Different Strokes

First up a question: “What type of stroker are you?“. While awaiting answers which I am sure will include “Playful” “Rude” and “Heart”, let me focus the roving eye of smut onto something a little closer to the real point. Back in the day when I had hair under my crash helmet, two wheeled transport came with engines and regular accidents. And most of those engines, which also came with regular rebuilds, were of the two stroke variety. Motors that went “Suck-Squeeze” “Bang-Blow” as opposed to your four stroking “Suck” “Squeeze” “Bang” “Blow“*

Two strokes were known for a power band stretching 2 maybe 3 thousand revs. My old RD350LC would barely move below 6k whereupon it would rear skywards like a Lipizzaner stallion, right up to the point where the piston rings exploded. It wasn’t a relaxing way to ride; one hand hovering over the clutch lever, ready to cut the engine before your trousers caught fire, and the other hanging onto this amped up rocketship pawing at the horizon. I loved it.

But as I got older and wanted to travel further than the end of the road, I became a four stroke man. Far more relaxing, especially with a big capacity twin cylinder throbbing away between your wedding tackle**. It’d pull your ears off from about 1 revolution a minute, until running out of steam about the time the 2 stroke was about to get snarly and interesting. Four strokes you rode on the throttle, two strokes on the gears.

There’s a point here, and we are getting to it. Most cyclists think they’re four strokes. Well let me qualify that, most BLOKES who ride Mountain bikes assume that their internal combustion engine is like that monster twin – powerful, almost infinite and torque-ier than a tractor. Which is why you see big gears being pushed in slow revolutions as proper men bend the terrain to their will. Let’s be honest spinning away like a demented hamster isn’t exactly macho is it? It’s all a bit, well, girly and possibly roadie.

As a rider with significant PSO***in my riding history and the logical reasoning that spinning faster must use more lung capacity, I’ve always been a Four Stroker. Until now. Because, counter intuitive as it may seem, you are at your most biomechanically efficient when spinning at 80-100 RPM. I’m normally knocking a zero off that on super steep climbs, with prominent forehead veins, associated gasping and a sore knee.

I have learned quite some stuff this week, and some of it from the factual vacuum that is the global Internet. Normally any search with a medical term will bring back results only two clicks away from a “you have incurable cancer” diagnosis. But I made an effort to chaff my way to the wheat, and then experimented practically on the dark side of the cycling moon. Monday morning I felt terrible, so decided to punish my lungs with a zero degree commute. That’s not zero degree gradient sadly, and the last of those had me flapping about on the station platform in the manner of a recently landed trout.

I don’t believe the desperate search for a ventalin, bulging eyeballs and chronic rasping cough nailed me up as the poster boy for “Go Cycling, it’s the healthy option“. Therefore the trip back was viewed with some trepidation – I could have asked for a lift from Carol, but that’s just giving up, accepting the thin end of the wedge, taking the expressway to gloom. So instead of treating every hill as a personal challenge to my mighty thighs, I decided to go long on leg, and short on lung.

Spinning fast feels silly, it probably looks silly, and we’ve already established it’s borderline homosexual but you know what? It only bloody well works. First big hill, I guiltlessly selected the little front cog and accelerated up the gradient. Tailwind or broken GPS I reasoned, until it happened again and then kept on happening. Emboldened by this cheating approach to speed, the final big hill was seamlessly segued into the way home.

It’s one I’ve been avoiding, basing my valley road rationale on its post winter slop and potholed brokeness. But this was just a shameless façade to hide the real reason that a 250 foot climb gained by a steep gradient wasn’t compatible with mono-lung. And if I’d attacked it as I normally do – Four Stroke, don’t change down, wind up the motor – then it probably wouldn’t have been. But in two stroke guise, I was constantly ratcheting the shifters so I could maintain a fast cadence. I sat and spun the whole way up and the world passed by acceptably quickly, and I didn’t pass out or pass into the next one.

This experiment had an interesting conclusion; the time on the clock showed my fastest ride home. Ever. Okay my previous best effort was on the heavy Cross Bike, but even so this was both unexpected and a bit bloody fantastic. I tried the same approach on last night’s MTB yomp up the hilly Malverns and it’s still a winner, although lumpy terrain and technical challenges blunt it somewhat. And we were taking it pretty easy in deference to my “Bungalow Peak Flow“, but even with all that I’m a total convert.

There will always be a time for some Manly Four Stroke action. But it should be an explosive sprint, not the default approach for every climb. And while I’m still a bit embarrassed at my dalliance with the granny ring, hey you’re carrying those gear with you so why the hell not?

Amusingly I went to see Dr. Leeches understudy who explained a lot of things I probably should have known about Asthma and vectors and management and all that stuff. Eventually we agreed leeches were off and we’d go with some high tech TCP gargling. Saves on pills I suppose – but he did finish with “riding your bike will do you more good than harm”.

Maybe there is something in this medical science eh. Anyway I’m off for a ride on my bike. Or, more accurately, a bit of a spin.

* You see know why I felt it was important to clarify EXACTLY what I was talking about here. I’ve noticed my readers don’t need much encouragement for smuttery.

** I can’t help myself either.

*** Pointless Singlespeed Ownership

4 thoughts on “Different Strokes

  1. Interestingly there was a study (can’t remember by whom, it was cited in a back issue of cycling plus I have) that found that low cadence cycling could be less tiring/taxing than high cadence but it might have been by some dutch guys with associated landscape variables. Spinning up the hill is definitely the general guidance unless you’re trying to get the jump on the ‘pack’. Also most people cite Lance as the high cadence king and well it worked pretty effectively for him. 😉

  2. A lot depends on how you wish to attack said piece of non-horizontal scenery. High cadence for sitting down, low cadence for standing: I can maintain about the same speed up hill in either format, but the choice will depend on the terrain and the bike I’m riding. Both leave me feeling like I want to drape my lungs over the stem if I really push hard, but I can maintain the sitting version for longer at lower speed, simply because I’m not supporting my mass on my legs.

  3. Huey

    C+ are like the redtops in their articles and presentation. One month high cadence is king, the next low cadence rules, one month a high carbo diet is best, the next high fat. They major on inconsistency.

    Welcome to a world of spin, Alex 🙂

  4. Alex

    Heels down now as well. I’m even thinking of some roadie shoes but my commute (which is most of my road riding) includes steps, slippy platforms and a slick station concourse. So maybe not.

    I bought C+ for a couple of weeks before coming to the conclusion it was really properly shit. MBR school of editorial management 🙂

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