Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shhh. Don’t tell the therapist.

Against the expressed orders of my physical therapist, I took my bicycle out for a ride around the block last night. (Amy The Princess of Pain* doesn’t know about this blog. I hope.) There’s therapy and then there’s therapy; my knee needs range-of-motion exercises, and my mind needed a bicycle ride.

My surgically salvaged knee survived the surreptitious cycling swimmingly. I may even do it again this weekend: If you see me, you didn’t see me.

It wasn’t entirely a joyride. There were perfectly legitimate velo-mechanical reasons for my clandestine excursion: I’d installed a new, flat handlebar on my hybrid bicycle in hopes of eliminating the numbness that affects my hands after about 25 miles of riding. A few turns around the cul-de-sac wasn’t enough to indicate whether the mod worked, but it felt like an improvement. My wrists aren’t cocked at as big an angle, which I think was the problem with the old bar.

Ideally, I wanted to install a drop handlebar on the thing. A visit to Bicycles Etc. wasn’t much help: an off-the-shelf component set (shifters/brakes) would be $300. So I’ve been looking for a sacrificial bike from which to cannibalize the handlebar and components. Last weekend found my son and me at the Chicago Bike Swap, an annual event hosted by Active Trans, Bike Winter and the most excellent online bicycle community, The Chainlink.

Unfortunately, by the time we got to the bike corral, all the good bikes were pretty much picked over. There were dozens of tables full of used parts, but I don’t feel competent to assemble this kind of thing from scratch. Maybe it’s time to learn.
So I ended up buying a flat handlebar. It was only a few bucks, would easily accept the current componet set and I figure if it doesn’t work, I can go back to the road-bike cannibalism strategy.

Since the aforementioned knee is eight weeks post-op and healing well, I can get around quite nicely without crutches as long as I don’t have to walk too far. Some puttering around with tools in the garage on a warm (for March), windy evening was a delight. Installing the new handlebar took only one period of a Blackhawks game (they eventually lost, badly, to the St. Louis Blues). Some other maintenance, interspersed with dinner and other distractions, took the rest of the evening.

Twenty-four hours later, I was ready to go but realized I probably needed to mount the bicycle from the right side, to minimize torque on my damaged left knee. Hmm … more than 45 years of riding two-wheeled bikes, and I probably haven’t mounted one from the right side more than a handful of times. The kickstand is always on the left for some reason (why is that?).
Well, it was a bit awkward and wobbly, but I stepped onto the right pedal, swung my (braced) left leg over the seat and took off.

Pure bliss.

I kept it in low gears, not wanting to push my healing A-, P- and MCL ligaments very hard. Still, it felt like a triumph just to regain a little bit of normalcy. There are few things that make me happier than a good bike and warm weather. This was the happiest I’ve been since 9:14 a.m. Dec. 28, 2012, when I made an ill-advised hard cut to the right on an icy ski run.  I probably rode two miles just figure-eighting around our court and the next one over.

Temperatures are supposed to rise into the mid-50s over the weekend, warm enough to get back out into the garage for some more puttering. I noticed the back wheel is a bit out of true: that will have to be addressed. And of course, test-ridden (wink wink).

* Actually, Amy is a very pretty, personable young woman who really just wants to help people like me walk again. Some previous patient did a very nice needlepoint with "Amy Princess of Pain" which hangs on the wall in the therapy room. I'm sure it was a tongue-in-cheek gesture of gratitude.

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