Monday, April 16, 2007

Coasting is a pernicious habit...

...with apologies to Sheldon Brown who coined the phrase first.

I didn't ride all last week because of knee problems, and I thought it would be beneficial to avoid the fixed gear when I started up again. So yesterday afternoon, I worked on the Bianchi to get it ready for the morning commute. It needed new dérailleur cables and a replacement saddle. The ancient Sella San Marco Strada was falling apart. I toyed with the idea of putting a Brooks Pro on it, but the two I have are both in use on the fixed gear bikes. So I dug out an equally ancient Concour that had seen little use. It's comfortable on short hauls, but I'll reserve judgment on it's suitability for longer rides.

The morning found me frazzled and disorganized. Usually I set out my things the night before, so it's a no-brainer in the pre-dawn darkness. And I did some of that last night. But the brain was coffee deprived and it missed some things. I go through a checklist. Lights? Water bottle? Work ID? Pannier? The problem this morning was that I seldom carry a messenger bag, but I'd brought my laptop home on Friday and I needed to transport it back to work. I was almost a mile from home before I realized the error.

Fortunately, I had plenty of time. I went back to the house – to the delight of the cats, who thought they'd get a second breakfast – grabbed the messenger bag and took off again. Coasting down the hill felt odd. It was cold, for one thing, because I was riding faster than I normally do, and the speed was high enough to over-reach my little headlight. But I know where the potholes are, so it wasn't too dangerous.

The Bianchi felt odd, though. It's been out of service since September of last year. I installed a new headset over the winter and did some minor repairs. The old headset was brindled, making the steering very notchy. But after riding the Centurion fixed gear all winter, the position and handling of the Bianchi seemed foreign. This is a little bit strange since I've always thought of that bike almost as a comfortable old chair.

And it coasts!

Coasting feels weird too. The first time I did it, my legs responded with, “What are you doing!” I almost expected that sudden kick as the pedals kept trying to turn. Coasting is very strange after riding a fixed gear for six months.

I tend to mash big gears when I'm on the Bianchi, but with the recent knee problems as a reminder, I stayed in a smallish gear in order to spin easily. It felt like a slow trip to work. I didn't reset the bike computer, so I can't put any numbers to it. My main concern was avoiding further injury. I even wore a neoprene Ace bandage over my tights. It was black-on-black so I didn't commit an unforgivable fashion faux pas. Despite temperatures in the low 40s, I arrived at work with a sweaty, damp knee. Those neoprene bandages are meant to retain heat and increase circulation, so it performed as advertised. Imagine what a thin neoprene vest would do.

That left knee worked OK on the morning commute. I avoided pushing hard, as I said up above. The ride home is longer and includes nearly a mile of climbing, so I intend to take it easy. Who knows, maybe I'll even use the granny gear.

(And I did need that granny gear!)

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