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Monthly Archives: February 2014

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How I Prepared for My First Century Bike Ride…

Cycling Season is upon us and with that comes new cyclists and an almost uncontrollable urge to achieve cycling greatness in line with running’s marathon:  The Century – 100 miles of pure cycling bliss.  The century, by far, is my favorite distance.  I ride at least four every season with a couple of training rides that come awfully close or go slightly over (90-115 miles)…

This post will be relatively short and is intended simply as a broad overview of how to get into shape for your first.  For a more detailed look, I have two posts on the subject, here and here.

There are a few main preparation points that will help even the greenest noob conquer the century, if you’re willing to put the work in – and it is a lot of work.

First and foremost is your bike and the equipment you’ll need.  I recommend a professionally fitted road bike but I’ve witnessed people complete centuries on knobby tire mountain bikes – they just finished after I was already home, fed, showered, had taken a nap and was out cutting the lawn (this is a facetious point, I don’t really know when they finished, you get the point though).  You should also have at least one spare inner tube, tire levers, either a CO2 or a frame mounted tire pump, a patch kit and a multi-tool with a chain tool on it – and know how to use all of the items.  For your saddle, unless you desire a numbed, chafed and bleeding sitting area, I recommend a real, fitted, gender specific road saddle with minimal padding and a pair of excellent cycling shorts.  I don’t care how big you think your butt is or how bad you think you look in those shorts, they’re a necessity.  Period.  After that, you’ll need H2O (and a sports drink/supplement), some snacks (my favorites are Jelly Belly Energy Beans [with caffeine] and ERG Energy Bars) and a fair amount of sunscreen – you’ll be out there in the sun for a while.

As for training, I chose to ride almost every day.  Not because I needed to but simply because I love to ride.  I rode 16 miles (Wed., Fri.), 20-35 on Tuesday, 35 on Saturday and 20 on Sunday.  Monday’s off, and this started in March.  At the end of April, I jumped into my first metric century (62.4 miles).  After that, I added a few miles to my Saturday ride (40-45 total) and kept with that until the beginning of July when I jumped again, for a training ride with some guys from my local club, to 80 miles.  A couple of weeks after that I did my first full Century ride, the Tour des Lac in Fenton.  You’ll notice, hopefully, that the jump in mileage was pretty big at each new milestone.  While cycling is work, it has been my experience that it is not like running where I would only increase by 10% at a time.  I was perfectly okay with doubling single ride mileage every two weeks to a month.  I did this, however, on professionally fitted, high-quality equipment.  Substandard equipment hurts more and that must be taken into account.

I can offer this one tip on how to jump mileage in relative comfort:  Take your average speed and knock 1-1.5 mph off of that for the longer distance.  For instance, my average pace was just shy of 20 mph for 30 miles (with no help or drafting).  I completed my first metric century on my own (no help/drafting) at 18.5 mph and I was pretty well spent but fine.  When I jumped from that to the 80 mile ride, that was done (with drafting help) at 19 mph.  After a full season of Centuries under my belt, last year I started working on speed.  I did the Tour des Lac at 20.5 mph with four other guys and the Assenmacher 100 at 21.7 with a large group.

Now, with all of that said, a word of caution:  Cycling a hundred miles is not easy.  At speed (17-20 mph) you burn almost two pounds worth of calories.  You’ll sweat anywhere from two to four liters from every pore on your body.  You’ll burn through enough salt to send your doctor into a conniption.  You will be sore after your first one.  It’s a lot of work, even if you do take it easy.  Prepare yourself well, work hard to get your body in shape for the effort and you will feel amazing afterwards.  You will know that you’ve done something exceptional and your friend’s jaws will drop in awe of the accomplishment.  Do enough of them and all of that stubborn fat that you’ve had a tough time with will melt away into svelte, slender lines and you’ll be left with legs of granite.

As with anything in life, it works if you work it.

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Initial Thoughts on the Specialized Hardrock Sport Disc 29er

Yesterday was cold today, but not cold. Windy, but not Wicked Witch of the West windy, maybe 15-20 mph…and the sun was a shinin’. Oh, and Mrs. Bgddy needed hamburger buns for dinner, but more importantly my brand new Specialized Hardrock Sport 29’er had exactly zero miles on it and I’ve had it for a full week. This is entirely unacceptable. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I’ve been cooped up for way too long.

In other words, it was time to see what a new 29’er with hydraulic disc brakes rides like compared to my trusty 26″ 3700. Normally, I’d want to take a bunch of photos of a new bike before I get it dirty but with spring several weeks away, I simply can’t stand just looking at that beautiful steed anymore. I’m not one of those museum curator bike owners. A cool bike is meant to be ridden hard, not looked at.

So I geared up and headed out the door for a short adventure to the market.

The first thing I noticed was what a smooth, wonderful ride it produced. Second, was how heavy it is compared to the Venge (chuckle, it’s almost twice the weight). The 29″ wheels take a lot more effort to spin up but once they’re up to speed, they roll excellently. The Specialized Fast Track tires (with Flak Jacket puncture protection) roll well, have a medium aggressive knobby pattern and are great on pavement.

The neatest change is in going from standard cable pull rim brakes to hydraulic discs… I don’t have them broken in entirely but they still grab a lot better and there’s no squish to them. They’re also a lot less complex even if the technology can seem harder to grasp initially.

The front fork suspension is a huge upgrade – beefier, smoother, softer, easier to adjust and has a lockout.

Another difference, though not as great as I initially assumed would be, is the shifters. The old over-under thumb and forefinger shifting is much less accessible. The new system doesn’t require the rider to remove a finger from the grip to shift. I was quite used to the old shifting mechanics and while it did cause a minor bobble from time to time, it was generally quite solid. The new shifters are quite a bit more ergonomically sound but that’s about it.

As I’ve unplugged the cycling, I didn’t even bother taking my phone with me so I have no stats whatsoever to share though I “felt” quicker.

Now, the important point here is cost to value as it pertains to gains on the single track. The Hardrock 29’er Sport Disc is almost double the cost of a normal entry-level high-end mountain bike. The biggest gain is in the quality of the suspension and brakes. If you’re just planning on cruising around town then a $700 (before tax) mountain bike is probably a bit of overkill (and an unnecessarily nice target for thieves). On the other hand, if you’re using it almost exclusively for the single track trails, the longer wheel base, much improved shocks and brakes are worth the investment – almost anyone who has spent time on the trail will cop to this reality. Will the differences make me faster? The hydraulic disc brakes and the 29″ wheelbase will (the larger wheel base will roll over obstacles better and have a bit more clearance). The lockout in the shock will be nice for paved and dirt road cruising but the beefier shock will simply last longer and take more abuse.

Now, if you’ve got a spouse who is awesome enough to drop some serious coin on a play-bike, then by all means… The Hardrock Sport 29’er is a fine mountain bike.

IPhone WordPress Constantly Crashing? Help is on the way!

I’ve been ready, many times over the last few weeks, ever since the new WordPress app upgrade came out, to incinerate or otherwise vaporize my phone. I was lucky if I could get WordPress to start on the first try and if I wasn’t lucky, it could be ten minutes of the app crashing before it would finally, mercifully, decide to open up. If this sounds familiar, fear not! Help is on the way… From Apple!

That’s right folks, there’s a new operating system update out and it’s fixed whatever was conflicting with WordPress.

To those who build the WordPress app, I apologize profusely for comparing the WordPress app with the Obamacare website to my wife. Turns out it looks like it wasn’t your fault after all.

Imagine that. Now just imagine if Apple had tried to convince everyone that there was really nothing wrong and that their operating system was right and everyone else was a mess, and then launch a news attack campaign against those who were having problems with the operating system, calling them anti-Apple-ists. Then Apple audited those user’s accounts for irregularities and possible law violations, payment and regulation infringements and general misuse of iTunes (and then when they found none, they just made some up and put the burden of proof on the WordPress user), costing the detractors tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours to defend their right to say something about it… And then, the WordPress hating media came out and tried to lend credence to Apple’s claim that the detractors were actually complaining about nothing! The detractors were anti-Apple separatists and the even probably posed a homegrown terrorism risk – simply for wanting their WordPress app to work right and otherwise leave them the hell alone – as was intended in the first place, according to the companies founding documents.

Wait a minute… I can’t put my finger on it… Hmmm…

Oh yeah! Then Democrat Senators came to the rescue of the people and gave them minority protections, so if the big bad evil corporations tried to attack them unfairly like that ever again, the swift hand of justice and condemnation would rain down from the Heavens!!!

Nah. That’s just crazy talk. That could never happen. Nothing to see here, move along.

Seriously though, if you’re having trouble with your WordPress app, the new iOS update fixes it. Thanks Apple for fixing whatever you did, Daddy’s iPhone is much better – and I’m a much happier fella.

UPDATE: Nope, the iOS upgrade just worked better for 12 hours or so, back to hanging up on me. Deleted the whole WordPress app figuring I should just start fresh. New app took three crashes before it finally opened. What a mess.

Michigan District Championships Swim Meet

My girl’s second swim meet is today, it just so happens their the District Championships (!). She’ll be swimming today and tomorrow so I’ll write another post for tomorrow’s meet :

First race 50 Freestyle: 43.37 1st place in her heat (!!! Woohoo!)

100 Medley: 2:08.34 3rd in her heat (considering that this had her two toughest strokes (breast and butterfly), 2nd is pretty stinkin’ awesome!

Her final was the 50 backstroke and she absolutely killed it until the last ten yards… She was in second but misjudged the wall and coasted too far. 4th place in her heat.

Today’s meet was incredibly successful with some great strides.

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Donuts

I love donuts.  Listen to the words coming out of my mouth:  I LOVE DONUTS.

My daughters, every once in a while, like to ask me to pick up donuts, usually about the time we’re driving by a Tim Horton’s.  I am tempted to swing in, every single stinking time. 

The battle that goes on in my head, while I stay cool on the outside, is not fit for print.  Just know there are a lot of curse words flying about and I’m just shy of having to pull out a flame thrower to bring my melon committee to order.

I struggle with few foods, but when it comes to donuts I am simply powerless against them once I start on the first.

My favorite commercial of late is for the Tread Climber.  A woman lost 60-some pounds on hers and about gaining the weight initially, she says “you can’t blame that on baby weight, that was donuts”.  I laugh every time I see it.

Because I skip the donuts, I am also one of those guys that a lot of other guys want to be.  I don’t wear big clothes.  I own the slim-fit suits that are so popular today, and I make them look good.  I had to buy the slacks a size bigger in the waist and have them taken in so that I could get my cycling legs into them.

The point is, even though those damned tasty lumps of fried dough and sugar are so wonderful, looking awesome in a suit that maybe 10-20% of the US male population could even fit into, let alone make look good, is better.

Oh, and looked at another way, I’m not living in reverse… 10 minutes of pleasure followed by years if misery.

Instead, I’ve got a decade of happiness with a few seconds of misery for choosing to pass the donut shop up.

P.S. If you haven’t heard, the First Lady suggested in lieu of potato chips, on The Tonight Show, kale chips. I saw the clip this morning… I would sooner eat my own ass with a spoon than substitute real potato chips with baked kale. Btw, I wonder how Idaho feels about that. It’s going to be a long three years.

In the meantime, “Let them eat Kale”!

75% chance I’m audited this year now. Of course, that happens and I start commenting on what her clothing designers/tailors are trying so hard to hide.

My secret to remaining a happily married man…

Folks, when it’s all boiled down, one of the great magical wonders of having a fun, vibrant and enjoyably devoted marriage, it comes down to three words:

Spoonin’ and Forkin’.

Mrs. Bgddy approves this message. Use it wisely.

The Noob’s Guide to the Aerodynamic Cycling Position – Slam The Stem

As is usual with my Noob’s Guide Series, which is ridiculously extensive, I pick an aspect of cycling that I fought and/or messed up only to come around and see the light, mending my foolish, ignorant ways…  And then I write about it!  Woohoo!

Well, this is not one of those posts.  Do you have a road bike that’s set up so the saddle is only an inch or two below the handlebar, or worse, level with it?  Concerned about speed, or your lack thereof?  What would you pay to ride 1 to 1-1/2 mph faster with no more effort than you’re putting out right now?  What if I told you it wouldn’t cost you a penny in new components and that I’ll tell you how to do just that, for nothing?  Read on…

Most folks who know cycling (my LBS owner included) shoot for comfort first and aerodynamics second.  While a noble idea, it does make sense to a point – if you’re uncomfortable, you probably won’t ride.  However, if a cyclist has an eye on speed and can’t get there because his/her road bike is set up like a mountain bike, that will lead to a dust-covered bike also.

Well, a new friend commented on one of my more popular posts the other day about the difficulties involved with cycling in the wind and it got me to thinking…  Anyone who’s gone for a ride when the winds start topping 30 mph (48 km/h), the difference between riding into the wind upright on the bar top and the drops with your nose a few inches from the stem is huge – the wind still sucks, but it sucks a lot less when you’re low.

Now, let me be very clear before we get into this:  First, I may be an exception in an otherwise sound practice when it comes to choosing comfort over aerodynamics – I don’t know and certainly don’t care because at this point, I’m comfortable and in a great position on the bike.  Second, I didn’t have much of a gut at all when I started cycling.  A person can’t get around their gut to get low so typically, if you’re going to ride in an aerodynamic position, you have to lose most of that first.  Finally, don’t ever let anyone tell you there isn’t much of a difference aerodynamically between riding upright and flat.  Aerodynamics make a huge difference – anyone who claims otherwise is mistaken.  Some of this can be overcome by building leg strength and cardiovascular endurance, sure, but you can ride faster and/or with less effort if you can do so without turning your body into a giant sail.

I started cycling on a mountain bike – a Trek 3700.  One of the first things I did to that bike was buy a road stem (10 degree) and I flipped it when I installed it so unlike many mountain bikes, my bar is an inch or two lower than my saddle.  Even so, I’m still pretty upright on it.  When I started riding road bikes though, I had the shop set them up as close to the way the pros do as my flexibility would allow – and then I worked on increasing my flexibility so I could lower the stem even farther.  Now, I could have gone to any length and taken some yoga classes.  I could have stretched on a regular basis (more than simple toe touches to help my hamstring flexibility which I did regularly) – but I didn’t.  All I did was A) buy an aggressive road saddle [yes they make special saddles for an aggressive cycling posture] and B) simply rode in the drops more and as I grew more accustomed to the drop, I’d lower the stem by a couple of millimeters and get used to that.  When I brought my Trek home I had a 2-1/2″ drop. I ended up with a 4-1/2″ drop on my Trek and a 4-3/4″ drop on my Venge from the nose of the saddle to the bar top.  To get technical here, the reason for the greater drop on the Venge is that the drops are shallower than on the Trek…  Setting the bikes next to each other, while the drop from the saddle to the bar top is greater on the Venge, the drop bars line up almost perfectly on the two bikes – meaning I’m not actually riding any lower on the Venge when I’m in the drops.  To become accustomed to riding lower, almost two years ago now, I added a “drop” day in my training schedule.  Every Wednesday I spend as much of my daily ride as is practicable in the drops.  Doing this greatly improved my flexibility and ability to ride lower, thus more aerodynamically.  Also, over the winter (on the turbo trainer) I go even lower because I don’t have to worry about watching where I’m going…  This year I’ve even managed to get to a point where I can rest my forehead on the stem of my 5200 while I ride (though only for a few minutes at a time, that’s pretty low folks).  In short, I’ll be switching out another spacer on the Venge’s stem shortly (the Trek’s bottomed out, it won’t go lower).

There will be detractors out there who believe that I was wrong to go about this the way that I did – and I’m perfectly okay with this.  Call me crazy, call me wrong, call me out of touch, go ahead and say that I’m completely nuts.  Whether or not you agree, the systematic way I went about getting lower  worked.  If you choose to do what I did just be careful so you don’t end up hurting yourself (check with your doctor if you have questions or back problems, ride safely, yada, yada, yada).  Also, please reread this post if you must, I made these changes slowly over two years.  When I started this little experiment with the 5200 the shop had set me up, based on flexibility.  Thankfully my 5200, a ’99, was the last year Trek used a quill stem so I had a very flexible bike – and a lot of stem to work with.  Many of the newer threadless stem setups don’t have that much adjustability built-in (though the bike shop can set up a new bike with more stem flexibility, you’ll just have to move spacers from below the stem to above the stem to lower the bar as you progress) [*see below for an explanation of how to order your bike like this].

To get back on track, I’ve done several speed experiments with different positions and I feel pretty safe in saying that the additional work required to support a more upright cycling position translates to as much as 1.5 mph on the average.  So that means if your saddle and bar top are on roughly the same level and your average hard effort over 20 miles is 18 mph, you’ll ride 19.5 mph if you can work your bar  down 4 or 5 inches to a more aerodynamic position.  My experience is backed up by using another method to prove it as well:  The Bike Calculator App shows that 230 watts over 30 miles on a flat gradient with no wind translates to 18.3 mph when riding with your hands on the bar top.  That same 230 watts is good for 20.4 mph in the drops – a difference of more than 2 mph.  Now, if your bar top is on plane with your saddle, your drops will be about on the same level with the bar top on my bike.  My drops will be about 4″ lower than yours…  In other words, you riding in your drops would be akin to me on my bar top.  While other variables makes actual quantification difficult, it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see that lower and flatter is either faster or less work (generally speaking though, if you’re willing to go to these lengths to lower your bar height, it’s only going to be faster, you won’t take it any easier).

The whole point is, if you’re languishing at 17-18 mph and you can’t figure out how anyone rides beyond 20, take a look at the saddle/bar drop – if you’re in the “comfort” position, do what you can to fix that.  As far as I’m concerned, it was worth every bit of effort to get there.  This cost me exactly zero dollars, sped me up by about a mile per hour with no extra effort, I’m no worse for the wear…  And not to toot my own horn but I look like I belong on my race bike when I ride it.

*Ordering your bike so you can start out upright and get low is quite simple and won’t require much on your part. First, realize that the race bikes (Venge, Tarmac, Madone) start out a little lower.  The endurance bikes (Domane, Roubaix) a little more upright.  Also, you’ll have a range of sizes available for your height – if you want upright, order to the high side of that range. If you want a high saddle and low bars, order to the low-end of the range (i.e. My size range is 56-59 cm – my Venge is a 56).  Now, when the bike is shipped, the fork will come a little long – the shop will simply stack a few spacers below the stem. As you become more flexible, you simply loosen the stem, take a spacer from below the stem off, replace the stem, place the spacer on the tube above the stem and tighten everything back up properly.  Your bar is lower.

Another simple solution to lower the handle bars is to swap out that 30-45 degree stem for a 10 degree road stem – you can even invert it (install it upside down).  That’s usually good for a couple of inches, though it’ll cost you $30-$100 depending on the material and brand.

Finally, I thought an illustration might be in order to make sure everyone understands “saddle nose to bar top drop”.  I’ll use a photo of my Cannondale as the example.  It has a 6″ drop from the saddle nose to the bar top:

Saddle Nose to Bar Top Drop

Saddle Nose to Bar Top Drop

Now, jumping from a 4-3/4″ drop on the Venge to a 6″ drop on the Cannondale, all at once will not be easy (maybe not even advisable), but I’m going to give it my best shot.  If I can, I’ll be able to swap around the last two spacers on my Venge and really slam the stem.  Doing this won’t net anywhere near the benefit described above (going from zero to 4-3/4″), but it surely won’t hurt.

So, if you can (check with your doctor, priest and/or rabbi, local grocery store clerk and government agencies, yada, yada, yada), slam that stem baby, and put some pep in that step.