Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Experienced Misinformation

I've been watching an idiot riding in shorts through the last weeks of wintry temperatures. He's also mashing big gears, further straining his naked knees. I'm sure his friends know him as a big rider. It got me thinking about the effect of experienced misinformation in any activity.

Years in the bike and cross-country ski business have given me a valuable perspective on inside information compared to the wide variety of uninformed or partially informed speculation.

The first bike shop I worked in had the mechanics in the basement. I left that comfortable lair to try to sell some better bikes up on the sales floor so I wouldn't have to work on so much crap. I always intended to return to the mechanics' cave as soon as I had started the Ride Better Bikes Movement, but instead I moved on from the bike biz for a few years. In my current situation the workshop is accessible from the main shop floor. I get to hear every Loud, Confident and Wrong blowhard who brings his friend in to learn about bikes.

Mind you, just being in the bike business does not automatically confer full and complete understanding of how the machine and rider work. But the retail shop puts you in the center between producers and consumers. Much of their communication channels through you.

Magazines, websites, forums, books, films and gossip throw out clouds of information, knowledge, wisdom and fantasy, often completely undifferentiated. Riders and potential riders come in with opinions already shaped by these influences.

Even with good inputs, the learning rider needs to sift and sort for what applies in the individual case. Do you need to train like a top category racer or load like a transcontinental tourist to enjoy our particular type of riding? On the other hand, can you get away with being a haphazard slob with the amount of mileage you're putting on your bike and body?

The nice thing about human-powered vehicles is that very little is outright wrong, However, misapplication of technique or technology can be very unhelpful and occasionally distinctly harmful.

Big gears at slow cadences can -- but don't necessarily have to -- blow up your knees. If you have sufficient strength, augmented by diligent off-bike training, you can grunt around in the big meat all you want. You should set up your riding position for grunting rather than spinning as well, and accept the fact that you will have no snap and little tolerance for changes in cadence. And if your riding position and preparation aren't right, you will cause joint damage.

Riding in shorts in cold weather will lead to long-term knee damage and short-term muscle injury. You need to keep working muscles and joints warm enough to stay flexible and well lubed. Cyclists generate their own wind chill. Riding 15 miles per hour at 40 degrees you are pushing the old kneecaps through an effective 32 degrees -- freezing. The same speed at 50 degrees only gets you up to 36. A lot of riders in northern climes are tempted to show off their gams at 50 degrees. The venerable CONI manual said a rider should wear tights below 70 degrees. Personally I have pushed that to 60 degrees since I moved north, but I still tend to be more conservative than a lot of the aggressive riders and their uninformed disciples around here.

Aggressive riders may sidestep the consequences of their clothing choices by quitting the activity when they can no longer pursue it aggressively. They put in a few hard years and move on, believing when they finally get arthritic knees and quads that feel like dried-out rubber bands, that these are normal symptoms of aging. The "right" thing to do never would have mattered to them because they were not interested in longevity.

Unfortunately, observers equate speed and competitiveness with overall knowledge. This person must know what they're doing because they can always drop me on a ride. That's right. A V-8 is lots smarter than a 4-cylinder.

You might even see bare legs sticking down below a fairly bundled-up torso and arms. Far better to average out the coverage over the whole rider. I cover the legs first, add layers over the core and finally add sleevage. Since I'm older and more sluggish now the transitions may come much closer together. I admit I overdress more often than I under-dress. Having been caught far from home with too little clothing I don't want to repeat that misery. I can always peel a layer and tie it or tuck it.

Older beginners will suffer the consequences sooner. If you're already on the threshold of age-related frictions, and especially if you came from an abusive sport like running, you need to take care of what you have left if you want to continue to use it.

The unifying quality to all experienced misinformation is oversimplification. In this the misinformed get little help from the bike industry, because in any selling situation if a short distortion will get the buyer to fork over, why waste time with a longer, nuanced education? The only time someone focused on the sale will slow it down to address a point the buyer did not expressly introduce is when the consequences have bitten the seller on the ass enough times to make it worth the trouble to try to prevent it. Otherwise, let the mechanics deal with it down the road.

Humans are great at creating one problem to solve another. To some extent this is just how mutation and evolution work. But we tell ourselves we're better than that. Yeah? Prove it.

All the uncorrected impressions and sloppy explanations ripple outward through the world, crossing and recrossing in waves that wash back into the repair shops or stagnate in the corners of garages and basements.


Steve A said...

Of course, "too cold to wear shorts" is not much of a problem in the North Texas summer. Shorts seem irrelevant inOcean Shores.

cafiend said...

Is OS clothing optional?! These are details you have left out. Then again, without pants a lot of your details would be left out.