As mountain bikers we buy gear. Hell, I would say that the majority of us love gear. Gear Freaks? Possibly. Whatever the case, we all get a buzz when we get a new bit of kit, especially when it pans out to be really good. But what happens if your fave bit-o-kit causes problems?
It all started at the 2002 Mont 24hr. The race for me started well, I could not have been happier. As day turned to night things became decidedly pear shaped. By 11pm the pain I was feeling was so intense it brought me to a crawl, almost to tears. People I knew passed me by and I limped my way around the course all too happy to finish up. That was the end of the race for me. The pain had swelled to a point that I could hardly walk for several hours and even the next morning walking was a very delicate ordeal.
The most puzzling about all of this was that I was in good shape. My training had been solid and supplemented with weights and all that. There was no real reason for something to blow up like that but the fact was that it did and I was completely stumped as to why. Almost a month off the bike did not help either, the pain was there and in fact it became worse every now and again. Finally in November I opted to go to a recommended sports physio. What can I say, but $800 later I was stretching my way to happiness.
Christmas came and went and I was riding again. The pain subsided, but did not go away fully. I kept stretching and opted to put up with it. I was a bit miffed that all the work I had done, not to mention money spent, had not eliminated the pain. What annoyed me more was that I was fully stumped as to what was causing it. In a previous article I mentioned that I thought we had found the source of the problems – throwing the knee. To some degree we were right and it was something a biomechanist would have only been able to discover. The thought of the knee being the cause of all the pain was, so it turned out, only part of the equation. That equation was not solved until last Friday, several months after we thought we’d solved it the first time.
Standing in a photography studio, the photographer was relating to me a story of how a serious racer type he knew turfed the Egg Beaters on his bike as they’d been causing knee pains. Once back on the spuds (or whatever he used) the pain went away. “Oh yea” I/we said, “that’s most probably because he came from spuds. If he had come from Time ATACs he would not have had an issue.” Usual complaint and I thought nothing of it. Two days later I go to Manly Dam with a friend to bash off a lap (and test a Santa Cruz Blur VPP!). Towards the end of the ride THAT pain came back, bad this time. Then it hit me. Is it the Egg Beaters? Could it be? I love these things, how can they be hurting me?
Well, I thought about it some more on the way back to the car and the more I thought, the more it made sense. Simply put, the troubles began around the time I put the Egg Beaters on the bike. Coincidence maybe, but then again… Getting home I hopped on the net and started to look for the answer. After a bit of searching I found that I am the victim if ITB (Iliotibial Band) Syndrome. This is usually the domain of runners but is found in cyclists and while it’s usually in the knee area, it is not unheard of to manifest itself in the hip/hip flexor/butt region. Not only that, but the cause in cyclists is usually associated with cleat placement. My symptoms matched. But now the question ‘why?’. The Egg Beaters are very similar to the Times I have, so what could be casing it? Out comes the tape measure. Well the Egg Beater’s rails are about 5mm more inboard than the ATAC’s and I do feel that the Egg Beaters are providing a lot more float. That said I have been finding that my foot does pop out of the Egg Beater quite a bit, which means that my foot is kicking out and wants to kick out more. 4 or 5mm does not sound like a lot, but in the world of biomechanics, where a 1mm saddle height change can make a huge difference, 4 or 5mm is like a meter. My leg as a whole might be used to the wider float platform offered by the ATAC and the restriction could be throwing out the whole leg aggravating the ITB.
I am reluctantly putting the ATACs back on the bikes and seeing what happens.
So, what does all this have to do with gear? Ahh, that’s easy. In our infatuation with gear we often overlook the fact that as a machine, our bodies are high precision instruments, far more complex that any bicycle will ever be. In our rush for the coolest things, we can overlook that no matter how cool they are, some of these parts are just not right for us. What we put on our bikes can have profound effects on us physically. A bad saddle can cause all sorts of comfort problems as well as a bunch of other more unpleasant things, while an ill fitting frame, wrong saddle height, bad bars or funny pedals can cause pain and if you are not quick, the pain can lead to further, longer lasting damage that can keep you off the bike for months.
While I love my Egg Beaters, they might not be right for me, no matter how cool they are. I am going to go and retry the ATACs so we’ll see what happens, at worst nothing, at best my pain goes away and I am a happy camper again.
Watch this space.
** Update **
OK, after returning to the ATACs and riding on them for the past four rides, I am pretty happy to say that the ITB Syndrome has vanished in terms of my riding. Several multi hour sessions on the bike with the ATACs and for the first time in months I did not experience a hint of pain. Want to know why?
What I found was that the EBs have an ever so slightly narrower rail that, as mentioned, also sit further further in board than the ATACs – about 4-5mm. If I look at the wear pattern on the ATACs it was clear that my foot drifted to the very outer edge of the rail (the plastic cap on the ATACs are a great measuring device!). As the EBs were closer in my leg was not sitting in it’s ‘natural’ position and the 4-5mm change was enough to annoy my ITB. 6 months of continued aggrevation let to a chronic problem that I am sure will take a while to go away fully. At least though I can ride pain free again :)