Friday, March 21, 2008

"It's all in the hips", or, if I could only ski....

Who'd have thought, Brian didn't even have to twist my arm this time, actually looking forward to blogging about today's "bike handling lesson" with Erik Moen, bike PT extraordinaire.

Actually, I spent most of my "how to ride a fancy ass carbon bike without falling off 101 for older professional posers" lesson with Erik's protege, another skinny ironman triathlete named Ryan. I want to be a biker only to learn what makes cyclists just beam when you say, "let's go for a ride". Practiced clipping out with my non-sugar foot. Learned how to make a sharp stop without pitching forward. Why one should stay on the saddle when riding over a curb. How to stabilize the bike with 1 hand so you can drink/ eat without falling. How to ride in a pack, like avoiding crossing wheels (and what that means), how to ride right next to someone and butt shoulders without freaking out. Practiced riding really slow to mimic my worst fear, losing balance while climbing a steep hill (track stands too advanced for today's lesson).

Then Erik came out and taught me how to make sharp turns. You keep your inside leg up (so as not to graze the ground) and you press down on the inside handlebar (without leaning inward or locking your arm) and the front wheel just carves the curve without effort. It made sense intellectually, but I kept sticking out my inside knee and carving wide half-circle turns. He tried, "like riding a motorcycle" (blank facial expression). Or, an expression anyone should understand, "like skiing" (even blanker facial expression). "you just carve a line but keep your center of gravity".

Same problem with swimming. After 3 lessons in which my coach tried every analogy she knew but could not get through my head how to get me not to thrash like a drowning person, she finally ended with, "it's like skiing". I had to picture what the hips do when skiiers carve moguls. If you keep your center of gravity and just shift hips from side to side, then the arms just follow, rather than trying to "crawl" with the arms which gives my swim the characteristic "drowning man" appearance.

Stuff like this comes naturally to athletes. They don't have to be told, "shift your weight from your hips", for example. That is why I'm not an athlete, not a musician, it all has to be explained to me in Levitinese. Every step spelled out literally, no abstractions or analogies. That is why running is the only sport I know, it doesn't require coordination, or even speed, just an adrenaline deficiency that drives compulsive running.

I used to wonder about people who totally sucked at music who spent all this effort trying to learn an instrument and it was just painful to be around. I will probably never play flute again for that reason. Is this how "natural" athletes look at people like me? Probably, but oh well. Marathoning has taught me how to forgive myself for sucking. It doesn't matter what else you've done today, if your own 2 feet have carried you across 5 suburbs, you have done enough. Each new race is a rebirth, like resetting the Ms. Pacman machine. Not a high score? That's ok, you can play another game, maybe the ghosts won't get you this time. Not to mention the "seeing baby Jesus" high that erases the pain of (nearly) any chafage and is more addictive than nicotine?

Will I learn not to fear biking the hills of Mukilteo? I forget, it was only 3 years ago the thought of running 6 miles nonstop was anxiety provoking. Maybe even someone with no balance who can't ski can learn to bike or swim.

Enough philosophy. Time to get off my duff (to open another Newcastle Brown, mmmm).


  1. Hi Gerald, I really enjoyed reading your post. I would like to bike more too. However, I end up feeling like I sprained a private part every time I ride. Did Erik and Ryan happen give any tips on how to combat this? My poor bike hasn't seen sunlight in a year thanks to this ailment! Ugh!

  2. They specifically advised me not to skimp on the chamois shorts. Padded saddle seats are worth much less than a good pair of padded shorts! I have been told Chamois Butt'r and equivalent products are also helpful, but I have never ridden long enough to need that. As for saddle, there does not seem to be concensus, it depends on the individual derrieres.

  3. I second, Rizzer. A proper chamois is indispensible for cycling distance. I still havn't convinced CrashD of this yet, but I won't generally get in the saddle without proper bottoms.
    Back when I was 'mtb only' I used to scoff at the bib-clad models in the cycling catalogs. My wife would tease me about buying one and more than once I remember saying, 'never, not on your life will you ever catch me in one of those.'

    ha. the ridiculous attire has a function after all.

  4. Just a friendly suggestion. Susie, I truly believe from the depths of my heart that you should tag / label the following words in your post: 1) Levitinese 2) Ms. Pacman 3) Baby Jesus 4) Duff 5) Newcastle Brown.

    True athlete? I hear your point, but I doubt Picabo Street would be able to stomach an Army PT Test, 2 MRE's, 15 pints of Eugene Microbrew, a road march, and 7 marathons in 3 months. (or whatever you've done already). Seriously, I've met many the college Div I athlete who excelled in only his/her event and not much else. Hips? Skiers? I hear Ned Flanders is pretty hot in a full body skier's suit. Also, admittedly, I've always wanted to party with Alberto Tomba...