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Gradient blindness

Old 02-22-24, 04:41 AM
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Gradient blindness

Hello everyone!

This is my first post, but why wouldn't I bore you like it's my millionth? I am kidding, though this post might be a bit long-winded.

I have talked with many people about this and searched the internet looking for people who have experienced the same thing I have, with no luck. Well, except for one instance, when a member of another cycling forum posted a text/blog from a long distance ride in Italy (brevet 1001 Miglia)... here is the link, which is missing the http and www because I haven't deserved the honor to post those yet.

randonneurs.no/ritt/1001-miglia/1001-miglia-2021/

and here is the important excerpt (in the blog, it comes just below the photo of the stone bridge, about 2/3 down the text; italic formatting is mine):

"At some point around here, I thought something had gone wrong with my dynamo. I would be going down a slight descent, but the bike wouldn’t pick up speed. I thought the dynamo had decided to draw a lot of power, possibly overheating itself. I stopped to check, but the wheel turned just fine. I’m still not sure what it was all about, but it is possible I had gone «gradient blind,» thinking I was descending just because I wasn’t climbing, while in reality the road was mostly flat."

Not exactly the same as my story, but similar and certainly describes the same "problem". Here comes my version.

About once a year I get somewhere between five and ten days off my regular life, which is when I pack my bike and head for the hills (panniers, tent, stove, food etc). Usually, it takes a few days before this happens, but it always comes the same way: As I am riding, it comes to my mind that I must be really, really tired because I am moving really slowly, while the road is pretty much flat. Now, I am tired most of the time on these tours, but when I happen to notice this it is always when I am not expecting to be that tired... So I stop, turn my head and look back - it is a very steep hill I am climbing, but the road ahead is pretty much flat. I move another 20-30 meters, then stop and look back again - the road behind me is very steep, including the last 20-30 meters, but the road ahead of me is flat. And so on.
My guess is that part of my brain re-calibrates itself by resetting its definition of "flat" to whatever incline I ride most of the time, and then plays jokes on other parts of my brain.
I don't know when and why this stops, as I learned to ignore the feeling because it does not seem like something I should worry about, and my mind is wandering anyway. It comes and goes. But it is a weird feeling to experience.

Has anyone experienced something similar?
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Old 02-22-24, 07:09 AM
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I noticed that in the mountains driving. It would look like I was going up when I was actually going down and vice versa.
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Old 02-22-24, 07:34 AM
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It’s because your brain is something that sits on top of your head, gets bored, and decides to play practical jokes for amusement

We silly monkeys can make instruments that can accurately measure something but if we just “eyeball” something, we can be fooled. An incline, for example, may be leading up to a higher hill. Your brain interprets that hill further away as larger than it is and interprets what is in front of you as being smaller (and flatter) than it really is. There are all kinds of “gravity hills” around the world where you think you are going up (or down) but you are going the opposition direction. It’s a perception problem and we really aren’t all that good at perceiving the world correctly all the time without some tool to help us. An example is the size of the moon. Look at the rising moon and it is huge! Look at the moon at zenith and it is tiny. It’s actually the same size all the way across the sky but at the horizon, you have something to compare it with. At zenith you are comparing it to the infinite universe.

And your brain is having a good laugh at your expense.
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Old 02-22-24, 07:38 AM
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I experience it significantly more frequently when I don’t have a portion of my bars parallel with the axles (level with level ground).

Classic drops with the bottoms level, modern drops with the bullhorn form level, Northroad/Albatross with the tops level, anything to give me a workbench-flat feel to push/pull on. Even just swept flats with a few degrees of rise set in at the stem give me some noticeable amount of blindness.

It makes me really want to get Velogical rim dynamos to replace my dynamo hub front wheels on my non-winter bikes to quickly mechanically isolate the drag source when I’m not sure if it’s my bike or me.

As it is, at least once a month [age hardened tire carcass, misaligned & dragging brake, debris clog in a fender, silent wind, gravity blindness, or just plain fatigue] has me switching 180° for a few meters to recalibrate and assess how much of a wuss I’ve been being.

Almost every time the blindness precedes my underside telling me that I’ve been squandering a lot of gravity watts on pressing the saddle down toward the ground for too extended of a period of time and just need to get mass back on the pedals, but sometimes there actually is mechanical drag somewhere
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Old 02-22-24, 07:40 AM
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Stuart is spot on, there is a section of highway in Wyoming where every year my wife and I on our snowbirding trip swear it looks as though the river next to the highway is flowing uphill.
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Old 02-22-24, 07:52 AM
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IME it's usually a change in gradient, or a false equivalence close to the road, that throws me off.

Climb a few miles at a steady 6% grade, for instance, and where it flattens to 2% looks either flat or even downhill. My daughter embarrassed me near the top of Washington Pass (in Washington, of course!) when I mentioned it was getting easier because I could coast the rest of the way. To prove it, I stopped pedaling. And stopped rolling. Whoops, not there yet!

And a road near here was an instance of the latter. Where the road's grade dropped from 5-6% to 2%, the cut at the side of the road angled up steeply. You had to ride a bike (or drive a stick shift) to prove to yourself the road was still going up, your brain made you think you were headed down.
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Old 02-22-24, 09:20 AM
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This thread reminds me of a place in central FL called Spook Hill. Supposedly, cars will appear to roll backwards up the hill. There were some BS energy vortex paranormal things written about it, but it is just an optical illusion.

I've also experienced a sense of disorientation on heavy foggy days when I can't see the horizon. On overpasses I get all confused if I'm going up or down.
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Old 02-22-24, 09:45 AM
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Just thought I'd mention this (for the great name), well known in the UK.

Electric Brae

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co....rae/index.html
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Old 02-22-24, 09:47 AM
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I must be finely attuned to gradient, and my spouse seems the opposite. Sometimes in the car, she thinks we're going down when we're actually going up. I notice the slightest changes with my eyes. Maybe I developed this ability when I was a teenager. I was already riding a lot but didn't get a driver's license until I was 20. When I was a passenger in a car, I thought about what it would be like if I was on my bike. Just a theory.
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Old 02-22-24, 11:28 AM
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An interesting phenomenon. Sounds a bit like spatial disorientation that pilots experience.

I would think that knowing speed and gear might provide some outside data as opposed to relying on sensory perception.

With so much data available while riding, including elevation gain, a reliance on the information is a way to overcome what is only perceived.

John
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Old 02-22-24, 01:44 PM
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It sounds like you're describing a "false flat", where the road appears to be flat or a gentle incline but, due to some sort of optical illusion, the road is actually rising or descending at a pretty good rate. The opposite also happens (what looks to be a pretty steep rise is actually not very steep).

There are examples of each where I frequently ride.
- Route 9W between Short Clove Road and Rte 304. It looks like a flat or a gentle rise, but it's actually steeper than it looks (especially headed South). The road is in a cut in the side of a "mountain", so I think this is due to the angle of the rock layers and/or the grooves in the rocks left by blasting.
- Gedney street in Nyack, between 4th Ave. and Main St. The road looks like it is climbing (headed South) much more steeply than it actually is. I'm not sure what causes the illusion, but it is encouraging to be easily blasting up what appears to be an incline.
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Old 02-22-24, 03:52 PM
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I can’t say I have ever experienced this phenomena. Sometimes when descending a roller, the following rise looks a lot steeper on approach than it actually is. That’s the nearest I can think of anyway.
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Old 02-22-24, 04:12 PM
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Never while cycling, but many times while running, especially towards the end of triathlons, when I'm especially tired.
It's an odd sensation: I'm either running uphill or downhill slightly, but I can't tell which. Might as well keep running hard enough so that guy back there doesn't catch me.
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Old 02-22-24, 04:22 PM
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Old 02-22-24, 04:30 PM
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MAGNETS!! Oh!

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Old 02-22-24, 10:28 PM
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Never dropped acid, but reading the OP post sure made me feel like I had.
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Old 02-23-24, 02:52 AM
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Thanks everyone, I would love to be quicker with my replies but my skills in typing on the phone are pathetic and free time at the computer is an endagered species in my life.

I have read before about those spots where people can get confused about whether they are going uphill or downhill, but I have never been at one so never experienced anything of the sort. Also, I have seen many fantastic optical illusions - printed or on the screen - and my brain has been fooled countless times (and I am not even including my son's shenanigans), but those somehow feel different because I know someone has made a concerted effort to construct something with a singular purpose, which is to fool human brain. Stumbling upon something like that out there, in nature, feels different, if for no other reason then because it is totally unexpected.

What interests me about those locations is if people's perception changes when they turn around and look in other directions. I didn't find that answer in their stories and couldn't deduce it. The way I understand it, it is the shapes and slopes of/in the surrounding terrain that fools your brain into thinking that the road is descending when it is ascending, so it is a general observation which does not depend (much) on your exact position. Not much should change if you look around a bit (but probably not just everywhere). In my case, there is a point in my surroundings where perception changes suddenly and very sharply, and that point is exactly where I am standing. And it moves as I move. And it is not alcohol, acid or mushroom induced (maybe this is a sign that I should start, I could have lots of fun). I would say it's about 10% difference in gradients that I see in front and in the back, and the change starts right at my feet (or bicycle) and extends to the front and back.
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Old 02-23-24, 04:52 AM
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Originally Posted by cyclomath
Thanks everyone, I would love to be quicker with my replies but my skills in typing on the phone are pathetic and free time at the computer is an endagered species in my life.

I have read before about those spots where people can get confused about whether they are going uphill or downhill, but I have never been at one so never experienced anything of the sort. Also, I have seen many fantastic optical illusions - printed or on the screen - and my brain has been fooled countless times (and I am not even including my son's shenanigans), but those somehow feel different because I know someone has made a concerted effort to construct something with a singular purpose, which is to fool human brain. Stumbling upon something like that out there, in nature, feels different, if for no other reason then because it is totally unexpected.

What interests me about those locations is if people's perception changes when they turn around and look in other directions. I didn't find that answer in their stories and couldn't deduce it. The way I understand it, it is the shapes and slopes of/in the surrounding terrain that fools your brain into thinking that the road is descending when it is ascending, so it is a general observation which does not depend (much) on your exact position. Not much should change if you look around a bit (but probably not just everywhere). In my case, there is a point in my surroundings where perception changes suddenly and very sharply, and that point is exactly where I am standing. And it moves as I move. And it is not alcohol, acid or mushroom induced (maybe this is a sign that I should start, I could have lots of fun). I would say it's about 10% difference in gradients that I see in front and in the back, and the change starts right at my feet (or bicycle) and extends to the front and back.
One thing I have observed skiing when riding chairlifts is that gradients always appear much steeper when looking back downhill over my shoulder than when looking ahead uphill. But I think that is simply because I am more aware of the drop from the chair when looking back.
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Old 02-23-24, 05:24 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski
One thing I have observed skiing when riding chairlifts is that gradients always appear much steeper when looking back downhill over my shoulder than when looking ahead uphill. But I think that is simply because I am more aware of the drop from the chair when looking back.
One time at Bryan Head, UT, my father and I were riding the chairlift back up together and he pulled out his flask of peppermint schnapps. And I knew I was going to get some. Peppermint schnapps is especially delightful when the snow is falling. But then I heard a "DINK" and saw my father suddenly lean forward to grab the cap to his flask. We both fell about 3-4 stories (20+ feet) into a fluff of powdery snow.
Dad: "Are you okay?"
Me: "Yeah, I think so."
Dad: "Then help me find that goddamned cap."

We got snowed in there for a few days. I went off the trail and ended up spending half a day digging myself out of impossibly fluffy powder snow and a drowning avalanche. My dad skied past twice while I was digging myself out. He enjoyed that day much more than I did.

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Old 02-23-24, 06:50 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski
I can’t say I have ever experienced this phenomena. Sometimes when descending a roller, the following rise looks a lot steeper on approach than it actually is. That’s the nearest I can think of anyway.
That's not it. What you're describing is a difference in perspective (like a ski run always looks flatter from the lift than it does from the top of the run).

I think that a "false flat" is a true optical illusion, although I've never heard it defined - IME everyone has just seemed to understand the meaning when it's come up in conversation. Now, at least, you'll know what Phil and ??? are talking about when they mention a false flat during their race commentary.
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Old 02-23-24, 07:01 AM
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Originally Posted by calamarichris
One time at Bryan Head, UT, my father and I were riding the chairlift back up together and he pulled out his flask of peppermint schnapps. And I knew I was going to get some. Peppermint schnapps is especially delightful when the snow is falling. But then I heard a "DINK" and saw my father suddenly lean forward to grab the cap to his flask. We both fell about 3-4 stories (20+ feet) into a fluff of powdery snow.
Dad: "Are you okay?"
Me: "Yeah, I think so."
Dad: "Then help me find that goddamned cap."

We got snowed in there for a few days. I went off the trail and ended up spending half a day digging myself out of impossibly fluffy powder snow and a drowning avalanche. My dad skied past twice while I was digging myself out. He enjoyed that day much more than I did.
I lost a ski in powder once. The ski was white...
Fortunately I was going pretty slowly, and I'd seen which way it went after it detached, so it only took me about half an hour to find it. After that, I got some colored twine (it was green, as I recall) from the local supermarket, tied a bight to my ski binding, rolled up the free end and stuffed it under the cuff of my ski pants. A poor man's powder cords (I didn't feel like spending $40+ on actual powder cords - resort prices!!).

Another time we got snowed in at the condo, and instead of skiing we had to waste a day digging out so we could get to the hill. Of course by the next day, the powder was all chopped up. Arrgghhh!!!
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Old 02-23-24, 07:13 AM
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Originally Posted by noimagination
That's not it. What you're describing is a difference in perspective (like a ski run always looks flatter from the lift than it does from the top of the run).

I think that a "false flat" is a true optical illusion, although I've never heard it defined - IME everyone has just seemed to understand the meaning when it's come up in conversation. Now, at least, you'll know what Phil and ??? are talking about when they mention a false flat during their race commentary.
Yeah I know what a false flat is thanks ie a very small gradient that is hard to distinguish from being perfectly flat. But I have never experienced what the OP was describing, which was certainly not a false flat.
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Old 02-23-24, 07:16 AM
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I know it's a different phenomenon than what's being discussed, but on very windy days in hilly Colorado Springs I find I sometimes have to pedal down some hills and can almost coast up others.
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Old 02-23-24, 08:11 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski
Yeah I know what a false flat is thanks ie a very small gradient that is hard to distinguish from being perfectly flat. But I have never experienced what the OP was describing, which was certainly not a false flat.
You could be right, false flat is the best I could come up with. The OP isn't really very clear.
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Old 02-23-24, 09:40 AM
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Originally Posted by BobbyG
I know it's a different phenomenon than what's being discussed, but on very windy days in hilly Colorado Springs I find I sometimes have to pedal down some hills and can almost coast up others.
I was stationed at Fort Carson for three years and I've pedaled up Pikes Peak three times. 8D Pretty cool when your lips and fingertips turn blue from lack of oxygen. Also, it's very difficult to continue pedaling uphill.
And I know what you're talking about. Once I did an AdventureCorps Century in Death Valley. The wind came up and I was in my smallest gear, chewing on my handlebars pedaling DOWNHILL (like 6% grade downhill.) It was so gnarly, I think only 5-7 guys out of several hundred finished. At one point I got blown off the road. It took me several tries to get back on my steel bike, because every time I lifted my leg, the wind would blow my bike sideways, even though I was holding it down by the handlebars. I was eventually able to get going again by pointing the bike into the wind (obtuse to the road).
I made it about 90 of the 100 miles. One of the guys who finished (I think he's one of the founding members of Zwift) finished because he had the foresight to bring a pair of SWIMMING GOGGLES to protect his eyes from the blowing sand and rocks.

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