What Does it Feel Like?

I was enjoying a nice ride around the neighborhood with my wife last weekend. We had gone over to the Veloway and were headed home. I would continue on for another 12 miles or so.

We turned off the main drag onto a residential street with a small hill. I stood on the pedals to get a little more oomph and crested the hill easily. She followed, a bit winded.

“What does it feel like?” she asked.

“What does what feel like?”

“When you stand on the pedals. What does it feel like?”

That caught me by surprise. I wasn’t sure what to say. It made me think about a simple bicycling act I do innumerable times on each ride.

“Well, you feel more power to the pedals,” I answered. “You get up to speed faster.”

“I just did it a little bit, and it felt funny,” she said.

Now, Pat has been riding for about five years. She gets out several times a week, and has done some organized rides, including two 50-milers. In fact, she started riding before I did. When I saw that she could ride 50 miles, I figured I could, too, and that started me in biking.

But she once told me she wouldn’t stand on the pedals. She was afraid it would make her lose her balance. So even when she struggles up hills, she does it seated.

“How do you mean, funny?” I asked.

“It’s like, I have trouble pulling up on the pedal,” she said.

“Oh. Well, when you stand, you don’t pull up on the pedals. You get your power by pushing down.”

“Yeah, but that feels jerky. I push down, but then I have trouble pulling up.”

“No, you don’t pull up,” I said. She was really making me think here. “Let’s say you push down on the right pedal. Once you get to the bottom, then you push down on the left pedal. Don’t worry about pulling up.”

I should have mentioned that that’s why it’s called mashing.

That exchange did me good. It made me think about a simple part of cycling. By forcing me to explain that simple act clearly, it helped me crystalize my thoughts on the matter. Better yet, it indicated that Pat is thinking about getting better on the bike. The weather around here is starting to moderate with the onset of fall. Maybe over the next few weeks, she’ll be tackling hills with me — standing on the pedals.

Falling Into Bad Habits

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a ride in the country on my own. I wasn’t worried about speed, although I maintained a nice average pace. I was just out to enjoy the ride before the day became oppressively hot.

As I rode, I started noticing something about the way I was piloting the bike. I felt like I was mashing the pedals going up hills. Every so often, the gears would crunch when I shifted — and it didn’t matter if I was shifting up or down. Hm, I thought — that’s odd. I haven’t been getting that on the bike lately.

And then it occurred to me: Sure I have. It seems like every ride I’ve done lately has had its share of crunching gears and mashed pedals. I know better. But I’ve let myself lapse into bad habits.

It didn’t used to be this way. I used to regularly do a ride where all I concentrated on was my cycling technique. But I haven’t done that for a while now, and I can tell.

So, what should I be doing?

Well, on the hills,I like to keep up my forward momentum by “pedaling in a circle.” That means applying even pressure to the pedal throughout the stroke. It’s a more efficient, and more powerful, way to ride. I know I’m doing it right when I feel a burn in both my calves and my quadriceps. Maybe that’s why I don’t concentrate on doing it as often as I should. I am pain averse.

But because pedaling in a circle stresses the big leg muscles, it makes you a better rider. You get up the hills a tad quicker, and you have the strength to power through tough spots on rides — even if they’re on the flats.

It’s something I have to remind myself about. I resolved (once again) to pay attention to my pedaling technique and make sure I pedaled in a circle more often.

The shifting thing is an easy fix, too. I knew the problem didn’t lie with my chain. I replaced the chain not too long ago. No, this had to do with something I learned way back when I was young.

Ease up on the pedals when you shift.

It’s tough when you shift while you’re stomping on the pedals. The chain makes a nasty noise as it scrapes across the cogs. When I was a kid and got my first English three-speed “racer” bike, I was told to pedal backwards while shifting gears. I think that was my father’s way of telling me to let up on pedal pressure.

From that point on, I concentrated on each shift. I kicked myself (figuratively) when I forgot to ease up on shifts, and congratulated myself (literally) when I shifted smoothly and noiselessly.

That was two weekends ago.

On today’s ride, there was the “crunch” again. And I caught myself mashing up a short, sharp hill again.

What’s the rule? You have to perform a new action for 21 days straight to break a bad habit?

I think I have several weeks of habit-breaking ahead of me.

Snot Rockets

A couple of weekends ago, I was out on a ride with an old friend. Before we started, she pulled out a bandana and tied it around her handlebars.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“Oh, I have terrible allergies,” she said. “I have to keep this close so I can blow my nose.”

Yeah, allergies are bad this year. The latest National Allergy Forecast shows medium-high levels across the northern tier of states, and much of the rest of the country has medium levels. So cyclists – and lots of others – might have to contend with runny or clogged noses. That’s tough to do when you’re putting miles behind you.

Gather ’round, noobs. It’s time to learn another new biking skill: the Snot Rocket.

That rather uncouth term describes clearing the nose without using a handkerchief or tissue. It’s fairly simple.

1. Move your left hand to the top of the bars.

2. Place a finger of your right hand over your right nostril. Try for an air-tight seal.

3. Turn your head. You want to make sure you don’t hit yourself.

4. Check for other cyclists. You really want to make sure you don’t hit them, either.

5. Blow. Hard and short. There should be enough force behind the blow to push the detritus away from your body, so the speed of your bike will carry you past it.

6. Switch hands. Repeat the process on the other side.

7. Clean up. This is where those terry cloth “sweat pads” (yeah, right – we know what they’re really for!) on your gloves come in handy.

It’s not a good idea to let fly if you’re in the middle or front of a group ride. Drop to the back so you don’t accidentally catch other cyclists with your projectile.

My friend has to wait until we stop for a rest before she can undo her bandana and use it. If she learns to blow a snot rocket, she can ride through allergy season breathing deeply.