There are those that believe cycling – and many other sports – seem to come down to a numbers game more than anything else these days. A couple extra grams of weight on those pedal clips? Add two-tenths of a second over 50km. Shave your legs? Shave three-hundredths of a second (unless you’re very hairy, in which case make it four). Piece by piece, these numbers seem like they add up. Body weight, wheels, spokes, aerodynamic drag, acceleration rates, friction coefficients… the amount of micro-optimization that can go into cycling is staggering.
And it’s not just cycling. Just the other day I read about a World Cup Alpine skier who was being investigated because people thought her underwear (Seriously people? Her underwear?) was too efficient at blocking wind from penetrating the fabric.
So here’s the deal. Simple Newtonian physics problem: if you pick up a box, and carry it across a room, you’ve done a set amount of work. If you double the weight of the box, you’ve done twice as much work, right? So what happens if you double the size of the room, but cut the box in half?
Well, if you cut out the bottom-half of the box, you’re doing almost no work, because everything will have fallen out. But assuming you just removed half the weight of the box, then you could carry it twice the distance without doing any more work.
Remember when you were a kid, and every achievement was full of win? You could spin out on your big wheel. You could do a skid-stop on your 10-speed. Maybe you jumped your skateboard off the curb – and didn’t fall after the 8th time. When you succeeded, it was awesome. When you didn’t you tried again. They weren’t massive achievements, and yet at the same time, they were. It’s all about perspective. Continue reading Too Much Perspective→
I got my degree in Philosophy. That’s a good thing, because I love to ponder some pretty wild concepts. That’s a bad thing because you can apply those wild concepts to your own life at the wrong times. The other day while I was riding up a large hill, I thought “Man, it’s like I’m never going to get to the top!” Well, that brought up good ol’ Zeno and his wonderful paradoxes. Continue reading Taking Zeno for a Ride→
It’s raining outside. I love the rain – really. That’s probably odd for a cyclist – and after 2,400 miles in a year I think I’ve qualified to be a cyclist – but it’s so soothing. I love the damp air, the humidity surrounding you, carrying the sounds of every drop. And of course, the thunder. Rolling, barreling, cracking.
Rain is good.
But I’ve got nine days. Nine days until I ride my first century, and it’s raining. A hundred miles, and it’s raining. Some cyclists would read this and chuckle a bit. They know that supported rides are just that – supported. Big ol’ rest stops with snacks, water, Gatorade, restrooms, the works, spaced out at nice intervals where people will most likely need a rest. Yeah, it’s far, but it’s not hard. At least, it doesn’t need to be. Continue reading Jitters and Rain→
In many sports, technology can be easier to improve than the athlete. Slight changes in designs and the replacement of old materials with new, high-tech fabrics and alloys can lead to massive increases in performance. Some examples:
Speed Skating: the clap skate was first used in competition by the Dutch women’s team in the ’96/97 season to excellent effect, it soon became the standard. In 1998, a slew of world records were broken due to this new design at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Swimming: high-tech fabrics have been designed such that they reduce a swimmers drag coefficient through water as well as water absorption. This allows them to slip through the water faster than ever.
Javelin: improvements in materials and design by ’84 were yielding throws so long that they almost moved the competitions outside of the stadium. The javelin was instead redesigned to limit the capable flight distance by shifting the center of gravity forward.
Pole-Vault: starting as wood, then ultra-light metal alloys, and now to fiberglass composites that can bend anywhere from 120-160°!
There’s lots more examples of technological improvements in sports, and cycling is definitely among the sports where tech has vastly changed. Frame, tires, hubs, spokes, rims, bearings, shifters, derailleurs, brakes, handle bars, wiring, chains… virtually every single component on bikes have been redesigned at some point, often performing better, shedding weight, or both. So given all of these improvements you have to ask yourself: how much of the sport is the man, and how much is the machine? Continue reading Man vs. Machine→
Siddhattha Gotama – also known as the Buddha – described the middle path as the moderation between extremes. Aristotle referred to this as the “golden mean”, the desirable middle between excess and deficiency. For example, too much courage can lead to recklessness, too little to cowardice. Finding balance in all things – be it work, play, food, sport, love, etc. – can lead to a very happy and healthy life (of course, I’m ignoring the über-rich folks for whom “balance” refers to splitting their travel time between limos, private jets and their Aston Martins).
When riding, there are many aspects where the middle path will serve you well. The more I focus on centering my state of mind as well as my body, the easier and more enjoyable I’ve found these long endurance rides to be. Below are a some of the areas where applying the concept of the middle path has worked well. Continue reading Biking Zen – Finding the Middle Path→