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Carless- Day Eighteen - Crank Length

The problem, I find, with riding Amy’s “girl’s” bike has nothing to do with crossing some culturally-induced gender line. Her bike’s just uncomfortable to ride, even though it has more gears than I can practicably find. It feels somehow built wrong.

I adjusted the seat to compensate for my longer legs, making sure to find that sweet spot between over and under extension; and I think I found that spot. Still, when I started pedaling, something felt wrong. The circumference of the pedal circle seemed too short, restricted. I’d ridden bikes like this before and found them dispensing charlie horse cramps, achy knees, and sore hip joints. The only solution I’ve ever found to this difficulty has been to not ride those bikes.

I did a little search—as distinguished from research (Googling isn’t research)—to find what might cause this experience, and happened upon a concept labeled ‘crank length.’ Turns out that, indeed, I can set the seat at the proper height and still find a bike essentially unridable due to mismatched ‘crank length.’ Amy’s bike’s crank length feels too short, as if I’m pedaling a midget clown bike instead of a big girl one. This restricts my leg motion to the point of agony after a short time. It also leaves my knees screaming.

There’s science behind all this, the mysterious study of kinesiology, where physics meets human bodies in motion, and, like all good physics, it’s complicated. I remember my first wife struggling more with kinesiology than any other required class. She barely passed that course, and she’s good at math. Me? I helped by manning the flash cards while we walked the campus; me asking, her gritting her teeth and responding.

The science offers little more than a plausible explanation for what I experienced riding Amy’s bike. Unlike my relationship with Amy, my relationship with her bike will be short-lived, a peg-legged adaptation until my bike’s working again. I’m developing a deeper understanding of what bike shops do these days, and what serious bike riders consider when acquiring their wheels. I’d imprinted on a kind of bicycling better suited to my ten year old self than the one here and now, fifty years later. If I’m gonna bike instead of car, kinesiology’s got to be involved.

I live and learn or just live. Losing the car opened space for learning, but learning doesn’t always happen between the ears. The knees seem to know something, too, and they speak authoritatively, if annoyingly. When they scream, I listen. Whether I hear anything useful might require some appreciating— if not ever understanding—some science only a deeply-steeped professional could ever grok.

When I’m cranky after riding, my crank length might need adjusting.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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