Thursday, July 22, 2010

PowerCranks part 2 - Frustration and Madness

Blogging Marathon: Day20

In part#1, I covered why and how I ended up with a set of PowerCranks on my bike.
All that was left to do was ride my way into becoming a lean, mean, running machine!

First Impressions
It is hard to explain how odd PowerCranks are at first. It's like the bike is broken, which it kind of was.

Getting started was comically difficult.
  1. In order to pedal the bike, your feet have to be clipped in
  2. But in order to clip in, the bike must be moving to mantain balance
  3. In order to move, you have to be pedaling. See step 1.
Finally I figured out to make sure the bike is in the lowest gear, then clip in and get started with one leg.

I had to learn how to pedal all over again. My legs would give big push down and relax, expecting to be carried up again. But they would just hang there. So I would have to make an effort to lift.
Trying to get both legs pedaling in a coordinated way was very difficult, so at first I would just pedal with one leg, and then the other.

First Ride
After some practicing, I took my first ride, about 7 miles to work. I had to keep it in a high gear and pedal slowly, but I made it. "Not so hard," I thought.
Until the way back, when my legs were like rubber. It did  a lot of coasting.

Long ride
Next, I took a 24 mile ride through Umstead and was starting to get the hang of it. Though I could barely walk afterwards. But my ultimate training machine was whipping me into shape!

The training came to an abrupt halt on just my third ride.
I was coming home from work, and suddenly the right crank became loose. Really loose. Like, it fell off.
I looked down and the crank arm was dangling from my shoe.

Turns out that the loose "dust cap" had fallen out, and it did more than just keep dust out. It held the whole damn crank on. I went looking for the cap but it was gone. So I pushed my bike home again.

Ended up ordering 2 new dust caps from PowerCranks, $50, and waited 2 weeks.

Finally I got the cap, tightened that sucker on there, and went for a long ride in Umstead. Heading up a steep hill, I felt a crank give way.
"Oh, no." The internal clutch had broke, and now spun freely in both directions. I had to ride home with only one leg, pushing the bike up hills.

I wasn't sure why the clutch broke. Maybe the guy I bought them from had screwed them up. Maybe I did. They were only rated for 100 pounds of force, so putting all my weight on it going up the hill could have broke it.

So 6 weeks and $700, had gotten me 4 bike rides. I should have just given up there, but instead I just went off the deep end. I saw that there was a new model that was rated for 150 pounds. So ordered them; a brand new set of PowerCranks.

After my brand new set was delivered, I sat in the garage and almost wept. I had ordered the wrong model.

But the PowerCranks customer service was very good. They shipped my the correct fitting within a few days.

But now I had yet another problem. I could not get the pedals off the old cranks. I should have just went and bought new pedals had I known how hard they would be to get off and on. I think I stripped 2 wrenches before I found out there is a special "pedal wrench". I had to stick the crank in vice, and put a 3 foot steel pipe on the end of the wrench to finally get the pedals off.

Anyway, I got the new PowerCranks and on the bike on the was back training. But the frustration went on.

Goes on and on
From my training log:
  • damn pedal coming off, end cap not in all the way
  • right pedal is tight now, but now it is squeeking. plus it is in the wrong notch. arrggg!
  • freaking another flat tire!
  • left crank/pedal is creaking! chain is rubbing. sigh
  • right pedal lose. chain rubbing, something creaking. 
It took a month to get everything tightened and adjusted.
But by November 2008 I had it all figured out and bike was riding smoothly with the new PowerCranks.
I have been using the cranks ever since then, and still do.

Happy Ending

The past 2 years I have averaged about 100 miles a month on the PowerCranks, mostly in the hills of Umstead. I occasionally commute to work when the weather is nice.I don't really think of them as training tool anymore, just a part of the bike.

I really like them, and don't think I would ever go back to "fixed" cranks. It is nice not having the my legs "locked" together, and being free to move them independently.

A few neat things you can do with PowerCranks:

Calf Stretch - I can stand up straight on the bike, with both pedals hanging down. Coasting like it is a scooter. Nice way to stretch the calves and hamstrings.

Dolphin Kick - This is pedaling with both legs together, almost like a pogo stick. It is a good ab workout, and looks very silly.


Since I have got them:
  • My stride did change to being shorter and faster
  • My "runner's knee" has pretty much gone away
  • I have been able run more miles than previously
  • I have gotten faster from 5Ks to Marathons.
But was it the PowerCranks?
Or was it just riding the bike more?
Or maybe because I made a conscious effort to change my stride?
It's really impossible to say for sure.

But I am going to pretend that my improvement did come from the cranks.
Thinking it was all a waste is just too much to bear...