Discovering the hidden power in cycling and life
I’m 51 and learning to ride a bike. I mean, I’ve been riding bikes since I was a kid, and I did some pretty regular mountain biking 25 years ago, but this is the first time I’ve really learned how to ride. This is different. Let me explain.
My boyfriend got me into spin classes a couple of years ago. He’d been a spin class and cycling enthusiast before we met, and he advised me early on that one had to have clip-in shoes if one was serious about either of those endeavors. I’d get much more power out of each pedal stroke, he said, with my foot secured to the pedal.
I had my doubts; sticking my shoes to the pedals of any bike sounded about as safe as walking a tightrope with my feet duct-taped to 10-pound dumbbells. But once I tried the special shoes in spin class (and accepted that I’d waddle like a duck walking in them), I realized my boyfriend was right. Apparently, soft sneaker soles absorb a lot of the power you’re trying to transfer to the pedal. What’s more, with your feet clipped in, you power your bike not just by pushing down but also pulling up.
A few weeks ago, we both started cycling again — on real bikes. Which meant my having to re-learn how to ride a bike with those damn clip shoes. The actual riding part was easy — it was, well, like riding a bike. But overcoming the fear of clipping in and navigating bike path walkers, runners, rollerbladers and other cyclists — all with your feet glued to the pedals — plus learning to unclip and stop for cars at intersections without tipping over and busting your ass on the pavement — that was tough. They call them “SPD” clips (an acronym for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) but at first, they felt So Pointless and Dumb, and when I fell, I felt like Such a Profound Doofus.
But with a better pair of shoes and some practice, I’ve come to love this kind of cycling. On a real bike, the foot/pedal connection with clip shoes is even more powerful than on a spin bike. Seriously, it’s amazing. You can power yourself forward not just with the downstroke of the pedal, but the upstroke too.* Now I think SPD should stand for Super-Powered and Deadly, because when you power your upstroke, it’s no longer just a useless rest between the “real” downstroke moments, but an addition to them, and something just as powerful.
All of this got me thinking (one- to two-hour rides give you lots of time to do that) about many things, but mostly: how many times I’ve ridden a bike and never knew there was a better way to do it; and how I might find hidden sources of power in other areas of life.
The human journey has its own upstrokes and downstrokes — sometimes we call them hills and valleys. What if we were to find the power in the upstrokes of life as well as the downstrokes? If we did, could each of us add 50% more to our productivity, meaningfulness, or sense of well-being? I haven’t figured it out yet, but the possibilities are mind-blowing. Maybe the answer lies right around the next bend.
*Die-hard cyclists actually break it down into the downstroke, backstroke, upstroke and overstroke. That’s too much for me right now.
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