So there you are, the ink hardly dry on your computer screen and you’re all proud as a peacock about the resolutions you’ve resolved to do in 2012, ignoring for the moment that “resolve” seems like it’s made up of “re” which means “do over” and “solve” which means “fix,” so without putting too fine a point on it you’re going to try and fix again something that’s either re-broke or that never got done in the first place, else why would you be fixing it again?
The facts are ugly and numerical and statistical and scientifical and they don’t bode well for your 2012 fix-agains, as most people flail and flop to the tune of 22% throwing in the towel after one week, 40% after one month, 50% after three months, 60% after six months, and 81% after twenty-four months and that’s according to an actual scientific study written by a fellow named Richard Koestner in 2008. Yes, your fix-agains are headed for the crapper, but that won’t and shouldn’t stop you from making them because the simple act of promising to do something you’re not going to do increases the chance that you’ll actually do it tenfold. In other words, promising to stop getting drunk before work is the best way to stop getting drunk before work even though you’re highly unlikely to ever stop getting drunk before work.
Some common cycling fix-agains
Cyclists love to make a new set of fix-agains with the advent of the New Year. “This year I’m going to do three sets of functional threshold 20-minute intervals twice a week and I’m going to lose 15 pounds and I’m going to start racing smart and I’m going to work on my climbing and getting a smooth spin and develop some explosiveness plus improve my time trailing and still have time to play ball with my sons and take my wife out to dinner and most of all be satisfied with the equipment I’ve got and not covet that Dura-Ace Di2 because it’s the biker not the bike and get good on the track and get that promotion at work and drink less and not masturbate so much.”
Fact is that you’re going to flail and fail at those fix-agains, especially the last one, which you’ve been promising to do since you were thirteen and the only thing you have to show for it is a bad case of leathery palms and terribly blurred vision.
Why should it be this way? Why are New Year’s fix-agains so doomed to failure, hard to keep, yet invariably poking up like a fresh set of weeds, come what may, every January the First? Or, as Mark Twain so aptly put it, “New Year’s Day… now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”
A quick look at common cycling goals and why they fail
Start training with a power meter: by now everyone knows that if you’re not training with power, you’re missing out on the single best tool to help you ride faster. Why won’t you do this in 2012? Because it requires wholesale change in your riding habits, it’s complicated and requires lots of study and reading or worse a coach and plus you’re a cheapass.
Build up to an important event with a periodized training plan: periodization is what women use to menstruate and have children, and it’s created billions and billions of little people. Periodization works. Why won’t you do this in 2012? Because it requires wholesale change in your riding habits, it requires a detailed plan, adherence to the plan, careful tracking of bio-physiological parameters, and because you are a lazyass.
Lose ten pounds in the next three months: you go faster the less you weigh, and unlike a new frame and super light race wheels, it actually saves you money to eat less. Why won’t you do this in 2012? Because the only thing more fun than masturbation is eating and drinking and to slice those pounds requires a detailed plan, a change in habits, adherence to the plan, etc., and because you never met a second helping you didn’t like.
Increase training mileage by 10%: higher training volume makes you stronger, lets you recover quicker, and makes you faster. Why won’t you tack on the handful of extra miles in 2012? Because pumping up your mileage requires a big picture plan, adherence…you know the rest…and because you are delusional in thinking that what led to failure in 2011 will lead to success in 2012.
Develop a higher cadence: flogging the big ring at 69 rpm will consign you to perpetual wankerdom. “Spin to win.” “Look at how the pros train.” Etc. Why won’t you concentrate on riding higher cadences in easier gears? Because turning higher rpm’s takes concentration and effort each time you get on the bike, and because you are a macho doofus who thinks that slog and flog = tough & buff.
A deeper look at the components of flogdom and flaildom
Strange to say, the things that inhibit implementation of your lofty, post-hangover New Year’s goals are the exact same things that inhibit the implementation of efficient manufacturing processes on the production floor of a factory. These elements have been exhaustively analyzed in a book by Masaaki Imai titled “Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management.”
It’s odd to think that boosting the efficient production of non-defective auto transmissions for timely delivery to meet customer demands could have anything in common with your cycling goals for 2012, but it does. Oversimplifying the nugget of Gemba Kaizen somewhat, the secret to modifying most human behavior for the better is incrementalism.
This does not discount the fact that wholesale radical change can also work. Quitting the demon rum cold turkey, losing 100 pounds in two months, going from late morning sluggard to 5:00 a.m. workout workhorse…these things are all possible, and indeed we know crazyfucks who’ve done them. To make those massive changes, though, you need massive motivation, the kind we can only summon a handful of times in our lives to change careers, to go back to college, to kick a destructive addiction, or to kick out a deadbeat boyfriend. For all the other goals and aspirations, we’ll have to try something else.
The stats above and the general nature of human slovenliness mean that, for the most part, radical reinvention of the self is really nothing more than a short-term burst that will be followed by a crash and a return to the old ways of ass scratching, beer farts by noon, and the occasional urge to train hard after watching a particularly exciting stage of the Tour sometime in late July.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
We’ve all heard this ancient Chinese proverb, but it presupposes that you’ve got legs and feet. Everyone knows or has been told that small, incremental change accumulates to big things, but if it were that easy, we’d all take a single step and then voila, we’d be in Kansas. No wonder no one takes that step.
The horror of winding up in Kansas aside, incrementalism is inhibited on a practical level by the three horsemen of the Manufacturing Apocalypse: clutter, waste, and randomness. “Clutter” is defined as “that shit you’ve been intending to toss or organize for the last six months–or six years–but have never gotten around to.” “Waste” is defined as “activities related to cycling that have nothing to do with riding your bike.” “Randomness” means “today I’ll do it differently for no apparent reason.”
Classic forms of clutter include too much equipment, broken equipment, badly adjusted equipment, tools that you never use or don’t know how to use, wool jerseys, “collectible” bike parts from the 80’s, and of course the arrangement of the physical space in which your cycling apparel, bike, and tools are located. Classic forms of cycling waste include surfing the Internet and reading about cycling (like you’re doing right now), reading Velo-Crap or Cyclingspews, hanging out at the bike shop just to shoot the shit, reading bike mags, blogging about bikes, emailing about bikes, watching a Sunday in Hell more than 50 times, or calling up your buddies to talk about the race/ride/team kit design for 2013. Randomness means changing up your nutrition, type of riding, length of riding, or intensity of riding for no reason other than this is how you want to do it now.
Making a dent in your goals for 2012
Applying Japanese production concepts of Gemba Kaizen to cycling, then, the two cheapest and quickest methods to start adding incremental improvements are reducing clutter and reducing waste. You can immediately run a test on your clutter level to determine the internal resistance you will experience in trying to reduce it. Here’s the test:
1. If you’ve been cycling in earnest for more than five years, go into the closet or chest of drawers and remove five jerseys and five pairs of shorts that you haven’t worn in the last six months.
2. Then throw them away. In the trash. Right now.
If even the thought of doing this causes you to break out in hives, or you can immediately think of ten great reasons to hang onto each item, then you’ve identified a massive impediment to making even your first incremental step toward reaching your 2012 goals. You’re having a hard time reaching your cycling goals because the acquisition of things associated with cycling–the gear–now predominates over the actual activity.
Run through this same test with your wheels, your frames, your components, and all the other gewgaws you’ve wasted good money on in your obsession with this bizarre activity. Even if you successfully deplete your clutter by half, chances are good that you’ll still have enough shit laying around to start an amateur 10-man race team. If you’re Frankendave, you’ll be able to outfit them all in matching mauve aero helmets and bright yellow shoe covers.
Why clutter fucks up your quest for improvement
If you think that a couple of extra jerseys and an old Campy Nuovo Record derailleur can’t possibly be affecting your training, think again. If you happen to be married, or to share household expenses with someone, the massive amount of cycling clutter greatly impedes the purchase of equipment that you actually need. Let’s say that in order to get your 2012 groove on with a power-based training regimen, you’re looking at $950 for the PowerTap, $500 for the Garmin Edge 500, $199 for the WKO+ analysis software, and another $100 to have your LBS build the wheel from some old rim you have stuck in the bookcase.
That’s almost $1,800 bucks. And do you know what your significant other is going to say when you trot this whopper out for his/her purchasing approval? Of course you do. The same thing she/he always says: “You already have five sets of wheels, not including the ones on your four bikes. Why in the name of God do you need more?”
So the first problem with excess bike crap is that it de-leverages your intraspousal negotiations for new crap. There’s another reason that bike clutter inhibits growth. If you happen to be a tinker-type, as a great many cyclists are, you end up wasting precious time jacking with your stuff. When Chris Carmichael wrote “Forcibly Injecting Steroids for the Time-Crunched Cyclist,” his theory was that a great many aspiring athletes have too many legitimate items on their plate to devote 20 hours a week to training.
Those legitimate items are work and family. “Trying to get my classic SunTour shifters to work with electronic Campy components” is not a legit item. Yet the more bicycle junk you have, the more time you spend doing precisely that. The same holds true with excess clothing. Although no sane person recommends trying to get by with a single pair of shorts, yellow armwarmers, and a helmet from 1973 a-la-Shakes-the-Clown, do you really need a dozen Assos jerseys from last year alone?
And how much time do you waste trying to color coordinate all that crap? “Hmmm, I think fuchsia goes well with bright yellow, but this accent of lime green on my frame…no. What about the bold purple and the brown socks? Nah. Black shorts and white jersey? Too boring.”
By the time you’ve gotten your runway ensemble together, the ride has left, or the morning traffic is too congested to do your interval training, or it’s time to go to work. Clothing clutter should be reduced to six or seven jerseys and six or seven pairs of good shorts, and better yet if they’re all from the same club, unless of course it’s that old Bike Palace design from a couple of years ago with the huge flame and the yellow and black and white and red jaw of doom that used to shatter windshields and stop old ladies’ pacemakers when the sunlight hit it just right.
Leaving aside tinkering and the complexities of making a fashion statement, the more shit you have, the more shit you have to maintain. Parts seize up. Chains dry out. Tires harden. Rust never, ever, ever sleeps. “I need a backup!” you plead. “What if I need a spare pair of wheels? What if I need another frame?” You need to get it through your head that you are not in charge of an intensive care unit, and the failure of your equipment will not result in the loss of hundreds of lives. In fact, by only having one serviceable bike, you’re likely to take better care of it.
If your bike or wheels break, you will lose a day or two of riding while you wait on a replacement. That’s a lot less than the time you will lose by fretting over old parts, maintaining multiple bikes, and ensembl-ing your collection of fashions from the last decade
If it won’t work for Toyota, it probably won’t work for you
Attacking clutter is at the forefront of the total quality management and Just In Time production system employed by the world’s largest carmaker. Production managers realized more than sixty years ago that clutter fucks up the system.
Clutter is, by definition, in the way. It slows things down, it literally gums up the machinery, and even more insidiously, it masks underlying problems and makes them impossible to diagnose, let alone treat. Sometimes clutter, or its close companion filth, are masking problems with machinery that’s about to break. How many times have you decided to give you bike a good cleaning, only to discover some piece that’s either worn out, loose, maladjusted, or about to break?
Other times, clutter and filth mask structural problems that pose an even bigger challenge to reaching targets. When the production floor is littered with work-in-progress items, it impedes everything from people to forklifts to materials. When your bike cave is a dreckhole chock full of old handlebars, multiple wheelsets, that old Indy Fabrications steel frame you’re never, ever going to build up, three generations of MTB’s hanging from the garage ceiling, and your closet is a packrat’s trove of old jerseys and shorts, it complicates what should be the easiest of tasks: dressing, airing up the tires, and rolling out the door.
The clutter killer
Toyota takes the twin issues of clutter and waste so seriously that one of the three pillars on which its entire production system is based is the continual reduction and elimination of clutter and waste: it’s called the “5 S” system, and it stands for five continual activities, none of which begins with “s” in English. They are:
1. Separating all your shit into two main groups, and one tiny group: keep, chunk, and store.
2. Organize the remaining shit: no more digging frantically for your arm warmers five minutes before the ride begins.
3. Clean your shit: don’t wait until your frame has a fine, antique patina of road slime before cleaning it.
4. Extend cleanliness to yourself and to the things around you: not going to name any names here, but…
5. Discipline yourself to make 1-4 continual habits.
Of course if it were that easy, we’d all dump our excess cycling shit, organize it up one side and down the other, floss daily, live the ideal of minimalism, and never again confront curly hairs on the rim of the toilet or concrete-like lasagna that’s been left to dry in the sink for three days and is so fucking hard you have to soak it in bleach for ten hours and chip it off with a diamond-tipped chisel.
Change is hard. But there is a way to implement some of these concepts so that they begin to help you turn the corner, where, hopefully, you’re not turning into a cement mixer that has slipped into reverse.
Next: “Wankmeister’s Adventure in Self-Improvement,” or “Talking’s Easy…Doing’s Hard.”