This section of my website used to be dedicated to triathlon training, personal race results and certification reviews, like Turbo Kick. I am expanding it to include more generic health & fitness topics. Also, I talk a lot about "D" -- he's my husband (Dave Liu)!

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Finding Second Gear - and Other Major Cycling Breakthroughs!

I learn something new about cycling each time I ride.

At 8:30AM, I started putting on my gear to cycle to the warming hut in the Presidio. D looked at my helmet and asked whether it was too tight since it looked like it was balancing on top of my head as opposed to encasing it. It was because I had not loosened the clasps at the back of my helmet before putting it on and had tried to jam it on anyway. Duh.

I was meeting Stephanie at the Presidio for a beginner ride, and decided to cycle there from Pacbell Park. The friendly folks at Freewheel had adjusted my bike the day before, and as I suspected would happen, Carlos noticed that my saddle was too low and raised it. I was going to lower it again but decided to keep it at that height to see how it felt. It was FABULOUS. Since I was getting much better leg extension, my legs didn't tire out as easily, especially my quadriceps. The tradeoff was that it was my toes just barely touched the ground when I rode, so it was a little scarier, but I decided I just had to overcome my fear.

I started off cycling on the road, but started to freak out when cars started zooming by, so I switched to the sidewalk. I got all the way to the aquatic park to pause momentarily at the bottom of The Hill. It's not a long path up the hill (my guess is 50 yards), but it's steep. So steep in fact, that most people push their bikes up. I usually do that too, but I I thought I'd try biking it instead. It helped that I had clipless pedals, but I was worried because one of my my friends had injured himself going up a hill with clipless pedals -- he didn't have enough momentum to go uphill and toppled over. That was a concern, but I wanted to try anyway. Guess what? I made it all the way to the top unscathed! Fear kept me moving my legs faster than a hamster on a hamster wheel, so I huffed and puffed throughout, but the important thing is that I reached the top!

It was a slow coast down the other side of the hill where I encountered a professional looking team of three other cyclists. They were very polite, even though I was in their way, and one of them said to me, "Nice bike! It looks new." I beamed with pride and replied, "Thanks! It is." That's one of the benefits of owning an a** kicking bike, I make an extra special effort to ride it.

I looked at my watch and saw that it was 9:15AM. I was supposed to meet Stephanie at 9:30AM so I had to pick up the pace to avoid being late. How could I go faster? That's when I remembered D saying something about front gears. He had completed an adventure race in Sacramento that week and complained that he had to do the entire biking portion of the race in first gear (small ring in the front) because his rings were warped and there was a high probability of his chain popping out if he tried to shift. I had asked him what the drawback of staying in first gear was, and he said that it was difficult to accelerate because you can't generate enough power & to go fast even if you crank your legs.

I shifted to the big ring in the front to see what would happen. Holy cow! I was flying like the wind! OK, maybe it was more like a gentle breeze, but everything is relative. I was definitely going much faster than I could ever imagine without churning my legs at an impossibly high cadence. It's weird. I was traveling faster than I had ever done before on a bike, but I felt safer because my legs were moving slower.

I met up with Stephanie at the Warming Hut and we started hitting the Presidio hills. Oh my. The course we took consisted of hills all the way. There were no extended flat sections. If we weren't hauling our butts uphill, we were sailing downhill. Well, Stephanie sailed downhill anyway. I was braking all the way down to maintain control. We weren't going too fast (thank goodness) but it was a a perfect course for a beginner like me and provided great interval training. At one point, I had managed to get myself more upright on the bike, but then had trouble operating the brakes on the downhill portion because my fingers weren't quite long enough to reach them comfortably. It was a little frightening and I resumed riding in the lower streamlined position afterwards. I woke up with sore wrists and forearms the next day from gripping the bars too tightly.

I did two laps lof the course in total. Stephanie patiently waited for me at the bottom of the hills for the first one, and I told her to move on ahead without me for the second. I loved it and rewarded myself by buying not one, but TWO caramel apples from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at Fisherman's Wharf, along with a bunch of dark chocolate clusters with nuts. I came home squealing with excitement about the progress I made on my bike and excitedly reported all my new discoveries to my husband. I'm clearly still a beginner, and need to learn some basic skills such as cycling with one hand (so I can grab a drink with the other!), but I feel a lot more confident on my bike and will use my road bike for my next triathlon.

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