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How Much Is Too Much… A Noobs Guide to Cycling For Speed or Fitness.

There’s a funny thing about about science, especially academic science. It was explained to me like this by someone in the field: You’ve got a whole planet of college professors trying to get published to remain relevant at their University. It’s very difficult to get published for being captain obvious so there’s competition to be all the more outrageous in your subject matter… Do so intelligently, and with the correct slant, and you’re in. Your golden parachute of a retirement and your 25 hour a week job (that’s right… $70,000 and a golden parachute for 25 hours a week – why is college so expensive again?) is safe.

Unfortunately this leads to bad science. Science becomes a contest to prove the absurd.

Well, the same could be said about the fitness industry as well. Not only do we have to sift through companies trying to sell their products, we have to figure out on our lonesome how to outfit and feed ourselves as well. One interesting topic that I love to experiment with is how much cycling is too much. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time will tell you that if I want to be fast, I ride too often. I don’t take enough days off – and they’re probably right (and I often write about wanting to). The problem is that I really love to ride every day too (or every possible day, let’s say). There’s no doubt that I need a day off every now and again. I just went 16 days in a row and I was really wiped out. I took a few days off for weather and came back stronger and faster than I’ve been all season long.

Ideally, I’m good for 16 miles on weekdays and then I can pretty much go wild on the weekend days and I like to have one rain day off out of the seven. That’s ideal. I can go for 13 days uncomfortably but 16 turned out to be too much. I was really tired.

Now let’s get one thing very clear right off the bat. I’m getting up there in years, I’m no spring chicken anymore. My glory days, as far as sports go, are way behind me. While I do have a bit of a competitive streak in me, when I boil the hoo-ha down I’m really more about just being fit and active when I’m double my 42 years. The problem, what really got the competitive thing going was actually this blog. I knew I could ride ok, I could keep a decent pace, but I had no idea how fast I was until I started writing about it. Once I found out that I was at least above average (naturally with not real “training”), that really clicked something in me and it was on. You see, I’ve never been naturally talented at anything. I have always had to work my ass off to be good enough to warrant “being on a team”… Baseball, hockey, basketball (too skinny for football), any sport I played in, I had to work to be good. With cycling though, just buying some halfway decent equipment and getting into shape was more than enough and on top of that, I quickly became enamored with the endorphin rush that I get on lay ride longer than 30 minutes. If that wasn’t reason enough, cycling has me as lean as I was in college, maybe even high school – and I get to eat whatever I want to boot. Cycling has been like a magic pill for me – something that ‘cured’ a whole lot of ills’ so I won’t do the recommended training programs with base miles followed by lots of rest, then space training days with more days off… No thanks.

So, where is the balance? How much is too much?

Well, answering that gets tricky. Cycling is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. Unlike running, there is almost no recovery time so riding daily is absolutely possible. On the other hand, if you want to be fast, really fast, time off pretty much has to be a part of the training plan after a base mile phase unless you have a team (including a masseuse) supporting you. I’ve tried to balance both daily riding and riding fast (24 mph + in a group), I’ve tried every combination of recovery rides, interval training, alternating distances and efforts that I can think of and then some that I got from research online and I simply cannot find a anything that works entirely for both.

In the end, it boils down to a choice between frequency or time off and reaching my true potential in terms of speed. My personal choice leans more towards frequency. Simply put, I’m happier when I can fit in a daily ride. I handle stress better and I enjoy life more. I need at least one day off every 14 days (usually a rain day) but can ride faster with one day off per week. Two days a week off are better still but I might only see a week like that a handful of times between April and late October, if at all.

In other words, I have to decide what is more important because I can’t have both max speed and a daily ride. My choice is for the daily fix, though there are things I can do (like slow paced recovery rides) to help keep the speed up too. In my world, there is a such thing as ‘too much’, I’m just not all that happy about it.

Dead Tired But Surprisingly Spry…

My daughters started softball last week so we’re off to practice from 6:30 – 8:00 Monday thru Thursday. I’ve got Monday, Wednesday and Thursday while Mrs. Bgddy is taking Tuesday. This may seem like a lopsided deal for me, but you wouldn’t be me.

I played a lot of ball as a kid and as I was a little better than average but I could have been good if I’d have put the time in. This is partly why I put so much into cycling. I don’t want to have to be 95 looking back on my 40’s wishing I’d have put the effort into that too.  Now, with baseball I know a lot of really neat things and I know how the game is played so being able to pass that on to my girls is really quite the dream come true – in other words, working with my girls at practice is some kind of awesome.  In addition, being free on Tuesday nights allows me to ride with the club every week instead of every other week… That’s what I call a win-win in my world.

Last night was the youngest’s night and I always bring my mitt to play catch with the one who isn’t in practice… So I was perfectly happy to step up when the coach asked for volunteers to catch for the girls so they could all have pitching practice at the same time.  There my 42-year-old butt was in the catchers stance for the first time in roughly 25 years. I expected for this to hurt, especially catching for a six year-old girl who wasn’t exactly what one could call accurate.  No, I was digging them out of the dirt and jumping up to catch balls that would have been over my had if I’d been standing up. Over and over again. So I’m sitting there, doing my best to help this little girl out, offering encouragement and praise rather than critiquing her mistakes (I think that’s how it works with girls – not quite lying, but tip-toe around the emotions… A lot different from boys, that’s for sure). Anyway, I truly expected to wake up this morning destroyed – sore back, sore legs, sore knees, etc. – you know, feeling old.  I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when my fitness outweighs my age but I almost always am.

This morning I feel fantastic. I don’t have that “oh, I’m not twenty-two any more” feeling and I was very much expecting it.  There are limits of course, I’m not 20 anymore, but I’ll be darned if being fit doesn’t allow me to get away with a lot.  On the other hand it must be stated:  I didn’t exactly have a tough time falling asleep last night.

Sweet, Sweet Success… Club Ride Edition – WOOHOO!

Tonight’s club ride was absolutely a perfect night for a ride (with the exception of the three phone calls and one text message I got – one call I actually took, but more on that later). Light westerly wind, 70 degrees (F) and sunshine. After a three day off stint for the weather and a rough “get the legs back” easy ride yesterday, I was not expecting great results – in fact I was a bit nervous. After a spirited warmup we lined up for the start… I started towards the front, three riders back in the double pace-line, 20 deep each side. We had a headwind the first mile and a half so I wanted to take my pull early but after the turn and then spend some miles hanging out back in the draft. With the light breeze the draft finally meant something and with the deep lines I was able to spend a ton of time chilling in relative comfort.

Unlike many of the Tuesday night rides we never got close to 28 mph for any length of time (except the downhills of course, where we frequently topped 30). Halfway through I felt simply fantastic…

Then we hit that two mile stretch that I wrote about three months ago. The hills. And I killed them. Ironically it wasn’t so much the winter training that got me over those hills – it was the hill work I’ve been doing this spring (I wrote about that here). I was so strong in the hills that I actually ended up waiting behind the pace-line to make it over the crest – I had to coast uphill – let me tell you how fantastic that felt: F#€K YES! One other neat little tidbit on climbing and shifting – I can’t get to my easy gears without cross-chaining with my triple so I have to climb decent hills in my middle 42 ring… If I upshift two gears in back then downshift from the 52 to the 42 up front, the gear ratios match up almost perfectly and it takes about a second, so when we approached a hill, a simple right-right-left shift and I was right there without losing more than a couple of inches from the wheel ahead of me.

The big dogs started pulling away on the hills though not by much so we reeled them back in on the downhill. Up until this point I’d managed to hide out back pretty well so when they tried to break again I bridged the gap on the way up a nice little roller – then I realized that if I stayed with them (there were only eight of them) I’d probably have to work too hard and I’d blow up before the finish so I dialed it back and waited for the trailing group. I stayed with them until the last mile when I noticed that one of the calls that I let go to voicemail came from a number I didn’t recognize so I peeled off the back and called the number. It was the damned dentists office. Of all of the stupid…!!! And that late in the evening?!!! I probably should have waited and called when I got back but when you do what I do and the phone rings, you answer it. In fact, I actually took another call right in the middle of the ride (my phone mounts on my stem – I can answer a call without any danger) just to let the guy know I’d get back to him.

Either way that was the fastest I’d ever ridden that route, even with the slower last mile, by more than seven tenths of a mile per hour….


A Proper Mother’s Day Post…

I made a very general Mother’s Day post yesterday but during a walk with my wife and daughters yesterday I snapped some photos – so Mom’s everywhere, here’s your proper bouquet from Fit Recovery (all photos taken with my iPhone 4s):

IMG_2213     IMG_2268IMG_2266    IMG_2259   IMG_2233    IMG_2222    IMG_2217    IMG_2215    IMG_2210

Which Fitness Tracking App Is Best For Weightloss? A Noobs Guide… Through A Confusing Subject

A while back I asked fellow bloggers which fitness tracking app they used, and the calorie burn rate per mile on their respective workouts for this post. I would first like to offer my thanks to all who responded, I got exactly what I was looking for.

The idea for this post started percolating when I read this post from Iowatribob which showed his calorie burn for a 40+ mile ride… To me, it seemed shockingly low (25 calories per mile for 48 miles @ 18.4 mph). I use Endomondo on my iPhone and at that speed I’m at about 55 calories per mile, more than double Bob’s burn rate at the same speed.  Now, Bob and I are the same height (within 1″) but he weighs 10 pounds more than I do – so that got me to thinking, why the disparity?  Then, once you accept the disparity, could that be used to one’s advantage to lose weight?

This, believe it or not, is a difficult topic to wrap your head around (especially if you’re new at this) because there are so many different variables to sift through. First is weight, it takes fewer calories to move a person who weighs 170 pounds than a person who weighs 220 pounds down the road. Another is speed. On a road bike, there’s a difference of as many as 8-10 calories per mile between an average of 15 and 20 mph.  Not much for a ten-mile ride, but when you’re looking at 100 miles, there’s a pretty big difference.

I won’t even touch mountain biking; depending on a single track or riding on the road with the same bike you’re working much harder to go half as fast on a single track it is more of a full body workout.  I know for a fact, Endomondo figures a way to account for this, but I don’t know how the equations work.  Looking at two workouts, both from last year, I’ve got a dirt road ride at 16 mph in which they say I burned 50 kcal per mile and a single track run at 10 mph showing I burned 75 kcal per mile – and I’d be willing to bet you dollars to donuts, they’re both right, that single track ride was tough.  I got air several times, almost went down on two hairpins, was climbing log piles and the whole nine yards – I WORKED that bike.

Another factor is heart rate. If you train with a heart rate monitor you’re apt to get a different reading than if you go with the app alone.  The app is understood to be more accurate with the heart rate monitor but this doesn’t exactly get to the disparity between Bob’s and my calorie burn numbers – and I’ll get to that in a minute…

So, how to mash all of this together to lose weight effectively?  Iowatribob uses everything; a power meter, heart rate monitor and works everything through Garmin.  His typical high-end cycling workout (20 mph average), according to the comment he left, shows him at 40 kcal per mile (even if the one that caught my eye had him pegged at 25).  My typical 20 mph workout through Endo (no heart rate monitor or power meter) has me at around 55 kcal per mile.  Another friend who goes by fatguy2triguy gets about 46 kcal per mile but he’s averaging about 17.5 mph, also using Garmin.  Andygis33, who is a little lighter than me and also trains with a heart rate monitor is averaging between 20 and 35 kcal per mile (Garmin) but that’s at around 21-23 mph.  The Springfield Cyclist, Tracy Wilkins uses Garmin and gets 40-50 kcal per mile (no HR monitor) and typically rides at speeds around fatguy2triguy.  Joseph Lampen, who is considerably bigger than me (but every bit as fit) and uses Strava to track his mountain biking gets between 65 and 75 kcal/mile.  Laura, who also uses Garmin, provided interesting rates showing both with and without HR monitor – and this tightly wraps everything up into a nice bow later on…  Here’s part of her comment:

I recently picked up a Garmin with a heart rate monitor. Then I used it on my commute because weight-based tracking pegs each way around 700 calories (16mi). Discovered the way in to work is only 400 calories because it’s downhill … and closer to 800 on the way home because it’s uphill. Makes sense really. But the only data input that changed the outcome was my heart rate. So if you can connect your favorite app to an HR monitor you will have the most accurate data.”

In other words, her software without the heart rate monitor showed she burned 1,400 calories (700 out and 700 back).  Once she attached the HR monitor, even though she increased 100 calories on the way home, overall she dropped 200 calories to 1,200 total.  She dropped from 44 kcal/mile to 38 kcal/mile just by adding an HR monitor which increases the accuracy of the software’s equation – and this is where we fitties get into trouble with the apps…  Without the heart rate monitor, if Laura wanted to lose weight she’d think that she was potentially burning 200 more calories a day than might be in reality.  If she figured her BMR, then added those 1,400 calories, then subtracted 500 calories to create a deficit and stuck to eating whatever that number of calories turned out to be, she could be 200 calories off – or almost half a pound a week!

I’ve used Endomondo, Map My Ride and Slim Kicker and the burn rate follows that order with Endo being the highest though they were all pretty close, within 8 calories per mile.

The basic easy way to lose weight through exercise is to take you Basal Metabolic Rate, add Calories Burned during exercise (or take your BMR using the calculator that adds for fitness level and don’t add for calories burned) then subtract Calories Consumed.  You should come up with a 500 calorie deficit per day – 500 calories a day, multiplied by 7 days is a 3,500 calorie deficit, or roughly one pound.  The problem that we run into here is that if our calories burned part of the equation is too high (as most apps seem to be without the use of an HR monitor) then your deficit won’t be as great and your results will suffer.

This changes once you’re fit and at your ideal weight though (or so has been my experience).  First of all, I didn’t track anything for my first 9 years of running – I just ran and tried to eat well.  I dropped 24 pounds and called 170 pounds good until I started cycling.  The weight absolutely melted off at that point – mostly because I went from working out two or three times a week to five or six and didn’t eat any more than normal.  On top of that, I stopped drinking soda regularly which cut about 4,000 calories (+or-) a week from my diet.  In other words, I created a deficit and weight loss went into high gear.  Once I hit my ideal weight, I couldn’t stop losing weight.  I dropped from 171 pounds to 160 then down to 155, eventually bottoming out at 149 before taking drastic measures – I increased (almost doubled) my regular intake and increased fast food for some easy calories to battle the uncontrollable weight loss.  It worked and my weight leveled off at about 155 at the end of last season.

BUT I started tracking my diet and exercise around the same time for Slim Kicker [SK] (they asked me to review their app).  SK was a little lower kcal/mile than Endomondo so I adjusted the mileage I entered into SK to match Endomondo’s calorie burn and that kept everything quite level.  In other words, I did burn as many calories as Endomondo was saying I did without the heart rate monitor (around 55 kcal/mile).

Here are the magic numbers…  I was eating naturally 3,100 – 3,300 calories a day to maintain my 155 pounds (6’0″) – that’s it and I was averaging more than 20 miles a day (676 miles last September when I was tracking both with SK).  Now, on really long days (70 miles plus) I’d bump that up to 3,700-4,000 calories but I rarely ate like that and only went crazy otherwise once that year at Thanksgiving.    If I use this BMR Calculator (which takes fitness into account) I’m at 2,918 Calories per day (I used Very Active – “Extra Active” has me at 3,218 – I’m in between the two).  If you notice, I don’t add the day’s calories burned to the equation – I just have to eat what they kick out, give or take.  If I go with the “sedentary” option, then I get to add the calories burned through cycling or running to determine how much I eat.  The reason that I am going through this description is that I’ve seen people use the BMR Calculator, figuring activity and then add the day’s calorie burn on top of that…

If I were to choose the sedentary option and add the calories from my workouts to determine intake (because I already know that 3,100 calories works) I know that I would absolutely have to go with the higher counts given in Endomondo (without the HR monitor or power meter) in order to maintain my weight…  If I went by the lower numbers given by Garmin when an HR monitor is attached (25-35 kcal/mile) I’d waste away to skin and bones inside of a season.  On the other hand, if one were to want to lose weight, then the lower numbers would increase the daily deficit and the benefits would come fast and furious.

Now, I have a little theory on this but it’s important to clarify here that other than being very fit and exceptionally svelte, I don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground outside of my experience when it comes to weight loss and exercise – nor do I really care to devote a bunch of time to learning all of the in’s and out’s because if there’s one thing I know about all of this it’s that it doesn’t matter because they’ll come out with something in a year or two that will turn everything they thought they knew on its head.  In other words, “they” think they’ve got a pretty good idea of how everything works but that is subject to change.  I know what works.  I’ve been living it now for two years and I don’t need to know any more than that – all I really have to do is pass on my experience, strength and hope that it may benefit someone else.  My theory (or possibly hypothesis if you prefer) is that once you get to a certain level of fitness you don’t necessarily have to replace everything that you burn right away, or even in the same day.  I went on several rides where I burned (according to Endomondo) in excess of 5,000 calories last year and other than downing Gatorade or PowerAde like it was going out of style, I didn’t change much other than, as I wrote earlier, adding another 1,000 calories the day of.

So, which tracking software is the best one to lose weight?  Whichever helps you to create the deficit that you will need to lose weight.  If I had to do it over again, knowing what I know now, I’d go with a Garmin and a heart rate monitor until I got to my desired weight – then I’d go to something like Endomondo, ditch the monitor, and ride (and run) happily ever after.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom’s

To all mom’s, everywhere…

Happy Mother’s Day

Sixteen days in a row and…

Yesterday was my sixteenth day in a row riding, running or both, without a break.  For about two days my legs have felt like hammered ass for the first two miles before they finally loosen up and I can get to motoring.

I absolutely gutted out a 20 mph ride Wednesday after getting home and just wanting to take a nap.  I should have stuck with a simple 17.5 recovery ride but I just couldn’t help myself.  Yesterday I felt a lot better but kept it easy with a fun 18 mph spin.  Same story, starting out my legs looked up at me and shouted, “you jerk“, but I felt better mid-way through the second mile… By the time I got back I wanted to go around the block again.

Kind of funny how that works, eh?  Well today has the makings of a day off and tomorrow is only looking mildly better, we’re finally getting some rain. Now, we all know you’re not supposed to ride every day and one of my English blog-brothers believes he’s even faster for not being able to ride as much. So this is my ongoing conundrum (not really)… I love riding for at least an hour every day.  It melts the stress off like nothing I know, not quite as good as a big hug and a kiss from the wife and kids after a long day but it is awesome.  On the other hand, I also have a little of the competitive performance bug so I want to be able to ride fast too, I just haven’t been able to figure out how to make both of those work together, at least very well.

Through the whole winter I’d sit in my office and spin for an hour a day, four days a week, wishing I could be outside. I spent hours last year trying to get my bike set-up just right and I’m finally there… Everything is right – except that it’s not raining enough for me to get a day off.  Now in my world this is a good problem to have, but why?  Why not take a break every now and again, they’re good for you, right?

Well the skinny has two parts and another blogger’s post really simplified this answer for me just a few minutes ago:

1.  I truly, thoroughly love riding my bike.  It puts a smile on my face, it just is what it is so I’m not going to take a perfectly good day off.

2.  I know I have the capacity to be lazy and kick it on the couch – I did it for years.  On top of that, 200 pounds, double chin and a dickie-do are only a few days off and a few more bad decisions away.

So I’ll struggle on as I go, pedaling down that road of happy destiny.

Cycling Speed Tips: A Noobs Guide To Cycling Faster

If I had a dollar for every time the search topic “cycle faster” or some variant led someone to my blog I’d be writing posts about my newest ultra-high-end bike purchase. Alas, that’s just not how things work but I do have some really decent tips on how to squeeze a little more out of your average.

Don’t mash.

Runners especially are guilty of this one, so if you ran first, pay attention. The idea behind cycling takes after weight lifting. If you do curls with heavy weights you’re going to be able to do a few decent sets and you’re going to wipe yourself out and have to take a break and/or change exercises to use a different set of muscles. On the other hand, if you use 5 pound dumbbells you’ll be doing curls all day. Cycling uses the same principle. Mash too hard a gear and you burn out. Now, if you’re wondering why this applies so much to runners, it’s quite simple: The action of propelling yourself forward takes a lot of effort compared to cycling so we end up trying to apply an equal amount of effort to the pedals. This is a no-no. It shouldn’t be that hard even though the cadences for each sport should the same (or close to it). I ride with a guy who typically stays in his big ring (50 – he’s got a compact double*) and his smallest or second smallest cassette cog (11 or 12) and he just mashes along at about a 55-65 cadence. I can buzz by him on a normal day with half the effort in my middle ring (42) and my fourth cassette cog (15) pushing a cadence of 90 rpm – and that’s on the flats… I smoke him on hills.

Know your gears.

I like 20 mph for an average (though I can and do ride faster on occassion, especially in a group setting) so I know what gears I have to be in to maintain that average speed for both the big ring (52) and the middle ring (42). If you’re running a compact double this is even easier because I can’t imagine you could run 20 mph in the small ring and the smallest cassette cog (11 or 12 depending) – nor could I imagine anyone wanting to for strategic reasons. The idea here is that if you want to go faster (say on the way down a hill) you would have to shift to the big ring then down a few gears in back… That’s just too much movement for no good reason. So pick your speed and know the gears that will get you there with a cadence of 85-95.

Lift but don’t separate.

If you’re using clip-less cycling shoes and pedals (the one’s where your feet “lock in”), and you should be, then take advantage of the fact that you can use the upstroke to lift the pedal with one foot as you’re pushing down with the other. This will help you keep that cadence up during the tougher parts of the ride. The idea here is that it’s easier to maintain your cadence than it is to slow down, shift down and then spin back up. If you find cadence slowing a little bit, lift with the back foot while you push with the front and spin it back up and skip the downshift. Do this long enough and it becomes second nature and your average speed will really increase. Now, to get the “feel” for what I’m talking about here, the idea is to pull up quite hard – you should feel your foot pulling on the upper of your shoe and thereby the pedal – not a violent tug, but pull while following the natural arc of the pedal. Also, you’ll want to make sure your feet are flat for this, heel down, level with the toes, not up. It makes a difference. Also, this will take some concentration if you’re not using a cycling computer that monitors your cadence (I don’t). I have to pay attention to a drop in cadence and catch it early or I lose too much momentum and have to downshift to spin back up.

Use your built-in aero-bars.

What’s that you say? You don’t have aero-bars on your bike? Either do I, but if you know where to put your hands and your bike is set up well, you do – they’re built right into your bars. Generally when we grip the hoods we assume the missionary position. Thumb on the inside, fingers wrapping around the hood and one or two on the shifter/brake lever. If you want to get low and relax at the same time, cup the top of the hood with your palm and rest your wrists on the bar top. Your arms will be spread wider than if you had aero-bars but you’ll basically be in the same position with your body, if not a little lower. Now, as a disclaimer, this position is inherently dangerous as you don’t have your thumb locked around any part of the handlebar – you must watch for bumps in the road because if you hit one your hands could very easily slip from the bars and you’ll be ass over tea-cart before you know it. Use this tip with extreme caution and at your own risk (I use this all of the time on appropriate roads and have never once come close to loosing my grip). Now, I have Ultegra shifters which are a little lower profile than 105’s – and I have really big hands so they fit over the shifters nicely – to shift I use my pinkie fingers.

Get your head out of the game…

How many times do we hear, “get your head in the game”? If you watch sports you hear it regularly enough in one context or another. In cycling you want your head out of the game – if “game” = “wind”. Get your head down to a point where you can see at least two car lengths ahead of you… Most people ride quite upright so they can see a mile or two down the road which robs you of aerodynamics. If you get your head out of the wind you will immediately feel the difference and you will ride faster. This tip also comes with a caveat: If your head is down it makes it tough to watch for traffic – I choose my locations very carefully and make sure to follow a very straight line. Every 20 or 30 seconds I’ll lift my head a bit to get the full picture of where everything is at and check for possible problem areas. I DO NOT use this in residential neighborhoods, high traffic areas or places where cars could pull out into my path, it’s just too dangerous.

Get your climb on…

Climbing a hill fast is great way to improve averages. Embrace your inner beast.

* On the advice of a friend and commenter I figured it would be wise to explain all of the numbers in this post for the serious noobs… The big numbers (30-52) refer to the front chain rings, specifically the number of teeth on the rings. I have a triple (52/42/30). Racing cranks have two chain rings, typically 52/42. Finally we have the compact double, these are for regular daily enjoyment riding – typically 50/34. The compact double won’t produce the same high-end torque and speed but they are a perfect option to the triple – you get the most of every gear with the compact double.

The smaller numbers (11 thru 28) represent the the number of teeth on each cassette cog or gear. I have a 12-25 nine speed cassette. Because I have a triple Trek left out the big cassette cogs. Many ten speed cassettes range from 11-28 teeth or even higher. So, when I say my 20 mph gear is 42/15, that’s my middle chain ring and the 15 tooth cog.

UPDATE:  Be sure to check out the comments for more great tips.

Making A Mole Hill Out Of A Hill: The Noobs Guide To Climbing Hills (Not Mountains, Hills)

Anyone who deals with hills on a regular basis – and doesn’t like them – knows that a decent one can suck the life out of a great ride, and quickly.  There are a few schools of thought on the “best” way to climb.  I have no opinion on either because each rider will have to pick their poison.

Some shift down a gear or two easier than they’re in when they approach the hill, get out of the saddle and grind up the hill.  Others like to shift into a much easier gear and spin their way up.  I used to be partial to the former until I visited the mountains and found out what climbing hills is all about.

There are also two philosophies for the non-racer concerning hills (and various hybrids of them):  Go easy and drop the pace up the hill then spin up on the way down using gravity as your friend.  There’s a lot to be said for this but I prefer the second in most cases, attack the hills and use gravity and the downhill to recover before pouring it on near the bottom.  I picked this philosophy up from running with a good friend who always emphasized keeping the same pace up the hills, then recovering the breathing on the way down.  The funny thing with gravity is that as a runner I can even pick up the pace without the effort, thereby still recovering.  Hills, looked at this way, become a time to pick up the pace so mentally they don’t have the same dread behind them.  Sure, it’s a mind game, but running and cycling are mostly mental anyway.

In the mountains, a hill that takes 25-30 minutes to climb is a lot different from a little roller on the outskirts of town.  For a real hill, it’s more about not blowing up, it’s about cadence and keeping the breathing under control.  Spin too fast or climb out of the saddle in too easy a gear and you’ll burn up in a matter of minutes (maybe even seconds).  Too hard a gear out of the saddle and you won’t be able to turn your crank over…  On the other hand, for that decent roller, say 100′ rise in a 1/4 to 1/3 of a mile or so (we have a few of those on the Tuesday route), I always shift up one gear (to a harder gear) and then climb it out of the saddle.  It may seem counter intuitive but it allows me to keep my speed up going uphill and I can manage the turnover of the crank at a decent pace so I don’t overcook myself.  I can always downshift if my heart rate elevates (a couple of days in the mountains will make you acutely aware of your limits).  I’ve been attacking hills all spring long like that so when we hit the first hill last Tuesday I pulled away from the group with a minimal amount of effort and I still had plenty left to spin up on the downhill that followed…  In fact, I had to stop pedaling down the hill so I could wait up for the other guys in our group.  Now, lest you think it’s rest time on the smaller rollers, I shift up two gears…

So Tuesday night, this is what my strategy has equated to:  On hills that I used to climb at 15 mph, I’m now between 17.5 and 19 mph.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that picking the granny gear and spinning up in the saddle has its benefits, it just takes forever and a day to get anywhere.  Where that comes in handy is in the mountains (as long as you’re not on a steep section, in which case you’re in the granny gear and out of the saddle already).  I don’t worry about the 90 rpm cadence on hills anymore either.  I probably drop down to 70 and mash the pedals a little bit till just before I get to the crest and then I give it a little sprint until I can feel gravity pulling me down.  If I feel myself burning out, it starts in the legs first then breathing starts to go, I’ll shift down a gear and keep the same cadence.

The payoff, at least for me, has been that I don’t despise hills so much any more because they don’t hurt me like they used to – and that’s all good!  We’ll have to see how this translates to riding in the mountains though…  I’ll be finding that out (and I’ll be sure to write about it) in a couple of months though I doubt I’ll be worrying about philosophy too much – I’ll be on vacation and that will be all about fun.

There Is Something Better Than A Great Bike Ride…

I geared up and got ready for my afternoon ride.  Shoes, check.  Helmet, Check.  Gloves, phone, shades, triple check.  H20, tires pumped, check.  Cycling shorts pulled to the exact line that transitions from tan to ghostly white, check…

I kissed the wife and kids on the way out the door and I was off on my normal 16 mile early evening excursion around the block – just a recovery ride as the legs were feeling a little sluggish.  I made the quick 1/4 mile loop to the end of my road, turned around and proceeded to hammer the pedals (just to spin them up of course).  When what do I hear but, “Dad, mom’s taking us for a ride around the block!”.  I responded as I drew even with them, “Can I go with?”  So I turned around and headed back to the driveway where my ladies were all getting ready.


We did the first 1.75 miles at around an 8 mph pace (my youngest’s first excursion on her big-girl bike with a front shock, knobbies and the whole nine yards) before I broke off and proceeded to kill my recovery ride (the remaining 15 miles @ 18.5 mph), arriving in the driveway feeling absolutely awesome.  The remarkable thing about this abundantly sunny ride was that this was the first day this year with hardly a breeze.  In fact, I could have ridden the entire thing at 20 mph without much problem at all – except that it was a recovery ride day (I was a little bummed out to waste a no-wind day for a recovery ride to tell you the truth, but it is what it is).

Afterwards my awesome wife had dinner ready just as I got out of the shower…  It just doesn’t get any better than that  At least not as far as I can imagine.  So the point is this; while I do love my solo rides, riding around the block with the wife and kids first is that much better.