It’s Not Supposed To Hurt

iStock_000048371420LargeBy Steve Kane

Getting Started

I bought a road bicycle a few years ago for physical fitness.  It seemed to be the most enjoyable and least painful form of exercise that I could do from home on a daily basis.  Riding, or spinning as cyclists call it, can be a really good time.

Things Change

My first real road bike was set up for fairly flat terrain, which was great for the area where I lived at the time.  I since moved to the hilly Central Coast of California.

The Central Coast is a great place to ride.  How great?  Its a bicyclist’s travel destination.  People travel here to spend their weekends riding through the vineyards.   The region is peppered with bicycle enthusiasts, bike clubs and open riding groups.

The pleasure of great riding companions and stunning scenery will outweigh pain for only a short time.  Just after moving here I found riding a bike was real work.  It’s funny how the hills look so nice from a distance and the roads don’t feel so rough in car.

I was beating myself up on some rides.  Riding a bike looked so easy for everyone else.  It seemed to be taking more out of me than I was getting out of it.

Over time I found I was riding less and less (I keep metrics on this with  After a while, I stopped paying any attention to the metrics.  How did I get from having a good time with the sport to avoiding it?  I got to the point that the riding experience had become more pain from saddlesoreness (lets face it those seats aren’t built for comfort), muscle burn, road vibration, and fatigue than pleasure from camaraderie and soaking in the scenery.  Riding had become a burden.

Improvement Needed

I didn’t want give up the sport, just the more painful parts.  I wanted to enjoy the sport, which meant I had to make some changes.

I replaced the drivetrain with one that was better suited for climbing hills.  The new drivetrain was also better for descending hills.  After all, the only reason to climb a hill at a snail’s pace is to race down the other side at top speed.

Wheel weight is a big factor.  It takes a lot of energy to keep spinning mass in motion.  Lighter wheels translate into higher speed for a given level of energy output.  So, I replaced those too.

An aluminum frame is a good entry level choice.  The upside is that it’s less expensive than carbon.  The downside is that it is so rigid that vibration from every bump in the road gets transmitted to directly to your hands and your nether regions (again, the seat isn’t built for comfort).  That can really start to wear on you over time and distance.   Aluminum is also a bit heavier than carbon.

Reducing discomfort means riding longer periods of time.  Shaving weight means less fatigue and higher speeds over greater distance.  I switched to a carbon fiber frame.

Having Fun

The result of the changes is that I am more enthusiastic about exercising and fitness.  I look forward to the challenge of climbing a hill because I wont wear myself out.  I ride faster and farther than before.  I experience more joy.  Having fun changes the way I think about exercise.  I enjoy thinking about exercise instead of avoid it.

On a recent ride, I was thinking about how my new bike experience applied to work.  The input of work is burden.  The outcome is accomplishment.  Continuous improvement is intended to reduce the burden while increasing the accomplishment.  Greater accomplishment with less burden generates greater joy.  Greater joy means increased engagement.  Increased engagement leads to further improvement.  Small changes can have a profound impact.

Eat, Sleep, Improve, Repeat

Sooner or later, the novelty of the new bike will wear off.  I’ll want to go even faster and farther than ever before.  Similarly the latest process improvement achievement at work will eventually become a minimum standard.  The improvement cycle (no pun intended) will start all over again.

1 Comment

  1. Dale Savage

    February 10, 2015 - 10:07 am

    Enjoyed the post. I can picture (and feel) your experience and appreciate how you applied it to continuous improvement. As I was reading I immediately applied your observations to Quality Circle Groups as well. They usually start off well but when the timing of meetings or the mental exercise of brainstorming/problem solving cause pain, the participations begins to decline. Sometimes pain is naturally a part of the process initially. When we exercise different muscles they do ache for awhile until they build up. If we can endure a little pain to see where improvements need to be made we will ultimtely come out better because of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.