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Bicyling advice

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I'm doing a lot of bicycling this year, and have had a number of people express their frustration that they don't seem to be doing well on bikes. So I've written up some advice based around common mistakes I see bikers making.

First of all, is your seat high enough? When you are pedaling, your leg should extend to almost completely straight on the downstroke. A lot of people want to be able to be able to put their feet on the ground while still in the saddle, and that's a huge mistake. You are losing about half of your pedaling power if you don't have your saddle high enough. On my road bike, my saddle and the handlebars are at the same height. On my mountain bike, which has a smaller frame, the saddle is actually higher than the handlebars. It can be kind of scary to ride like this at first, but it's definitely worth practicing on neighborhood streets to get good at it.

If you are riding a mountain or road bike, it probably came with a narrow saddle meant for a guy. I have changed out the saddles on every bike I've owned, and ride with an extra saddle pad right now (I have a new saddle to try out, but I've been too lazy to put it on the bike). You should look at changing to a better saddle. Also, women are generally more comfortable if they ride with the nose of the saddle tipped slightly downward. This takes pressure off the front of the pelvic structure. It's an adjustment that can be made pretty easily with an Allen wrench, so it's worth trying first as the cheapest solution to saddle pain.

Finally, how is your shifting? I shift like a beast, continually adjusting up or down a gear to compensate for changes in the terrain and even for the wind. If you are just grinding along in one gear, you need to learn how to use your gears more efficiently. Most bikes these days have three gears in front at the pedals and 5-9 in the back by the tires. Shifting is all about gear ratios: how many turns of the wheel you get out of a circle of pedaling.

Let's start at the front. The front gears, controlled by your left-hand shifter, are the big gears that make the most obvious difference. When the chain is on the largest of these gears, you are getting the most wheel revolutions out of your pedaling, but you are also working the hardest and putting the most strain on your knees. I don't recommend riding on this gear much until you build your strength a bit and get a good feel for shirting.

The middle gear is your cruising gear. This is where you will do most of your riding, particularly at the beginning. It puts less strain on your knees and lets you get a good feel for the subtler shifts on the back gears, which I will get to in a minute.

The smallest gear is what is often referred to as the "granny gear." This is the gear that you will only shift down to when you are climbing hills. The pedal spin to wheel turn ratio is very low, but it allows you to climb hills without resorting to standing up and putting a lot of force into the pedalling -- and therefore onto your knees.

The back gears, controlled by the shifter at your right hand, make much more subtle adjustments to your gear ratios. By shifting up and down in these gears, you can adjust for small inclines and declines and the wind. As you first start learning to use your gears efficiently, don't concentrate on your speed. Instead, concentrate on the amount of work your legs are doing and shift up or down to try and keep that amount of work as consistent as possible. This will give you time to get familiar with shifting and help you to learn to make shifting almost automatic as you ride along.

(Just a word of caution: no matter how many speeds your bike has, try to avoid biking in the combination of the top range of one gear and the bottom range of the other--no 3 in front and 1 in back or 1 in front and 7 or 9 in back--as this can put too much tension on the chain and pull the back derailleur out of alignment.)

You will make mistakes at first. You will forget which lever shifts up and which shifts down. Don't get frustrated: at the beginning of every bike season I have to retrain myself, and sometimes I fumble a shift even now! But the more you practice, the better you will get at it, and the more pleasant your biking will be.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MUGGLEMUM 7/14/2012 6:53PM

    Thank you so much! This was helpful not just to me, but to my 14 year old daughter, also. I think that I'm going to buy a new bike----since my bike seems badly rusted! Can't wait to get on the road!

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OBNURSE3 5/8/2012 8:41PM

    Thanks so much...never knew how to work the gears. Always rode in the highest gear now I know! Gonna practice using different gears the next time out.

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EUPHRATES 4/30/2012 1:46PM

    Oh my, THANK YOU! I NEVER got the hang of gears when I was a kid, so they intimidate me to this day.

Here's MY problem, and I may be making a mountain of a molehill (particularly considering this happened during a spinning orientation, not on a "real bike"), but it's had me holding off on biking for over a year. My feet start cramping after a few minutes in the pedals. I *think* it's because the box you put the toe of your shoe into is too narrow for me (ridiculously wide feet? Yup, that's me) and constricts my foot too much. But I'm not sure. It's EXACTLY the same kind of foot cramping I get when I try to ice skate (has always happened, ever since I was a kid, though NEVER when I roller skate, just ice skating...I always attributed it to weak ankles, but the feeling is more like the entire sole - especially the ball - of my foot is cramping up). The person doing the spinning orientation thought that maybe I needed sturdier shoes, or that I should try for shoes and pedals with clips (but never having tried it, they kind of scare me in the "OMG will my feet get stuck to the pedals when I stop and I'll kiss pavement?" way...

Any thoughts or suggestions? Considering the investment of money for a decent bike, I've been seriously nervous (well, that and the fact that on the side of town we live in is NOT bike friendly, and something about driving somewhere to ride my bike seems backwards to me). :)

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OPTIMIST1948 4/29/2012 9:14PM

    What a great bit of advice, most of it sounds like learned the hard way. The Shifting part was particularly useful to me. Thank you so much for sharing! I'll be keeping you in the back of my mind.

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APPLESBANANAS 4/27/2012 3:13PM

    This was a great blog! The first thing I did when I bought my bike (over 10 years ago now, it has been a great investment) was to get the wide-load seat. I wouldn't last 10 minutes on one of those skinny ones.

I love your other advice, I never knew about the gears, I have always just put it on whatever felt right. I am actually planning on a short ride tomorrow since I just got my bike back from its annual tune-up; I will try some tips!

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RAINEMARIE214 4/26/2012 3:55PM

    This is great info!! I bought a mountain bike about 2 weeks ago, and my first attempt at riding on really rugged terrain with lots of hills was really difficult, especially because I was constantly shifting the wrong way!!

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NATPLUMMER 4/26/2012 2:47PM

    Thanks for the info :-)

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THE_NEW_MELISSA 4/26/2012 11:13AM

    Great blog! I need to get my bike out and work that into my rotation once in awhile. I've been taking a spin class twice a week all winter and spring and I'd love to see if it's improved my "real" biking abilities. Gears scare me! I need to just familiarize myself and get my hands dirty with it I think. I actually prefer the nose of my seat up just a tiny bit or else I feel like I'm constantly slipping forward. But that's just me and I'm weird!

Have a great day!

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Birthdays in our household are really birthWEEKS

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thank you all for the many birthday wishes! I had sushi for lunch and Indian for dinner and rode my bike 18 miles, so it was a really wonderful day. Going to the bike shop today to pick up my birthday present, a 70 oz. CamelBak hydration pack. They were holding a 50 oz. for me, but it looked and felt weirdly tiny. I liked the 70 oz. better, but they didn't have it in bright yellow, which my father-in-law insisted was the only acceptable color--he's terrified I will be smashed like so much roadkill, and he is paying for this present so I feel like I should honor his wishes!

One of the things I love about my hubby is that he understands that birthday privileges should extend through the following weekend. His birthday is almost always part of the July 4 holiday, so he's used to extended celebration. This means that it is "my birthday" all the way through the convention we're attending this weekend. Yay!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

EUPHRATES 4/30/2012 1:34PM

    Hooray for birthday weeks!

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AMBERZADE 4/25/2012 10:19PM

    Well have a wonderful birthday WEEK!!! lol

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BLUE42DOWN 4/25/2012 6:41PM


Sounds like a wonderful time and a thoughtful gift.

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NATPLUMMER 4/25/2012 12:01PM

    Sounds like a great day/week!!

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HONBAD 4/25/2012 9:46AM

    Yum! Sushi AND Indian?! You are one lucky duck! Where do you go for Indian food? I have an amazing sushi place but have not yet found an Indian place in Cleveland on the same level.

Glad you are having a fun celebration week for your birthday!

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It's my birthday!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I was having a sad day yesterday, but today is my birthday and there will be no sadness!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

WORKINGSTIFF 4/25/2012 9:12AM

    Happy Birthday to you!

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TTLEELEE 4/24/2012 10:01PM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon
Happiest Birthday!!

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VIXSTERLU 4/24/2012 1:29PM

    Happy birthday to you!!!

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KATHYSCOLLIES 4/24/2012 11:13AM

    Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday to you!!!

I hope you have a truly wonderful , special day today - with lots of great conversation, good music, good food, and surrounded by those whom you love the most!
( a couple of really nice presents wouldn't hurt either emoticon )

emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon


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OPTIMIST1948 4/24/2012 10:52AM

    The power of positive attitude! Happy birthday!

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NATPLUMMER 4/24/2012 10:03AM

    Happy Birthday! emoticon

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HONBAD 4/24/2012 9:56AM

    Happy happy birthday!! emoticon

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SWEETTOOTH712 4/24/2012 9:44AM

    Happy Birthday!

emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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THE_NEW_MELISSA 4/24/2012 9:37AM

    Happy Birthday! ^^^^ wth??????

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THOMS1 4/24/2012 9:32AM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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Monday reboot: glitch

Monday, April 23, 2012

It's one thing to go to bed on time with the plan of getting up at 6:30. It's another to then lie there for almost 4 hours before finally falling asleep. So getting up was almost 8. But after a little wakeup time, I will be hitting the exercise. It's cold and the wind is HOWLING out there, so biking to appointments is not going to happen. But I will brave it for my mile of the day.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

NATPLUMMER 4/23/2012 10:51AM

    I had a hard time getting to sleep last night, too.
Good luck on the bike ride.

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    step back happens but it sounds like your gonna not let it set you back.....its cold here too today

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BLUESKIES139 4/23/2012 9:29AM

    I know the feeling of wanting to get up at a certain time and gong to bed early to get up at that time. Then having trouble falling asleep. Its part of my everyday life almost :(. But I am glad your still gonna brave your mile of the day!!!

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NIKSLIM2011 4/23/2012 8:29AM


Know the feeling I walk the 5 miles there and back to my son school . I was up at 6.30 am and braved the weather at 7.55 this morning.( I had no choice with the walk) but don't get ill though getting wet. I be on my exercise bike later ( which I got given , lucky me)

Take care stay safe


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Monday reboot

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I have been doing great with the biking, but in the adjusting to the biking, the strength training has fallen by the wayside. That's okay; things need to be flexible. And between being sick, having sick friends, and everything else in life, a little flexibility was highly necessary.

But tomorrow I want to get back on schedule. Which means getting back to strength training in the mornings. But whereas my mornings used to be ST and cardio, the biking needs to be more flexible depending on circumstance. So it will be ST in the morning, and cardio if it looks like the biking is going to be a shorty, or ST with plans for biking later.

I do better if things are set in stone, but the biking doesn't allow that. So I have to focus on scheduling flexibility.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

BLUE42DOWN 4/23/2012 3:39AM

    I like the sound of that - scheduling flexibility.

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NATPLUMMER 4/22/2012 8:56PM

    Good plan :-)

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APPLESBANANAS 4/22/2012 6:14PM

    Sounds like a good plan!

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