Sunday, April 16, 2006

1 Gear and 118 Minutes of Torture

I've recently been fascinated with the ideas of (a) getting back into mountain-biking* and (b) taking up single-speeding (as mentioned in an earlier post). To investigate whether I'd really like doing either of these things without spending the time and money required to acquire my own single-speed bicycle or mountain bike, I rented an SS MTB from my local shop. (Apparently, they keep this bike on hand for this exact purpose.) You might believe this experiment was unscientific, since I varied 2 parameters (terrain and number of gear ratios) at once, but I believed I could decouple the effects of the 2 changes. Thus, I was doing 2 experiments simultaneously.

So, Saturday morning, I headed off to Patapsco Valley State Park. (Alison suggested that, to fit in with the MTB crowd, I should do the ride wearing cargo shorts, use lots of multiples of 180 in conversations, and call everyone "Dude!" I declined to follow any of her suggestions.) The ride was extremely arduous---not only because of the very limited gear selection, but also because I haven't ridden over anything rougher that recently-mown grass in about 8 years---but very enjoyable as well.

Here's what I learned about SS MTB-ing from my adventure. (Not all of these lessons apply strictly to the particular type of riding I was doing).
  • It's very stupid to do squats, dead lifts, calf extensions, and ankle curls the night before performing this experiment. Bad Michael! Bad!
  • When renting a bike, you need to ensure that the brakes, especially the front brakes, have been correctly adjusted so that you can actually stop, should such a crazy idea enter your head. This is an especially good idea if 1 or both of your brakes are hydraulic discs, which require more than a trail-side knob-twist to put right.
  • You need to be able to clip out very quickly with very little warning. I think this happens more when single-speeding, since you are always in the wrong gear.
  • You will get lots of practice pushing your bike up steep inclines. Surprisingly, doing so can yield heart rates approaching 160 beats/minute.
  • Even if you fall frequently and often resort to pushing the bike, you feel pretty bad (in a Leroy Brown kind of way) because you are riding a single-speed.
  • Interval training is built-in with single-speed mountain-biking, because you are either (a) near your maximum heart rate due to climbing in a way-too-large gear or (b) descending at velocities beyond where pedaling is effective (and thus coasting).
  • A suspension fork, if it works well, allows you to worry less about choosing your line or lifting the front wheel over obstacles; instead, you can just plow on.
  • White-tailed deer are very graceful and surprisingly quiet when bounding through underbrush.
  • The simplicity of velocity control on a single-speed bike---if you want to go faster, pedal faster--- is quite compelling.
  • Single-speeding frees up that part of you brain that would otherwise be used for shifting, anticipating shifts, and fussing with unruly derailleurs for other things, like choosing your line (or composing blog entries, in real time, about what you are learning).
  • The back-to-basics nature of single-speeding is stylistically compatible with the getting-in-touch-with-nature that might attract you to mountain-biking.
  • Said feeling of communing with nature is quickly destroyed by a squealing rim brake. Fortunately, a little trail-side adjustment can put that to rights.
* I've always thought that "mountain biking" is a poor name for the kind of riding usually denoted by that term, since (a) you can ride over smooth terrain or even roads in the mountains and (b) you can ride over very rough terrain in the flat-lands. I prefer the term "all-terrain biking." Some people use this second, more accurate term, but it is far less common, which is a shame.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:32 PM

    Mountain vs. all-terrain bikes? Would a bike ride better if it was called by a different name?

    Huffy would never be able to sell their "mountain" bikes to kids if they were called "all-terrain" bikes.