Sunday, April 21, 2013

Optimum, not maximum.

Recently I began mountain biking. In part because a lot of my friends were making it look like too much fun, and in part, because this past year was a rough one in terms of weight gain. For years I was an avid bike commuter, unfortunately my bike had to be retired a couple of years ago. So I made a purchase a couple of months ago and immediately started bike commuting again. Then I ventured out onto trails.

Trail riding immediately struck me as very much like whitewater kayaking. You have to been very in tune with your bike, and very alert to the terrain around you, just like in whitewater, you have to be in tune with your boat, and aware of the water around you, and what it is doing. I am enjoying it a lot, and have a number of friends who are skilled mountain bikers who are guiding me along a new path, and recently one of them sent me a link to a video.

Now, I'll be honest with you, I have no idea who Fabien Barel or Steve Jones are. By the way they are talking however they are clearly very big in the world of mountain biking. But listen to what Fabien is saying. I don't think he is saying anything I haven't said before, but here is someone else illustrating it, and illustrating it in a different venue, with different tools. If you Change out the word bike for kayak he is speaking about what I have been teaching since the start of this blog.

Fabien says "the main mistake of the average rider is that they believe to go fast you mast peddle to accelerate"

If you change the nouns and verbs to fit paddling. It goes like this:

PO and Fabien say "the main mistake of the average paddler is that they believe to go fast you must paddle hard to accelerate. If you have been visiting me here for a while you know that I teach that to go fast requires the right technique, not working really hard with a paddle in your hand. He goes on to talk about a couple of things I really like, and that resonate with my teaching style. Listen to what he says about 'maximum effort' versus 'optimum effort', and flow. It all fits very well into the Enlightened Kayaking dogma.

I used to spend a fair amount of my time in a dojo. In a dojo you learn static movements. A punch, A block, a kick. Or for comparison to us in a kayak, a forward stroke, a sweep stroke, a brace. The skill lies not in being able to do a block, and then a kick, or doing a forward stroke, and a sweep stroke, it comes from sliding fluidly from one to the next. Flowing from one to the next. Not because you practiced it a hundred, or a thousand times, but because at that moment it is the right thing to do.

While I am new to mountain biking I think Fabien is talking about flowing from one turn to the next, one obstacle to the next without losing energy. You don't go faster by peddling faster, you go faster by peddling when advantageous, and using momentum to carry you through. You don't go faster in a kayak by paddling harder - if you think you do, click the big button on the right that says 'start here' - you go faster in kayak by paddling in an optimal way, and flowing up and down waves, and into and out of turns. Taken to the ultimate expression of things people struggle with in a kayak, rolling is not achieved by big muscles, it is achieved by flowing from one position to the next. from rolling the boat over, while your head is still under water. As he says, you need to understand it (it's four steps, it's not that hard) you need to apply it, you need to feel it. If you think about it - meaning if you think your head is underwater, and life would be much better is it wasn't! - your done.

The same person that sent me this video, also asked me a question this week. He said, if you had to turn a kayak really sharply, how would you do it. I explained that I do most of my turning with edging. Changing the shape of the hull, and the pressures on the hull to make the boat go where I want it to. A long kayak wants to go straight, so I am going to put the boat on an edge to make it not so long. He asked if I would then drag a paddle to turn the boat, and I said I wouldn't. Dragging a paddle is very common in canoes, and I hate doing it in my kayak for one very big reason. I don't want to bleed off all that momentum into the water when I want to turn. I then have to work harder to get the boat moving again. Dragging a paddle works against optimum effort. But if after edging the boat, and maybe adding a sweep to get the boat moving where I want it to go, If I still needed more turn, I would use a cross bow rudder. That is, with my boat edged to the right, with my left knee raised, I would reach the paddle across the boat, so my chest is facing left, and plant the blade vertically in the water. This then acts as a rudder, turning the boat sharply, and it doesn't bleed off as much energy as dragging it.

When I get the boat moving, I want to keep it moving. Particularly when it has 300 pounds of gear in it.  Fabien is right. Optimum is much better than maximum. Every time.

1 comment:

  1. hello b... roadies often teach newbie roadies "flow" or as we call it 'gravity'... on long winding downhills. Trying to end the downhill further down the road, or using metrics, by going for top speed. Think "fall line" for skiing!