The Importance of Proper Seat Height

Last Sunday I rode 32 miles of Puget Sound’s typical up-and-down topography, and when I got home, I felt it in every muscle I had. I walked yesterday to change it up, and today’s ride was the first since the long ride.

I thought I was still suffering issues from the extra long ride, as my knees were both hurting so badly I had to warm up with a very slow pace for a couple miles before they were ready to exercise. I thought it was early signs of arthritis in my knees. Then I remembered my most recent trip to the bike shop.

I recently bought my daughter a used bike and helmet for a very early Christmas present. She had been looking for a compelling outdoor exercise and, not having a car, she could get around better by bike. I watched as the bike shop employee carefully adjusted her seat to the right height for her. I suddenly realized that is probably my problem.

A proper seat height, the guy at the bike shop said, should accommodate you sitting with your full weight on the seat. At the bottom stroke of the pedal, your leg should be more or less fully extended with the heel flat on the pedal, without leaning over to do it. Any shorter the seat could over-stress your knees, he said, while if adjusted too high, could cause you to strain just to pedal.

I found my seat could be raised almost a full inch with that measurement, and  I raised it midway through my ride. The rest of the ride was a breeze– it was almost like I had renewed knees!

Cycling as a Metaphor for Life #2

I decided on a 25-mile ride today, 12 1/2 miles to the heart of the Green River Valley in Kent and back. It would be a challenging ride for me, as it involved a 400-ft climb up Peasley Canyon, connecting Federal Way with Auburn. But I felt I was up to the challenge, and my bike was too.

I got to the 12-mile mark, only half a mile from my turnaround point, and TWANG! I popped a spoke. Immediately the rear wheel fell out of true alignment and wobbled against the brake, which I had to disconnect. I hobbled the 12 miles, climbing 400 feet in doing so, on a wobbling bike.

Lately I had suffered from a lag in my personal self-esteem, wondering if I was really worth anything– did I have anything to contribute? Dire as that may sound, I believe everyone goes through those phases when they wonder just why they’re here, for what purpose. I tend to believe everyone has a purpose, and everyone has talents to help them achieve that purpose. Maybe it seems like that isn’t very much. But neither is that little spoke, a piece of metal wire about 12 inches long, only one of dozens on any typical bike. And yet, it proves its worth when it pops or is missing– its absence affects the entire system, and can rapidly end a good ride.

Just as every part of the bike matters to a successful ride, everyone matters in life too.

A Pacific Northwest Morning

I’m not really a morning person. If left to my own choice I’d sleep in till 9 or 10, thepn trees time when my mother says the day is “half over”. But this morning I was on my bike, traveling across town to help clean my church. And I’m glad I did.

There is a pristine feel to an early Saturday morning ride, since the roads are pretty empty and the only people out are usually health or nature nuts. This morning a Pacific Northwest fog made it seem even quieter and more peaceful. The air was cool and slightly damp, scrubbed clean by the evergreens and made sweet by goldenrod and blossoms of the ever-present blackberries. The tall spires of the Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock disappeared in the mists. It’s a Pacific Northwest morning, and I’m enjoying it to the hilt.

I’m glad I didn’t drive to church!

Progress Comes Slowly

There’s a place I used to love to bike to, a state park called Dash Point, right on the outskirts of Federal Way, Washington. It has a nice beach, particularly during low tide, and a peaceful picnic area atop the cliffs behind the coastline. On top of these cliffs, on a clear day not only can you see much of Vashion Island across the Puget Sound, but over the top of the island you can see the tiny tip of Mt. BakeDash Point Autumnr, over 120 miles to the north. I used to bike to this picnic area and enjoy these peaceful vistas, but I haven’t ridden down there in several months.

One of the reasons I didn’t bike down there as much anymore is that unlike most of the paths I ride (where I ascend first then descend on the way home), I would pretty much be riding downhill to the park and climb back up to my home. I liked being able to say, “It’s all downhill from here!” So I rode elsewhere.

These past few days I’ve felt a little sluggish when climbing small inclines that I thought would be easy by now. I didn’t feel I was making much if any headway. Why wasn’t I getting any stronger? Then I decided to ride to Dash Point for a mental pick-me-up. Sunset at the picnic area always refreshes me.

It was only because I hadn’t ridden down there in several months that I noticed the difference. Hills that I struggled climbing before were not as much of a struggle now. I found I even shaved 10% off my travel time!

Now I can see I have progressed. Progress comes slowly, almost imperceptibly. But it DOES come!

The Perfect Sport for ADHD

I’m no doctor, but I look upon bicycling as the perfect exercise for a person, such as myself, with ADHD.

Hey look– a squirrel!

What I mean is, it is the ideal pastime for a person who, like me, cannot keep their attention focused on anadhdy one thing for any amount of time. While I love to walk, it doesn’t provide an adequate enough change of scenery, because I cannot get from Point A to Point B quickly enough.

Was that an owl that just flew overhead?

I decided to change up my routine today and walk laps at the local municipal track, about three blocks from where I live. It felt good to my aching knees and seat to try a different exercise, but I felt like I was crawling. I’m just not used to moving that slow!

Wow, the Mountain looks pretty this evening…rarely do you see Mt. Rainier without any clouds…

A change in the exercise regimen is good for the body and for the mind. Bicycling can strengthen certain parts of the body (such as shoulders, thighs and glutes), while another type of exercise can focus on different parts of the body, making a well-rounded exercise regime. And you won’t get bored with the same routine every day.

But sometimes that is easier said than done. We tend to get into ruts, doing the same thing over and over every day because it’s what we’re accustomed to. My grandmother used to say that a change is as good as a rest. So if I get tired of the same thing, or the weight loss or other physical progress seems to level off, changing it up is the best cure. But even if just bicycling, there is enough to change to make things interesting and exercise different parts of the body. That’s why when looking for a bike, I purchased a hybrid: I have the best of both worlds, road and off-road. One slightly tends to be more aerobic, the other a little more intense and akin to weight training for certain parts of the body.  I can choose a flat path along the Green River for quick changes of scenery and a longer endurance ride, or hit the rough bike trails at Dash Point State Park for an intense, “push it uphill” workout. And there is definitely enough to satisfy even my short attention span.

………….What were we talking about??

The Ghost Train

What’s a decent blog without a ghost story thrown in for good effect?

The Interurban Trail’s northern section in Tukwila, Washington, is like the rest of the 15-mile long trail– almost straight as a shot, running north and south in parallel course to the Union Pacific Railroad track connecting Seattle with Auburn and points south. In Tukwila, however, the trail is flanked by heavy growth of trees and brush on both sides, limiting vision beyond a few feet from the trail. Here and there the growth will open and you can see the railroad track about 50 feet to the east of the trail, and on one occasion a spur to local industrial areas crosses the trail. It was at this junction that I first heard the train whistle.

I fortunately had plenty of time to stop and check the track for the train’s position. Judging from the rapidly increasing noise, I judged the train would pass me in less than a minute, and at a quick rate of speed- too quick to be travelling along the spur. I waited, however, until I could see to be certain.

But there was no train.

The noise continued to increase as the phantom train rapidly approached, but seeing no appearance of it, I proceeded on, searching steadfastly to my left for the source of the noise. I caught sights of the track in snippets, here a second, there a second. But still no train. The rushing of the cars now passed my ears. The clackety-clacking of the rails was at hand. The ground vibrated with the commotion. But still the rail lay perfectly bare.

Finally at the end I heard the roar of the diesel engine as the locomotive passed and receded into the distance. At that moment the view opened and I was able to see up and down the length of the track for some ways, but the track was empty. Nothing else was around.

Now I could romanticize the story by talking of past bicyclists who, oblivious to the danger, rode in the wake of a passing locomotive, dying instantly and forever haunting the area as a reminder to all who pass of the danger that abounds there. But I want to keep this a true story. And so, in that light I have to add a little epilogue:

About 200 yards further up the track, the trees open completely and one can see the second track that lay 20 feet beyond the first track. Oh well. Made for a nice little ghost story anyway, I thought.

Cycling as a Metaphor for Life #1

A few years back I took my teenage daughter on a tour of the San Juan Islandsin northwest Washington. We took camping equipment for an extended weekend and brought our bikes with us. When we headed up there, we had no idea how helpful those cheap Wal-Mart bikes would be.

Although there are 172 islands in the San Juan’s, the main ferry system (owned by Washington State Ferries) only services four of the larger islands: Lopez Island, Orcas Island, Shaw Island and San Juan Island. One set of larger boats connect with the mainland at Anacortes, Washington, and in Sydney in British Columbia. Other smaller boats ran between the four islands; we called those the Island Hoppers. We found as soon as we landed on Lopez Island, the first stop after Anacortes, that we could simply bike on to any island hopper we wanted, without having to pay. Driving the car on would coast over $20 each time.

So we biked around the islands, riding through grand forests of Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock, skirting broad fields and meadows, eating wild strawberries and blackberries, and seeing the odd raccoon standing by the road as if to greet us in passing. Being forced by circumstance to leave the car behind, our observations of island beauty were far greater than they would have been had we been speeding through those same roads at the 45 mph speed limit.

Just goes to show: sometimes circumstance takes away something you’ve grown to depend on, only to open the way to something far more blessed.