## Friday, July 15, 2011

### Learning curve pt. deux

This is what it looks like when the learning curve for a beginner mountain biker turns sharply upwards:

Yeah, it looks pretty lame in the photograph. In reality it is much scarier. This is the infamous Col du Paloheinä, one of the most fabled and fearsome climbs in Helsinki. The climb on the eastern side, as pictured here, is the steepest, and it stretches on and on, agonisingly, for at least 160 metres. Well. The climb is not so long, but it is really steep. According to my calculations, which may be wrong, because my sports instrument is not so accurate, and my math skills are very rusty (I even had to re-study the Pythagorean theorem for this), the average grade is exactly 37,7 %. Wow. It is so steep it is barely possible to ride it, sitting down, without doing an inadvertent wheelie and flipping over backwards. I tend to find it a bit scary. The exercise is great, but I'm slightly frightened about the flipping over backwards bit. Also, I've found out, that if you go up a really steep rise using a too big gear, you may reach a point where it becomes physically impossible to rotate the cranks anymore, and when that happens, you've got to be able to put your foot down really quick, to avoid falling over and/or backwards, and therefore you've got to be able to free your foot from the clipless pedals very fast.

I also find bicycling down very steep hills scary. Consider this one, another side of the Col du Paloheinä, for example:

Riding down hills is all fast and easy, whoopee, but what if you aren't able to become to a complete halt in the middle, because of the speed and the steepness, and the loss of traction because of the slipperiness of the surface, should the need arise? Going over the bars is always an option, but I'm a virgin in that, per se esteemed, area of bicycling, and afraid to become experienced. I might be a bit of a control freak, and it seems unlikely that I will ever become a successful downhill racer. Damn, I should have started practicing earlier, when I was still reckless. Was I ever reckless? I forget.

From the top of the Col du Paloheinä, it is possible to see the other towering giant of Helsinki, the Col du Malminkartano:

Um, if it's not possible, it's the slight hiccup on the skyline exactly in the center of the picture. It's not really, really far away either, it's some 4 km, as the crow flies. Which leads me to my next subject. Why can't they erect proper signs on bicycling routes, so it would be possible to go 4 km from A to B, within one city, on a bicycle, without consulting a map or a navigator? I can see the place I want to go to from the hilltop. It's somewhat directly westward, some 4 km from where I am located. Both A and B are places frequently visited by bicyclists. Why can't they mark the route from A to B clearly?

Here's what my route from A to B looked like, as taken from my sports instrument, on the 2nd time I went there, i.e. when I thought I already knew which way to go:

Voiceover for the markings:
A. And off we go! I'll just use my excellent memory, intuition and sense of direction to navigate to Col du Malminkartano without using any kinds of maps whatsoever.
1. Uhh... an intersection, no signs... that one seems to be in the general direction.
2. Excellent! A sign clearly stating "Malminkartano"!
3. Crap. Cycling route disappears. There's a large road, some residential streets. No signs. I know one street is a dead end from the last time I was here. I'll try another one.
4. Woohoo! Bicycling is fun. I wonder who wins today's etape. Cavendish or some other one? Wait, should I have gone some other way in the last intersection?
5. WTF? I don't know where the hell I am. Must I use the navigator on the phone again?
6. Another large road? I don't think I should cross that many.
7. Ok. If we had real mountains, they would be visible from nearby areas. This is ridiculous. I give up. I'll use the navigator, although onlookers will think I'm texting while bicycling, if I hold the phone in my hand. Yuck.
8. Yeesh. What kind of people live in neighbourhoods that look as boring as these? They must get drunk a lot to withstand the boredom.
9. Hey, that street looks somewhat familiar. Must be close.
B. Finally! It does look kind of big. I wonder what real mountains look like. I don't know what the hell those stripes are for though:

Perhaps I haven't assimilated the innermost essence of mountain biking yet, because the thing I enjoy the most in it is climbing up steep hills while wondering what it would be like to climb the mountains in the Tour de France. I've finally found a use for the granny ring, and the granniest ring in the rear cassette as well, and I'm not so sure I could manage the mountains without a triple chainring. Even though I have the "compact" chainrings in my road bike.

For instance, I gather that real mountain bikers build, and ride off of, contraptions such as these in order to make their mountain biking more exciting:

I, for one, found it exciting enought to ride down the hill very slowly, going around the ramps, albeit part of the excitement resulted from the fact that my rear brake began to squeal in a very loud, metally fashion on the top, and therefore I descended using mostly just the front brake.

It might be a good idea to get to know scary descents by riding them down very slowly on the first time, or even walking. That way you don't die so often by hitting hidden jumps (believe or not, there are several in this picture):

Or fall over in shrubs of burdock:

Although being covered in burdock isn't so bad. In fact, I believe, that it grants one a certain kind of a mountain credibility.