Frustrated by Seemingly Endless Injuries

The intersection of three different conditions has led to an apparently endless stream of injuries.

  1. At the time I wrote this post, I am 50 years old.
  2. I started trials biking (at 47).
  3. Prior to starting to learn trials biking, I hadn’t exercised regularly in probably a decade. And I still don’t exercise much, other than trials biking.

Ever since I fell in love with biking 3 years ago, I have suffered injury after injury. I’m not talking about getting minor cuts, scrapes and bruises (although there are plenty of those), requiring stitches, or breaking bones – the stuff you might expect with trials biking. No, I’m primarily referring to stupid, nagging, annoying injuries that are largely due to my age and lack of exercise.

I kicked off the injuries by jamming the big toe on my right foot and aggravating a bunion. Next, I hurt my shoulder, probably from going over the bars several times doing endos. Those eventually healed after a few weeks. I think there might have been some others in there as well. But last summer is when the persistent and recurring injuries started. Somehow I did something to aggravate my arm, probably around July 2019 – the result is tendinitis in my right arm. I also began to suffer from an impinged sciatic nerve and a string of recurring lower back injuries.

X-ray of my foot showing the bone alignment and bunion
2017 X-Ray of my right foot taken after jamming my big toe – nothing was broken, but you can see the angles of the joints in my big toe bones as well as the bunion

I had physical therapy for my arm (tendinitis) and back for about 4-5 months. Everything seemed to be better in my arm by March 2020. I even bought a new trials bike in January, which I rode a few times in the driveway and parking lots, taking it real easy. But after a couple rides in the woods, my arm is now in pain again, almost constantly. It hurts to lift anything – even just a cup of coffee (though ironically, it does not hurt while riding – only after). It feels like the past several months of physical therapy, stretches, and staying off my bike were completely wasted. This is so incredibly frustrating!

My sciatic nerve issue seems to have been resolved and my lower back has been pretty good for the past 1-2 months. I spend 20-30 minutes every morning before work doing stretches and pushups – I started that routine while undergoing physical therapy. While this seems to have “fixed” my back, I still need to be careful – when it goes out, it’s usually for something dumb and comes without warning.

Recently I added another nagging injury. This time I wrenched the big toe on my left foot, irritating that bunion. Before that could heal, I jammed it again, even harder than the first time. The re-injury also seems to have pulled some tendons or something in the bottom of my foot. While the worst pain subsided after a couple days, my toe joint is still sore weeks later and is aggravated by walking. Additionally, now I get random cramps in the bottom of my foot, usually right after I stand up. This is not extremely painful (it does hurt), but it’s quite annoying.

Why am I blathering on about my injuries? Whining, hoping for sympathy? Nope. Is it frustrating? You bet it is. Does it hurt? Sure. But none of that is really the point. Look at the 3 conditions I cited at the beginning of this post as contributing to my injuries. Don’t do what I did. Start exercising when you’re young, and keep exercising. Stay active. Find something physical that you love to do, and do it regularly. If you decide to start something later in life that can be rough on your body, ease into it. Get yourself into shape, work on building muscle, and do stretches. Don’t go from zero to full throttle at 50. Obviously I can’t guarantee you won’t still get injured, but if I could go back and do it again, this is the way I’d do it.

There is another point to make as well. You might ask, “if you keep getting injured, why do you keep doing it?” Why? Because in trials biking I have discovered something I absolutely love to do. When I’m not riding my bike, I’m often thinking about riding. When I am riding, I don’t want to stop, even if I’ve ridden to the brink of exhaustion. Trials riding is one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve ever done. I enjoy it too much to give it up, despite the injuries and ongoing pain. So for now at least, I will continue to ride and hopefully still see ongoing skill progression. And maybe I can figure out how to “fix” the chronic issues like the tendinities in my arm.

How to Replace Echo TR Disc Brake Seals and Pistons

My Echo Mark V 24-inch trials bike has had trouble with the brakes almost since I bought it. The Mark V came with Echo TR disc brakes in the Front and Echo TR rim brakes in the rear. Within weeks of getting the bike (new!), the disc brakes got contaminated. I thought it was something I had done, like touch the rotor. I dug around online and tried a few different ways to fix the pads, including using a propane torch to burn the contaminants out of the pads (didn’t work). I bought new brake pads and a new brake rotor. The new pads quickly became contaminated as well. I finally realized that the problem was that the caliper was leaking brake fluid (mineral oil) onto the brake pads. At that point, I was so frustrated that I just completely removed the font brakes. I also replaced the rear brakes with Magura HS-33s (the Echo rim brakes on the rear wheel appeared to be leaking as well).

After some research, I discovered that you can replace Echo TR disc brake seals and pistons, since they can become damaged and cause brake fluid to seep out. I was able to find the replacement pistons and seals (thank you Tartybikes!), but could not find a tool to remove the bore cap from the Echo TR brake calipers. I even tried contacting Echo Bikes via their website’s ‘Contact Us’ form a couple times to see if they would be willing to sell me a bore cap removal tool, but they never even bothered to respond (FYI – completely ignoring your customers is a terrible was to create brand loyalty… it kinda has the exact opposite effect). The folks at Tartybikes recommended using some sort of metal bar, which ended up doing the trick (not elegant, but it works).

Echo TR hydraulic disc brakes and bore cap
Echo TR hydraulic disc brakes – note the red bore cap requiring a a special 5-pointed star-shaped tool for removal (that apparently nobody sells)

One point to add here is that I am absolutely not mechanically inclined. Performing maintenance and repairs has never been my forte and often puts me well outside my comfort zone. I’m usually afraid that I will ruin whatever I’m trying to fix – especially for expensive stuff. Interestingly enough though, I discovered that learning and doing my own bicycle maintenance and repair provides a sense of reward and accomplishment that I hadn’t expected. Now I actually enjoy figuring it out doing it myself. Of course having the Internet and YouTube at my disposal certainly helps…usually.

The Tutorial

Since I could not find much on the Internet explaining how to replace Echo TR disc brake seals and pistons, I figured I’d record my experience and share it online. It’s my first tutorial, so it’s not going to win any awards, but I’m hoping it will at least prove helpful to anyone else going through the same experience. Especially if you’re like me and not exactly a master of mechanical things.

Tutorial: How to rebuild Echo TR disc brake calipers (If it’s helpful, please give it a ‘thumbs up’. Thanks!)

Note: The video does not show this, but remember to remove your brake pads before removing the pistons to avoid contaminating (i.e., ruining) the brake pads with the mineral oil. You will need to fill/bleed the brakes after rebuilding the caliper and re-attaching the brake hose. Clean the entire caliper inside and out very well with rubbing alcohol and a clean rag before installing new brake pads. Also be sure to clean the brake rotor as well. I scrubbed mine with a clean rag using soap and water. Then after rinsing it with clean water, I rinsed it again with rubbing alcohol.

Tools and Parts You’ll Need

For trials biking tools and parts, I recommend Tartybikes and Webcyclery.

Tools and supplies for rebuilding your Echo TR disc brake calipers

You’ll need some basic tools and supplies to replace Echo TR disc brake seals. To rebuild my caliper, I used:

  • a set of Allen keys (i.e., hex wrenches),
  • needle nose pliers,
  • a hydraulic brake piston press such as the Park Tool PP1.2,
  • an 8 mm box wrench,
  • vise grips,
  • a metal bar to open the bore cover (I could not find an official bore cap tool from Echo),
  • a plastic tray to catch the brake fluid,
  • some clean rags and/or paper towels,
  • a hydraulic brake bleed kit,
  • fresh mineral oil brake fluid,
  • cotton swabs,
  • small wooden skewers (or something similar),
  • a small spray bottle, and
  • plenty of isopropyl rubbing alcohol.
Parts to replace Echo TR disc brake seals and pistons (note: these are the old parts in this photo)

Before you start, you will also need: 2 new Echo TR pistons and 2 new piston seals. While the leak could be due to the seals, it is also possible that your pistons have some scoring on the sides, which can also causing the mineral oil to leak out. Since you’re already opening up the bore cap, you should also have a new bore cap seal. And of course you’ll need new brake pads, and possibly a new rotor.

If you have any good tips or gotchas for rebuilding Echo TR disc brake calipers, please share them in the comments.

I (Finally) Bought A Bike Rack

For the past few years I have been transporting my trials bike by taking off the front wheel and cramming the bike and wheel into the trunk of my Toyota Corolla with the seats folded down. To take my mountain bike anywhere, or to take a bike ride with the family, we’d stuff the bikes into the bed of our F-150. Inevitably, the bikes fall onto each other, though amazingly, never resulted in broken spokes, derailleurs, or brake lever.

I’ve been meaning to get a rack for a while now to transport bikes much more easily, but procrastination had frustrated those intentions. Today I finally made the plunge.

Two Vehicles, One Bike Rack

We have two vehicles that vary widely in their capabilities (Ford F-150 vs. Toyota Corolla), but I really did not want to buy two different bike racks. Also, I really don’t like the trunk mounted bike racks that could be used on the Corolla. The plan was to put a trailer hitch on the Corolla and try to find a hitch-mounted bike rack that could be used with either vehicle. Of course, this presented its own set of challenges.

The F-150 has a pretty sturdy tow package, as you would imagine, with a Class 3 hitch and 2-inch receiver. On the other hand, the Corolla can only be outfitted with a wimpy Class 1 hitch with 1.25 inch receiver, which has a maximum tongue weight of 200 lbs. There are bike racks that can fit either receiver size, and trailer hitch adapters to go either direction from 1.25 to 2 inch or 2 inch to 1.25 inch. The catch, though, is that using a 1.25 inch to 2 inch adapter on the Corolla’s Class 1 hitch cuts the rated tongue weight in half to 100 lbs. With a 50 lb bike rack, that leaves 50 lbs for the bikes and can put the trailer hitch at its limits with more than one bike. On the other hand, the 2 inch to 1.25 inch adapter does not necessarily reduce the tongue weight rating of the trailer hitch.

My Echo trials bike and I shared the bed of my F-150 at a trials biking competition
My Echo trials bike and I shared the bed of my F-150 at a trials biking competition

Which Bike Rack to Choose?

Today I spent a little time on the internet researching different bike racks, reading reviews such as this one. As discussed above, I was looking for a trailer hitch mounted bike rack that could be used on both of my vehicles. I also wanted a platform bike rack that could accommodate bikes with different frame styles and sizes (e.g., trials vs. mountain bike / adult vs. kids, etc.), different wheel diameters (24-inch, 26-inch, and more), and various tire widths. It needed to hold at least 2 bikes (a third bike could always go into the truck bed). And it needed to be lockable, preferably with an integrated locking solution.

I finally selected the Thule T2 Pro XT 2 Bike Rack, which is available in both 1.25-inch and 2-inch receiver styles – I bought the 1.25-inch version. Unfortunately, it only holds two bikes. A (very expensive) add-on, sold separately, integrates with the rack to add the ability to carry two more bikes. Unfortunately, this add-on is only compatible with the 2-inch version. Oh well.

In addition, I also bought a Curt Class 1 trailer hitch (CURT 11265) for the Corolla, and a 2-inch to 1.25 inch adapter (CURT 45770) for the F-150. Amazingly, all three items were available on Amazon.com.

Waiting (Impatiently)

Now that these are finally on order, I can’t wait for them to arrive! I am not very mechanically inclined, so I’m hoping the trailer hitch for the Toyota Corolla is easy to install. And hopefully the entire scheme for swapping the bike rack between vehicles works as I’d hoped. Otherwise, someone will be a very unhappy camper.

There will be more to follow I’m sure. If I’m not too impatient, maybe I’ll actually make a video of the installation process and test of the bike rack in action with some different bikes…

I Need to Fail More

Crash and burn - falling off wooden pallets with my bike
Crash and burn

My trials biking abilities seem to have plateaued. Progressing my abilities and learning new moves has been somewhat elusive. While there are several factors involved, one fairly important cause is that I need to move past my fear of crashing so I can actually try new moves and bump existing skills to the next level. Trials is hard. The only way to progress in trials biking is to try something, crash and burn, learn from it, and try again. And do that over, and over, and over, and over.

But that insidious fear of crashing keeps holding me back, keeping me from even trying certain things. I’m not talking about big crashes like from trying a 10 foot drop, I’m talking about small stuff, just a couple feet off the ground. It’s frustrating.

How to Overcome Fear

Honestly, I don’t have a magic formula. I haven’t figured out the secret yet – I’m still learning how to conquer fear. However, I have found that sometimes I can force myself to do something scary, in spite of the fear. Not crazy stupid stuff, but things that are at the edge of or just beyond the limits of my comfort or abilities. I also try to set myself up so that the consequences aren’t catastrophic. I might crash and it might hurt, but I’m not likely to break any bones or take a trip to the emergency room.

The part where I struggle is not so much the fear of failure, but the fear of pain. Some of the moves that I am trying to learn seem awkward. I can’t seem to get the feel of it. Instead of just sending it and paying attention to how it feels (whether or not I succeed or fail), I avoid committing to the moves. The result is that I rarely crash or fall… but I can’t ever learn the moves either.

All said and done, I think I need to start pushing myself a little harder outside the comfort zone and start failing more. That should have a couple results:

  1. I’ll probably discover that the crashes aren’t that bad (or just suck it up and learn not to be such as wuss), and
  2. I will learn what works and what doesn’t for each move I’m trying to learn so I can improve my skills.

Do you have any tips on how to overcome fear?

I Just Created My First Game Using Scratch

This is the first game I programmed with scratch

My son gave me a quick tutorial this morning in programming with Scratch, the online environment hosted by MIT for learning to code by creating video games. Just for fun, I figured I’d share it here. Scroll to the bottom to play.

Programming With Scratch

I’ve written code before in various programming languages, but my son is using Scratch at school and wanted to show me how it works. I’m impressed with the things you can do with this type of drag and drop coding environment. It teaches the logic needed to write software code, but without having to worry about some of the issues related to syntax (or stupid stuff like forgetting a semicolon). All that can come later, after gaining an understanding in how to think through the logic required to develop functioning software applications.

Using Scratch is pretty simple. Essentially, you create “sprites” to represent your character as well as the other active game elements. Programming with scratch is done by dragging and dropping code blocks, which snap together into sequences, and setting values as necessary.

As you can see below, the available code blocks are on the left. You click and drag them to the coding area to create sequences associated with each sprite. On the top right you have the game preview.

Programming with Scratch - an example of the programming environment
Programming with Scratch – an example of the programming environment

My First Scratch Game

Here is my first scratch game. It’s fairly simplistic, and it’s far from perfect. The objective is to jump over as many trees as you can while moving through the forest. Click the flag to start the game and use the space bar to jump. You get a point for every tree you successfully jump. Hit a tree and it’s game over. That’s pretty much it. Go ahead and give it a try.

How I Discovered Trials Biking

Trials biking basics - learning to trackstand on my Trek 820 mountain bike

Imaginate!

My crazy obsession with trials biking started some time in 2017. While browsing videos in YouTube, I noticed an interesting looking video that had appeared in my “Recommended” videos. I believe it was Danny MacAskill’s Imaginate. I wasn’t really into bikes or anything, but my curiosity was piqued, so I watched the video. I was completely blown away! I had never seen anything even remotely like that before!

But I still wasn’t hooked. Since I watched Imaginate, YouTube’s algorithms recommended another Danny MacAskill video. So I watched it. That probably happened a few times. At that point, I had to find out more, so I exercised my Googling skills to find out just what the type of biking Danny MacAskill does was even called – I had no clue.

After learning a little more about what trials biking even is, I decided, “I can do that. I am doing that!”.

The trials biking video that captured my attention and started my trials biking obsession

I Bought A Trials Bike

The only bike I had to start with was a Trek 820 mountain bike, so in July 2017, I started with the basics: learning trackstands (balancing in place on 2 wheels). The Trek 820 is a fairly low-end mountain bike. It’s also heavy, and doesn’t have great brakes (critical for trials). So, in September 2017, I bought my first trials bike – an Echo Mark V with 24-inch wheels.

My first trials bike - Echo Mark V 24-inch
My first trials bike – Echo Mark V 24-inch

First Trials Biking Competition

The fever had bitten me, but I didn’t know anyone who rode trials. I was asking people at work, in Facebook, you name it. I finally found a trials biking discussion form where someone nearby was about to host a trials competition.

My first trials biking competition - 2017 Shoot First, Trials Later
My first trials biking competition – 2017 Shoot First, Trials Later

So, with no idea what I was really doing and knowing nothing about biking/trials culture or the people, I actually competed in my first bike trials competition in October 2017. I figured I’d give it a shot, despite the fact that I could barely trackstand, let alone perform any other trials moves.

I am so glad I did! The event offered an incredibly positive and uplifting experience during the competition – the riders were all encouraging each other, not trash-talking. I also met some new friends – local trials bikers – that I now ride with on a regular basis.

So, that is the story of how I got started riding trials.

I guess I’ll just start kinda in the middle

Seems like there really isn’t any good place to start with this blog. If I wait until I have the perfect first post, with all the backstory, I’ll never post anything. So, here goes.

This is a rather uninspiring video clip of my latest trials biking practice session. I’ve been riding trials for about 3 years, but I’m still a beginner. And, this past year I’ve had a few injuries, which have required months of recovery.

In January of this year, I bought another trials bike. On Saturday, I played around a little with both bikes. Nothing fancy, no huge moves or anything. Probably the most impressive looking moves are at the beginning and towards the end of the video.

Trials bike practice, April 25, 2020

Throughout the past 3 years, I have been documenting bits and pieces of my journey learning trials biking – primarily in Instagram and on my YouTube channel if you’re interested in following my progress.