Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Does 1 centimeter matter, anyway?

Australia's Steve Hooker clears 5.96 (19-6 1/2) after clinching the gold medal, beating the Olympic record by 1 centimeter (a half inch) during the pole vault event at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 22, 2008. Hooker cleared 5.90 (19-4 1/4) on his third attempt in the final, immediately after world indoors champion Yevgeniy Lukyanenko of Russia had failed at his last attempt on the same height and took silver at 5.85 (19-2 1/4). Ukraine's Denys Yurchenko took the silver. (UPI Photo/Stephen Shaver)

Does 1 centimeter matter, anyway? I suppose it depends on who you ask. Apparently it mattered to Steve Hooker. But what about on my bicycle? What about the height of my handlebars?

Today I decided to lower my handlebars by 1 centimeter. One of the first things that I noticed on the Surly Long Haul Trucker was the height of the head tube. I haven't seen a head that tall since I poured a Lowenbrau that had been in the closet all summer. And when the bike store built it up for me, they placed the bars on the top of the steerer tube. I would have had to look under my elbows to see left or right! So I lowered it two centimeters, leaving only one spacer beneath it. The bars were even with the saddle. They should be lower. All my other bikes have the bars 1 to 2 inches below saddle height.

I rode a century last weekend with the bars in this rather high position and it seemed OK. My time wasn't great - 7 hours, but I wasn't unhappy, and I was comfortable. However, on Monday, I have to ride a 200 kilometer permanent with someone. And he finished his last century in about 4.5 hours. You're starting to understand why I wanted to lower my bars, aren't you.

After I lowered the handlebars, I went for a ride. Before I finished the first 30 miles, I had a kink in my back. It couldn't be from the bar height, I reasoned, all my handlebars are lower than this in relation to the saddle. Then I began to feel as if the heels of my hands were holding all of my weight. I figured it was all in my mind. One centimeter simply couldn't make that much difference. By the time I returned home, I had the feeling that I could no longer reach the bars. I know what you're thinking - I am certifiable. Well, I am, but that's not the point.

Now I had to decide whether to suffer with the handlebar misalignment I was imagining, or move them back and suffer the guilt of holding back a superior rider, or suffer the shame of being dropped by the side of the road like an ancient and useless rider. One centimeter!

Actually, 1 centimeter probably won't make a difference in my time. And according to my log book, I've ridden my bike over 250 times this year and only 20 of them were with someone. Looks to me like I need to please myself first. (I heard that! Someone up in the bleacher section just shouted, "If you were faster, maybe you wouldn't ride alone so much!" Maybe you're right.)

Anyway, I have to be true to myself. Right? I just heard today that the two biggest reasons for being "unfriended" on facebook were 1: too many boring posts (pictures of your cat, etc.) and 2: too many controversial opinion postings. After hearing that I checked my home page, I wouldn't be surprised to find I had no friends left!

You see, that's the whole point. Friends and family keep your hat close to hand so that if they need to they can give it to you quickly and ask you not to slam the door on your way out. Even your church keeps your membership letter printed and in an envelope so that they can mail it to you when you break an unwritten rule and include a letter telling you that "perhaps God has a different pasture for you to feed in". (Trust me, I know this one.) So if cycling friends were no less fickle, what difference does 1 centimeter make? What difference indeed.

I moved the bar back.

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