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Mel pushes out of a valley. Photo from Jay's Flickr Stream.
My cue sheet couldn’t help me anymore. I was looking for a section of trail called “The Wall”. Talking to riders in town, I learned you knew you were at “The Wall” when the trail pointed toward the sky and a wooden sign said “The Wall”. I only had a vague idea of how to get there. One of those “it’s halfway between the first and second pond, near a clearing, with some big rocks” things. I dig directions like that. It means at least three wrong turns. I heart a good wrong turn. After wandering down a few dubious paths off the gravel road, I stumbled on a field of yellow wildflowers, preternaturally still in the early afternoon sun. As I made my way between two likely looking boulders, the sound drained from the air. Birds evaporated. Leaves ceased motion.
James threads the needle on some singletrack and a roadish bike. Jay's photostream, again.
The woods took on a stillness reserved for off-color jokes at church suppers. My quietly clicking freewheel and the soft crunch of my tires on the grassy path were the only sounds. Even those minute sounds were far away. Sounds of another time and place. The woods often does this to me. Hugs me with roaring oceanic silence. I’m not sure how I feel about it.
The path wound down into a valley, surrounded by rough gray rocks tossed by an angry prehistoric giant, trees stunted and twisted as if vicious winds and vile cold were normal operating conditions. I wondered when the Gnomes would make their appearance. A mile of riding brought me to the foot of the climb. It ascended into the weald, a series of mild steps, gradually gaining altitude, with plenty of places to catch my wind and prepare for the next incline. Then “The Wall” came. No warning, a sharp blind turn and it pointed up, rocky, loose, steep, with no time to even downshift. I slammed my gearing down, gnashed my teeth, and still only made it a hundred yards before the assault failed.
I took to my feet, trudging up the mountain, rocks poking my feet. I had never climbed anything this steep before, and I have climbed 27 percent grades. The sign for “The Wall”, hand burnt and defiant, passed me on the right. I had brought a camera, but was too tired to even snap a picture. It seemed like the air was getting thinner. The silence gripped me and took me bad places. All I heard was the blood in my ears and my incomplete thoughts of general foreboding firing away like tiny bombs in my head.
I reached the summit. The path, radiant yellow grass and terra-cotta stone, stretched flat and straight across the moraine. I rode quickly, legs warm and ready. The silence chased me like a mute Doberman. The ground was rocky, loose stones and dirt. My road tires sank and swam alternatively, skittering and sliding under my hands. I was always told to hold my handlebars loosely, like they were 1.5 times bigger than they actually are. This way, the bike and rider could react to bumps, and small directional changes, and still sort of auto–pilot its way through stuff.
Jay's photostream, again. Brian keeps it loose on his Waterford and some rough terrain
In other words, a loose grip actually meant more control, less wasted energy, and a more ‘ready for anything’ stance. I took this bit of wisdom and applied it. I loosened up and found more control, less fatigue and more power for my legs, that otherwise would have gone to my hands and forearms. I rode a rigid road bike and wasn’t beat up. I rode skinny tires over undulations fit for fatter rubber. I descend really nasty rocky scree with crappy brakes and was OK.
Instead of increasing diameters on road bikes why don’t we re-teach this old chunk of wisdom. Let’s trade 1.5 inch headsets for theoretical 1.5x larger diameter handlebars. We could start by getting rid of all that gel tape, and foam pads and get people riding normal cork tape, or (gasp) cloth.
This would expose undersized bikes, and poor riding positions. Lots of gel and saddle cut-outs do wonders for hiding bad bike fit. It’s a win win situation. Really. People like to treat colds by addressing the symptoms of the cold. Stuffy, runny nose, headaches… You have seen or heard approximately 26,894 cold symptom drug ads by the time you are 23 years old, and will have spent $1,872.21 on the drugs advertised. I just made that up. But the fact remains, Americans love this stuff. Ignore whatever caused the issue, treat the stuff that feels bad. Head hurts because you stare a computer screen all day? Take a pill. Acid Reflux because you ate at that cheese steak place again? Swig some pink juice. It’s easier to roll this way, which of course is why people do it. No lifestyle changes necessary. I’m guilty, so is almost everyone I know. I only say almost to be nice. Maybe there is an outlier out there.
I see this same symptom treatment going on with bikes. We get lots of folks in here that have band aids on their bikes to address various issues. Now, before I go any further: some people NEED, without a question, certain modifications to their bikes just so they can ride it. Prostate issues, acute carpel tunnel, fused necks, etc. There are real issues that sometimes need seemingly odd or unconventional solutions. So no offense to those folks. I get it, I promise.
Basically, my point is, good form and good bike fit are the keys to riding comfortably. Fixing bad form shouldn’t be solved with technology. It should be solved by fixing your riding form. A sketchy front end is going to be sketchy if you death grip the bars and ride you brakes like Rick Allen rides a hi hat (does he even use a high hat?). Fatter tubes, bigger bars and stiff brakes won’t help you. Numb hands are numb because your bars are too low, not because your handlebar tape needs padding. Painful pressure points in saddles are usually also because your bars are too low.
I kept a loose grip bouncing down the trail, floating with the bars, keeping my weight balanced between saddle and pedal. The sound came back to the world, like a blanket being lifted. The stillness dissipated, the world spun once more. The trail turned down and I saw a pond through the leaves, hovering like a fallen slice of sky in the deep woods. The pitch became violent. I was being hurdled down the slope at a pace reserved for mountain bikers with suspension. I kept it relaxed, forcing my face to move from grimace to slack jaw’d yokel. Let the front end do what it needed to, steer with the hips (this is huge) and slight finger tip touches. I pumped the brakes, avoiding over-heating the rims, blowing the tubes up from the resulting heat, and being stuck miles from home. Been there. Gotta let that heat dissipate.
The bottom of the trail emerged onto a quiet dirt road. I had just come down a rough, rocky trail with outmoded brakes, 60-year-old drop bars, and a steel road frame and fork, with skinny, bald tires. My handlebar tape was cloth, basically a grippy surface for the bars. But I made it. My bike fits, my bars are in the right spot, and I kept it loose. Ingredients in place, Omelet made.
There’s some stuff going on here at the shop. As I noted last week, we’re expanding. If you come in, it might be noisy, dusty, and generally ugly. We’ll try to make it go as fast as possible, but right now we’re a bit disheveled, so apologies for that. We’ve lost 50% of our wall space, and all the things that used to live on the wall are scattered around. We still have it all, it just might take a minute to find it. We hope to have it all sorted in about a month and a half.
In the mean time, we are still doing rides and clinics. We sponsor a mountain bike team, Team Flying Dog, and those guys do a night ride out at Greenbrier State Park, so I’ll give you details on that, below.
First the clinics. We’ll have a whole series of clinics this winter season. We like to do them, and some times people even show up, and when they do, that’s great and fun, and everyone learns something useful. They’ll be every Wednesday at 6. Figure an hour or maybe a little more for each class. All free. Here is the schedule, which is pretty self-explanatory, I reckon:
2/8: Clean your Drivetrain at home with not much time and very little money Clinic. Self explanatory, that.
2/15: Tuning your mountain bike for your riding style and location Clinic. Adjust the suspension, tire pressure, gearing, bars, tire choice, etc etc, for where ever you are riding. Jason will teach this, and it will be good.
2/22: Rebuild a rebuildable normal Shimano style hub clinic: Shimano style hubs should be rebuilt occasionally, to keep the boogie man at bay. We’ll show you how to perform this yearly ritual. If you want to do it at home, you’ll need a few tools we can point out and source for you, including the elusive and under used axle clamp.
2/29: LIMITED CLASS SIZE…. max five, TWO positions filled already, email us at bikedrfrederick (at) gmail (d0t) com to get in on the action: James (that’s me!) will teach you how to lace a wheel (you pick, front or rear) and tension it so it won’t explode on you, or crumble like Michelle Bachmann’s presidential chances. You’ll be buying some basic spokes (or really nice ones, whatever you want) a cheap rim, and a cheap hub to learn this skill. Get something you can put on your commuter, so it doesn’t go to waste. If you want to take this class, ya gotta buy the stuff from us, but we’ll point out OK cheap stuff. Figure this class will go to about 9pm. We need to hash out what you need soonishly, so let us know, with a quickness.
3/7: First Wednesday, so it’s a fix a flat clinic. Comprehensive, to say the least.
3/14: How to overhaul and adjust a headset, assuming it can be overhauled and adjusted. What’s a headset? That thing that lets your turn the handlebars and therefore the front wheel, as well. Sometimes these get coated in sweat and grossness and need a good wash and regrease. If you generate lots of forehead sweat, or ride the trainer a lot, this is a great clinic for you.
3/21: NO CLINICS. Tent sale will be that weekend (thursday-sunday) and we will be busy and nervous. Drop off comfort food and beer for bonus points.
Monday evening Flying Dog rides from Greenbrier. These are mountain bike rides, so you need a good bike and a good light and a good back up light. Lead by Herb and Jay, both affable and good guys, and friends of the shop. This is sanctioned by the park, so you won’t get arrested, because it’s legal. More info here, as well as how to sign up for those.
Tuesdays Brandon and John are getting some big miles in. Join them for a longish, semi fast ride of around 80 miles. 8 am at the 7th street Starbucks.
call ahead to see if we are doing a Thursday ride. We might, we might not. If we do, shortish, slowish, 7 am, from the 7th street ‘Bucks.
April 4th, which is a ways off, Brian will be starting his Wednesday evening climbing rides again. So stay posted on that.
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Thanks for reading,
The Bike Doctor Crew of Bearded Bodaciousness