Monday, March 31, 2014

Exercises Every Biker Should Do

One of the major criticisms of motorcycles is that they are much less comfortable than cars or most forms of public transport. The Rambler is not in denial on this one - it can be very painful at times. It requires that the rider have a body strong enough to sustain the sometimes-frustrating pain.

Primarily, it requires a strong core musculature, resilient shoulders, and strong hamstrings. The ideal position for long-distance riding entails not putting much pressure on the wrists and the forearm, since you need to be able to move the handle freely, and tightly locked forearms are not the way to achieve that. Your core should be engaged and should bear the brunt in balancing your body.

Most of the load of your upper body falls on your shoulders, which need to be strong and resistant. You should also keep your legs close to your fuel tank, which becomes harder than you might think after a while. This requires strong hamstrings.

Apart from these particulars, you also need to have a good overall balance and functional strength, since riding a bike for hours on end can get tiring for even the most seasoned riders.

What do you need to do to achieve these physical conditions required for riding motorcycles?

You need to regularly do bodyweight exercises that engage more muscles per rep than your typical gym workouts. The more muscles you engage at once, the more functional strength you gain. The reason for preferring bodyweight exercises is that doing the 'balancing' part of the exercises yourself helps strengthen your connective tissue, which is a hugely important part of gaining functional strength. Gym machines, which make the exercises easier by taking off some of the load, are consequently less effective than bodyweight exercises. Bodyweight exercises also help develop a better balance, and a better overall understanding of your own body.

Planks

The beginner's dream exercise for building core muscles, planks are extremely efficient at developing the abs (upper as well as lower) and the lower back. Start with a 10-second plank if you have never done planks before, and slowly progress to about two minutes. If you can do normal planks easily, try one-arm / one-leg planks. If you can do those, try balancing yourself on opposing foot and arm (right foot-left arm, and vice versa).

Pushups

There's a reason why literally every army recruitment program in the world judges a candidate based on the number of pushups he can do. A pushup is the absolute best exercise for building shoulder (deltoids), triceps, and chest (pectoralis major and minor) muscles. Like with planks, start slow if you haven't done pushups for a long time (or ever, in fact). Start with wall pushups: push yourself off a wall if you can't push yourself off the ground. If you can perform regular pushups easily, progress to feet-elevated / handstand / one-armed (these are really difficult, NOT FOR BEGINNERS) pushups.

Squats

If there is one exercise that strengthens the upper and lower halves of the body equally efficiently, it is a barbell squat. But if you don't want to visit a gym (and I am with you on that, I hate gyms), bodyweight / dumbbell squats are still a magnificent exercise for the quads and hamstrings. If you can, progress to squat jumps (jump after the squat part - duh!) or one-legged squats.

Pullups / Chinups

The most Spartan, most manly exercise in the world is, arguably, the pullup. No other exercise works the arms and the back like pullups. And, not that it matters, no other exercise looks as freaking cool! If you can't do regular pullups yet, start by jumping onto the bar and holding on for as long as you can. If you are already a regular pullup-master, try to progress to one-armed pullups (NOT FOR BEGINNERS) or the devil's own workout: the muscle-up.

Two things should always be observed while doing these exercises:

Always do a dynamic warm up. Stretching does not warm up your body; spare it for the cool-down part. Skip a rope, do some on-the-spot running, dance. Get your heart rate up, and don't be scared of breaking a sweat. Don't burn yourself out in the warmup, but don't jump straight into the workout described above.

Maintain proper form while doing these exercises. Properly done, these are four of the most effective and efficient workouts for muscle building, but if you force yourself to finish a workout with incorrect form, all these exercises have the potential to cause serious injuries. Don't exceed your capabilities. If you have any musculoskeletal or cardiac conditions, consult your physician before starting a workout routine.

Find a workout program that works for you. We all are unique snowflakes, and there is no point in trying to jump into Gerard Butler's 300 workout if you can't do 10 pushups straight. Here's a few links that I have personally used / currently use for my own workouts:

Steve Kamb has a veritable treasure trove of workout and diet advice over at Nerd Fitness.

The progression courses for pushups, squats, and pullups over at One Hundred Pushups are worth a look as well.

For those of you who think regular pushups are beneath you, I dare you to try these monster varieties at Art of Manliness. Fair warning: There is one variety that involves going down in a standard pushup action, then pushing yourself off the floor so explosively that you can touch your toes with your fingers in midair, and then return to the standard starting position. Exhausted yet?

Never find yourself in a position where you have cut your road trip short because it is just too uncomfortable. Riding motorcycles is rewarding, but it can also exact a serious toll on your body. Prepare your body for the hardships, and you will be able to enjoy the good times even more!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

7 Life Lessons Learned from Motorcycles

There are many who deride bikes as snooty playthings. Admittedly, there are many who treat their bikes like snooty playthings. However, for every showoff with barf-inducing neon lights fixed underneath his bike, there are hundreds who know their bike inside out, who have learned to interpret every little bump and fizz the bike gives, who are so in tune with their bike that it starts to talk to them.

The Rambler falls very much among the second class. He enjoys every moment spent with his bike, be it in city traffic or on the open highway. He listens to every little noise his bike makes, for it tells him something about his bike that he didn't know before. He listens to what his bike speaks to him, and speak she does! She has taught him more about life than anything else, including education and his parents, ever could.

The life lessons that bike-riding folk like the Rambler have learned from bikes are equally applicable to bike-deriding folk as well. So what can a non-living living and pulsating thing that is made of plastic and metal and functions on tiny explosions, teach us?

Choke

An engine draws fuel from the bike's tank, and mixes it with air sucked in from its surroundings. On cold mornings, this mixture is not combustive enough to make an engine run properly. This calls for a choke, a valve which forces fuel from the bike's tank into the engine and keeps out the air. This allows the engine to get started and warmed up with minimal fuss. Soon enough, the engine gets warm enough to allow the intake of air, and thereafter, the air flow only works to maximize the engine's output.

The analogy to draw from the choke valve is that in every endeavor you make, you need to force everything you have into it, without relying on or waiting for outside help. Before your idea is strong enough to meet dissenters head on, external influence will do nothing but spoil your best-laid plans. Opinions uninvited, criticism unwarranted, obtrusion undeserved - this is what a nascent idea receives. Only once the idea has been refined and strengthened should you seek outside help. When your plan is strong enough and you are committed to it, opportunities start to fall your way, seemingly of their own accord. The idea becomes strong enough to convince dissenters to change their mind, and feeds off the support.

Servicing

After a few months or a few thousand kilometers of relentless riding, undesirable deposits start to collect in an engine. Nuts and bolts start to come loose. Cables start to fray. The electronic components start to go wonky. The accumulated dirt and grime start to corrode the underlying paintwork. The lubricant starts to become stale and useless. This calls for a servicing, where the exterior is polished to a sparkling finish, the air filter is scrubbed clean, the engine is cleaned and refreshed, the cables and nuts and bolts are tightened, and the essential fluids are refilled.

Our unavoidably hectic lifestyle in these times of plenty forces us to pile on stress and frustration onto our mind and body. The inevitable result: frustration, sleeplessness, indigestion (urrgh, I know!), short temper, chronic weakness, lethargy, a weakened immune system, and a whole lot of other ailments.

Your mind and body deserve a refresher once in a while. The 'six-month vacation twice a year' jokes aside, there is no shame in demanding some 'me time', however cheesy that may sound. Instead of spending Sundays slumped on your sofa, head out into the ever-welcoming embrace of Mother Nature. Go on a hike, go camping, go to a beach, go on a wildlife trail. Let the greenery / the laughter around a bonfire / the lull of the waves / the tense silence of the jungle wash away the layers of grime you have been unwittingly accumulating. If that is too big a leap for you, just try to switch off that bloody phone of yours for a day. Disconnect from the rest of the world. Tick off some items off that movie wishlist of yours. If you don't have a movie wishlist, shame on you, make one!

Riding Gear

The point of wearing a full riding gear on 1000-mile road trips is not just acknowledging that you can make a mistake, but being ready for the idiocy and recklessness of others. You may think you are the most accomplished rider in the country, but even discounting the quite plausible possibility that you are entirely wrong about that, there is no way you can adjust to a drunk driver suddenly veering into your lane, leaving you with two equally grim choices.

In life, as on a bike, there is bravery and impulsiveness. And then there's stupidity. By all means, be impulsive and make your own way through life, but be prepared for cockups along the way. Always make provisions for possible adversities. However confident you may be in your capabilities, no one is perfect. Even if you are perfect, in which case I need to know your secret, you depend on others in myriad ways, and they may not always be up to scratch. It would be stupid to recommend pessimism, but a dose of realism would sit well with an optimistic mind.

Corners are Memorable

Ask any rider worth his salt about the best road he's ever driven on, and he'll regale (and sometimes bore) you with tales of the twisty bits on a mountain road. No rider, even if he's the most loyal Harley or Indian customer in the world, likes a road that goes straight for more than 10 km. Did I say 10? That is too much! Nobody remembers the straights; they are just not that memorable. Sure, it's nice for a while if there's greenery either side of you or if you are riding into the sunset, but after some time, you inevitably find yourself craving the smallest of kinks in the road.

Likewise, the boring, open stretches in life may be easy, but nobody lies on a deathbed wishing he had been more normal, more routine, more clockwork. It's always the more adventurous, riskier times in life that you remember. Sure, the linear trajectory of John Everyman's life is easy and safe, but a roller coaster is much more satisfying.

Focus On the Road

Music blasting in your ears, neck craned to hold a cell phone in place, alcohol surging around your system, drowsiness making it a struggle to open your eyes while blinking - these are some of the worst conditions to be in while riding a bike. These conditions mean that you can't concentrate on what lies ahead of you. The road is not a place to close or avert your eyes. Potholes, animals, and primarily other road users, are all notoriously unpredictable elements for a biker. A sleepy biker will almost always cause a horrible accident. A biker on the phone will not be able to react quickly to any potential danger. A drunk biker will always cause a horrible accident, period. You need to focus on just the road when you are on the bike, nothing else.

Despite the many disadvantages of multitasking, we live in a time where being able to do it is considered a badge of honor. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn't help you accomplish many things at once, but rather leads you to messing up many things at once. While we may believe that our brain is capable of handling two tasks at once, what the brain actually does is constantly switch attention between the two, so quickly that our conscious self doesn't notice it. For the sake of your own brain, concentrate on what you are doing at the moment. That's what the brain was designed for, and that's what it does best.

Don't Overload Your Bike

A bike, however sturdy it may seem, is only designed to carry a certain amount of weight. While very rarely exceeding this limit for a short period won't hurt the bike, continual overloading causes numerous problems. The suspension sags, and can cause accidents. The power output suffers terribly even in the short term, since the same amount of power is now distributed over a larger load. The braking distance is significantly increased, due to the increased momentum. The rider's control over the bike is also severely affected, since even tiny deviations to either side are magnified several times over, again due to the increased momentum. The only way to increase the weight limit is to change or enhance the fundamental structure of the bike to strengthen it.

In life, it is important to recognize your limits. While self-confidence is a veritable boon, there is a thin line between confidence and vanity. Don't make promises you can't keep. You will be letting down not just yourself, but someone else who depends on you. Don't try to be someone you are not. If you aren't paid to do so, looking like Hollywood actors can be extremely difficult. Don't base a relationship on a lie. It will come out eventually, and it will cause much more devastation then.

Be comfortable in your own skin. You have unique strengths and weaknesses, just like every other human being in the world. If you really want to change yourself or exceed your limits in some way, bring about the change in a way that you can handle, and in a way that will stick. Fad diets, reluctance to break a dysfunctional relationship, or steroid supplements DON'T WORK. Make long-term, gradual changes that will become the norm, instead of going through a period of extreme conditions, only to slip back into the old, harmful routine afterwards.

Lubricants

The lubricants keep your motor running for longer, and lessen the abrasive damage. It improves your efficiency as well as your power output.

The life lesson here, incredibly, is exactly the same as above! 'nuff said!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What's So Special About Bikes?

There are travelers, and there are travelers. And then there are bikers.



Ask any biker what's so special about bikes, and all you'll get is a smug, self-righteously knowing look. It's supposed to be something that can't be explained, but has to be experienced.

Oh sure, a car is more stable, a train is (often) cheaper, a plane is faster, a ship is more enjoyable if you don't get seasick, and almost everything is safer, than a bike. Oh sure, some of us really look like absolute tools in the requisite leather. Oh sure, on some days, it's quite painful. And sure, you can't eat a sandwich on the move. The last one really hurts, and any Kickstarter project seeking to solve that problem would receive a significant amount from me.

And yet, try preaching this to a biker, and you stand a pretty big risk of being laughed at.

This post is an attempt at explaining something that won't be understood unless it is experienced. And now that I have confessed the futility of the endeavor, let's get started.

Yes, a car is more stable, but who values the trait of being really boring? Admit it, you want someone who puts the integrity of your bed at risk. It's the same thing with bikes. Like matadors on rampaging bulls, the mere balancing act on a bike is rewarding. The buzz you get in the area between your lower abdomen and your upper thighs is very real, and very natural. The constant risk of falling means that the supply of adrenaline is also virtually constant.

On public transport - of any kind - you are a mere spectator in the kaleidoscope unfolding around you. On a bike, on the other hand, you are the one creating the kaleidoscope; you get to choose the colors and shapes; you get to stop and contemplate upon any particularly alluring piece you happen to encounter.

There are many ways of having a journey, but none that includes you more than a bike. On a bike, you are in touch with the passing terrain. You feel every bump (sometimes rather uncomfortably), you feel the climate and the lifestyle of the regions you pass through. You can smell the soil and the blooms that you pass, you experience the scorching heat and the chilling cold.

In many ways, a car is the weapon of choice of the typical tourist. It gets you to your destinations, but conceals the journey. It hides the regions you are passing through under a huge blanket of air conditioning, and it keeps you away from the exhilarating rush of air. A bike, on the other hands, forces you to experience your journey as it is, no frills. It is for those who value the journey more than the destination; for whom the destination is merely an excuse for the journey. It is the steed of rambling wanderers.

Why Do We Travel?

There is only one rationale behind the desire to travel. Oh, people have the darndest explanations about it, but they are all wrong. Nobody needs to travel to 'think', 'figure out their life', or to put a vacation to good use. You can 'think' just as well beneath your roof as you can beneath a star-filled night sky in the desert. Changing your job - or in many cases, getting one - is the answer to most problems of the second category. Vacations can be spent just as well checking off that bucket list of books to read and movies to watch that you never got to. Why, then, do we travel?
Simply put, it's built into our fundamental building blocks. For most of our evolutionary history, we were nomads; dependent upon the seasons for an address, and upon the benevolence of an often-cruel mother nature for sustenance.
Then one day, some lazy nut, who needed an excuse to avoid carrying his quota of rations to the next destination, pointed out that some of the seeds that he had clumsily spilled last month had sprouted, and would be edible in a short time. Agriculture quickly became the norm, aided by similar loafers all over the world, and the nomad was suppressed.
However, we humans have genetic memories that go back beyond agriculture. We also have a striking tendency to become bored. Could it be that the suppressed genetic information from nomadic times is conspiring with boredom to make us want to see more? To eat more? To hear more? To spread our wings and fly beyond the edge of our comfortable nest? Could it be that we humans have simply been too busy turning into sedentary blobs to properly forget what it felt like to have dangers in our path and uncertainty at the end of it?
Could it be that we only truly feel human when we expand our experiences: when we stretch the limits of sanity to levels hitherto unexplored, when we make a conscious, voluntary effort to escape our chrysalis?
That, according to a rambling, bike-riding lunatic, is the only reason why we travel!