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Monthly Archives: July 2013

An Amazing Tuesday Night Ride

I won’t lie, I love speed, I just like it most when I’m going downhill.  This evening’s ride had it all – uh, fast everywhere.  Speed on the flats.  Speed down the hills.  Hell, speed up the hills.  We did a stout half mile climb at 20 mph, fast enough that my lung crept up to my ear and said, “dude, you kidding us?”

The weather was perfect.  Sunny, 80 degrees with just a gentle breeze.  Perfect.

Unfortunately, we weren’t waiting around for the paint to dry.  A 6:01 we hit it right out of the gate.  Sitting still to 21 mph that fast.  No warm up mile, no waiting for the group to coalesce.  By the time we rolled over the four mile mark we were up to a comfortable 24 mph.  Two and a half miles later we kicked it up another notch and a half to 26.  Not only is that when it really starts getting tough for me, I took an extra-long pull so that we could get to a turn rather than try to fall back on the busiest road of our route (it would be idiotic to even attempt that).  After that, I fell back a little winded and got behind a fella who was having a tougher time that I – so he promptly started to fall off the back on the way up a small hill.  Unfortunately for me, he’d been hiding back there for miles hiding while I’d just come off of better than a mile-long pull up front at 24 mph.  I actually hung on for the first set of hills and felt pretty good coming over the top, but the second set?  Even steeper at 23 mph – the group sped up on the lead up (going uphill) to the another gnarly hill.  It was just too much time in zone five for me – and that longer pull up front was my ultimate undoing.

After that, however, I pulled off the back for the shortcut back and maintained almost a 20 mph average back and for only the second time, I wasn’t caught by the lead group.

It’s become quite normal for me to drop somewhere between the 20 and 24 mile mark, the hardest part of the ride, and where the big dogs normally attack, and I’m actually quite okay with that for now.  For the longest time it used to bug the hell out of me.  I spent most of the winter trying to prepare for the two-mile stretch that blows me up every Tuesday.  I spent time on vacation trying to get better for that two miles, and it’s still not enough.  Part of me, on one level, wants to keep pushing to get to a point where I can stay with them comfortably.  On the other hand, there’s a bigger part that simply say it’s not that big of a deal.  I’m going to sit on the fence on that for a while but one thing that absolutely will not change is that fact that I’ll keep trying.  I just have too much fun and that’s all good.

Afterwards I hang out and just had a nice dinner before heading home and falling asleep about sixteen seconds after watching the Tigers beat the Nationals for their fourth win in a row.

It really was a fun night and I had a great time.

29.48 miles in 1 hour 25 minutes.  35 miles overall with the warm up.  It was a beautiful night for a  ride.

The Perfect Weekend, Rained Out Edition…

My wife is heading to Dallas this week for a convention and there’s no way I can miss work right now to stay home with the kids so they’re vacationing up north at grandma and grandpa’s house… That left all weekend for my wife and I to have an awesome weekend to ourselves. We took advantage. We headed up north with the kids Saturday morning but we packed our bikes on the back of the van as well. On the way home we stopped in Midland at the Pere-Marquette Rail Trail for a long bike ride. Originally I’d been hoping for a 60 mile ride (double my wife’s longest ever) but we ran a little bit late and ended up having lunch at my mother-in-law’s house. I had a talk to give at 8 and was figuring that we’d average about 15 mph over the 60 which would take us four hours. Add to that a stop in Clare for lunch (another hour), I figured we couldn’t get to the car before 6 pm and then we’d have another hour and a half to get to the meeting place for the talk… I called that cutting it too close so we cut the ride down to 40 miles.

The weather wasn’t great, a little cool, cloudy and a little windy but on the whole, not all that bad. We spent the first 14 miles heading dead into the wind in almost a tunnel because the path is lined with trees. Mrs. Bgddy fell back and practiced drafting for quite a bit of the way and we just cruised along at a decent pace. At 14.5 miles I caught my first glimpse of the southern skies… It wasn’t pretty. We hit a few sprinkles and when we hit another opening in the trees, I could see the storms were pushing our way a bit. At 15 miles I let her come around and gave her my assessment: We could keep going but we were going to get wet. On the other hand, we could turn around and we’d still get wet but it wouldn’t last as long. I also let her know that I was more than happy to continue on.

Much to my surprise she chose to carry on… And then the weather took a turn for the worse; the skies grew ominous. We could see the rain coming down in sheets just a couple of miles south of us and that was heading our way so I called it and we turned tail. It started raining within a minute or two and intensified as we went. Mrs. Bgddy tucked in behind me, braving the spray off of my wheel, and we put the hammer down. 17, 18, 19 mph… 20 mph for three miles (including quite a few stop signs)… I did the best I could to avoid standing water and kept one eye in the mirror so I wouldn’t drop her and we rolled. As we got closer to our destination the rain slowed and with about three miles to go we hit dry asphalt again. Then my wife surprised me again. She asked if we could try another trail to get our forty in. Four out and four back and we were done. We loaded and locked the bikes up, changed and headed over to the local Qdoba for dinner.

You know, there’s a funny thing about cycling in the rain… When I’m dry and warm, cycling in the rain sucks. On the other hand, when I’m wet and actually in rain, I thoroughly enjoy it. Sure it’s a little nasty when it’s cold out, but a nice summer shower? It’s kinda not so bad.

From there, we headed home, changed and showered and proceeded to parlay that into one of the finest weekends we’d had in years. My talk went quite well, we fell asleep watching a movie, had our ride rained out on Sunday, helped my sister move and had a nice dinner before heading home to fall asleep watching Season Three of Archer.

My Favorite Pre-Ride Cereal…

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time should be expecting a glowing review of Fruit Loops with marshmallows. While Fruit Loops with marshmallows are heavenly, that’s not where I was necessarily going with this post… Give me a little credit would you?

My favorite pre-ride cereal is Mom’s Best Cereals: Blue Pom Wheat-fuls. Blueberry and Pomegranate icing encrusted mini-wheats.

I like the stuff so much I’m even willing to overlook the fact that they have to charge more for their cereal to offset the cost of their silly decision to purchase wind energy credits against the fossil fuel they use to power their cereal plant. Talk about a twisted web of idiocy… Who knew they could top the Carbon Credit scam?

Anywho, unlike most cereals, it doesn’t take three bowls to fill me up. Just one does the trick, it tastes fantastic and doesn’t leave a nagging weight in my stomach. It’s what I depend on to fuel those long Saturday and Sunday rides: Mom’s Best Cereals Blue Pom Wheat-fuls.

Awesome stuff.

The Noob’s Guide: How To Avoid Cramping Up After Cycling

Many cyclists who have put in more than a few hours worth of hard miles on their bike in one day, one time or another, have cramped up. There are several reasons that can cause cramping or at least stiffness after a hard effort. I had one century last year where I cramped up miserably afterwards – it was so bad I was actually laughing on the way home… I drive a stick-shift. It wasn’t pretty.

Because this is my blog, I’ll concentrate on the one’s I’ve had to deal with:

Electrolytes/Lack of Salt. For this particular century, it was hot. mid-90’s hot. I had a Camelbak with a couple of pounds of water in it and two water bottles. I filled up the bottles at every stop and drank like it was going out of style. All told, and yes I counted, I drank 300 ounces of water over the 100 miles. My fitness tracking software gives hydration suggestions based on temps and weather conditions and I was within ten ounces of it’s suggested amount. My average speed ended up around 19 mph but I averaged 21 for my first 50. In other words, it was a pretty fast day on top of the heat. Well I finished in a lot better shape than a few of the guys I’d been riding with but we were all suffering at the end. Sure enough as soon as I crawled off of my bike I was hit with severe cramps – and not just in my legs… My core, arms, hands – everything was cramping. I hit the remnants of a bottle of Gatorade that I had sitting in my truck. On the way home I was hit with an unmistakable craving for a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder, something I rarely eat, so I saddled up to the nearest drive thru and ordered a double, large with a Coke and inhaled everything. Within a few minutes the cramps stopped and I was right as rain. It was the salt. My body was craving the highest sodium content food it knew. Later, after some research, I learned that I’d actually been diluting what little electrolytes I had left in my body by drinking so much water. After that episode, I switched to one bottle of sport drink and one water and haven’t had a problem since. Also, after every ride more than 80 miles, I make sure to hit a McDonald’s drive thru for that double Quarter Pounder and fries (though I’m opting for something other than soda now, usually Iced Tea or maybe lemonade). Now, your requirements may be differ from mine. If you pay attention, your body will tell you what it wants (within reason) in the form of a craving.

Bike Fit. I’ve got my bike set up perfectly, often within a millimeter of exactly where I need each component… Saddle height and fore-aft, stem height and length, bar angle, hood location, cleat angle – the whole nine yards. Some were set by Matt, our local bike man. Some were trial and error and the saddle height was a combination of the two. Last year I had a tough time with my right shoulder tightening up after 20 miles or so. After 100, the pain was pretty severe. The culprit? My left hood was slightly lower than the right so I had to reach just an eighth of an inch more with my left hand, putting more pressure on my right arm and shoulder. The imbalance is what had my shoulder in knots. Every component on my bike that can be adjusted is equally important. Take my cleats; I’ve got Look Keo Classic Pedals and I had the cleats set at my bike shop. After 500 miles or so I noticed that my left hamstring was tightening up, big time. So much that I had a tough time running. The culprit? I had to move my left cleat in a half a millimeter so that my left heel kicked in about a centimeter or so. No more hamstring issues. Saddle height, same story – now I’m set, through trial and error, to within a millimeter of perfect. Every adjustable component on a bike has to be very close to just right for the bike to be comfortable over a long distance – especially when you’re talking about average speeds over 18 mph for that distance.

Hydration. This one is very simple. If you don’t drink enough, you will hurt. All over. For a century, in the heat of the summer, figure 2.7 to 3 ounces per mile and you should be good (do the math, that’s a lot of H2O and sport drink).

Now, if you’ve ever hit “the wall”, this pain can also be associated with some form of cramping. It isn’t. Depending on your fitness level and which heart rate zones you regularly train in, it should hit between 40 and 80 miles somewhere. We’re talking about a nagging pain, nothing major but it pretty much hurts all over… Hitting the wall is your body switching from burning carbs to burning fat, because you’re pretty much out of carbs at that point. Now, if you regularly train in zone two, your body is much more accustomed to burning fat so the transition will be easier on your system (I didn’t even hit a wall – not even close – on my 4th of July ride). Also, there are things you can do to aid the process as well, such as eating some form of energy product (Gu Roctane, Jelly Belly Energy Beans, etc.) with caffeine. The caffeine helps your body switch over. And yes, it works.

Now, if you don’t have caffeinated jelly beans, fear not! I’ve ridden out of the wall a couple of times – it feels like getting a second wind, it just hurts for a while. If you find that you can’t ride out of it – this happened to me once at the 150k mark of a 200k ride – pull over and take a few minutes to lay down and stretch out on the ground. When you’re well rested, resume. The one time I did this, I rode the last 50k at a faster pace than I did for the first 150.

So those are my big four. Electrolytes, Fit, Hydration, Wall. Or to keep it simple: EFHW… Uh, well we can be sure I won’t be working for the government any time soon.

UPDATE:  The All Seasons Cyclist added, in the comments section, this:  “One thing your forgot: CALCIUM! Calcium is wonderful at preventing cramps during exercise. I use the Skratch Labs Hydration mix and it has calcium in it (you could also just take a Tums tablet during a ride).”

I’ve never had a calcium problem – in fact after my last round of blood work was analyzed it turns out I’ve got quite a bit extra running around my system.  That said, I have nothing but respect for him and I wanted to add his comment to this post.

The Tribathalon

My buddy Greg told me about a new craze sweeping the fitness world, the Tribathalon!

Swim a mile, then hit the sauna, take a cold shower, then hit the hot tub.

I laughed my butt off.

Cycle Faster: Head For the, Err… Mountains.

The play on the popular line is completely coincidental but the fact remains, it’s right.

It may be difficult to grasp, the idea that riding at 7-8 mph up a mountain pass could help one ride faster on flat ground but the correlation is undeniable.

This last vacation was my second trip to the mountains with my bike. I rode daily, just an hour, but the capper to my ride was an incredibly difficult final climb. It was slow, hard work, the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself physically but here I am, back home in the flatlands of southeastern Michigan and what was a good workout three weeks ago seems like standing still today. Now, I’m not one for hill repeats. I do ride almost the same route every day and I can live with that, but hitting a hill, just to turn around and do it again is, generally speaking, too much like self-flagellation. On the other hand, a decent route with plenty of hills, and/or long mountain climbs, is right up my alley.

So, for the second year in a row I’ve come home from vacation stronger than the day we left. The change isn’t one of those barely noticeable differences like the old Tiger Woods tale where he tests three identical drivers and tells the Nike guy that he likes the heavier one… Incredulously the fella looks at Tiger and says they’re the same – of course when they weigh them, one is just a few grams heavier. No, we’re easily talking a 1/2 to 1 mph increase in easy speed.

As an example, we’ve had some heavy winds over the last couple of days so I can normally expect between an 18-1/2 to 19 mph ride in those conditions. I was maintaining an easy 19-20 mph pace without really working that hard – even into the wind. Another, just last night, after two hard rides in a row (and pressed for time), I decided on a ten-mile time trial just to cram a decent workout into a half-hour. 20.6 mph average but that doesn’t tell the whole story. With stop signs and four U-Turns I actually had to maintain 22 mph throughout much of the ride to get that 20.6. On my fastest mile (no breeze, dead calm and flat) I averaged 23.5 mph.

I can’t ride that fast, or at least I couldn’t have a few weeks ago – and this is exactly how I felt last year when I got back from vacation.

So here’s the deal: If you’re looking for a relatively quick way to increase your ability to cycle faster, vacation in the mountains, bring your bike and ride it. If your results are anything like mine, you should be pleased.

My Diet Flunks… Sugar In The Diet.

I’ve been breaking in a new doctor and with the new doctor and a few other revelations, my blood work had to be redone.  Well it came back the other day and it appears as though my cholesterol has been creeping up over the last ten years or so.  I’m still within acceptable, healthy range but when last I checked my cholesterol was lower than 150 (high on the good end and low on the bad).  So with the little jump – which may be an anomaly, the blood was taken without having fasted as is usually recommended because the doctor’s office failed to inform me that I needed to – will come an active change in my diet whether or not the new test (which will be taken in December) requires it.

My diet, as has been explained previously, requires a little finesse.  I am not able to consume enough “good” food to replace the calories that I burn through cycling.  Whether we say that my stomach isn’t big enough or I don’t eat often enough makes no difference to me.  The simple fact is that if I rely on fruits and veggies for snacks and three squares a day, I’ll waste away to 130 pounds – I’ve started down that path too many times in the last couple of years.  So the first thing I explained to the doctor was that fast food, while most find it obnoxious, wasn’t going anywhere and much to my surprise, he was very okay with that (on a limited basis of course).  On the other hand, he took a scalpel to my penchant for sweets and the occasional cola.

The explanation was this:  Candy and soda cause a spike in blood sugar.  To level that out, the body produces insulin and the liver produces cholesterol – the new thinking is that this is why Europeans can eat a high fat diet yet walk around with cholesterol levels in the low 100’s while in the US, where we’re cutting fat, but pounding sugar like it’s sexy, we’re walking around in the 300’s.  I’m not a doctor so I really will just leave figuring that out to them (the truth is that even the best thinking today will change in a year or two, or at least that’s been so since they decided the earth wasn’t really flat after all).  The unvarnished truth is that the notion makes logical sense so that’s why I’m taking the advice.

There’s another interesting twist to this though:  I drink Gatorade after I ride to replace electrolytes.  Gatorade does have sugar in it so I asked if it would be okay to stay with it – I’ve tried going without and it just doesn’t work for me.  I can’t get my proper balance without it (my sweat even stops tasting salty after a couple of weeks).  My doc said that I should be okay with the Gatorade but cut the rest of the junk, but that still got me to thinking, “something’s fishy”…  So I went home and checked on the sugar per 12 oz serving of Gatorade:  7 grams.  Then I checked the last bottle of root beer that I’ll have in the house for quite some time:  43 grams of sugar. Now I understand why the Gatorade is okay but the soda’s gotta go.  Six times the sugar!

Now I’ve got four and a half months to put this one to the test and see where I shake out…  I’ll be sure to write about it – I’m going in to give blood on the second anniversary of my blog.

What Fit Looks Like – Part Two…

Last night was my normal club ride – 30 miles of pure joy.  The weather, a cold front having just pushed through a few hours earlier that brought rain followed by immaculately clear skies, couldn’t have been better – with one exception:  20 mph wind gusts.

Normally I’m good to stay with the horses in that group for about 20-25 miles before they kick it into a gear that I simply don’t have.  This isn’t bad news of any sort, the guys that I’m talking about are all current or former racers – they’re fast.  As well, I’d never judge my fitness by whether or not I could keep up with them, they’re next level and put something into their workouts that I’m simply not willing to give.

On windy days the group is just brutal.  One way or another I always find myself in the gutter of an echelon with no protection from the wind.  Last night was pretty cool though – right around the eight mile mark I was on the good end of a double echelon so I had protection both in front and from the side and I was cruising gloriously.  Then the wheels fell off going around a sharp turn.  The group shattered and when it reformed, the only slot left was in sheer misery.  It wouldn’t be so bad at 18 or 20 mph, but at 25 with an obnoxious 20 mph cross-headwind it was just too much.  I detached and fell off the back to pedal easy for the rest of the ride.  That was right at the ten mile mark.  For the next two miles I thought about taking a shortcut I learned while riding with my wife and the slower group a few weeks back – it would have turned a 30 mile ride into a 24 mile ride with just a turn of the wheel…  Oh it was tempting.  The wind was just sucking the life out of me.

Nearing the shortcut turn I thought to my self, “Self, you’re not going to be a punk today.  You’re going the full 30, now quit your bitching and get on with it”.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I could see another rider about a mile up who’d fallen off the back as well so I made it a game to see if I could catch him (he’s a stronger rider than I am, but not by much).  I got my butt in gear and was with him in a matter of three or four miles.

Folks, this is the only way I know to get and stay fit.  On those days when most mere mortals sit on the couch and even the exceptional one’s would take the easier route home, I choose to go the extra mile (or six in this case).  Let me tell you, the traffic on the extra mile is pretty sparse.

All told, with my warm-up, I logged 35 miles yesterday, that last thirty at just a shade under 20 mph average.  With the wind that we had yesterday, that’s a big number – fastest I’ve ever ridden in that kind of wind…  And I could have taken it easy and felt lousy about a 29 mile ride instead.  Pity.

This is what fitness is to me.  It’s not about who I can beat or even how fast I can ride…  It’s about pushing my mind to accept the work, like it or not, so when I look in the mirror the next morning I can like what’s staring back at me.

Specialized Espoir Sport 4,000 mile Review

That’s right, 4,000 miles on a $30 tire, and I’m not close to done with them yet. If you’re wondering how one gets 4,000 miles out of a bike tire (23mm of course), I rotate them.

So here’s the report:

Perfect. No flats, 4,000+ miles. Not one. I’ve ridden in rain, sleet, a little snow – even on a few dirt roads. Not even fresh chip seal roads could flat these tires. My previous set of tires cost 2-1/2 times more, were lined with Kevlar, and are now sitting in my office… They’re my winter ‘bike trainer’ tires because they flatted too often (every time I rode in the rain).

I’m a light cyclist for my height, at about 160 pounds (currently 164 – vacations, sheesh) and I run my tires right at (or slightly above) the recommended 125 psi and I pump them up before every ride. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I rotate the tires every thousand to fifteen hundred miles and store my bike indoors (not in the garage, in my home or office). Finally, I do wipe my tires if I ride through an area that has fine loose gravel covering the road (an inherently dangerous process). I mention this only to illustrate that I take proper care of my tires to get that kind of mileage out of them. Also, if one were heavier, one would naturally expect that their experience may be different.

Last August I wrote an equally glowing 1,500 mile review of the Espoir Sport tire, this is simply an extension of that post, and my initial 500 mile review. The Espoir Sport has vastly exceeded my expectations – and is the reason that I’m considering a new Specialized bike after I’ve worn out my current bike. If they put as much care into their high-end bikes as they do their reasonably priced tires, I can’t help but win.

I, of course, am not claiming that the tire won’t flat, I am passing along my experience – and that they have not for me. Not once.

I paid full price, minus my club discount, for the tires at my LBS. this review is unsolicited.

UPDATE: I bought a new Specialized Venge that came with Specialized Turbo Elite tires… I did suffer one flat – I hit a rock that was hidden by a leaf. No damage to the tire. Otherwise, they performed excellently as well and they are much more suited to hard cornering. An excellent tire and fantastic value.

The Cycling Noob’s Guide To Adjusting The Rear Derailleur…

An index adjustment on my (or my wife’s) rear derailleur used to be a cause for concern and consternation…and about an hour’s time to mess it up, then get it back into working order. Of course, that’s only if it didn’t take two (!): One to mess it up and realize it’s beyond my ability to fix, then another one to take it to the shop to have my mistakes corrected before I attempted to throw the bike like a frisbee.

Today, it’s a one minute adjustment (or a ten minute process if I’m replacing the cable altogether). In other words it’s not such a big deal. This post should make something that the cycling noob will fear, simple.

First, if your bike isn’t shifting quite right, we start with the barrel adjuster. When you shift, if it’s an “index” problem, you’ll notice that your bike is tough to shift either up or down the cassette (up refers to an easier gear, down to a harder one). Cables stretch amongst other things, so your bike will require some adjusting from time to time.

Now, without turning this into rocket science with bikes, you turn the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur 1/8 to 1/4 turn in the direction that the derailleur is sticking. So, if your derailleur won’t shift up the cassette to an easier gear, turn the barrel adjuster counterclockwise – or in that direction… Then check to see how it worked by shifting through the gears. Still sticking? Try another 1/8 of a turn. Still? Try another 1/8 – if that doesn’t get it, you’ll have to go through an entire index adjustment. Conversely, if your bike won’t shift down, you turn the barrel adjuster in the direction it’s sticking, or clockwise. Just remember, turn the adjuster in the direction it won’t shift.

That’s as tough as it is, so don’t sweat it next time your bike is shifting a little rough. Pay attention to which way the chain won’t go, then give the barrel adjuster a turn in that direction. As long as there isn’t another problem causing the sluggish shifting (sweat corroded cable, cable sticking in the cable housing, etc), you’ll be right as rain.

For the full index adjustment, I’ve covered that once before. It’s really not very difficult.

One final thing to remember… Don’t mess with the set screws!  Unless you’ve recently installed a new cassette (or crank/chain ring for the front derailleur) the chances that the set screws are off are somewhere between slim and none.