If you listen to today’s Paceline you’ll hear about my current project, learning to handle my new mountain bike with flat pedals rather than clipless. It’s a new bike, so there’s actually quite a lot to learn, but that’s ok. I have time.
Out yesterday with some friends, I did my best to keep up, hit the obstacles I felt comfortable taking on, and not worry too much about the ones I wasn’t ready for yet, although this is, I think, the big challenge, to stay the course, learning (or re-learning) skills you’ve already got, albeit with different equipment.
This reminded me of a coaching seminar I went to once back when I was involved in youth soccer. The instructor outlined a distinction between skill and technique. A skill, he proposed, was something you could do under no pressure, whereas a technique was something you could utilize in a game situation. As a word guy, I’m not sure I buy into his narrow parsing of the terms, but actually it’s a pretty good way to understand where you are on a learning curve.
For example, I could bunny hop my new bike in the parking lot. With a smooth roll and a moment to think, I can get that bike reasonably high off the ground (for an older guy). On the trail and in the heat of each moment, I’m not quite there yet. My initial attempts weren’t tragic. I rolled away uninjured. But none of them was very pretty either. The few jumps I dared weren’t very jumpy, a bit like a turtle trying to ollie a skateboard.
What I used to tell my soccer kids who struggled with the basics was that there is no substitute for repetition. No one gets better just by wanting to be better. You have to try and fail and try and fail and try and fail. That’s how you take the skill in isolation to the technique in practice.
Even as I type the words, I wonder if I’ll have the patience to take my clipless skills to the flat pedals. And look, I know how it works in theory. I know where to place my feet, how to create the pressure, how to lift the rear of the bike, etc. But knowing and executing are two different things. I’m not even sure they’ve met.
To make this work, I’m going to have to spend a lot of time doing what I call ‘noodling,’ which is also the term for catching large, freshwater catfish with your hand by getting them to swallow your fist and then pulling them up out of the murky depths where they lurk. But I digress. My version of ‘noodling’ is what some people would call ‘sessioning’ except it’s more disorganized and looks a lot more like ‘loitering’ in the local park. Wish me luck.
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