A Note from Fatty: The “Win an Orbea Orca with Shimano Di2 or a Trip to Ride for the Roses” contest is in full swing, with more than
$23,000 $24,000 raised on my Austin LiveStrong Challenge page alone. And together, the five Team Fatties (Seattle, San Jose, Philly, Austin, NYC) have raised $434,342 so far this year. That’s awesome, but we have more to do. So, if you haven’t donated yet, please donate now. You might win a dream bike or a trip to join Team Fatty at the Ride for the Roses. The contest ends this Friday, so don’t delay!
This is going to be one of those “exception proves the rule” posts. Or if it doesn’t prove it, it at least illustrates it. Or emphasizes it. Something like that. I don’t know. Regardless, I shall now tell my “exception does something with the rule” story.
Last week, I had one of those moments where an appointment falls through, no new one takes its place, and — lo and behold — I happen to be near a mountain bike trail and have all my biking stuff nearby.
It was, essentially, one of those moments that give serendipity a good name.
Not wanting to tempt fate — which loves to fill my time with non-biking activities — I suited up, texted The Runner that I was “going to do a quick Hog Hollow” (a “quick” ride means, in this case, not that I would be riding quickly, but that I would be doing so immediately and would be back before she got home from work and therefore do not expect to have any brownie points deducted from my stash of accrued brownie points, if in fact I currently have any brownie points accrued).
Then I put my phone in my jersey pocket and was gone.
It was one of those rides that reminds me of why I love Autumn so much. The weather was cool, but not cold. The colors were changing. A brief-but-hard-rain the evening before had packed down the singletrack, making it grippy and fun.
Although, I noted, that same rain also washed some scree into new rows and piles on the Hog Hollow climb itself. (That’s foreshadowing, by the way.)
After about an hour (or so, I wasn’t counting) of excellence on Corner Canyon (Jacob’s Ladder to Ghost to Canyon Hollow to Rush to Clarks, for those of you who are locals), I began my descent from the saddle of Corner Canyon down Hog Hollow, heading home.
And then, about halfway down, I hit one of those new piles of scree. My front wheel washed out to the right and I went down on my left knee.
For those who have ridden with me when I’ve taken a fall and are therefore wondering: No, I did not scream. I only do that when others are around. As far as you know.
Instead, I stood up to start riding again.
Then I sat back down, as the wave of nausea hit.
I took a look at my knee. It didn’t look beautiful. It looked, in fact, as if someone had taken a rather jagged ice cream scooper to my knee and scooped off a deep, ragged chunk of skin.
I should’ve taken a picture. Really, I should have. Here’s one now — six days later — but it doesn’t really give you the full effect.
So as I sat there, waiting for the pain to subside, I had a couple of thoughts:
- Really, all things considered, it’s amazing I get hurt only once in a while.
- I wanted to call Lisa and see if she would give me some sympathy over the phone.
So I called The Runner (I know, sometimes I call her Lisa, sometimes I call her The Runner; I don’t know why) and negotiated the tricky conversational waters of trying to get sympathy while still coming off as a tough guy, not as a crybaby.
I think I might have come off more on the crybaby side, if I’m were to be completely honest with myself. Which I’m not.
But I did get my sympathy, and that’s what counts.
Later, after the oh-so-fun session of scrubbing and bandaging the knee, I spent a little bit of time thinking about the first observation I had had while staring and my new injury: it’s really amazing that — considering we ride fast on pavement or dirt and rocks and stuff — that cyclists really don’t crash very often.
And then I started thinking about the “why” of this, and I realized there are quite a few conditioned reflexes I use as a cyclist that I generally now take for granted. And chances are, you do to.
So I started to think about them:
- Balancing: The very first conditioned reflex a cyclist learns is the act of remaining upright on a bike. When I think about it, it’s still amazing and crazily unintuitive: you’re straddling a tangle of bars and wheels, with only a couple-inch-square pair of rubber patches touching the ground at any point. And yet, you stay upright. And after a while, you stop even thinking about how you stay upright. You’re on a bike, riding along. Why wouldn’t you be upright?
- Leaning: If I were asked how I steer my bike, I’d be tempted to say “with my handlebars.” But the truth is, except for at low speed, the the handlebars have almost nothing to do with it. You steer your bike by leaning. How much? How far? And to what degree in concert with a nudge against the handlebars? I couldn’t even explain. The truth is, I just look at a place and ride my bike toward it, with no conscious thought whatsoever about the complicated stew of balancing, steering and leaning my body is executing. And that’s for the best, I think, because if I had to make all those actions consciously, I’d almost certainly fall down.
- Pedaling: Pedaling is like breathing. It can be conscious, where you think about every single stroke. But when you’re just cruising along, your legs just repeat the motion, endlessly and tirelessly. Until, of course, they don’t.
- Shifting: I remember when I would have to think so hard about my front and rear derailleurs and the cogs up front and back and how pushing on one lever with my left hand to put the chain on a bigger gear would make pedaling harder, but pushing on a similar lever with my right hand to put the chain on a bigger gear would make pedaling harder. And I’d get so boggled. Plus there were the concerns about cross-chaining and mis-shifting. Now I don’t even think about shifting (and not just because I often ride a singlespeed, wise guy). When I’m climbing I — without even thinking about it — go to a gear for climbing. When I’m on the flats, I’m in a bigger gear. Without ever cross-chaining.
- Braking: Sure, I consciously know the left hand lever is for my front brake and the right hand lever is for my back brake, and that most of my power is in the front brake but I shouldn’t lock it up or I’ll fly over the front. But when it comes time to stop or slow down, I just squeeze. Both hands a little different, both hands the right amount.
- Not Braking: I’m really proud of this one. I’ve noticed several times in the past years that when I hit a loose spot or otherwise start to skid in a turn that I no longer grab more brake. Instead, I release the brakes. Without even thinking about how locked wheels don’t steer at all and if I want to not skid off the road, my wheels need to be turning. I just — now intuitively — do what was once upon a time incredibly counterintuitive: when losing control, I release the brakes.
- Unclipping: Everyone pays for this conditioned reflex by falling over, still attached to the bike, at least once or twice. But now what was once a strange, unnatural action — twist your heel out if you want to get your foot off the pedal — is the most normal, natural motion in the world. A total, complete reflexive action.
And of course, my problem is that I have just the barebones set of cyclist conditioned reflexes. Someone with really great technical cycling skills would be able to tell you about others — dropping ledges, riding a wheelie, not falling down when they hit a pile of scree.
But hey, it’s nice to know the right half of my brain is doing at least some of the work.
PS: I recently posted about Ride the Divide, and even more recently got my own special Team Fatty Edition of the movie. Mike tells me there are more copies available. Click here for details and order yours today.
PPS: Did you know that before I started posting on fatcyclist.com, I posted this blog for a year and a half using MSN Spaces? Well, Microsoft recently announced that they’re canceling Spaces and made it easy to import all your Spaces content to WordPress. Which I did. The practical upshot is that my entire blog, from the first post on May 9, 2005, is now on this site.