Friday, 27 April 2012

“SPRING KNEE” – by Nicole Oh, Physio at Pearson

Cycling is a highly repetitive sport, with a rider averaging about 5000 revolutions per hour of cycling, making overuse injuries of the knee commonplace amongst cyclists. The smallest amount of mal-alignment and incorrect distribution of load, whether anatomic or equipment related, can lead to dysfunction, impaired performance, and pain.

Overuse injuries occur when a tissue accumulates damage caused by repetitive submaximal loading. Repetitive activity fatigues a specific structure, such as ligament, cartilage, tendon or bone. Without adequate recovery, microtrauma stimulates an inflammatory response that can damage local tissue. Cumulative microtrauma from further repetitive activity eventually leads to clinical injury. In chronic cases, this continued process can result in degenerative changes that lead to weakness, loss of flexibility, and chronic pain. Thus, in overuse injuries, the problem is often not acute tissue inflammation, but chronic degeneration.

Anterior knee pain and patellofemoral pain syndrome are among the most common leg overuse injuries in cyclists. Injuries may be related to improper bike fit or equipment, poor technique, or inappropriate training patterns. Patients generally report that the pain is worse when the knee is loaded e.g. when climbing or descending stairs, during prolonged sitting or squatting, when climbing hills or pushing high gears. Chondromalacia, Quadriceps tendinosis, and Patella tendinosis are other conditions which can result in pain at the front of the knee and result from similar factors.

Knee Pain

This condition has been referred to as “Spring knee”, as it often rears its head with the onset of Spring, when the sun starts to shine and cyclists come out of hibernation! Either that, or they realise they should probably start training for that summer sportive they have entered, and hit the roads with too much vigour.

Some of the contributing factors in developing this type of knee pain include:

Muscle Tightness

Most cyclists' quadriceps and hamstrings will tighten with prolonged riding due to the repeated contraction and shortening of these muscle groups. Inflexibility of the quadriceps, hamstrings, or iliotibial band (ITB) may restrict range of motion around the knee and are likely to increase the forces on the knee.

Weak Leg Muscles

May lead to fatigue-induced alterations in pedalling technique, which will also alter the forces on the knee. As muscles fatigue, their ability to take load decreases, increasing forces through the joint.

Muscle Imbalance

Poor activation of the inside quad muscle (VMO) and/or tightness/overactivity of the outside quad muscle (vastus lateralis) and ITB can alter patella tracking, increasing load though one part of the knee.

Training Errors

Include heavy training loads and high mileage (beyond what the body is conditioned to do), or a rapid increase in training distance or intensity, especially hill work.

Gearing and Cadence

Pushing hard gears at low revolutions puts high load through the patella, whereas lower gears at a high cadence (85-90rpm) will put less load through the patellofemoral joint with each stroke.

Pedalling Mechanics

Inside drift (internal rotation) of the knee, especially during the push down phase (and when they are tired) can be due to weakness of the gluts or inside quads muscle (VMO). This increases the lateral forces on the patella.

Increased forces

Saddle Position

May be too low, too far forward, or both, causing excessive patellofemoral loading throughout the pedal cycle. When the saddle is low, the knee functions in hyperflexion, increasing compression of the patella on the femur.


Improper shoe cleat position or float may force the rider to pedal with poor biomechanics, increasing patellar forces. Cleats with excessive internal or external rotation may cause exaggerated tibial rotation, placing more stress on the anterior knee.

To treat and prevent “Spring knee”, you need to alter the amount of load going through your patella and surrounding tissues. Your Physiotherapist will be able to assess what is tight, weak, or simply not working properly, not only around your knee, but also around your foot/ankle, hip, pelvis and trunk, and design a program to address these issues. A cycling-savvy therapist will also be able to give you advice on training, technique and help you identify when you should rest or push on.

Finally, a comprehensive bike fit is essential, looking at the 3 points of contact – saddle, handlebars and foot/pedal – and all the variations of. The saddle (height, fore/aft, tilt, type), shoe (insoles, wedges, size, width, heel support), cleat (position, float), crank length, and handlebars (reach, height, angle, levers) all need to be addressed, and finding the right balance between comfort, efficiency and injury with so many variables involved, takes the skill of an experienced bike fitter!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Lighter Than Air written by Phil Cavell of Cyclefit

Thanks to Guy Pearson from Pearson Cycles for stepping up and helping with this review. My back problems are keeping me away from riding still.

Guy on a Guru

I did spend a fair amount of time on the Photon last summer and I managed to grab a short refresher this 2012 test-bike also. I value Guy's opinion greatly - I had a grudging respect for Guy for much of my racing career (he was on a different team) - we often seemed to end up in impossible breaks together and as a result contributed inordinate amounts of work to carry group of dandy free-loaders to the line. In short we are (in my case were) rouleurs not afraid to lean into the road ahead. Also like me Guy tends ride well in technical terrain where experience and smoothness keep momentum when some cannot resist the comfort of braking. We are also the same height and ten years ago resembled each other on the bike.

Guys Calves!Guy's calves give chainstays something to think about

And that's quite enough of the Guy love-in - lest we forget that nine years ago I would have happily burst my left lung to beat him in a sprint!

'An Engineer's Bike'

The design brief for the Photon was simple - build the lightest custom frame in the world ever. Sub 700 grams was the target weight. The actual frame the client receives will depend on their weight and riding style but between 650 and 750 grams is typical in our experience. This test-bike built up to 12 pounds or 5.8kg without any special effort at all.

LightweightJust 5.8kg!

To consistently achieve these unprecedented weights takes about forty man hours of precision engineering per frame. We were astonished when went to Guru in December just how labour intensive and micro-focused and controlled their carbon construction is - the whole place has the feel of a Formula 1 research lab.

Guru or Laboratory?Guru factory or NASA Lab?

Carbon But No Copy

A significant part of the Photon frame is constructed with unidirectional intermediate-modulus, high-strength carbon. This gives a good balance of strength, feel and weight to the Photon fuselage. But in key high load areas the structure is reinforced with an incredibly high-modulus carbon weave, which by nature is stiffer and lighter. To work at this level requires skill, precision and time that would simply not be economic on mass-produced frames.

40 Hours to Make a Photon!It takes 40 hours to make a Photon

Similarly Guru use a significantly higher fibre-to-resin ratio than most manufacturers so the volume occupied by resin is minimized to enhance mechanical properties provided by the carbon filaments.

The reason this is not industry standard is cost - the whole process is less forgiving and more time-intensive and therefore more expensive. This is only really possible on a handmade high-end product.

Flying The Photon

The Photon as outfitted here is exactly half the weight of my 1992 7/11 replica bike that is on display ten feet from where I am writing. Half the bloody weight! Now we are not weight obsessed here at Cyclefit but a bike this light writes its own script. Everything else is merely sub-plot because the main narrative is how different it feels to what you normally ride right?

And this is not the lightest groupset, with the trickest brakes or freaky tyres and seatpost. This is solid everyday gear with the addition of Lightweight's entry-level Ventoux wheels. What Guru has been able to do by beating the likes of Parlee and Cervelo, not by sliver but a few hundred grams is astounding. Partly in increasing the overall power to weight of the athlete but more especially in the dynamic balance between the rider and the bike. It just feels like a re-defined relationship to what most of us are used to most of the time. You have a sense of your relationship to things in life: the weight of a full kettle, closing resistance of your car-door etc. And when things interact vastly from your experience and therefore what you expect, it is a paradigm shift. It is bewildering.

Guy gets taken by surprise!The lack of bulk takes Guy by surprise

And bewildered sums up Guy's first experience.

"I did not expect that. Everything happens in a hurry - acceleration, turning, stopping. To start with the thing felt just to light to lean - surely it will fall over?"

You naturally expect so much to have been sacrificed for light weight - the first casualties being ride quality and strength. But this really is not the case. The Photon has a well attuned harmony and resonance with the road and rider. In the thousands of hours Guru spent making the Photon light they also overcame all the challenges to making it ride well and strong. Myself and Jules witnessed the destruction rig at Guru and what it can do to a bike - look at the little movie the from the Guru Factory.

The guru engineers are of the opinion that the Photon is the strongest carbon frame they have ever built.

Guy RidingThe eyes have it

We are about to equip GPM10 with Photon's as their staff bikes. Mark and his crew ride thousands of the toughest miles per year possible in all weathers. They crash a bit and throw the bikes on and off their roof-racks daily.

£4400 - Frame and fork - Full Custom

By Guy Pearson and Phil Cavell

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Right Fit

Bike shops

Bike shops are usually intimidating to beginners. When I was a boy, they were small, dingy places with sparkling steel racers sold by a nuggety old cycling pro who assembled them himself. Nowadays, they tend to be gleaming show-rooms, crammed with bikes starting at £1000 and ending with ethereal carbon slivers that cost more than a car.

When bought my first road bike I was intimidated by the higher end places and walked into the local branch of a large chain. Thirty minutes later, I had test-ridden one Giant and one Bianchi up and down the road assisted by a teenager who advised me I was a "medium" frame by standing next to me. I chose the Bianchi because it was the prettier of the two.

It was also the wrong frame size for me, it had too short a head tube, meaning I was to spend the next two years with my weight far too far forward for anything but a short sprint, it had no lugs for mudguards though I was planning to ride it all year round, and the stock tyres and brakepads were nothing short of lethal in the rain.

Worse, as my rides progressed from two laps of Richmond Park to 50 miles on a Sunday, I was plagued with sore shoulders, a sore back, a sore neck, cramps in my hands and cramps in both calves.

After many, many adjustments, a change of brakepads, pedals, pads, saddle, tyres, wheels, cassette and stem, I finally realized that the cause of most of my aches and pains on my increasingly-long rides was not poor fitness, it was poor fit. Which led me, belatedly to Cycle Fit at Pearsons.

Cycle Fit

Pearsons is a very nice bike shop indeed, and I have visited lots! It is located close to Richmond Park, right where I need it to be. It has approachable and knowledgeable staff, who do not laugh at foolish questions or push customers to buy things they do not need or that will not suit them or their style of riding. It has a coffee bar, an almost indispensable asset in the winter, when most of my rides seem to end there. I have lost count of the useful tips and bits of free advice and useful bits and pieces I have picked up there. Th├Ęse guys all ride, they all like bikes and they like people who like bikes. That isn't always the case in bike shops.

The Cycle Fit process would be a little daunting if it were not for the unflappable, methodical and reassuring presence of Stuart. He guided me through what is a fairly highly technical process, he answered my countless foolish questions and, like a magician, in two hours flat he identified what was wrong (everything) and set about putting it right.

I chose to abandon the bike I should not have bought, it is my winter commuter now. Even the cycle fit process could not rescue the wrong frame size and the wrong geometry, but I have now improved my position on it using the measurements provided and I can bear to ride it for up to an hour or two at a time.

I also ordered a custom- built bike, and I would say that the difference in comfort has to be experienced to be believed. I have now completed my first sportive (the Cape Town Argus) and a very hilly century ride in Surrey with less discomfort than rides of half that length round Richmond Park used to cause on my old bike. Because I am more comfortable I ride further, I ride faster and I enjoy my ride.

Guru Praemio - made to measure titanium

Guru Praemio - made to measure

Equally importantly, I have more energy and enthusiasm for playing with my kids when I get home every Sunday!

I would recommend a Cycle Fit session for anyone who is planning to ride a road bike for longer than one hour and or anyone who is planning to spend more than a few hundred pounds on a bike. You will save yourself a lot of time, money and discomfort in the long run.


Words by Dr. Mike McPhillips