Monday, July 29, 2013

Slow and Steady

Sometimes when I'm out riding my bike or running or whatever, the old tagline moral from The Tortoise and the Hare crosses my mind: "Slow and steady wins the race."

The next thing that crosses my mind is, "What a load of hogwash!"

I mean, slow and steady will always get you to the finish line (unless you're in the mountains and some heavy weather starts moving in - struck-by-lightening loses.), but the truth is, fast and steady wins the race.*

At the first 10k I ever ran, I overheard some guys talking a little way off the starting line. "All these people start out too strong. But they'll all tire out before they're halfway through and then we'll be passing them." Once I'd passed, I didn't see them again.

Don't get me wrong: in general there's nothing wrong with slow and steady. Sometimes just making it from start to finish is what it's all about. But don't let that adage be an excuse not to push yourself to your full potential. I'm not out there to win; I'm out there to see what I'm made of.

But isn't it supposed to be about having fun? Yeah, that too. The thing is, there's a certain confidence and gratification that comes from finding out that you are capable of more than you previously thought. And that feeling, to me, is a big part of fun.

So get out there and push it. Hold today's performance up against what you think you can do. As long as you're beating that self-image, you're winning.

* I'm not here to spray about how great I am. For the record, I'm much more in the "moderate and steady" category.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pedal Terminology: there, I fixed it.

Today I found myself getting all fired up about bicycle pedals. Specifically, the names we have for different types of pedals has always bothered me.

It all comes from not being able to see the future. But maybe that's not where I should begin.

Okay, so let's look at what we have. First is your basic platform pedal.

Platform pedal
You may find these in the bottom of a spare parts box. They were removed within five minutes of some newly-purchased bike's homecoming (right after the pie plate behind the cassette was taken off, but those are never saved). They can also be seen on cruiser bikes (as witnessed above), or fancier models might grace the cranks of a BMX or trials bike.

The second kind of pedal is still basically just a platform pedal, but it has "toe clips" on it.

Pedal with toe clips
These are employed on hipster-style fixed-gear and gentrified randonee bicycles. Okay, and also track bikes, maybe. And in this case, my daughter's WeeHoo 3rd-wheel trailer bike thing. The straps mostly just keep your feet from being thrown from the pedal when either your bike decides it's going to keep going whether you want it to or not (fixed-gear); or when you find yourself out of your depth, cadence-wise (all other types). They are also a training mechanism for the dexterity needed to graduate to the next evolutionary stage of foot-bike interface....

Finally, we have pedals which lock onto cleats on the bottom of special-purpose cycling shoes.

Clipless pedal and cycling shoe with cleat
In one form or another, these are found on most road and mountain bikes. Aside from the obvious revenue boost to the cycling apparel industry, this kind serves a couple of purposes beyond the toe-clip variety: 1) they allow a greater amount of upward force to be applied when pedaling, which increases efficiency; and 2) they cause new would-be bike racers, having failed to wrangle their foot free in time, to fall over when they come to a stop. The latter helps the cyclist learn the humility required to be seen in public wearing brightly-colored Lycra during future bicycling ventures.

So back to my terminology gripe.

Platform pedals are reasonably named. They do, after all, provide a platform for you to push your foot down on just before it slips off and your shoelaces get caught in the chain.

But the second two types cause some major problems. You see, through an unfortunate lapse in foresight, the things that hold one's feet to the pedals of the second type were called "toe clips" rather than "toe straps." Little did they know that some genius would come along some years later and invent a pedal that you actually clip into. So once the final pedal came along, eliminating the "clips," this piece of technology came to be known as "clipless" pedals.

That's right. You clip into clipless pedals. How confusing is that?

So here's my proposal:

  1. Clipless pedals should be known as "clipful"
  2. Pedals with toe clips will be called "strapish"
  3. So long as we're renaming everything else, let's call platform pedals "backups" or "spares" or "little Billy's ticket for a new pair of shoes"
I think you'll have to agree that this arrangement clears up a lot of confusion.

You'll note that there's not a single Wikipedia reference or Sheldon Brown citation here. That's because all bike geeks suddenly know all of this stuff the second they walk into their first bike shop. Please just accept everything here as unquestionable truth.

Eating Vegan in Korea and Japan

One of the things many people have asked about our trip to Korea and Japan last month is how did I maintain a vegan diet while we were there. Those countries are heavily reliant on seafood, and even in dishes that are not inherently meat-based, some kind of fish sauce is often used in the preparation.

When planning the trip, the details of how I was going to eat were something that gave me a certain amount of anxiety. Even if vegan-friendly dishes are on the menu, the language barrier would make it difficult to ask the wait staff (if there is any) about them. Some people have blogged about how to travel and stick with a strict vegan diet. That's not what I'm doing here. Before we left home, I decided that the best way to approach the situation was to just do the best I can with it.

Fresh vegetables are easy to find in Korea.
While staying at my sister's house in Korea, things weren't so difficult. For meals that were prepared at home, we generally knew what was going into them. But that wasn't always the case. At one of the open-air markets we went to, I bought a few different items from a kimchi stand. When we served them with dinner that night, I found that one of the big piles of seaweed on my plate was saturated with fish oil. I ate it anyway. It freaked me out a little, but I figured that as long as it was there, I may as well have the culinary experience.

The scenario would repeat itself to lesser degrees at various restaurants - the udon might be prepared in fish stock; the baked goods may or may not contain dairy or eggs; the rice and vegetable dish might have shredded dried fish as a garnish. I decided that I wasn't going to let that be too much of a hang-up.

Tofu and bean curd vendor in Pyeongtaek
So did I "cheat" on my diet? I wouldn't say so. When people talk about cheating, I imagine it to mean that there's some forbidden thing they just couldn't find the willpower to resist. But in foreign countries, there are some food dishes that are just intrinsic to the culture. I'm not sure it counts as cheating to make a calculated decision to experience that aspect of the journey despite the fact that it doesn't hold up to the standards we would keep while at home. And the classic definition of veganism allows that the best we can do is make every reasonable effort to avoid the exploitation of animals. It doesn't say anything about having your super-powers revoked just because you can't speak the local language.

Anyway, the short of it is: I didn't want to turn the family vacation into a frustrating exercise in foraging for food in a land where the notion of veganism is as foreign to them as their traditions are to me.

Ad for a Vegan phone (yeah, I know...)
That said, I think it went pretty well. We managed to find soy milk at the 7&I convenience stores (7-11 equivalent, to those here in the US).

Japanese soy milk - the picture of the beans is a give-away, but also look for "大豆" (soy) or "豆乳" (soy milk)
They also had steamed rice and seaweed with sesame oil in the refrigerated prepared foods section. At grocery stores we found everything from fresh produce to breakfast cereal to eat in our hotel room that were known to be vegan. When eating out, there were always tofu and vegetable dishes that appeared to be fish-free. And I discovered that an extra helping of steamed rice does wonders for one's sense of satiety.

Oh... did I mention we found some yerba mate at the street market in Pyeongtaek? The vendor had a big jug of it (iced) and was handing out samples. We bought a bag of yerba which came with a pack of paper filter baggies and instructions (in Korean) for preparing it. Not quite the same as sipping it hot from a bombilla, but it was a refreshingly cool twist on something I learned to love during our visit to Argentina a couple of years ago.