I Suck At Mountain Biking

Instead of the usual Sunday road ride, my friend Maggie and I decided to get out the mountain bikes this morning. She put an invitation to join us on our club’s message board, but we had no takers. When we showed up at the club ride start, some of the roadies greeted us with bemusement at our getup, but soon we left in different directions.

Our target was Bauerle Ranch, a subdivision surrounded by nice singletrack trails. (I’ve written about it before.) We had had a little bit of rain overnight, and the dew point was high, so once we got onto the trails close to home, we could see that today’s ride would be somewhat muddy.

The thin grass along the trail has exploded in growth with all the rain over the past couple of weeks, and being wet, it gave us leg baths as we pedaled along the skinny trail.

But the rain had had another effect, too: It put a lot more rocks across the trail. I don’t mind rock gardens the way I used to, but the ones today were loose, and I could feel my rear wheel skid out to the side when it glanced off them. Nothing serious, but I did find myself stop and walk over a couple of areas that I had ridden just weeks ago.

route

At Bauerle Ranch, the trail starts out as easy singletrack, but soon starts to dip with lots of rocks to navigate. I was leading the way, and came around a corner to see a large rock in the middle of the track. The front wheel slid a bit, and I realized I  would not be able to navigate around the rock — but I wasn’t about to hit it, either. Yeah, right. I hit the brake — the front brake — at the same time the front wheel hit the rock.

Bam! Endover! My right leg slammed into another rock along the trail, and I wound up on my bottom, legs across the trail and my bike on top of them. Already, I could see blood start to roll down the shinbone. I struggled to get the bike off me, as Maggie sympathized.

“What a sight you are right now!” she exclaimed. “I wish I had a GoPro for that one.”

“It felt like I was going over in slow motion,” I said.

“It looked like it, too,” she shot back.

After the crash, the sticky blood on the knee collected grass and other crud that I didn't find until the end of the ride.

After the crash, the sticky blood on the knee collected grass and other crud that I didn’t find until the end of the ride.

I got untangled, and we mounted back up and kept going. The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful. Maggie got well ahead of me when I slowed to chat with another biker we encountered, and when I caught up to her, she was at the side of the Veloway, intently staring at the ground.

“Look at this cool spider!” she said. “It was in the middle of the Veloway, so I got it off to the side so it wouldn’t get run over.”

A bit hard to make out, because it's well-camoflaged against the pavement of the Veloway.

A bit hard to make out, because it’s well-camoflaged against the pavement of the Veloway.

It was cool, but neither of us had any idea what it was. (If you know, fill me in.) We left it, and headed home.

Back at Starbucks, we got to assess just how muddy we were from the day’s ride. Our bikes took the brunt of it, but we were well-spotted, too.

Muddy buddies.

Muddy buddies.

It was good to get back on the mountain bike again. But I still suck at it. I’ll keep flailing away, and hope to get better.

Yipes! My Hip Hurts!

I dunno. I must be getting old. About a month ago, I started to feel it. Whenever I came back from a bike ride, I felt great. I stretched, showered, and changed, then sat down — maybe for a meal, maybe to watch a little TV, maybe to noodle on this blog.

And when I stood up again — Yow! My left hip hurt like a sonuvagun.

It didn’t take long to get rid of the pain. I just walked it off, stepping around the house or outside a bit. But it persisted. Whenever I sat down for any length of time, I could count on the ache — soreness –hurt — when I got up again.

I was at the doctor’s on a routine visit, when I brought it up. “Could be arthritis,” was the guess. “Take anti-inflammatories — Aleve, Ibuprofen.”

“What about glucosamine-chondroitin?” I asked.

“Well, that might work,” she said. “Try it if you want. Some people say it’s good.”

My wife is one of those who do. But I haven’t gone that route yet. In fact, I’ve noticed the pain isn’t as bad lately. Partly, that’s because the Aleve really works well.

“You took two Aleve?” asked my wife, incredulous. “The dose is only one.”

“Yeah, worked good,” I said. “Rode the bike for two hours, and I haven’t felt any soreness all day.”

Well, it’s not all gone yet. I still get a twinge when I stand. But all I need to do is walk down the hall, and it shakes out. I think I won’t panic for the time being.

Slow Recovery

It’s been a disappointing week. I thought I had been making a good comeback from my fall two weeks ago. Last Sunday, I did an easy 32-mile ride with no bad consequences. But Monday, I developed some pains in my side.

I had been having these feelings pretty much since the fall, but they were minor. I mostly concentrated on that huge bruise I blogged about last week, and then a hip pointer made itself known. Football players (American football) and hockey players get these, from banging the point of their pelvis bones against something hard. Most of the time, it’s not there, but when I bend my left leg a certain way, the pain is enough to make me jump.

Then on Tuesday, I decided to do my after work ride. It’s a 19-20 mile jaunt through my neighborhood. This time, as soon as I got on the bike, I could feel that pain in my side again. It feels as though something under my ribs is bruised, and if I bend at the waist a certain way, it’s quite painful.

On the bike Tuesday, that ache was with me throughout the ride. Instead of 19 miles, I cut it short and did only 12.

“You should see the doc,” said my wife, when I told her what had happened.

Luckily, my doctor keeps evening hours on Wednesday, and booked me an appointment that evening. He’s always been supportive of my biking, because of the changes it’s made in such indicators as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Of course, this is a negative effect.

He had me do some stretches, which didn’t hurt. He poked and prodded my sides, and found the quarter-sized spot on my left ribcage that triggered the pain. It’s where the rib meets cartilage, and he told me the cartilage is the damaged part.

“In my professional opinion,” he said, adopting a pedantic tone, “you’re banged up.”

There is nothing to be done. “Even if you had a broken rib, we wouldn’t do anything,” he said. “We’ve stopped wrapping ribs. It turns out that can cause pneumonia.”

He did recommend heat. And anti-inflammatories, which I’d already been taking. But it looks like it will be several weeks before the aches and pains go away.

I dug out the heating pad, and it does work. Saturday, I got on the bike and repeated the ride I had started Tuesday. This time, I did the whole 19 miles. My torso felt fine.

I rode again today. The only time it feels sore is when I stand to pedal up a hill, so I rode a mostly flat course. But I can ride without pain.

I’m looking forward to riding again Tuesday after work. My time in the saddle is really down this year. I’ve got some catching up to do.

 

Biking Through a Bruise

My fingers next to the bruise give an idea of its size.

My fingers next to the bruise give an idea of its size.

I’m still feeling the effects of that fall I had a week ago. I’ve got the biggest bruise on my hip that I’ve ever had, and it was quite painful to start with. However, one nice aspect of our sport is that it seems to help in recovery from these kinds of injuries.

The crash was odd in that I wasn’t moving all that fast. In fact, I was just slowing to make a turn when the rear wheel slid out from under me. But the full force of the impact fell on my left hip. I must have hit the pavement a lot harder than it first seemed, because two days after the crash, I had trouble rising from a chair. It felt like the whole left torso was bruised as well, although I could find no marks.

How did I treat the big bruise? It turns out that I did everything wrong. The recommended treatment for a bruise is to stretch and ice the affected area after the workout. In my case, I felt so good after riding this week that I did nothing except shower. For pain, acetaminophen is the recommended treatment — not ibuprofen. I gobbled ibuprofen two or three times a day.

Sitting for awhile, while watching TV, exacerbated the pain. Moving eased it. Except for Sunday, the day after the crash, I have been on the bike every day — sometimes pushing myself to climb a small hill a little bit faster, or do some intervals. Without fail, I felt better once I got home.

In one regard, I was lucky. I wasn’t bruised anywhere that came into contact with the bike. So when I ride, I feel like a normal person. It’s only after I’ve been stationary for an hour or more that pain becomes a problem.

Bruises heal themselves in seven to 10 days. My bruise is still impressive, in terms of the area it covers, but I can tell the coloring is already starting to fade. I expect to be back to normal in another couple of days. But in the meantime, I think I’ve healed a little faster by exercising those muscles under the bruise than I would have if I’d done nothing.

Biker’s Elbow

For the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with some minor pain. It started on the LBJ 100 ride, I think. The day after the hilly metric century, I experienced some soreness in my left elbow when I went out for an easy recovery ride. It’s not a big deal, but it is a noticeable twinge.

I thought it might have something to do with the way I held my arms during the long ride. Maybe I was pushing the elbows too far out for help on the hills. I noticed that if I kept my elbows in, the soreness went away.

I hadn’t realized it before, but I have Biker’s Elbow. No, although I capitalized it, that’s not its real name. It’s called “lateral epicondylitis.” You might know it better as “tennis elbow.” The American Association for Hand Surgery (Yes, it’s a real organization) says despite the name, most people who have tennis elbow have never played tennis. And if you want to get into the medical minutia, lateral epicondylitis is considered a form of tendonitis — but it isn’t really, because it doesn’t involve inflammation. It’s considered more a mechanical problem related to degeneration of the tendon that passes over a bony protrusion on the elbow.

What causes it? Repetitive motion. Any activities that repeatedly stress the same forearm muscles can cause symptoms, according to the orthopedic-oriented website, Orthogate. So besides swinging a tennis racquet, such things as running a chain saw, or using a paint roller can have similar results.

Now, cyclists don’t repeat motions much. Their hands are mostly on the brake hoods or in the drops. But it turns out that gripping can cause the same kinds of pain. Again, according to Orthogate, “When you bend your wrist back or grip with your hand, the wrist extensor muscles contract. The contracting muscles pull on the extensor tendon. The forces that pull on these tendons can build when you grip things.”

Treatment is simple in simple cases like mine: rest. (Duh.) Aspirin or ibuprofen should help. If it’s more serious, you’d better be talking to a doctor, because then treatment will involve everything from stretching exercises to physical therapy to, in extreme cases, surgery. Most disturbing was this advice from the Hand Surgery website: “It is recommended that activities that aggravate the symptoms are limited.” What, no biking? No way!

Since the LBJ ride, I’ve felt that twinge in my elbow on every ride. But on every ride there’s less of it. On today’s after-work quick 15 miles, I felt it once, moved my arm a little bit, and didn’t feel it any more. Knock wood, but I think the situation is under control. But you can be sure that I’ll be very aware of how tightly I grip the handlebars from here on out.

You’re Going to Fall – Here’s How

Note: The series of guest posts on The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Cycling will reappear later this week. I must resume contributing to my own blog!

You might have noticed in the Twitter box on the right of this blog last week that I had a minor crash on my bike. I missed a shift on a hill, dropped my chain, was unable to clip out, and I went over.

Just a bruise on my hip and a sore hand, but that was enough to trigger this reprimand:

“Hands on the bars at all times,” commented Mike Weiland, who should know, because he’s had his share of hard falls.

But that’s the problem. When you find yourself going down, what’s the most natural reaction? To put out a hand to brace yourself when you hit the ground.

“You brace, you break a hand or a collarbone,” said Mike. Or an arm, or dislocate your shoulder…

Even experienced riders brace for falls. It’s a natural reaction.

Okay, so I’m going to resist the temptation to brace next time (yeah, right). What can I do instead?

It depends on the type of fall. If you find yourself going over the handlebars, you can plan to roll on your shoulder. I did this in the first bad fall I had on my road bike, and although I was sore, I wasn’t hurt badly.

The guy in this crash looks like he might be able to drop his right shoulder, and roll on it.

Ted Rogers, who runs the blog, Biking in L.A., urges cyclists to do two things: stay clipped in, and hold the handlebars tightly. He tucks his elbows into his body. “At the same time,” he says, “I tuck my head down between my shoulders, and round my shoulders to shape my upper body into a ball. My momentum will continue to move my body forward, rolling me over the handlebars, still attached to my bike, which helps me maintain my curved position.” With luck, you’ll be able to roll on your shoulder rather than fall on your face. If he finds himself going down sideways, instead of over the bars, he does pretty much the same thing. When I went down last week, I stayed clipped in (not intentionally). That may have prevented me from being hurt worse than I was.

The roll might work for low-speed crashes, says Mike Weiland, but at higher speeds, all you can do is just skid. “Of course the one a few months ago at 24 mph I ended up hurting my hand/wrist not from bracing, but more or less punching the ground as my hand was still in the drops when the bars made contact with the pavement,” he told me.

It appears the best place to land in a crash is on your side. Hitting your chest or back on the ground could mean worse injuries. “As you hit the ground,” said one commenter on a biking forum, “try to stay as loose as possible. If you’re tense or stiff, it’s easier to get hurt.”

In practice, none of this might be possible. One cyclist posted to a forum that he’d been in two bad road crashes. “In neither case, do I remember having any time to react,” he said. “I was aware that I was in trouble, and then on the ground bleeding.”

What’s the old saying? “There are two kinds of cyclists: Those who have crashed, and those who are going to.”

Keep the rubber side down.

During the coming week, Bike Noob will feature two more posts in the series, What’s the Most Important Thing You’ve Learned About Cycling? If you’d like to submit your thing, check here.

Falling Into Fall

Guest poster Don Blount recalls a year-old incident.

The first day of fall brings back memories of the day I first fell. At least the day I fell badly enough to suffer a significant injury. It was Sept. 22, 2009 and I was halfway through a 46-mile ride. The turnaround point was at an area nature preserve and I had gone to the visitors center to look for a trashcan to throw away a banana peel.

A long driveway and sidewalk leads to and from the visitors’ center, and as I was on my way out, a car was on its way in. The driveway is just wide enough for two oncoming cars to pass each other if they go slowly. As the car approached, I moved to get over and onto the sidewalk to be completely out the driver’s way.

I vaguely remember the feeling of falling. I clearly remember the pain of being slammed to the ground. And then the next thing I remembered was someone, the driver of the car, asking me if I was alright.

It took me a bit to collect myself, check my bike and then ride the remaining 23 miles home – with a fractured left wrist.

The gap shown in the photos is what caught my front tire. The sidewalk is about an inch higher than the road surface and that gap is just wide enough to trap a tire.

I watch out for these little road inconsistencies more closely now and work hard at keeping the rubber side down.