Friday, September 11, 2009

Testing—and 90 means you flunk


By BETTY BELL

After Lance entered the Tour de France this year, so did I—jumped right up alongside him, my iron-jawed countenance mirroring his. But when I felt sure we wouldn't be mounting the center podium I looked for another partner. That guy who won? Con-something? No rapport there, nor with any of the other riders after Levi Leipheimer broke his wrist and had to withdraw, so I switched my attention to the field, figuring I'd pick up a skill or two to adapt to my own two-wheeled adventures.

Right off, I ruled out super endurance, King Kong power and never-brake descents, instead zeroing in on a basic skill you likely don't even think about: the swivel. Not a full upper-body swivel, only the head. Tour guys easily swivel their heads 180 degrees and both ways. I do a lot of squiggling on my bike to make do with just the left.

Only during the mountain stages did I watch the tour all day, but I always tried to tune in for the last kilometer or two when the sprinters take over. Not only are sprinters strung with only fast-twitch muscles, but because they have to keep swiveling to check the competition, they've been blessed with this extra gene that allows them to disable the head/neck restriction the rest of us are stuck with. They swivel so far past 180 degrees that sometimes, if I blinked, I'd swear they'd done a 360.

The swivel first got my undivided attention when I was riding north one day and started to U-turn back. Just as I was glimpsing the center line an eye-filling, silver streak lasered by. After wobbling to the shoulder, I let my bike melt beneath me and tried to suck in air. Initially, my reflection was one that you may think bizarre—that's one lucky guy, I thought. He just missed having to pop for a whole new front end. But then the fog lifted and I confronted what really happened. I'd lost my swivel, that's what. My head/neck connection was so froze-up I couldn't even swing a may-God-be-with-you 90 degrees.

There should be a bumper sticker: "Swivel loss progresses insidiously." Even if you're only somewhere between 30 or 40 years young, it's not too early to check your swivel. When I became a serious swivel checker, I became fixated on degrees. And I'm wondering—are you still loose enough to do 135? They may be down to 115, pilgrim. Even 100.

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Degrees don't fall away in great chunks, they just bleed away a wee wedge at a time. Then one day you're headed north and start your 180 back and you don't even swing a may-God-be-with-you 90. But since you're reading this it means you have another chance to get your swivel back, though, take it from me, it's not a fun thing to work on. We'd all have a jollier time if the Y offered swivel classes—robust classes for the just-begun-to-lose-it bunch, and gentle-gentle-gentle for my friends and me.

Being a skilled swivel checker, I've come to realize that Advanced Beings really should have to pass an actual driver's test come license renewal time. The test shouldn't focus on niggling things like the turn signals that most ignore anyway, and definitely it's a waste of time to harp on sign shapes since, in letters bigger than the top line on the eye chart, they all proclaim what they're about. But swiveling—that's the crux. The swivel's gotta be cranked in every time we back up, want to turn, or are feeling adventurous days and want to step on the gas, swing out, and give the sleeve to some poke even slower.

Settling the age requirement for driving tests will be ticklish. No matter what's decided, Advanced Beings will scream "Too young!" and everybody else will shout "Too old!" As to the number of degrees you'd have to demonstrate, I hope it's not more than the 137 I can do since I've been training three times a week.




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