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Bicycle Tips
Spring Riding

Lousy spring or not, it’s ever so much warmer than winter and that makes it a lot easier to get on a bike, at least on the rare days when it’s not raining. Still, it’s in the 50’s and that feels downright cold unless dressed properly.  Winter’s easier!  As long as it’s sunny, the roads are dry and temperature is above 35, three layers of technical clothing from socks up sees me good to go for 90 minutes.
There have been a few almost warm, sunny days when my heart said shorts and a jersey but my bike brain dictated long sleeves and tights.  One sunny day in recent memory it was in the mid 50’s and I came upon my friend Katie B. wearing shorts and a t shirt running past Ft. McClary with her usual picture perfect form.  She looked at my regalia and querulously asked if I was overdressed. Not really was my response and as she shook her head in disbelief I rode off.   
Within a mile a real rider blasted by me dressed as lightly as Katie, wearing just a jersey and shorts.
The need for validation got the better of me and I used a downhill grade in a big gear to power up to him.   Freezing was his answer to my obvious question.  Now here’s a rider that knows better but the bike’s summertime persona seizes the moment proving once again there’s no other piece of sporting goods equipment that carries so much baggage as the bike.  Most adult cyclists are warped for life by childhood cycling moments that make an indelible impression that gets in the way.
On a couple of other recent rides I learned that spinning in class doesn’t exactly translate to the road.  On a spin bike increasing the resistance is sort of like going uphill but there’s no downhill equivalent to the rapid increase in pedal speed that gravity induced momentum creates.  Around here no roads are dead flat for long and downhill grades are the place to learn how to control the pedals.  
When faced with faster pedals don’t shift into a bigger gear, rather try and keep up with what seems like warp speed but actually isn’t all that fast.  It takes a while for that to be possible so coast and spin and coast and try again. For those that persevere and ride the same route progress becomes apparent as there’s less and less coasting required.  The net result is a faster spin that brings with it the pedal control that enables good riders to ride well within themselves while harnessing momentum and rolling over terrain unfocused riders regard as hilly.  
Increased leg speed with no additional effort is every rider’s dream and that can only develop spinning low gears. With sufficient practice the brain remembers the same high rpm’s in bigger gears and the legs respond.  As physical as riding seems it’s actually a mental trick that good riders routinely employ.  It makes seemingly impossible distances not only rideable but comfortable.  
On another recent ride I met Rich who’s dressed like a rider but in the big gear turning 70 rpm he’s not there. He wonders how Lance or anyone can turn 90 all day long over varying terrain.   I broke the news that they didn’t get there by grinding big gears.  After that he’s easily persuaded to shift into his small front ring. That’s a good thing as I’m in a smaller gear and it’s killing me to spin fast enough to keep up.
Once on the small front ring Rich immediately reports his speed is 2 mph slower but his cadence monitor reveals his leg speed increased by 10 rpm’s.  Throughout the ride he struggles to resist shifting on downhill grades and does a lot of momentary coasting but quickly he begins to get the hang of it.  He tells me it’s not really at all like the spinning he’s done in class.
Then it began to rain and the fastest way home took over.  FYI getting caught in the rain is actually fun when it’s warm but on this raw day it’s a lesson on how much worse life can be. By the time I get home I’m a shivering wet rat but my inner self is flooded with warm feelings of gratitude for how easy life usually is.  
On another ride, Catherine, a new rider who spent the winter in a spinning class let the pedals get away from her on every downhill grade.  As with every recreational rider she shifted gears to get more resistance.  Truth is she had the leg speed to keep up with the pedals but the faster pedal speed comes on so quickly that it tricked her into thinking she couldn’t manage it.  Once she began spinning through the extra speed she found it manageable.  Even better she was able to maintain more leg speed on level ground and it was no harder than her normal pace.  “Now I know what spinning is” came as a revelation and it’s the first giant step to becoming an accomplished rider.
One of these moons the sun is going to shine and I can hardly wait to share what normal spring riding on these fabulous roads is really like.

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