Freud said being immobile, after our birth, creates an association between mobility and problem solving. Our first big problem is that we can’t move.
Adults are familiar with this feeling. We finally break away from the traffic, open the throttle, head down the freeway and are…free. Now we can think clearly.
Many of us remember this feeling in relation to our first pushbike. At last! we can go to distant lands - or the local shops at least - without the boring and time-consuming chore of walking or, worse, having to be taken by mum.
Freedom. Independence. Problem solved.
Well, that pushbike feeling is still there, I’m here to tell you. That childhood experience of freedom, when you get on a bike, is burned into the cerebral cortex so completely that it can be tapped into simply by getting back on a bike. A brand new one especially. Christmas all over again.
Let me state from the outset, though: I am not a MAMIL… (Middle Aged Man in Lycra).
No, it’s not me piloting a 2 ounce, $10,000, Kevlar space-scalpel around Centennial Park.
Rather, I proudly ride a little, $200, foldup around the Park… and the Cooks River cycleway… the Manly Corso… Cronulla… wherever, at MY pace, only overtaking kids on their trainer wheels.
And that’s the point. As the saying goes, ‘I don’t want to be better than the next guy, I just want to be better than I was.’
I recently did a lap of Centennial Park, averaging 2 minutes and 44 seconds per kilometre. Or just under 22 kmph!
MAMILS will all be splitting their Lycra upon reading that. But who cares? My little bike only has 18-inch wheels, which are harder to move along the road than normal, larger sized wheels, physics being what it is.
My point is: when I first measured myself it was taking me 3 minutes 33 to do a kilometre. About 16 kmph. So I’m getting fitter.
Nowadays I bounce out of bed, down a power smoothie, check the weather and, if all is good, head down to the track to try to better yesterday’s record.
If the wind isn’t favourable I know there will be no chance of equalling, let alone bettering, my P.B., but I know the benchmark, and getting close to it, in unfavourable conditions, still has its rewards.
If I’m being overtaken by every woman and her shiatzu, do I care? No. And if I catch myself caring it becomes a Zen moment. Why DO I care?
Speaking of ‘whys’. Why a foldup bike?
I got married.
Yes, I can see it’s all making sense now. Get married. Get a foldup bike: an old tradition!
Briefly… when I married I moved away from the beach, but near a great cycleway that ran along the banks of the Cooks River. Cycling to replace my morning surfs?
The local Anaconda store had a special on foldup bikes. $200? Done deal! (Note: you can get full-sized bikes from Kmart for about $100. Or one for free on most throw-out days after Christmas.)
And I love it. A serious bike racing mate took one look at it.
‘Shimano gears? Mmm… good!’ he announced.
I kitted out the rest of the bike at Kmart. Helmet, lamps, drink bottle and fingerless gloves; the latter, very important. If you fall at even a slow speeds the palm of your hands are usually the first thing to hit the ground.
I’ve ridden the thing about 5,000 km in two years… being foldup, I can go for long rides down the cycleway with a tail wind, along the coast, and call the wife from wherever I end up. Shout her lunch, fold the bike, put it in the boot of her car and head home.
Or, if she’s not around, its small size, even unfolded, means it’s easy to take on and off trains and ferries, the bike travelling for free in Sydney if you have an Opal card. So I ride with the wind behind me, and go back into the wind… on the train! (Insert smiley face.) The newer railway stations have lifts, so you don’t even have to hassle with escalators or stairs, and if you are tooling around urban streets, its low profile also means it is easy to dismount at intersections. A BIG plus if you are a short-arse like me.
Apart from being very difficult to look sexy on - unless you’re a baguette-bundling French girl - the only disadvantage is that the small wheels on the foldup mean that it is not good on bumps. (I bought an after-market, super/wide/soft sprung seat to help with that. $20.) And the steering is also twitchy. None of this is a problem for me, though, as I’m not interested in going down mountain trails on it, and the sharp steering helps me keep in practice for when I am doing that on my off-road motorcycle.
And it’s fun to get fit on. You don’t really need expensive GPS-linked computers, heart monitors and so forth, (though more on those toys later). You just need a watch and, if possible, a flat cycleway.
Yep: cycleway. I HATE riding my bike on main roads. Having ridden motorcycles half way around the world, I tell you right now, I feel far more vulnerable on a pushbike on the road than on a motorcycle. On a pushy you are always being overtaken by cars and so are dealing with a much bigger number of drivers. One day one of them will be drunk, or worse: texting…
Google maps will show your local cycleways. My advice is to stick to them of you can.
Anyway, once on the cycleway, or a quiet stretch of road at least…
Day One: just peddle with mild effort for half an hour. That’s ALL you have to do. Note how far you get, and then just dawdle on the way home. Time yourself to get to that point the next day, and the next… just set out to beat yourself every day. Your PB!
That’s all there is to it! Gradually, however, you’ll stop waving to people you pass, and become one of those possessed super-serious types…because you are trying to beat yesterday’s record…
Before all the other hassles of day-to-day life, just get up and try to slay yesterday’s record. It’ll set you up physically and psychologically for the rest of the day.
TOYS: If you already have a smart phone with GPS and Bluetooth, and don’t mind spending about another $100, you can buy the cheapest Fitbit, link it to the smart phone and it will read out your statistics to you and map you, as you ride along. So then you can play games: see how far you can get in half an hour while holding your heart rate at 130 bpm, check your total distances, pulse rate graphs etc, etc.
Then you can start playing with physics. Ask Lance Armstrong. It is not just the effort you put into the ride, it’s also the drugs you put into your… Oops! Too soon?
No, seriously, using physics, if you play the wind and the local hills you can improve your game, without putting in more effort. It becomes a bit of a mind-sharpening exercise as well as a body one. Physics helps us understand wind resistance. To double your speed, you need to put in FOUR TIMES as much energy, not twice, so the trick is, don’t try to go fast, just don’t go slow. And because of biophysics, don’t try to go your fastest at the beginning of your PB run… go hard at the end. Conversely if you wake up, check the weather and see there is a tailwind along your route, go for it! Don’t feel guilty in letting nature help you achieve a PB… tomorrow it will take from you.
Similarly, if you are on a downhill run don’t peddle flat out, even just roll along. Save your energy and catch your breath for the next uphill stint.
Common sense might suggest that if you are on a circular track the wind will cancel itself out, half helping, half hindering.
Try it. Unfortunately, this is not so. Just as a swimmer crossing a lake will get to the other side faster than someone doing the same distance across a fast flowing river, the ‘vectors’ involved will mean that a wind only helps you out about 25% of the time on a circular course. PBs in a circle? Choose zero wind.
And don’t worry if you have to get off and push your bike up a steep hill. This is an important point. A lot of people eschew push bikes because they don’t want to ride up hills. Rubbish. Only posers bust their guts cycling up mountains. Plenty of beginners are out there, pushing up hills. And walking up a steep hill, pushing your bike, is just as good for your fitness as riding up. It is also easier to walk up a short, steep hill than ride up a long gentle hill. The ‘terrain’ option on Google maps will show you the way. It actually will help you plot bicycle routes based on topography.
Overall, pushing up hills and riding down the other side will also have you covering distance more quickly than walking the whole way, as you can push a bike up a hill about as fast as you can walk, but down the other side? Zoom! You can easily hit 60 kmph. (Hence the need for gloves and helmet, and to check your brakes daily.)
So, what are you waiting for? Christmas?
Copyright Larry Mounser 2016