What??? You read the title and you couldn’t figure out how in the world a bicycle handlebar and a police car could have anything in common, right? Well, stick with me on this post and I’ll explain. Hey, this world and life are WAY too serious, so you gotta have a little fun here and there. Thinking up the title was a little for me…
We all know what a handlebar looks like. They come in so many different styles and shapes but they all have one fundamental similarity; it allows you to maneuver your bike. As a cyclist, that means it involves our arms and hands as the initial physical contact. From what I have seen over the years, cyclists ride their bikes with their arms in either one of two positions: 1. totally straight, or 2. bent (to come degree). Follow me so far? Cool…
Like handlebars on a bike, the steering wheel of a police car serves as the same fundamental as a handlebar; it’s the main component that allows the driver to maneuver the vehicle. Pretty cool comparison, huh? It get better…
LIMIT OF MANUEVERING
I chose police cars versus a personal car because the police are trained in very fast, defensive driving techniques, since they have to drive at high rates of speed. Sometimes they are either trying to get to a crime scene as fast as possible or maybe they are having to chase some crazy driver down. These types of driving skills are most certainly learned and practiced. The part I want to hone in on is all about the arms.
The basic principle I want to highlight is that fact that the way your arms are, whether you are holding a
steering wheel or a handlebar, determines the amount of maneuverability you have. For police officers, when they are in hot pursuit of a criminal, they need to be at their best and be able to quickly maneuver their vehicle in a split-second; there’s NO time to ‘think’.
So it goes for cyclists. You too, when faced with what I call a ‘what-if‘ scenario, will have a split-second decision to make without any time to think. The biggest differences between you and the police officer are that they have 1. seat belts, 2. several air bags, and 3. surrounded by thousands of pounds of steel and aluminum for protection. You? All you have is lycra.
So, which scenario do you think has the greater safety importance? I most SURELY hope you chose yourself. When I crashed racing motorcycles, I went down (or should I accurately say THROWN) at 150mph, and I toppled across 250 feet of asphalt and then another 250 feet of outfield grass. I literally got up and walked myself back to pit row. The only injury, per se, was a small cut on my ankle where the foot peg cut through my leather boots. I had no road rash because I was wearing full leathers. I also was taught how to minimize injuries as part of my racing school training to get my racing license. How many cyclists do you know who have taken a defensive riding class and learned how to crash to minimize injuries? Probably ZERO!!! You see, as a cyclist, your sense of safety should be FAR more heightened than it probably is but way too many cyclists just view safety courses, etc. as a waste of time and certainly not ‘being sexy or cool’. If I were to promote a Climbing and Descending Clinic and a Safety Clinic, you can easily guess which one would book up and which one would be canceled due to lack of interest. What a shame…
OK, let’s talk about your arms. If you were to go participate in a police defensive driving class, then you would get in the car and adjust the seat. Once you get the seat position, you would reach out and grab the steering wheel at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions. My guess is once you do this, you would realize that your arms are probably way to stretched out. Why? Because we are creatures of habit, meaning we would typically adjust the seat in the police car about the same as we have in our personal cars…and that would be way too far away. My eyes don’t miss much and when driving, I see about 90% of all drivers with their arms fully extended…or pretty darn close.
The problem with having your arms stretched out too much is that it dramatically limits you to how far you can turn the steering wheel, and therefore limits your ability to maneuver the vehicle. If you turned the steering wheel as far as you could to the right, then your arms would touch and cross each other when your left hand is at the 2 o’clock position and your right hand at the 8 o’clock position. This means you cannot turn the vehicle any more to the right; you just limited your ability to turn even more…and that could mean the difference of hitting something or not.
Now, let’s take the exact scenario I just mentioned above but the only thing we will change is how close the seat is to the steering wheel. I would come and make you adjust it so that when you grab the steering wheel, your arms are bent approximately 90-110 degrees. Just like before, if you turned the steering wheel to the right, your arms would not touch and cross until your left hand is approximately at 4 o’clock and your right hand at 10 o’clock. Can you imagine just how much FARTHER you are able to maneuver the vehicle? Not only are you able to turn much farther, but you also are able to do it and still be in total control of the vehicle; your hands don’t slip or move. This is key!!!
SAME PRINCIPLE APPLIES
When you jump on a bike to ride, the same principle of maximum maneuverablility applies to the handlebars. The question to you is, how extended are your arms? I am literally hoping that you get in your vehicle and try this for yourself. We are SO conditioned by the cycling industry and marketing that it’s all about speed. They build bikes that are lighter and lighter, touting that they will go faster and faster. Hey, as I have said many times, I LOVE speed (not the power kind); I use to race motorcycles at speeds of 200+mph, so I know full well the concept and principle of speed. But, because I raced at those insane speeds, it gave me a very unique perspective of how fast things can happen and just how vitally important that I knew how to stay in control of my motorcycle, at all times and as much as humanly possible. If I had ANY hesitation, then that would pretty much mean a crash. The question then would be how bad would I crash?
WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
Since all you have is lycra, my question to you would be how much in control of your road bike are you NOW, and if you have any hesitation, what are you willing to do about it? Next, I would want to actually do a group ride with you and observe (without you knowing) your balance, handling and control skills, and then compare that to how you rated yourself. Why would I do that? Because we all have a tendency of a greater view of ourselves than what is reality. A neutral, objective set of eyes would reveal a more accurate perspective. When I hosted my first ever Riding Skills Clinic back in ’09, I had two cyclists who had been riding for 8years and 10 years respectively. Once the Clinic was over, both sent me feedback that if they had been learned some of the topics and drills I taught that day, they would have never experienced their crashes (and injuries). Just goes to show you that no matter how many miles you have ridden, or how fast you can ride, doesn’t mean that you know it all. Like the saying goes, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’. Honestly, did you know or ever thoroughly think through the scenarios of having your arms straight or bent…and the circumstances of both? See, you just learned something you didn’t know. Now, go swallow a bit of pride and explore what you else you may not know. It could be the difference of you staying upright and in control or hitting the deck.
Want to learn more about what you can learn? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and find out. Individual and Group Riding Skills Clinics are available. Groups gets the discount, so bring your cycling friends. I guarantee you that you WILL learn something that will make you safer, more in control, and increase your fun factor of cycling.
Got a cycling question or topic you would like for me to respond to? Great. Send an email to email@example.com.