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Aligning Slotted Shoe Cleats

With the growing popularity of events like Eroica where vintage bikes must be used with old school toe clips and straps, there is a need to know how to align slotted shoe cleats.

Slotted Cleats for use on modern shoes with a standard 3 bolt system, are available from Yellow Jersey. These cleats only use two of the three screws. The reason being that with this old school system, the strap is what holds the foot to the pedal, the cleat is just there to prevent any fore and aft movement. Therefore two screws are enough and also two screws allow adjustment for angle.

But where do they go, and how do you know they are aligned properly? Well read on and I will explain. When I started racing in the 1950s, cycling shoes had leather soles and the cleats were nailed on. So we had to get them positioned right, there was no such thing as “Pedal Float.”

The slotted cleats were usually made of aluminum and came in a little packet with enough nails to get the job done.

Remember this was in the days before God invented Tennis Shoes. (or Trainers in the UK.)

Every household had a shoe repair kit that included a cobblers last, which is a cast iron foot that holds the shoe while you hammer nails in it. (Picture above left.)

The first thing we did with a new pair of shoes was go for a ride without cleats. The toe clips held the foot in place, and after a 20 or 30 mile ride, the pedal would make a mark on the sole of the shoe. This mark acted as a rough guide to where the cleat should be, but there were also a few simple alignment checks that I will pass on.

We nailed the cleat on using just a few nails, then went for a test ride. When we were satisfied the cleats were in the right place, we hammered in the rest of the nails. As usual, my post contains a little bit of history. If we look back at how we got where we are today, often the problems we encountered in the past are a clue to solving the problems of today.

The first thing to do with today’s set up, is clip in your regular shoe to your clipless pedals, and measure from the pedal spindle to the toe. It is important you replicate the same foot position with your old school pedals, as this is what you are used to, and a different position will affect saddle height and other things.

This is shown in the picture above as measurement “A.” Position the slotted cleat so you attain this same measurement. Choose a toe clip that will allow clearance between the toe of the shoe and the inside of the clip.

1/16 to 1/8 inch is ideal, slightly more is no big deal. What you don't want is your toe pressing hard against the inside of the clip. Sore toes will result, and maybe some blackened toe nails. If the clips are too short, they can be packed out with washers or nuts between the pedal and toe clip.

The cleats are aligned as follows. With the shoes side by side, soles and heels touching, the slots in the cleats are in a straight line across both shoes. You could drop a straight edge in the slot. This means when pedaling, the inside of the foot is parallel with the crank arm. In addition, when the two shoes are placed with soles facing, the cleats line up exactly, and you can see clearly through the two slots. (See above picture.)

It is important that both these tests check out. The reason being, let’s say both cleats are rotated slightly in the same direction. The straight edge check across the slots may line up, but when the shoes are placed with the soles facing the cleats will not line up.

Conversely, the cleats could be fitted so the toes are turned in or out slightly. With the soles facing each other the cleats may line up, but when the shoes are placed side by side the cleats will not be aligned straight across. Only when both checks agree are the slots in the cleats at a true 90 degrees to the inside edge of the shoe.

A word about toe straps. Thread the strap through the outside quill plate of the pedal, then through the slot in the pedal frame.

Give the strap one complete 360 degree twist, before treading the strap through the inner pedal plate.

This prevents the strap from slipping. It probably won’t slip anyway, but if you want to be true old school, give it a twist.

There is a little tag thing on the inside of Campagnolo pedals that stops the strap from rubbing on the crank arm. Make sure the strap is inside this little tag. Thread the strap through the toe clip, then through the first spring loaded quick release buckle. But never, repeat never, tuck the end of the strap into the second loop.

Only Trackies tuck the strap in. They have the luxury of a person to catch them when they come to a stop. Roadies just fall over if they can’t undo the strap. Which will happen if the end is tucked in. Leave the end of the strap sticking out, so you can grab it and pull it tight

Even better, if you can find some of these little strap end buttons, you will really be the Dog’s Bollocks.

They give you something to grab hold of when you tighten the strap, they prevent the strap from slipping completely out of the buckle, and your bike is idiot proof so no one can borrow it and tuck the straps in.

Tighten the straps by pulling on the loose end as soon as your feet are in the clips. Before you come to a stop, reach down and flick the buckle open with your thumb. Give the straps an extra tighten as you approach a climb, or if you are about to launch a big attack. But go to the back of the pace-line first so no one sees you. 


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In the Dumpster of Life

People email me with all kinds of questions about bikes and I have to admit I know a lot, but not everything.

Someone might find a frame in the dumpster and email me pictures asking if I know what it is.

I may know, I may not, I may offer an educated guess.

When looking for answers, concentrate on what you already know, not on what you don’t know. When you pull a frame from the dumpster look at the dropouts. Are they forged steel like Campagnolo? If so, it is probably a quality frame. If the dropouts are stamped from sheet steel, it is of lesser quality.

The exception would be, if it were an antique, pre dating forged dropouts. (1950s and earlier.) Then you look at the quality of the lug work, etc. You can ask an expert who will give you an educated guess, an opinion.

Nine times out of ten, it is nothing of value, which is why it was in the dumpster to begin with. If a person really needs another beater bike, then build it up and ride it, and enjoy it. Alternatively, give it to someone who needs it more than you do, or throw it back in the dumpster and forget about it.

In life too, it is more important where life's journey has taken us, rather than the point we started. In fact once we have left that point it is of little significance. More important is the direction we continue to steer ourselves on the road of life.

I once knew a young man who didn’t know who his father was, and was a basket case as a result. His mother wouldn’t tell him and a possible reason was that he was the result of some drunken one night stand and she didn’t know who the father was.

If this was the case then honesty with her son might have been the better course, although not necessarily. Had she been honest, he may have been even more troubled, because now he would know that he could never find the answer. Perhaps that knowledge would have alienated him from the one person who truly loved him, his mother. 

Did he really need to know where he came from? He was here on this planet, he was healthy, fit, intelligent, tall, good looking. He had a hell of a lot going for him. Instead, he was a failure in life, and blamed it all on the fact that he didn’t know who his father was.

He would have done better had he concentrated on what he knew. He had a mother who loved him, he had a good education, etc. etc. Instead he was obsessed by the unknown.

My father was the parent from hell, I have written about him here and elsewhere. I turned out all right in spite of this, would I have turned out any better or worse if I had not known who my father was?

Some of us are born more privileged than others, our country of birth for a start. But that is like the frame we find in the dumpster. It might be a Charlton or a Colnago, a Huffy or a Hetchins. Build any of them into a bike and they will get you from A to B. Make do with what you have.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but there will always be more questions than answers, some knowledge we seek just for the sake of it. Having certain knowledge does not always improve the quality of our life. 

In the “dumpster” of life, we will find many things, some treasures, some trash. We take what we can use, the rest we discard. Some things we find may appear to be worthless but turn out to be treasures, and vice-versa. 

Sometimes we think we have found treasure. We find a job or a relationship and become very excited, only to find later we should have left it in the dumpster.


Footnote: This article was previously used, but I recycled it, edited and reworked it. In other words I pulled it from my dumpster of old posts, because it was worth another look.

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The Vuelta

The Vuelta a Espana (The Tour of Spain.) is fast becoming my favorite of all the Grand Tours. The Giro d’Italia being the first of the season is often missing a lot of the top riders because they are saving themselves for the Tour de France.

But the Vuelta, everyone is there, all my favorites that I have watched throughout the season. The Vuelta is extremely hard, and everyone is tired so anything can happen. To me Grand Tours are all about the mountains. The Vuelta doesn’t mess around, there are big hills and mountains right from the start in the first week.

The Tour de France you may as well skip the first week. Flat sprinters stages where every day there is the inevitable break, the sprinter’s teams all give chase, and the break is reeled in with five or so kilometers remaining. Then comes the exciting part as the sprinters all jockey for position.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to see Cavendish, Greipel, and Kittel in action, but I will often have the commentary playing in the background while I do other work, and just watch the final 5K. If I want to watch a parade, I prefer one with a band, and balloons.

The Vuelta is so tough the big name sprinters stayed away this year, meaning that when there is a sprint it is not a foregone conclusion, which adds to the excitement. Because there are hard mountain climbs early on the race, the General Classification (GC) is soon established with a list of favorites coming to the fore in the first week.

This means that breakaways made up of riders way down in the GC are allowed to stay away as they pose no threat to the race leaders. This, I think makes for more interesting racing. You get two races in one going on. One for the stage win, followed by another as the General Classification boys duke it out.

With most of the riders having raced all season and done at least one other Grand Tour, everyone is tired. A rider can have one bad day and turn the whole race on its head. Alejandro Valverde for example rode consistently and was second or third in the GC, from Stage 2 until Stage 14 when he blew up big time, lost 10 minutes, and slipped out of contention.

Sunday, Stage 15 it was Chris Froome’s turn. His team, tired from the previous day’s efforts slipped off the back, leaving Froome isolated. He missed a vital split and allowed other GC contenders to gain time on him. Froome is still second overall but he is now 3:37 behind Nairo Quintana, and Estaban Chaves is only a further 20 secs down in 3rd. place, with Alberto Contador only another 5 seconds back in 4th. place.

Froome can’t afford another bad day, or he could slip out a podium spot altogether. Orica’s Simon Yates is only another minute back in 5th, and is looking really strong. Quintana has consistently looked the strongest in the race, but with another week of more mountains and a Time Trial, anything can happen.

It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Quintana will win. Froome could claw his way back, or he could go “Pop.” Simon Yates could surprise everyone. That is what makes the Vuelta a Espana such a great race.


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Fast Eddie Williams

I awoke Sunday morning to the sad news that New York Bike Messenger Legend “Fast Eddie” Williams had passed away.

Apparently, when Eddie didn’t show for work on Friday morning a coworker went to his apartment where he found Eddie had died during the night.

Life is strange, death is even stranger. We all know it is inevitable, and yet when it happens we are so ill equipped to deal with it.

We are shocked, stunned, we can’t believe it. Or is it just that we don’t want to believe it?

Eddie had been a bike messenger in New York City since 1983, long before riding a fixed wheel, no brakes, track bike on city streets became a hipster fashion. In fact it was the bike messenger who started the craze.

Bike messengers provide an essential service in the city, delivering important documents when overnight delivery is just not fast enough. Speed is of the essence, and a fixed wheel track bike is the perfect tool for the job.

A skilled rider has tremendous control over the bike, able to speed up or slow down easily and thread between cars when traffic is at a standstill. A courier on a bike can get from A to B quicker than any motorized vehicle.

I met Eddie just once when I traveled to New York in November 2014. We met in a bar/restaurant in Brooklyn, where Eddie lived. (Picture above.) He was a big man, at least six-four, maybe more. Soft spoken, humble almost. He showed me his bike, a track bike I had built in 1983, and had been raced on the Trexlertown Velodrome. Eddie had bought the bike from the original owner in 1998.

Then just two months later around Christmas 2014 Eddie’s bike was stolen. Eddie was devastated. He needed this bike to earn a living. I listed the bike as stolen on my Bike Registry, and several months later the frame showed up in a Queens bike store. Someone contacted me, I contacted Eddie, and he got his bike back.

That was the last time I spoke to Eddie just hours after he had retrieved the frame. The parts were gone, but Eddie had other parts and had already re-built it. I asked if he had found the thief.  He replied, “Oh, it was just some young kids.”

This response was typical of the man. He wasn’t vindictive or looking to punish someone, he was just full of joy to have his bike back.

I will always be grateful that I got to meet Eddie, and also with the help of many others was able to get his bike back to him when it was stolen.

I hope that bike never gets restored, but that it remains as is, with its thousands of paint chips. A working bike, displayed in a bike store or somewhere, as a memorial to a Legend.

Rest in Peace Fast Eddie, I will always remember you, as will many more.


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I first arrived in the United States in January 1979. I flew into New York’s Kennedy Airport, and was picked up by my new employers, Vic and Mike Fraysee, owners of Paris Sport.

From there it was probably and hour’s drive to Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. About seven miles from New York City on the other side of the Hudson River. The frameshop where I worked was at the back of a bike store that the Fraysee’s owned.

The terms of my initial visa that I had when I entered the US, was that I would return to England before the end of the first year. I could then renew my visa and come back again.

I planned to return to the UK for the Christmas Holidays 1979, which gave me almost a year to work and save for the trip. By the fall of that year, it was clear money was going to be tight and I needed to find some extra cash to meet expenses.

On the corner of the same block where the frameshop was, there happened to be a large warehouse type building. It was home to a company that packaged Christmas wrapping paper. They were hiring seasonal part time workers for an evening shift.

And so it was, I started moonlighting. When I finished my day job building frames, I would work 6 to 10 in the Christmas wrapping paper plant.

It was probably around early November that year, as I took my one-mile morning walk to work, I rounded the corner just off Main Street, Ridgefield Park, to a scene of utter devastation.

The Christmas paper business had burned to the ground in a fire during the night. Only the four brick walls were standing, the roof was gone, and firefighters were cleaning up. All that was left of the place where I had worked the previous evening was a blackened, smoldering pile of rubble.

As I walked slowly past on the opposite side of the street, the cold realization was sinking in. I no longer had a part time job, no extra income, and possibly no Christmas trip to England.

However, within two weeks, the owners of the business had salvaged and repaired some of the machinery, and had started up again in another building close by.

With only a few short weeks left before Christmas, they were now desperate to replace their lost stock, plus make up for two weeks lost production. I not only got my part time job back, I was now working a full 8 hour shift, from 6pm. to 2am.

There was a feeling amongst the workers, of wanting to help the owners succeed. They had not given up, we were not giving up.

I was also working two shifts on the weekends. The result was I probably made more money than if there had not been a fire. I made the trip to England with cash to spare.

I often think of this incident and a quote in the form of a question,

“How boring would life be without uncertainty?”


We need certainty in our lives to feel secure. We need to be reasonably certain that we will wake up in the morning, and that our loved ones will still be there. That our job will be there and the building not burned to the ground as I found.

Then every so often, life throws us a curve, something unexpected. Without the unexpected, life would be boring. Curved roads are more interesting than straight roads, we don’t know what is round that next bend.

Within uncertainty, there is adventure, excitement. I have always found in the past whenever a relationship has turned sour, or I have lost a job, when I look back years later, it was for the good.

Disappointments, for the most part are only temporary. Quite often they bring about an outcome that is better than originally expected. Throughout my life I’ve had many disappointments, but very few regrets.


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