Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pedaling technique

My knees have been hurting and I've been trying to figure out the problem.  If I didn't enjoy cycling so much, it would've stopped me long ago.  The seat height is not the problem.  I kind of narrowed it down to my pedaling and finally, in the last few days, I figured out the solution.  One is obvious, I've been using too high a gear and pedaling too hard.  The other problem is indeed, my pedaling technique.  I figured out that I was pedaling with my knees, not from the hip.  It's a similar concept to lifting with your knees, not your back.  I figured this out because from my martial arts study I learned that all power flows from the hip.  Without putting your hip into it--even though it may not be visibly obvious--you're only punching with your arm.  Moving the hip allows you to put your body into a punch or a kick--try it on a heavy bag sometime.  Therefore, if your legs are like pistons, then the main push out point is from the hip, not the knee.  It flexes, yes, but should be semi-locked to transmit the force from the hip, yet allow motion to make the necessary revolutions.  In rhythm, the motion of pedaling should be somewhat like doing the merengue, but less obvious hip motion (a waste of energy and probably looks weird)--unless you're in high gear trying to get up to speed.  This also gets you more of a workout for the core because the abs come into play as well. 

I googled this subject and found various entries, but they were so complexly explained that I can see why I figured out a solution for myself.  My focus has been on pushing down and the hip motion raises the ascending foot as well as pushing down the descending foot.  I've been making better use of my derailleur as well to minimize resistance when I'm not looking to work that hard.  I feel like I am getting a more efficient workout from my rides and my knees feel okay.  Just thought I'd pass it on.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Great Bicycle Story

As I was surfing the net in search of bicycle information, I came across a great story--a side-splitting story really--by Mark Twain.  It is about his efforts to learn to ride a bicycle as an adult.  I've added a link to it in my sidebar because I think it is so good.  I encourage all who care for cycling to read it.  That's all I have to say--read it for yourself.  It's worth your time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bicycle Commuter Tip #7

Speed is a double-edged sword in urban bicycle commuting.  I think most everyone wants to go fast, at least some of the time, if they can do so with minimal effort and maximum safety (I wouldn't recommend any but the latter.)--I know I do, even though I am all for stopping to smell the flowers whenever I can.  Now I've read some folks who suggest that speed is what you want especially to keep up with city traffic, and they are not entirely wrong--incidentally, I do not bother to cite because much of this is in the realm of opinion and neither definitive nor worth arousing controversy.  However, as a blanket statement, I believe it is wrong.

This relates back to an early post, which I may re-visit and tweak, about commuter routes.  I stick to an ugly, backstreet route, which is heavily used all the same during rush hour, but there are few traffic lights, long stretches, and very few pedestrians along nearly half the ride.  I can move with considerable speed because the activity is light and I usually whiz by any snarled traffic.  However, once I enter the more congested areas--Chinatown being the most congested along my route--speed should be moderated.  There are so many unexpected things that can go wrong it's not funny!  I know I emphasize dangers a lot, but the thing is, if you're careful, then cycling is really fun.  This doesn't mean you should go molasses slow, but if you don't have an emergency why risk it?  I see cycling as a life activity and am opposed to anything that could cut it short.

Speed dangers are same as driving dangers in most cases.  One of these is that pedestrians come from out of nowhere!  Usually this is bad for the pedestrian if they get hit and sad for the motorist, but for cyclists it is also dangerous.  Getting cut off by cars is always a danger, especially as traffic gets intense.  One day I saw a car pull out of a parking space so fast it ran over a nearby pigeon before it could take off!  That's the kind of erratic behavior that speed doesn't help.  Getting "doored" is another danger.  I only got "doored" once, but I was moving slowly uphill so it was hardly a situation at all.  In other words, speed is good for moving with traffic or past it, but only up to a point, because when it's moving well cars will always be faster than you are and you'll be sidelined anyway.  It is not good for everything else: seemingly parked cars and pedestrians, not mention double parked cars (as common as pigeons).  City traffic has a lot of "everything else" in it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Tip#6: Helmets, to wear or not to wear

Helmets are required for minors in the City of New York when riding bikes and scooters and perhaps other contraptions.  They are not required for adults.  This blogger has no interest in changing that.  The focus of this blog post is whether we should or should not wear a helmet.  Better yet, I explore, within my limited knowledge, the pros and cons of the issue.  At work as I was leaving, the chief of staff saw me leaving, and asked, "Why don't some people wear helmets?"  I was wearing a helmet and I suspect he was commenting as much as he was asking so I didn't belabor the matter.  I shrugged and said, "Maybe they have nothing to live for," and continued along my way.  I realize it is a very broad statement and I didn't mean it just that way.  I knew, however, why I wore a helmet: I am 40+ (You stop counting after forty.), a father of three children, and I have a wife I've grown rather attached to, so I take reasonable precautions.  Younger folks think they're indestructible and often have no dependents.  Thus, I might have spoken better if I'd said they have no one to live for besides themselves. 

I do not suggest here that the matter is quite that simple.  I often question whether I should wear a helmet.  The question is a simple one.  Do I want to live if I get into a really bad accident?  There are many stories of folks who exhibit great courage in the face of adversity following catastrophic injury, but there are also tales, equally valid, of those who pray for death.  I suspect I would be in the former category.  I wear the helmet and gamble that it is worth wearing because it may prevent a minor injury from becoming a major injury, but it is just a gamble.  If we're judging costs, then I judge the cost of insurance in the case of death to probably be less than the cost of caring for someone who can no longer care for himself.  The life insurance money will also be more useful to my family than my broken body on the couch.  Morbid?  Maybe, but true nonetheless.

There is another reason why I wear a helmet.  It is because of perception.  Let me clarify, I am not one who worries much about what other people think of me in general, or tries excessively to fit in.  Despite this, I think I've learned a thing or two about human nature and the power of perception.  Nonetheless, the following is admittedly highly speculative.  I find that a helmet obscures just enough of the head and face to make one more anonymous.  This anonymity can lessen familiarity and thus lessen driver contempt.  It prevents drivers from being able to readily stereotype you and act according to their prejudices--whatever those prejudices may be.  That doesn't save you from plain old crazy drivers, but it lessens reasons folks can find to dislike you.  I also find that a helmet suggests one is a serious cyclist and adds an air of respectability to the endeavor.  Just think about it.