Let’s get trite!

Posted on December 17th, 2010 2 great comments. Room for one more!

Just for the record, I don’t think the Toronto Star is a rag just because it chooses to indulge in some fluffy writing. But when I saw this posted a few days ago I felt a deep need to open it up to some criticism:

illustration, toronto star, graphic, bicycling, winter, ice, snow, toronto, city, life

That attractive graphic is from the following story: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/905944–everything-you-need-to-know-about-winter-cycling-in-the-gta

Yup, everything you need to know about winter cycling in the GTA. Title sounds really interesting, doesn’t it? Soon as I saw it I was imagining something like comparisons of routes or interesting techniques to help you keep your balance, that kinda stuff. Instead, the article opens, “With the right clothing, gear and techniques, even the most casual cyclist can keep rolling all year round.”

Clearly the Star’s definition of “casual” is a bit different than mine. Have another gander at that illustration … casual cyclist? Really?

Then they get into the “everything you need to know” part:

  • Ride slower
  • Anticipate stops
  • Be aware
  • Reduce tire pressure
  • Know the conditions
  • Turn safely

Okay, so taking some air out of your tires might not be common knowledge. Maybe. And it is useful (increasing the tire contact area allows you to stop better), but the rest of these points can be boiled down to simply: be careful!

The rest of the advice is almost as trite: dress warm (I never would’ve thought of that myself), keep your bike maintained (because it rides better when it’s seized up), oil your lock so it doesn’t freeze (below -10°C oil does shit), and wear goggles if you find you can’t see. Oh yeah, and wear your “pinko” badge so that you can proudly display how anti-car you are.

They should’ve called the article “Obvious winter cycling tips for slow people who may never have experienced winter”.

I don’t bike much so I don’t have much to offer on this topic, but I’m pretty darned sure they could’ve done better.

Here are a few walking tips (since that’s what I do best), hopefully not so obvious, and hopefully actually useful. And no, this more than likely isn’t everything you need to know.

Power Walking

This isn’t that walking technique where you stick your hips out and take long, funny-looking strides (even though that is actually pretty effective), this has to do with simply increasing your walking speed while simultaneously reducing your effort.

Here’s how most people walk (shot, incidentally, in front of my Ray John video backdrop — almost there!):

walking technique, toronto, city, life

Note that the rear foot is bent as the leg pushes against the ground, propelling you forward. The standard walk.

In the power walk, your foot stays mostly straight and usually doesn’t go quite as far back:

walking technique, toronto, city, life

Instead of pushing yourself forward, here you’re mostly pulling yourself by focusing on extending your leading leg farther out in front and using the backs of your leg to pull your body forward.

The difference is hard to spot but if you’re using it you’ll notice an immediate increase in speed. I mean you will literally feel yourself lurch forward.  And all you really have to do is concentrate on pulling yourself along the ground; concentrate on using the muscles down the back of your legs, even squeeze your ass at the end of each stroke. It’s amazing how fast you’ll suddenly be able to go, and I find it doesn’t take nearly as much effort as the standard “push” walk.

Winter Walking

The winter walk is simply an extension of the power walk. Believe it or not you can actually maintain an almost equal pace to that on dry pavement simply by stiffening your legs.

I only have one real pair of winter boots and I only use those when the snow gets too high to wear anything else. All my other shoes are slippery on just about anything else – snow, ice, wet grates, pavement marking, stone, etc. I’ve found that by keeping my legs stiff, barely bending my knees, and by using the same power walking motion (pulling instead of pushing), I can move at a great clip across just about anything.

This technique works mostly because of the pulling motion … the force against the slippery surface increases as your leg gets closer to your center of gravity. In regular walking, you exert most of the force down and then back, almost forcing your foot to slide out from under you as you become unbalanced.

By keeping your legs stiff you’re keeping the force relatively steady … not pushing too much here nor there and potentially setting yourself up for a slip at that point. By bending your knees you’re introducing another dynamic into the equation and it becomes that much more difficult to control.

Stair Walking

This technique also applies mostly to slippery surfaces, but don’t let that stop you! It actually comprises of two parts: the walking up the walking down. And yes, very different.

While walking up stairs, what you want to do is to place your whole foot on the next step as flat as you can get it. Some people put only half a foot or they “toe” it up the stairs, but as this is the foot that’s propelling you forward, you want to give it as much surface area to grip with as possible (think power walking). Get that whole sucker on there!

On the way down it’s the exact opposite; here you want to toe it down, or hit each lower step with only the first half of your foot first. In this case, if you put the whole foot flat on the lower step you’re forcing yourself to lean back a bit, often resulting in your rear foot sliding out from under you before you’ve had a chance to step down (kind of like a “push” step but in reverse).

And there you go, three actual useful tips that you may not have considered and that don’t imply that you’re an ignorant dolt. And I didn’t even waste a great infographic!

2 Comments on “ Let’s get trite! ”

  • Kato
    December 21st, 2010 10:33 am

    BAHAHA!!! Oh boy. I also saw that article and was all "Whaaa?"

    Brilliant post.

    Read more from Kato at:
  • Patrick
    December 21st, 2010 1:00 pm

    Hehe. Thanks, Kato. Hopefully it helps you … erm … walk. :)

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