Drop Your Heels?

Here's where it all started...don't do this!

Here’s where it all started…don’t do this!

When listening to talk of proper pedaling,  I often hear the admonition to ‘drop your heels’. Because I’m the kind of guy who takes things quite literally, I imagine a peloton of cyclists rolling along with their toes in the air, and their heels scuffing the pavement.

Silly me.

The advice to ‘drop your heels’ is in keeping with how most of the English world communicates…say it in a way that accomplishes your purposes, even if it isn’t completely accurate.

So what are the purposes to be accomplished?

An efficient pedaling stroke!

Because most of us grew up riding a bike without cleats or toe clips, pedaling became an exercise in pedal mashing, and a good pedal masher often ends the down stroke with the toe pointed toward the pavement.

You overcome this bad habit by…

‘Quit pointing your toes downward, you idiot!’  That’s an honest, direct way of communicating.

But our communication style isn’t one of directness, it’s one of indirectness. This serves us well in being able to get the upper hand over those whose first language isn’t English. Our off-handed way of saying things keeps them off balance, enabling us to take advantage of them, should the need arise.

'Dropping your heels' would look like this. Bad Form!

‘Dropping your heels’ would look like this. Bad Form!

What advantage would we have over those who take the advice to ‘drop your heels’ literally? Well, how about riding faster than them as they flounder along with their heels lower than their toes. Yes, that’d be good.

So in order to maximize your pedal stroke, quit pointing your toes downward…and ride with your foot parallel to the ground.

Simple advice.

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Out With The Old, In With The New

Cadel and Tejay

Tour de France winner Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen finish side by side on a leg of the Tour.

On the American pro cycling team BMC, someone new will be wearing the royal crown. Velonews reports that American Tejay van Garderen (I love to tell my wife that he’s from Montana since she won’t agree to move to that state…ignoring my pleadings) will be the team leader in the Tour de France, instead of Australian Cadel Evans.

Evans isn’t being completely thrown under the bus; the team will ride for Evans in the Giro d’Italia.

In the last tour or two it was a bit awkward for BMC since Tejay was at times stronger than Cadel. But in keeping with honor and tradition, Tejay sacrificed some of his efforts trying to help Cadel on several of the climbs.

But no more…it will be Tejay all the way from here on out. There’s no telling how Tejay will stack up against either of the Brits, Wiggins and Froome…or even against Contador, who has stated an intention to ramp up his game for this year’s tour.

Tejay’s the complete package, able to time trial with the best of them, as well as do some dominating riding on the climbs. It’ll be interesting to watch him ride as the designated leader.

Previously, Levi Leipheimer was the rider representing the great state of Montana. Now it’s the ‘Bozeman Boss’.


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The SRAM HydroR Road Bike Hydraulic Disc Brake Recall

The folks over at Velonews have a new article chronicling a recall of SRAM’s HydroR hydraulic brake systems. SRAM has deemed none of its production runs of the master cylinders to be up to standard.HydroR shifter and brakes

The problem is that there is a slightly concave shape to the cylinder. When temperatures are sane, the seals in the cylinder are able to accommodate the imperfection. When temperatures plunge, the seals lose some of their pliability; resulting in leakage.

Leakage in a master cylinder means inadequate fluid pressure goes down the hydraulic line…means calipers don’t squeeze rotors tightly…means Simon Cyclist doesn’t stop.

SRAM has taken herculean efforts to make things right.  Right now they’ve set up a small army of mechanics at the USA Cyclocross Nationals. They’re swapping out the HydroR systems for mechanical BB7sl disc brakes and mechanical Red shift levers. bb7sl disc brakes

The HydoR systems are new in the world, with 15,000 units released. Sounds to me like 10,000 of those units are sitting on showroom floors or in warehouses. That leaves 5,000 units on bikes. Reaction from SRAM has been very responsible…a good testament to the integrity of the company.

Take the bike into the local shop and SRAM will pay the shop $100 to swap it out for the mechanical BB7sl’s. Meanwhile, back at the OK corral…SRAM is busy engineering road disc brakes 2.0.  They’re quick to point out that they aren’t going to produce a 1.2 version. It’s a 2.0!

If it were to be version 1.2, tech-savvy cyclists might think that a mere reworking had been performed.  By calling it version 2.0, tech-savvy (but easily duped?) cyclists will know that the days of convex master cylinders are in the rear view mirror.  The release is scheduled for about May 2014.  At that time the replacement mechanical disc brakes will be taken off and the new 2.0 versions will be installed.

In the grand scheme of things, everyone except those stewing about their current hydraulic brake misfortune, will look back on this as a blip on the radar screen of bicycle development.

Bottom line…high end disc brakes will be welcomed into the world of road biking.

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Clenbuterol, Mick Rogers, and Chinese Meats

News in the cycling world is that Aussie Michael Rogers has tested positive for the banned substance, clenbuterol, after winning the Japan Cup on 10/20/2013.  Clenbuterol is the same drug that got Alberto Contador stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title.

Until now, the most serious accusation against Michael Rogers was in the 'wardrobe' category!

Until now, the most serious accusation against Michael Rogers was in the ‘wardrobe’ category!

Almost all fans who watch professional cycling are well aware of who Contador is…he was famous for absolutely leaving his opponents in the dust on monster climbs.

But Mick Rogers is of equal caliber, although he excels in a different cycling discipline; time trialing.  Rogers is a three-time world time trial champion, as well as the 2004 Athens Olympic bronze medalist.

Before the race in Japan, Rogers had competed in the Tour de Beijing.  He maintains that his positive test was likely due to contaminated meat eaten while in China. Of course we’ve heard all of the denials before, so we’re jaded, cynical, and just generally miserable cycling fans.

Is there ‘reasonable doubt’, a ‘preponderance of evidence’, or some other chance that what Rogers is saying is true? I don’t know, but it didn’t take too much investigating (Wikipedia’s sitings of clenbuterol poisonings in China) to find out that enforced standards in the food industry aren’t entirely effective in China.

After all, the developing nation is the wild, wild west when it comes to individuals scrambling for a piece of the economic pie.

That would include any advantage farmers could get from ‘cheating’ in the raising of livestock. Clenbuterol is a growth promoting drug that results in more meat and less fat. It’s been banned since 1991 in the USA and since 1996 in Europe.

But it wasn’t until 2011 that China banned the substance.  I highly doubt that all meat growers in China immediately lined up to cast their flasks of clenbuterol into the fire.

To give you an idea of how prevalent clenbuterol was, take note that in 2006 330 people in Shanghai were reported to have food poisoning from meat contaminated with clenbuterol. That’s food poisoning…not just traces in their blood.

In 2009 70 people in Guangdong (a province in China) had food poisoning after eating pig guts (organs). The culprit? Clenbuterol.

pig on clenbuterolIn 2011, the pigs raised at China’s largest meat producer, the Shuanghui Group, were caught with their snouts in the clenbuterol jar.  Seventy people were taken into custody when the state cracked down on the violation.

The well muscled pigs got a reprieve and were encouraged to flex and pose in front of their girlfriends.

So what are we to think regarding the Michael Rogers situation?

My thoughts…

1). If there was a country wherein tainted meat resides, it would be China; where ‘getting ahead’ is paramount in the newly emerging capitalism.

2). I would hope that Rogers and/or his team wouldn’t be so primitive (lack of sophistication) in an attempt to gain an advantage that they’d stoop to using a drug that is clearly tested for, and is so high profile after taking down Alberto Contador.

What a drag to be put into a position of having to prove you didn’t do something (how do you convincingly prove a negative?). But thanks to the dirty riders who have forged the way ahead of him, Michael Rogers is looking at a real crisis of credibility.

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What’s Old Man Strength?

See how much stronger Arnold has gotten?

See how much stronger Arnold has gotten?

I was watching the Arizona Cardinal/San Francisco 49er game yesterday and the camera swung over to show the face of the 49er’s defensive end, Justin Smith. The guy’s ‘strong like bull’ and reputed to possess unreal Old Man Strength.

What’s Old Man Strength?

From the Urban Dictionary: Usually acquired by men around the age of 40. It is not something like adrenaline that comes when you need it most, if you are above the age of 40 and reasonably healthy, you will get it. It can be used to do hard physical labor, or prove to the younger crowd that you are not as old as they think you are. It is usually lost around the ages of 65-70 depending on your health.

Maybe it’s the strength that keeps dads from getting beat up by their unruly teenage sons…even though the sons can show them up so well on a weight machine.  The way I see it, ‘old man strength’ may be referring to the benefits of year after year of strength training, or doing years of everyday physical labor.

Regardless of the common understanding of this phenomenon, there may be something to it, but more importantly, there’s a parallel in cycling.

Considering that muscle strength naturally tends to tail off as the years wear thin, the whole concept may not hold water. Old man strength doesn’t matter too much in the world of cycling, unless you’re planning to do some match sprints on the local velodrome.

But Cycling Has It’s Own Version…’Old Man Endurance’

Old man endurance is a lot easier to defend in the annuls of human physiology than is ‘old man strength’. It’s well documented that endurance increases as time marches on.  The best distance runners are in their thirties, and the best grand tour cyclists are in a similar age group.

I was reminded of the cumulative effects of endurance training when I glanced over to Jesper Medhus, MD’s site, Training4Cyclists. He was advocating three critical ingredients to Chris Froome’s success at the 2013 Tour de France.  The number one ingredient was ‘consistency’. He was touching on the issue of the enormous amount of time it takes to fill up the fitness ‘bank account’.  Gaining maximum endurance doesn’t take weeks, or even months…it takes years of endurance training.

I applaud those in our little town who ramp up their fitness level each summer in order to participate in the running part of our local July 4th road race (the largest small town walk in America). They get the job done, but it isn’t at all like the training that serious athletes do to accomplish ‘old man endurance’.

Old man endurance entails years of working out.  Let’s get something straight though. These aren’t necessarily years of fruitlessness.  There are personal bests to be achieved, races to be won, and century rides that were previously undo-able to be ridden.

In short, the path to ‘old man endurance’ has a lot of very pleasant scenery along the way and from the saddle of a bike, you may not even know you’re getting it.

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Do Penguins Race Bikes?

John Bingham (the Penguin) Makes A Good Living Complimenting Slow Runners

John Bingham (the Penguin) Makes A Good Living Complimenting Slow Runners

Over in the world of running there’s a bit of an exchange regarding the relationship between the penguins and the cheetahs. The cheetahs being the elite racers and the penguins being those who ‘participate’ in running events.

David Torrence, an elite runner, wrote a rebuttal to the accusations raised by the Exalted Ruler of the Penguins, John Bingham.  It seems that John makes a point of standing at the finish line of running races to celebrate the finish of every participant.  He directed criticism at the elite runners for ‘rushing back to their hotels after the awards ceremony’, and promised that if they’d join him in cheering all of the Larry Lardasses, and Sammy Sweatpigs…the elite runner would become a hero overnight.

Well, David Torrence, the elite runner, has done an admirable job of relating to the masses…signing autographs, starting a running club for non-elites, doing exactly what John does along the course after finishing his race, along with a host of other efforts to ‘give back to the running community’.  And he is not a hero overnight, and he doesn’t appreciate being on the receiving end of the Penguin’s pointed beak criticism.

As an aside, I’d like to point out that the Penguin had better stand at the side of the finish line cheering on the masses.  After all, he makes a living championing the common participant.  He writes for running magazines, does speaking engagements, and is a pseudo-celebrity solely based on being a champion of the Larrys and the Sammys.  He has nothing to offer running other than waddling along on those short, weak legs and cheering on other penguins with his sardine-tainted breath.

So stand there and cheer John, and be thankful that you make a handsome living doing it!

Elite runners don’t achieve fame (and most runners didn’t get into running for the fame…(after-all, when runners start running in high school, it’s the sport of geeks) for anything other than running fast…so run fast they do.

Back To The Subject…Do Penguins Race Bikes?

I was thinking…are there Penguins in bike racing? Not so much.  There’s not a lot interest in limping a Huffy to the finish line, or wobbling along on a cruiser in a week-long stage race. In cycling, races are for racers.

Participants in cycling are welcome in the activity, but don’t pretend to be racers. They commute to work, they do tours to appreciate the country from the saddle of their bikes, or they get into the back-country on their mountain bikes.

Cyclists don’t pour into races by the tens of thousands and then expect Greg Lemond and Levi Leipheimer to stand for hours applauding their efforts.

Maybe part of the cycling sanity is dictated by the fact that you don’t get into bike racing at any level without a tremendous amount of overhead.  There are thousands of dollars to be spent, and hundreds of hours to be invested in training before even racing on a local level.

We Don't Allow Penguins In Cycling!

We Don’t Allow Penguins In Cycling!

In running, the investment is a $100 pair of running shoes and a hundred miles of shuffling down the road to shed some excess lard fat. And woohoo…you’re in a ‘race’.

So there you have it, cycling has a lot fewer pretenders than does running. Just another reason we’re better!

You don’t see cyclists going down the street wearing pro cycling jerseys…racing from stoplight to stoplight.  You don’t see fat men on bikes that cost half the price of their cars…pretending that they’re in the Tour de France.  No, you don’t see wanna-be’s in cycling, do you?

And I applaud that…standing here on my short, stubby legs.

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The Freedom Of Fartlek

I’m old and mature now (pushing 57 years old), so the silliness of youth is far behind me. In this case, a form of silliness that demanded giggling when the term ‘fartlek’ was mentioned. It was essentially an involuntary response…you said fartlek, I couldn’t help but giggle and laugh.

But I’ve grown up, and can hear the word (even write it), without busting a gut. In fact, I haven’t fallen off the ‘fartlek giggling wagon’ for a full three years now.

So what is this strange Swedish word and how does it free up those who participate in it?

Fartlek means ‘speedplay’.  In the country populated by chaps named Olle and Ludvig, the word describes a type of training that simulates an interval-style of workout…without the rigidness of prescribed time periods of hard and easy efforts.

Fartlek training is more ‘free-form’.  When a incline meets you on the road, you step on the pedals. When it’s time for a hard effort, you may look up the road and walk down that cyclist three stoplights ahead of you. Playing with hard efforts is what fartlek is all about.

Hopefully you get the picture, and can see that the ‘play’ part of the ‘speedplay’ is pseudo-accurate.  It’s not completely play-like, since there’s effort involved…but it isn’t as hard on the psyche as is interval work.

Now that I think of it, we use the term ‘speedwork‘ interchangeably with interval training.

Interval training is work, not play.

There’s no denying it, there is no freedom anywhere near the concept of intervals. Once the interval session begins, there’s no wiggle room.  The clock is ticking and you had better ride/run for the prescribed amount of time and rest for the prescribed amount of time. This continues for the prescribed amount of time. With interval training you take your prescribed medicine…and it’s usually bitter.

Interval training is tyrannical.

Not so with Fartlek…when you feel like it, you step on the gas.  When you don’t feel like it, you let off on the gas.  Almost like a concert, with gas providing the melody, the harmony, and the rhythm.  It’s free-form, and a man less mature than myself would probably giggle about now.  Hey, who stepped on the frog?

Fartlek exercise practically emanates from the Bill of Rights…freedom to the left of us, freedom to the right of us.  But like any form of freedom, for those with low levels of incentive to do well (lazy people), fartlek training may not be enough to get the job done. Lazy people may spend somewhere between an hour and four days trying to discover the feeling to step on the gas.  Wait for it, wait for it…the waiting may go on indefinitely, and the training effect may never arrive.

But so it is with lazy people.  Whether they never step on the gas during a speedplay workout, or they find a reason to not become subject to the tyranny of hardcore speedwork, they’ll effectively pursue comfort instead of hardship.

And for that deficit they should be triumphed over, dominated, and shamed with defeat.

Using the power of that funny Swedish word, which makes one think of a person tasting flatulence, rather than the typical savoring of its aroma, there is a gentler, kinder way to reach your fitness goals.

Discover the freedom of fartlek training.

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Can Bikes Become A Nuisance?

This three tiered bike parking lot is a tourist attraction. Photo courtesy of New York Times

This three tiered bike parking lot is a tourist attraction. Photo courtesy of New York Times

The New York Times recently wrote an article about the plethora of bicycles in Amsterdam…clogging the routes and cluttering up the streets.  Whereas we in the USA work hard to get some of our populace out of their cars and onto bikes, the Dutch have succeeded; and there are some growing pains involved.

Citing their flat terrain, mild climate, and the fact that bikes can get around on the narrow streets faster than the buses do, cycling just makes sense in Amsterdam.  The stats I saw in the article report that 32 percent of the trips around Amsterdam are on the seat of a bike, while only 22 percent are in a car.  I’m not sure if the rest of the ambulation is on foot, by bus, or on the back of a reluctant camel.  It doesn’t matter much for this discussion…we’re talking bike congestion here!

A large portion of the bike consternation is parking, and part of the bike parking problem emanates from chronic ‘Dutch bike greed’. Not satisfied to clutter up the streets with one bike, many residents have two or three.  Because Amsterdam’ers are unable to ride more than one bike at a time, the spare bikes spend most of their existence chained to a much-sought-after lamppost (just about anything permanent is highly sought-after for locking up bikes).

Bike greed is so rampant that there are an estimated 880,000 bikes in a city with 800,000 residents.  I know that non-cyclists are duly impressed by this statistic, but considering that I have five bikes in my garage I wonder if we Americans don’t have a lot of bikes per capita as well.  The big difference being that most bikes in the USA are never ridden.

But back to the subject at hand, here’s what car congestion looks like in our big cities…

And they're all sitting there 'emitting'.

And they’re all sitting there ’emitting’.

And here’s what bike congestion looks like in Amsterdam…

And they’re all sitting there ’emitting’.








The rush off of the ferry.

The rush off of the ferry. Emma doesn’t appreciate having to compete with a scooter!






Seeing the picture above brings us to another issue…scooters are allowed to cavort with the bikes.  And many Amsterdam’ers don’t seem to appreciate it one little bit.  While many remain stoic, Emma seems to have difficulty hiding her ‘grumpy face’.

This bike/scooter struggle may have its roots in nothing more than an unwillingness to see one human being experiencing an easier life than another’s experience (non-exercise envy).  On the other hand, it may be that collision statistics are on the mind of  ‘Scowling Emma’.

Here are the stats…while scooters comprise only 3 percent of those on the bike routes, they are involved in 16 percent of the bike accidents.  Scooterists counter with the argument that nearly 100 percent of those they run into are cyclists.  The scooterist’s argument makes no sense at all, largely because I pretty much just made it up on the fly (the 3% and 16% statistics are true, though).

All of this is reported as a curiosity to you my loyal readers, since there’s not much in there that will effect you directly…just be thankful that you aren’t sharing the pavement with Emma from Amsterdam.

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Garage Sales For Killer Bike Deals

garage sale signIt’s my wife Gina who really gets jacked up for Saturday morning…that’s garage sale day. In our community there’s an entire culture centered around the process of transferring the ‘stuff” in the seller’s garage to join the ‘stuff’ in the buyer’s garage.

The same people see each other every week at these garage sales, tipping off each other as to which sales are worth speeding over to (and they do speed) and which sales are overpriced…or only have junk.

But its bigger than all of that…they also inquire as the health and welfare of each other. Its small town community at it’s finest.

When I Go, The Money Flows

Gina likes to take me along with her.  At least that’s how it all started.

But now I’m the big spender; while she’s still buying a lamp shade or a curtain rod for under a buck.  I’m the big spender because I’m a sucker for underused sports equipment.

I bought a propane heater for the tent I never use. I purchased a propane lantern to light up an entire fantasy campsite.  I have a backpack to hang with the other five backpacks on the wall.  A couple weeks ago I bought a one man inflatable pontoon boat for kicking around  the local lakes…I’m going to have to inflate it sometime.  My daughter and I bought some really nice inflatable kayaks that were screaming our name.

And the list of ‘have to buy’s rises to embarrassing heights.

Finding The Burley Solo Treasure!

But the Grandpoopa of Buys took place six days ago.  We found a garage sale that the garage sale journeymen buyers largely knew nothing about.  And to make it all the better, these sellers just wanted to get rid of their high quality things…they weren’t looking to supplement their welfare check by selling junk.

This is where I spotted a nearly unused Burley Solo bike trailer.  Well, I’m a Burley Solo expert…having written a review on the Solo bike trailer which ranks high on the Google search engine.

Burley, Burley, Burley, I knew that I was looking at a gem.  The price tag said $40.  Ever the wily garage sale buyer, I feinted with an innocuous purchase of a beautiful picture for ten dollars…paying full price. Good will was established.  As an afterthought I asked if they’d take $30 for the trailer.

“Sure”, the seller said.  So there you have it, I purchased a nearly new Burley Solo for $30. Gina got a lamp shade for $2.

When I got home I checked Amazon to find out that the Burley Solo is retailing for $530!

Yahoo! I was getting ready to crank up the ebay account to sell the trailer for a couple hundred bucks when I remembered that we’d never gotten anything for our good friends when my wife threw them a baby shower.

‘Yahoo’ turned to ‘Oh No’!

So I bundled up my greed and gave the trailer to Jake, Rachel, and baby Samuel.  It was the right thing to do, it’s what Jesus would do, and hopefully Jake will feel indebted to me for a very long time to come.

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Shaving Legs ‘Master Barber’ Style

Perspective is an amazing thing.

Let's Race!

Let’s Race!

Like most American males, I’ve always had the perspective of not expecting to see hair on the legs of women…and hair on the legs of men.  That’s not too crazy, is it?

Of course there were always those contrarians who liked to point out that in Europe, only women of the night shave their legs.  True or not, it really doesn’t matter since I was never in the market for a European wife.  And since my inclination has always been to live in the wild-west here in the USA, it was a ‘double-who-cares?’

But you know what?  If I was forced over to Europe and had to marry a European non-prostitute, I’d still insist that she shave her legs. Providing the shaving didn’t diminish her ability to prepare ‘boiled beef’ and tasty ‘root crop’ side dishes.

A Change Of Perspective

But then I started racing my bike on the roads of Northern California and looked around to see that the guys in my race looked like European prostitutes…at least from the cycling shorts down.

When my coach looked over at a cyclist with hair on his legs, and mumbled some disparaging remark about ‘Come on Dude…’, I realized that showing up with hair on my legs made me stand out in the crowd.

So I did it.  I got into the shower and denuded my legs.  Afterward, I looked down at those rascals and thought that they looked fat and puffy.  But before long, I was in a group of cyclists and hairy legs would have looked amateurish and out of place.

Good lord, my perspective had changed 180 degrees.

So I raced, and struggled to make my bike go faster than everyone else.  There were exceptions to the shaved leg culture.  One of the fastest guys never shaved his legs and everyone excused him because he’d come from a mountain bike racing background.  But for the rest of us it was ‘shave or look like a newbie’.

Another Paradigm Shift

Then I had a big bike wreck and ceased racing.

Gradually the hair grew back onto my legs and my perspective turned back to normal seeing shaved legs on male bike racers for what it was…(insert your perspective here).

Leg Shaving According To Carl

But should you find that you are wanting to shave your legs the way the Europeans do it, Bicycling magazine has recruited the expertise of Carl Cwiok, a National Master Barber employed by The Art of Shaving.

Who knew the hair removal world has a heirachy, complete with ‘Masters’ and ‘Non-masters’?

Cark Cwiok Has Strong Feelings About Leg Hair.

Cark Cwiok Has Strong Feelings About Leg Hair.

  1. If you have much more than stubble, use a beard trimmer to trim the shrubbery down to a manageable level.
  2. Warm up your legs in the shower to trick your legs into submission…they’ll think you like them, not that you’re about to attack them with a sharp instrument.
  3. Stay in the shower.  If you get out, your legs may wake up and know that they’re being prepared for the chopping block.
  4. Apply some pre-shave oil to the trouble spots like around your ankles, around your knees, and behind your knees.  I told you this would be a ‘Cadillac’ shaving.
  5. Apply shaving cream…use a shaving brush (not too many of these around), a face cloth, or if you have no sense of style, your hand.
  6. Shave using short, smooth strokes.  Don’t be afraid to go ‘free-form’…with the grain, against the grain, cross grain.
  7. Here’s the discouraging part.  When you think you’ve done a great job, you haven’t.  There will always be missed spots for you to go back after.  Ignore this step at your own risk. Should you show up to a ride with a patch of unshaved hair, your fellow rider’s eyes will be draw to that spot quicker than a booger poking out your nose, turtle-head style.
  8. Put a moisturizer on your legs afterward to reduce chafing.  At times this will trick your legs into thinking they still look normal, minimizing their embarrassment.

So there you have it…a few silly words about my experience with leg shaving, as well as some helpful advise for the denuding procedure.

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