Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Power Cranks part 1 - "You're Nuts"

Blogging Marathon: Day 19

Notice both pedals hanging down
September, 2008. I got this phone call:
"Hey Anthony, this is Jason from the bike shop. I'm done installing your PowerCranks on your bike. I took it for a spin around the block, and everything seems to work OK. But let me say this: you're nuts."

He was referring to the fact that I had just paid $200 to make my bike harder to ride. But that was the least of my nuttiness.

This long and tedious story is a note to myself, for a future time when I wonder where all my time and money went to...

Began with a Nail
It all started 3 weeks before.
I was on may way home from work when I heard the familiar "Click!Click!Ptffffffffffffff" sound coming from the front tire of my mountain bike. It was yet another nail. The side of NC54 in Raleigh is like a hardware store dumped on the ground.

Of course, I didn't have a spare tube, so I pushed my bike home 5 miles in my cleated bike shoes.

The Internet is full of Bad Ideas
Determined to never have another flat tire again, I searched the internet for a solution. Conventional wisdom was to accept flats were inevitable, carry a spare tube, and get good at changing them.
This is 2008! Inflatable bike tires have been around for 120 years, where are the flat proof tires?
Finally I found and ordered a set of solid rubber tires. They got horrible reviews, but how bad could they be?

Also, during my Google searches of bicycle parts, I stumbled across something called "PowerCranks"...

I am a sucker
The PowerCranks website makes all kinds of claims:
  • improves running form!
  • improves running efficiency!
  • trains muscle weaknesses and ensures balance!
  • helps avoid injury!
  • average runner can improve his/her marathon pace 30-60 seconds per mile in 3-4 month!
I thought, "Wow, I have to get some PowerCranks! I have no idea what every the are, but I must have them."
But my jaw dropped when I saw the price. $899. That was ridiculous.
For those bicycle illiterate people like me, a "crank" is just the little metal rod that connects your pedal to your bike.

My entire bike only cost $700. And they want $899 for a couple hunks of metal?
Well, the target market for PowerCranks is professional cyclists and triathletes. Not aging, middle of the pack runners like me. Still, I was fascinated by the claims. At the time, I still suffered horribly from "runner's knee". Maybe this would be the cure!

Normally on a bike when you push down on one pedal, it pushes the other one up. Most people pedal their bike by alternately pushing down, left, right, left.
What PowerCranks do is make your pedals independent of each other. So if you push one down, the other just hangs there limply.

So now you are forced to lift each leg up as part of the pedal stroke. The idea is that by pushing and pulling, you are doubling the amount of muscles you use.

There are many claimed benefits to runners, but the main one being increased turnover for a shorter, faster stride. I was sold on the concept, but the price for a new set was crazy.

So I searched for used set and found several pair on Ebay, and placed many bids.
It took a while, but finally I had one of the magic crank sets in my hands for the bargain price of $450.
When I took them out of the box, however, one of the "dust caps" fell off. It was a little loose.
"Oh well", I thought "It's just a dust cap. not that important" (foreshadowing)

Excited to try my miracle running cure-all, I went to install the PowerCranks on my mountain bike.
First, of course I had to run to the bike shop and buy the correct metric size allen wrench. Still, even though I removed the bolt, I couldn't seem to get the old cranks out.
I learned then that with bicycles, there is a special tool for everything. To remove cranks, you needed, of course, a "crank puller". So I went back to the bike shop to buy one of those, and got the cranks out.

But I was dejected to find my new cranks would not fit. After more research, I discovered that the PowerCranks I had bought were for a road bike, not a mountain bike. I might as well been trying to install an airplane engine in a Dodge Dart.

So I went back to the bike shop again with the bike and the cranks.
"Can you install these on this?", I asked.
Jason, the bike mechanic, just laughed.
"Even if we could find an ISIS bottom bracket wide enough, the chain rings will probably still hit the frame, and this bolt pattern...", he went on for about 20 minutes explaining how difficult it would be and why it wouldn't work.
But at the end he said, "But I'd love to try it!". He seemed to be intrigued by the challenge of creating this Frankenstein bicycle.
"Maybe it would be easier for me just to buy another bike that would fit the cranks", I said.
"No! No!", he insisted with a gleam in his eye, "Let me try this."

For two weeks Jason ordered parts and tinkered with it. I called every few days, anxious to reap the benefits of my new expensive training machine.   "Well, I ran into another problem and need to order another part...", he would say.

Finally he called to say the bike was ready, and that I was, in fact, nuts.
"First of all, I had to go home and get my cleated shoes, because you can no longer ride the bike without cleats", he said, "I ride a lot. But I could barely make it around the block on that thing. Good luck with it."

Finally I had my bike!

Oh, and those solid rubber tires? They came, and they were as bad as everyone had said. In fact, I couldn't even get them on my rims. But I didn't care, I had forgotten my obsession with flat tires. Now I had a new one...