The Power of Repetition

Making perfect circles takes practice — lots of it. This is a brief story about determination and practice. It's about the need to do the smallest of things and still seek perfection each and every time. It's about more than Ten Million pedal strokes in the pursuit of making the perfect circle -- and ultimately good health. Because many of us are trying to live high performance lifestyles. So we must do the easy work so many times; making it the hardest work to do — and differentiating us along the way. 

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When my father retired and he and my mother moved to Dallas, we wanted to surprise him with a new bicycle. We pooled our paper route money together and opted for a Specialized mountain bike. Even though he'd ridden skinny tyre bicycles back in the day, we opted instead for fat ones. A decision made for long term enjoyment and especially for safety. 

Dad's a hard driver and took well to retirement. Hiking, running, and cycling since day one. It did not take long until his knee flared up. Over-use injuries tend to run in the family. He went to the doctor several times and had a few cortisone shots. The pain and swelling would partially subside. But not totally. 

It seemed as if early in his retirement he might be facing surgery which would certainly  stifle his activities. We're clearly not doctors, but we know the benefits of focused cycling and potential bio mechanical benefits to joints and muscles in the body. Dad dialed back all activities but cycling and focused on making perfect circles. 

The solution was not perfect; he still had pain and inflammation. But we noticed a few things and made minor adjustments along the way:

  • Pain would subside with low resistance pedaling
  • Pain would subside with slightly higher revolution
  • Micro adjustments of the clips on his shoes helped ease pain
  • Consistent seat height adjustments stabilized his technique

Some of these things we put our minds against — to figure this thing out. And some things happened on their own. For instance, I was helping him put on his tyre one weekend and noticed the pressure seemed very high for a mountain bike tyre. Mountain bike tyres require roughly 30 or so pounds. Since dad was mostly riding on hard surface, he figured he'd more than double the pressure. Made sense to me! Further, this clearly would lead to less rolling resistance, therefore less pressure on the knee in the easier gears he selected. 

A few months ago, Dad celebrated his 67th birthday. That day he rode his bicycle, his mountain bicycle, just over 70 miles. And today he remains pain free. Was it that we outsmarted the ailment itself? Possibly; or at least I'd like to think so. Or was it that he simply focused on the simple things?

It is my feeling that life's greatest rewards come from the simplest things. The "boring" things. On a bicycle, when we concentrate deeply on our technique, we make perfect circles. Our hips should not bounce on the seat. We rest our back, arms, and neck in a certain way to properly control the bike. We engage a separate system from the hips down. From there we focus on spinning with perfect fluidity. 

How many circles did it take to cure this chronic knee pain? Just to make a point, I recall decades ago that we used to define "big" gears as the amount of distance traveled in one single revolution of the pedal. Certain gears will propel the bicycle longer (or bigger) distances. These distances were measured in inches or centimeters. So I applied this logic to determine how many perfect circles had to be made to correct Dad's knee. Here goes...

  • wheel circumference = 29 inches
  • front gear (chain ring) used most of the time = 32 tooth ring
  • rear cog used on average = 19 tooth cog
  • inches travel per pedal stroke (as per the above configuration) = 46.5 inches
  • @ 63,360 inches per mile, pedal revolutions per mile = 1,362.58
  • one year of making perfect circles @ 7,500 miles
  • Drum roll....
  • 10,219,350 practically perfect circles pedaled!

Ten Million Revolutions of the pedal is a giant number. But what's amazing to me is the underlying message; it takes fully embracing the simple things — the "boring" things — in order to achieve perfection.

We see this relationship everywhere. An artist who sketches will make millions of marks upon his paper. A dancer spends thousands of hours in the studio. A weight lifter gets under the bar -- and with proper technique, he strengthens his muscles and bones. He has better posture. But it takes many, many lifts to achieve perfection. 

Each and every lift. Each and every pedal stroke comes with a decision. To keep going or to quit. So I ask myself during the unrelenting tasks — do I want to pedal in circles? Or will I instead pedal in squares?

Gear inches calculator

Chris RonanComment