really, only if you are going to race in a national caliber or international caliber event)

You are correct in that modofinil is on the 2005 banned substance list. There is a possible exemption for when you begin to do national and international competitions. You can seek what is referred to as a Therapeutic Use Exemption. This states that you may use certain substances (I am paraphrasing, at best, the anti-doping rule book) in the case that you have a documented condition and need said substance to treat that condition.

Where you may be hung out to dry is in the rule, which states that the said substance cannot give an added benefit to performance. Modofinil is in the stimulant class of medications and although it may not be much more activating than the layman's caffeine, it may not be interpreted as such. Look the rules over at the following site:

Have a look at this document. The rules are in the Therapeutic Use Exemption chapter (IV). Given that I know your background and ability to "interpret" the rules maybe you can find a better loophole. Till then, keep taking your meds and racing.

Saddle fore/aft and stem length

Hello Cyclingnews.

Many thanks for this column. Most useful.

I have followed Steve Hogg advice of "hands let go off the drops and try to support the torso" method to help me to find a good saddle fore/aft position in relation to the B/B. I moved my saddle back a total of about 15mm (gradually) and now I can almost pass the no-hands test. My on-bike (avg speed) performance has improved. Thank you Steve!

I say almost pass the test because in order to pass the test fully I had to move the saddle further back about 5mm and my pedalling performance (and average speed) actually decreased. So I moved it forward again by about 5mm but now it is harder for me to pass the no-hands test even though my performance (average speed) is better.

My question therefore is: could it be that my stem is a bit too short to pass the test? I ride with a 100mm stem right now. Perhaps if I got a 10mm longer (i.e. 110mm) stem I would be able to "pass the no hands test" in current saddle fore/aft position?

And what are the tell-tale signs of a stem being 10mm-20mm too short? I know about guides like "wheel hub obscured by handle bar" etc. Are they good and valid?

Thank you in advance!

Yuri Budilov,

Melbourne, Australia

Steve Hogg replies


I am glad that you are performing better. Regarding stem length; when you are on the drops you should feel like holding the position is easy and without strain on the arms, neck or shoulders. When you take your hands off the bars, don't think that you should be rock solid. Some people can be, but they are exceptional and usually have superior core strength. Most people teeter to some degree and that is fine as long as they can control that reasonably well.

The idea is to have the seat back the minimum distance that allows the torso to be cantilevered out from the pelvis, without needing to enlist much in the way of upper body musculature to support the torso.
Doing this well will free up the torso for breathing purposes and ensures that the maximum effort neurologically and physiologically can be devoted to propelling the bike rather than maintaining the position.
How far the seat needs to be back is a huge variable and depends on the proportions, functionality and pedalling technique of the rider. Just one example: if we have a rider with a long torso who is inflexible, he will ride in the drops with a flexed torso. So this means that despite having a long torso in a measurable sense, his functional torso length on a bike may be significantly shorter than that, and so does not need to have as large a seat set back as a more flexible clone.
Why am I telling you this?

Because you may not need to have your seat the 5mm further back. If you can say genuinely that you are of above average flexibility and core strength then you may indeed need to go back the extra 5mm. If you are not, the decreased performance you experience suggests that you keep your seat where it now is and adjust the front end of the bike around that.

There is a margin for error and it's approximately 5 mm either side of ideal. If at the rearward end of this, there will be very good leverage, moderate grade hills will be easy but steep hills will be a comparative struggle and the ability to pedal fast will be diminished. If at the forward end of this range, high cadences will be easy, the rider will lack leverage in a comparative sense and steep hills will, relatively speaking, feel better than moderate grades. Ideally, the rider should be able to all of this; pedal fast when they choose and push a big gear when they choose with ease relative to their abilities and fitness level.

Have you got a good relationship with a bike shop? If so, borrow a few stems and try various lengths out. You don't want the length that feels o.k. on a good day for a short ride. You want the stem length that feels like you could ride on the drops for a long time relative to the time you spend on a bike with ease.

What are the tell tales if the stem is too short?
It varies from person to person but a simple solution if you can borrow several stems is to keep increasing the length until under race conditions it is obviously too long. A good stem length will be typically 10mm shorter than that if you are reasonably body aware and perhaps 20mm shorter if you are not particularly body aware.

Winter recovery

I have started my winter recovery phase. Is it possible to recover on the bike? I don't like running or other high impact sports as they hurt my ankles and knees. Though I live at the base of the Sierra mountains, I also avoid skiing for the same reason (some say I'm crazy)…

Thus, I'd like to have an "on the bike" recovery program. My plan is to do no stress spinning rides for 60 to 90 minutes at my warm-up HR (120-130 bpm) five or six times per week through the end of December. A good portion of it will be on a mag trainer due to weather. How does such a plan strike you?

My stats: male, 39 years old, 5' 11" (1.8 m), 167 lbs (75.9 kg), 72 VO2 Max, RHR: 38, MaxHR: 193, no power stats, not a fast twitch fibre to be seen, climber, can climb at 160-170 bpm for a long time. I'm a non-competitive endurance rider.


Jim Strange

Scott Saifer replies


Whether your plan is a true recovery plan depends on how much and how hard your training has been. So far as physiological recovery is concerned, three months of low intensity should work well. So far as psychological recovery, I question riding 5-6 days per week. At least for riders who routinely put in big miles 6-7 days per week through the training and events season, recovery is about having a period where you don't have to train so that you can recover emotionally from the stress of having to train all the time as well as from the physical stress of that training. I usually suggest every other day or less frequent exercise during the recovery period.

I also question the need for almost three months of recovery. Even top pros doing 100 races a year manage to recover in a month more or less before beginning training for the following year. Your question implies that one should cross train during the recovery period. This is not a bad idea since some variety will keep training fresh, but if you are still loving riding the bike and not planning to push for huge miles next year, staying on the bike through the recovery period can work well.

Since you live near the Sierra but don't want to risk injury from skiing, you might consider cross country skiing, which provides a great aerobic workout, some variation from cycling, and much less danger than downhill. If you do go, you'll likely see me on the trails.

Boil washing shorts


Unfortunately I had to go to the doctor the other week due to an incredibly itchy groin. It turned out to be a fungal infection, (a result of sweaty cycling shorts) which he has given me some antifungal cream and wash for, which seems to be working nicely. However he told me to wash all my underwear in a boil wash, to reduce the chance of reinfecting myself. Cycling shorts usually say wash at 30 or 40 degrees centigrade; surely it will ruin them if I do them at 60? Is there another way to clean them to make sure there is no risk of re-infection? Thanks.

Matthew Eastwood

Scott Saifer replies

Hi Matthew,

I have had the very itchy fungal infection of the groin once. It cleared up quickly when I used an antifungal cream and washed my shorts in cold water with no reinfection problem. I don't know that there aren't different fungi with different resistances to washing or that I was not lucky.

Max HR

I am a 21 yr old cat.3 cyclist. For the past two months (Aug/Sept) I had been doing some serious training directed by an ex-pro as my coach. (LT intervals, motor pacing, power intervals, etc.) I started using my HR monitor again (I had stopped because I was using a power meter to gauge my efforts instead). One day while in a race I was curious to see how high I could get my HR. So after the race was done, I looked at the watch, and it said that my max was 237. I immediately thought this to be absurd and figured since a lot of people were wearing their HR monitors, that I was getting interference from other riders. But then another day when I was doing motor pacing I came home looked and it said 217. This time I was really puzzled, since it was only me and the car I was riding behind. Now, I've been training with the thought that my max HR was somewhere near 200-205, but now I am not so sure. Should I change my HR training zones to reflect the 230 max? Or is something else going on here?

Giancarlo Bianchi

Scott Saifer replies


When you train by heart rate, it is important to have a correct measurement of your maximum and threshold heart rates. Otherwise you are training by the wrong heart rates.

Since you are unsure of your true maximum heart rate, you should test it formally enough that you are sure of the reading. Many things can give a false high reading on the HRM. Two common ones are riding near sources of interferences (high-tension power lines, some building alarm systems, radio transmitters, other riders with HRMs), or a loose HRM strap combined with flapping clothing. If you just look at the max on the monitor after a ride, you don't know when the max occurred. If you watch the monitor while making a maximum effort, you can see if the heart rate rises as the effort rises and then drops off again, or if it happens at some odd time. If it rises and fall smoothly, it's probably real.

Finally, if the heart rate on the monitor rises suddenly even though you are not making a major effort, you might have a heart problem that should be looked at by a doctor, so it would be a really good idea to know when and how your heart rate is rising towards 237.

If you are working with a coach, he or she should really be answering these questions for you.

Saddle fit

I have a question regarding the fit of a saddle in relation to the sit bones. I have been riding for about a year and a half, and originally started on a thickly padded saddle because I couldn't stand to ride on a racing saddle for more than a few minutes. As I progressively added miles, and improved my equipment, I became more comfortable. I now ride a Selle San Marco SKN that is 140mm wide. My sit bones are approx. 105 to 110 mm apart at the points, and I find that on longer rides (35 miles +) that I end up "eating the saddle", and numbness sets in. I am 37 years old, 5'11", 200 lb (I know, I know...but I'm big-boned!) and I ride a 55 cm Litespeed Tuscany about 100 miles per week.

The SKN saddle has a decent cutout, so it seems more to be that the saddle is too narrow. My question is how much wider should the saddle be than the sit bones in order to position them in the location that would provide the best support? I know that saddle comfort is highly suggestive, and that if possible I should try a saddle out before purchasing it, but that is often difficult. I have been looking at the Strike Pro Plus saddle, as it has a larger width (159 mm) and an incredible cutout, but could it be too wide for me? Or perhaps not wide enough? I am loath to spend $250 for another saddle if the one I have is sufficient and I just need to do something different, or should really look for something wider. Thanks in advance for your help.

Joshua Neel

Reno, Nevada

Scott Saifer replies


I'm glad to hear that you've been able to ride with less padding on the saddle as you've ridden more. I've assumed that as one develops a smoother, less bouncy pedal stroke and as one decreases pressure on the saddle by pushing down more one should need less padding, but since most of my clients have started out already pretty serious about their training, I've had little opportunity to test the theory.

The important measurement on the saddle is not the over-all width, but the width of the relatively flat platform at the back where the sit-bones will sit. The flat part needs to be about as wide as the sit-bone spacing. Of course the exact width of the "flat part" is open to discussion since saddles generally curve away gradually from that flat part.

Even a perfect saddle can leave you numb if you don't have it positioned optimally. If you have not already done so, search the archives on this forum for Steve Hogg's suggestions on saddle position. Adjustment is a lot cheaper than replacing saddles, and can do more for comfort.

Stationary riding

I just set up an old bike on my stationary trainer. But after a hard 45-minute ride I have little flakes of rubber all over the floor, and my rear tire is completely bald. I didn't even have it set particularly hard. Is this just a fact of life, or am I doing something wrong? Thanks.

Thai Jones

Albany, NY

Scott Saifer replies


You either have inadequate contact force between the resistance drum and tyre or the drum is misaligned.

The drum should press into the tyre about 1/8 inch (3mm) or a little more. If the drum doesn't press into the tire, the tire slips and burns. Most trainers have some sort of adjustment for this. Some others you can put a shim under the resistance unit to make it press more firmly against the tire. If the tire is undersized, (MTB tire on a road-only trainer or 650 wheel) you may not be able to fix this problem on the current trainer and may need to get a trainer designed to work with smaller wheels.

In one case I've seen the drum axis was not parallel to the wheel axis, as a result of which the tire scrubbed across the drum with every revolution. The smell of burning rubber was a clear indicator that something was not right. This is the sort of thing that someone mechanically inclined might want to try to repair, but I would return to the source for refund or replacement, since the drum is not supposed to be able to be misaligned.

The final possibility which I hope you've already checked is that your tyres are under-inflated so there is inadequate tire pressure against the drum. Good luck.

Custom orthotics

I need to get a new pair of orthotics and I was looking for a recommendation if you have any for me. I live in Palo Alto, CA (Northern California, close to San Francisco) I have just moved from Philly and don't know anyone good yet.

Thank you for any recommendations and keep up the good work, I start and end every day with you.

K. Rennie

Fiona Flockhart replies

Phil Astrachan is a physical therapist and cycling coach in San Francisco who does custom orthotics. His contact information is:

Phil Astrachan, MS PT, CSCS
Physical Therapist
CTS Certified Cycling Coach
Presidio Sport & Medicine
1162 B Gorgas Avenue
P.O. Box 470607
San Francisco, CA 94147
415-561-6655 (T)
415-561-6650 (F)


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