May 2010 Archives

Enlightenment

The comments I've gotten from people I'm passing by on my unicycle have invariably been supportive. Maybe because I'm an old guy they're being nice. Maybe its because most of my riding around people happens in our small town. But for whatever reason everyone's been pleasant.

Well, there was one guy on a nice road bike who told me to get another wheel and I told him to F* -off. He said it just as I was loosing my balance going up a curb cut so I obviously wasn't in the mood.

And yesterday, when I rode from the St. Paul campus to the TD Bank Stadium on the East Bank one of two guys at the entrance to the transitway told me I was missing a wheel. The other of the pair told his pal, "forget it. He's heard it a thousand times".

By the way, the beans we planted at the research station emerged. Friday I saw lots of seedlings with the unifoliates fully out. Some of the peanuts were cracking the surface, too.

Emergence

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Last friday we planted some plots out at the experiment station, so after a few days, a couple of nice rains and warm temperatures I rode the unicycle out there to see if anything was emerging. Of course, I took the long way.

The long way winds me through some quiet neighborhoods with block-long hills that aren't too steep. Actually, they were steep enough at the beginning of this blog that I couldn't negotiate them. I was having real issues with slow speed balance. I needed to go very slow to control myself going down the hills, and the back pressure on the pedals felt very unfamiliar. I remember wondering at that time whether it would be possible to ride down the hills by just letting my legs go with the pull of gravity - not coasting really, but not having to restrict the wheel so much with every half revolution.

Now I can ride down those slopes with confidence that I'll make the bottom without coming off, and am even getting close to that ideal of maintaining control while letting my legs pump with roughly the same pace and rhythm as I use on the flats. I think its just a matter of improving balance, enhancing strength, and letting go a bit.

No, it was too soon for any seedlings to have emerged. Today marks the one week point after planting. I'll go out and look again this afternoon, but I still don't expect to see anything growth. After 10 days though, right after Memorial Day, I do hope to see the telltail hypocotyl arch of beans making their way to the surface.

Slivers of time

I've been thinking about yesterday's entry on lifting and on earlier comments on trying to relax my knees and pump with my thighs instead of my feet when on the flats. There is an underlying, unifying idea at work.

This underlying idea stems from the reality in unicycling that you do not coast. Your feet are always moving, giving you propulsion and balance. Even down hills when gravity is providing all the propulsion you need, you pedal to keep balanced. All that constant pedaling without relief is tiring. This makes unicycling a good workout, but also places repetitive stresses the body.

So the unifying idea is that a rider can relieve his or her body when riding by finding little slivers of time to briefly relax, even though you can't coast. You can lift, you can unweight your knees. I'm sure there are other things too that I'll discover as I learn to ride longer and more efficiently.

Lifting

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Saddle friction really gets to me after about a half hour of straight riding. If I've had some dismounts along the way it isn't so bad, but if I've been able to stay on top the whole time things start getting uncomfortable.

Today I tried getting up off the saddle, even if very briefly, when pedaling on the flats and I think it helped. I figured that if I could get up off the seat the blood will flow in those squished parts. I found that when I lifted every few minutes or so on I wasn't hurting much at all. I can't tell whether it really made a difference in the last 15 minutes or so because I had a couple dismounts. Still, this lifting technique is one I'll try again.

Pump those thighs

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My knees are feeling better. Maybe its because I've developed some riding muscles, or maybe its because I'm spacing out my longer rides, but I'd prefer to think that it has something to do with technique.

On hill climbs my mental focus is on applying force to the balls of my feet. That's hard on the knees. On descents my focus is still at the balls of my feet, but with the force applied at a different part of the rotation. And its not so easy on the knees either. But on the flats, my focus is on pumping my thighs up and down and not worrying too much about the balls of my feet. And that makes all the difference.

When I pump my thighs the knees themselves feel loose and relaxed. They get a break from the hills. In a ride that includes a mix of up, down and flat, I find that the flats are for recovery. They are the speediest part of the ride, but if I work at it, I can relax the knees and not have so much post-ride ache.

I'm not sure this makes much sense, so I'll have to try explaining this again another time.

Going slow

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Dismounting off the back has been an issue for me. I always fly off the front. Any time I try to do otherwise it's a wobbly disaster and I still come off the front. Even when I'm hanging on to something I have to think through how to get off the back. It just shouldn't be so hard.

And really it isn't.

Today I was out at the tennis court working on smoother free mounts and tighter figure 8s. I also wanted to make some progress on stalling as a way to progress toward idling. My strategy for stalling was too try to ride slow, real slow and then real, real slow under control. As I got comfortable with slow controlled riding I tried stopping the cranks with different pedals forward. I wasn't doing that well, and as a result, got lots of practice on those free mounts. What I did realize though was that once I'm rolling slowly with my body fairly upright maybe I can take one more forward stroke and jump off the back.

It worked. It was very satisfying to do something as simple as stepping off the back, on purpose. I ended the practice session doing a dozen or so free mounts and back dismounts, alternating feet, trying to exercise that muscle memory. I'm sure it will still be challenging to dismount off the back when I'm riding at normal pace or when I'm really tired, but now I've got something to build on.

The Devil

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Today, a voice in my head told me I couldn't make it up a hill. Where in hell did that come from?

When I'm running I know that at about the 3 mile mark I find myself mentally arguing with someone. Back when I was in administration there was another administrator who was always the villain in the running drama playing out between my ears. I suspect that about that point in my exercise my blood glucose drops before glycogen is metabolized and mobilized, and I get cranky.

In the last month I've gotten strong enough on the unicycle to go out for 4-6 mile rides and get a pretty good aerobic workout. Today I was out for one of these long-for-me rides and was focusing well on the moment and having particular success on hills that in the past had bucked me off. I don't know about you, but when I'm challenged with an uphill or downhill I break it into shorter chunks and just try to make it through that chunk, and when I do, I identify another chunk and try to make it up or down that one. I find that cracks in the asphalt are convenient intermediate targets to shoot for. By setting very short term goals I can maintain my focus and this helps me get up or down the hill.

Just past the half way point I was stroking up a pretty fair grade that seemed to keep getting steeper at the crest. I was picking intermediate goals, leaning forward, spinning my feet, trying to maintain pace and momentum. I was quite aware of my fatigue. Suddenly, a voice was in my head, the one that in the past bitched out administrators, telling me that I had done pretty well already today and it was ok to bail on this hill. What an enormous distraction...my focus was shot. Almost immediately another, more positive voice cut in and I was able to keep my pace up the hill. That brief mental conflict left me wondering where in the world that defeatist voice came from? Low blood sugar?

20 more psi

Today was the second time I pumped up my unicycle tire since getting the machine in February. Both times, adding air pressure felt like I had applied a lubricant.

On my last ride I felt like the tire was grabbing a bit, particularly as I was trying to stroke the unicycle up some hilly streets. When I checked the pressure this morning it was down to 40 psi from the 60 psi I pumped in a month ago. I pumped it back up to 60psi and then took off on my Saturday ride. Wow what a difference The unicycle rolled way easier, as if I had just cleaned gritty bearings. my balance was all of the the place. However, it was uncomfortable riding because my fore and aft balance seemed way off and I was pitching back and forth up the street before I got the machine under some type of control. had traded control for speed.

And those hills? Well today I made it up some today with the higher pressure that had foiled me previously when the pressure was lower. I think a contributing factor was that the firm tires needed less effort to get up the hill, or maybe it was just luck, but I'm going with the firm tire story.

The downside was that the side to side wheel squirm was more prominent with the firm tire compared to the lower pressure tire, maybe because there was less friction between the tire and the road when I was up at 60psi.

I probably should check the tires more often and keep the pressure up in the 50-60 range if I'm going to be tackling more hilly streets.


Going tight

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Some of the recommendations I read online are unhelpful. Take bike shorts for instance. Everything I read online suggested wearing briefs, not boxers. In fact, mostly I read that guys should wear bike shorts.

I remember going to one of my learn to ride lessons with bike shorts on under my sweats and the first time I tried to get up on the saddle I knew it was a big mistake. Crushed nuts just cannot be ignored. I whimpered into the mens room, peeled off those those bike shorts and went commando the rest of the session, much to my testicles' relief.

From then on I was a boxer guy on the Uike. Sure, I still crushed a nut on occasion, but with room to roam, and a mind of their own, the boys soon figured out how to get out of the way.

Now that I can do longer rides I'm getting some chafing. Today as I got ready to go for a ride I wondered whether anything has changed downstairs so that the bike shorts would work. The answer, a bit to my surprise, was yes. The bike shorts held me up out of the way and reduced chafing. And no nuts were crushed testing the product.

So if anyone ever asks me what to wear when unicycling, I'll say start loose until your parts are schooled, then you can go tight.

Wind on the prairie

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Wind is worse than hills.

A few days ago I was riding through the experiment station on the dirt paths when the weather changed and the wind blew hard from the west. I've learned to lean into the wind as if going up a hill. Three or four times though in about a mile of riding the gusts were so strong that they stopped me dead in my tracks, stood me up straight, and blew me off the uike. Getting back on was no easy task either. Partly because of the wind, but partly because I was laughing so hard. Its really impossible, and impossibly funny, to be leaning into the wind and then have it let up so that you are left crazily trying to recapture your balance, only to be blown over again by the next gust. The closer I got to a tree line the less the wind resistance, but out in the open it was tough. I recall in particular riding past a prairie remnant with last year's grasses waving in the breeze. I could see ahead of me the grasses suddenly bending way over as a new gust came my way. Next thing I knew, I was bending way over too.

Today I followed that route again, but without the gusts. I wanted to show myself that I could ride that path cleanly, and I did. I'm no match though for a strong wind.

Maintaining momentum

Loss of momentum is the most frequent reason that I fail to get up a hill on my unicycle, assuming of course that the hill isn't crazy steep. If its crazy steep that's different. Then I bail because of lack of skill or strength or 125mm cranks on a 24" wheel. I'm talking here about a challenging, but not impossible hill.

The hills I was riding today had a bit of level road leading up to the hill, then a right or left turn into the slope that headed up at a moderate angle for maybe 100-200 feet. I would get a good rhythm on the flat lead-in, get a good start up the hill, and would be doing ok until about half way up when for reasons unknown my center of balance would shift back, my momentum would be checked and I would slow down to a crawl. I found it tough to recover the rhythm and speed once lost.

Part of the answer I think is for me to be conscious that his happens, and be aware of the possibility so that perhaps I can counteract the tendency to lean back and check my momentum. The other part of the answer may be to work on being comfortable with a strong, even pace.

On the way home from the hills I stopped by the track and did a half mile in each direction. I sprinted down the straights, trying for a high, even rpm through the corners. I'm hoping that if I can keep my momentum down the straights, some of that will transfer to the hills.

Road crown

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When I'm riding the unicycle down the street I often feel like I'm leaning to the left. I thought it might be due to the crown in the road that gives fall to the right so that I compensate by leaning left. But I wasn't sure, until today.

I started out to ride around the lake, but kept on going past the golf course and up to the cross country ski trails. I've never been there before and thought maybe there would be some dirt track to ride. As I approached I saw multicolored flags pointing the way to the parking lot and heard dance music blaring. Turned out to be a relay marathon fundraiser where the runners were on the cross country path. So much for riding the trails.

Looping back home I took a paved bike path that went downhill forever. Near the end the trail turned hard left, got a bit steeper, and, HOLY COW WHATS HAPPENING! I was thrown off balance so badly that I pitched off the unicycle. The trail was throwing three curves at me at once: heading downhill, turning left and, here's the important part, the sideways slope of the path was to the left. I'm so accustomed to the fall being to the right from riding on the street that when I was challenged by a path with fall to the left, I just couldn't adjust in time. I ran back up to the start of that section, rode down again, and the second time it went ok. Still felt unusual, but I just kept the forward momentum going and got to the bottom just fine.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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