A brief introduction to gravity, resistance, wind, and change for people who ride bicycles

Outside forces act on us all the time.

When we stand up, gravity pulls us down. When we sit down, gravity keeps us there. When we lay down, gravity covers us like an oversized version of the lead dickey the dental hygienist positions over the patient’s chest before walking self-assuredly around the corner like Wile E. Coyote lying in wait for the Road Runner.

Beep, beep.

Gravity may seem impersonal, but it’s not. It’s after you, after me, after us.

Gravity enjoyed a brief popularity when Newton had his run-in with the apple, but it really got its game on when bicycles arrived on the scene.

Suddenly, gravity became a riding buddy as people balanced, fell, propelled, and climbed. Gravity was there when Will Robertson rode down the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1885.

We (ok, I) curse gravity when we climb a hill, but even when we descend, gravity maintains an abusive relationship in the guise of a playful embrace.

Where you going?

Down this hill.

I’ll be waiting for you.

What if I don’t come back?

Don’t come back? But where would you go that I wouldn’t find you? You have to admit there’s an attraction between us.

When we sit down, the bicycle seat pushes back at us, as though registering some complaint.

This cannot be, of course, because the seat (or saddle) doesn’t exist in nature. It isn’t a wild beast broken and trained for the task at hand.

The truth is sadder and stranger: We humans create the bicycle seat for our own use. Out of leather or synthetics and steel, carbon fiber, or aluminum, if not exactly ex nihilo.

Given that we are in charge of creation, you’d think we’d do a good job, but no; we are gods whose creation vexes us and instead of praising us, airs grievances.

The bicycle seat has become a prime example of the outside force of resistance.

Wait a minute. I didn’t ask for this job.

Job? You think I’m paying you? You don’t have a job. You have a position, one that I have changed many times over the years.

If I don’t have a job, then how is it that I’ve been on strike for eight hours?

You weren’t on strike. The bicycle’s been parked all day.

But, but…

No buts.

No butts. That’s what I’m trying to say.

Gravity’s drinking buddy is the wind. But gravity drinks at the same hillside bar every day. Wind, on the other hand, will down a bottle of rotgut wherever it finds it.

And that means headwinds blow.

People who ride recreationally often try to ride into the wind on the way out and with the wind on the return. The idea is to fight the wind when their legs are fresh and harness the wind when their legs tire.

It’s a logical strategy that depends on a steady wind.

But the wind is not steady. It stumbles and lashes out. It’s an alcoholic: forgetful, impulsive, unpredictable.

What were you saying? Something about my attractiveness?

Yeah. You’re a real show stopper.

Well, thank you. Here’s a breeze to cool your brow. And another to cool your ear. Brow, ear, ear, brow. Brow, brow, brow—hey, where you going?

I’m turning. I’m tired of you in my face.

I see you turn and raise you a crosswind. Watch the corn husks fly. And yet you turn again? Whither now, fair rider?

I’ve had it. I’m riding home–with you at my back.

Not for long. I’m stopping for a drink. But don’t worry, someone will keep you company. I think I see gravity at the base of that hill up ahead.

Change is yet another external force bedeviling the unwary.

Drivetrains wear out, tires go bald, marketing focuses our attention on what we lack, and so things change—whether the need is obvious or manufactured.

Indeed, change is inevitable. But its speed is variable.

For instance, people with tools and extra parts often accelerate the pace of change beyond the demands of mere maintenance.

Have a good ride? Go anywhere different?

Nope. Same ol’, same ol’.

I see you’re oiling the chain. Got anything else planned?

Nope. No time.

I heard you picked up a steel Lynskey fork from Tim Swanson. That’s different.

Yeah. I might do something with it someday.

You know, these threadless forks and stems with removable faceplates are pretty easy to swap out.

Yes they are.

Wouldn’t take long to get rid of the old fork on the Giant. And you still have that Avid BB7 from the back of the tandem….

Hmm. I could get rid of that front rim brake.

You sure could. And you could do it for, well, let’s say you could do it for my sake.

About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
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2 Responses to A brief introduction to gravity, resistance, wind, and change for people who ride bicycles

  1. Andy Stow says:

    Looks good.

  2. MFJ says:

    Hey, another great cycling post. Thank you. I had never heard of the American Star bike or the related stair stunt, but I remember enjoying riding down a short flight of stairs in Cannonmills in Edinburgh on a modest and quite ugly Dawes MTB whose suspension fork I’d replaced with a fixed one. It was a lot of fun.

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