Monday, 13 June 2011

Putting Your Foot Down

Enough people have asked me about this now that I thought it worth writing about: How do I put a toe down in traffic while remaining on the saddle, and also manage to get full leg extension on the downstroke? I will try to explain.

First off, let me clarify that I get "more or less" full leg extension, and obviously my leg would be even straighter if I had the saddle higher. So there is a bit of give and take to it. But the idea that your leg needs to be arrow-straight on the downstroke with the toe on the pedal and the heel raised, is not one that everyone subscribes to - especially not cyclists in cities where riding a bike for transportation is common. In Vienna, I would say that about half the cyclists I saw had their saddles adjusted so that they could touch the ground with a toe. Based on the pictures here, this seems to be the case in Copenhagen as well. When riding in cities with frequent intersections and stop signs, it can be tedious to get on and off the bike every 3 minutes. Being able to put a toe down makes things easier.

Another point, is that some bicycles' geometries work better for this than others: Typically, Dutch-style city bicycles have very relaxed seat tube angles, which increases the distance between the saddle and the pedals while keeping the saddle height constant. A lower bottom bracket helps as well, though not as much as a slack seat tube. You can watch this video of Dottie starting and stopping on her bike to get a better idea of how this works on a Dutch bike.

Finally, this may not be sufficiently noticeable in pictures, but I lean my bike to the side in order to reach the ground with a toe. I also keep my other foot on the pedal for balance. I cannot reach the ground with both toes, and I cannot even really reach with one toe unless I lean. This is something that becomes instinctive if you do it often enough. Alternatively, you could set the saddle lower. I've basically raised mine as far as I possibly can, while still managing to reach with one tip-toe while leaning.

Adjusting your saddle so that you can stop with a toe down is mainly about convenience. Some cyclists prefer this method, while others feel that not having their leg 100% straight on the downstroke robs them of power. How do you stop in traffic when cycling for transportation? And is it the method you've always used, or did you develop it after some trial and error?


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