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Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: It All Works Together…

I went for a long bike ride with six of my best cycling friends yesterday. It’s been a cold spring so far, absolutely nasty, so none of us had any real miles on our legs, so I rode the extra five miles to my buddy Brad’s house to get a few more in.  Unfortunately, my legs were colder after my warmup than when I walked out the door.  Just barely above freezing and into the wind.  No worries though, with six of us, I knew there would be enough shelter to warm up – and temps were supposed to be in the mid-40’s by the time we were done. Also, other than the possible mistake of not adding a second layer to my legs, I was perfectly comfortable everywhere else.

I was right…  Everything worked out excellently and I had a great time.  In fact, only two miles after the halfway point that ride became my longest of the year.  This is what I love about cycling – once you get your legs (and maintain them), training distances are pretty much whatever your mind can convince your body to do (within reason of course).

We had about fifteen miles to go when it struck me how well all of my equipment was working for me.  My bike is exceedingly, unfairly even, comfortable.  From my socks to my dome protector, everything was doing it’s job to get me to my lunch back home, comfortably as is possible (or as comfortably as 45 miles at just under 20 mph can be in the chilly early spring morning can be).  It took me three years to assemble everything, one piece at a time, often opting for the cheap version when I had to (shorts are a good example – and my butt paid for that one) but I’ve finally got everything right.

The bike’s geometry is utterly perfect (or at least my estimation of perfect, our local pro fitter seems to think we’re pretty close too) and that works with my pedals which work with the cleats on my carbon soled cycling shoes which work with my socks and leg warmers…  You get the idea, but this is where this gets important…  When I brought my Venge home last August, I could immediately feel a huge difference in how comfortable the bike was compared to my 5200 but it wasn’t until yesterday, after riding the 5200 all winter long, that the scope of just how big the difference is became evident…

Starting from the beginning, from my Cannondale which was purchased too small for me to comfortably fit on (because I didn’t know any better), to the first saddle that I chose, almost everything that I changed, thinking I was doing it wisely, was wrong.  I entered the fray that is high performance cycling with the typical distrust of the industry displayed in Saturday’s post by the narrator of the embedded video – and with just as much ignorance…  Here’s the saddle I picked for that Cannondale (cost something like $35):
Serfas Saddle  VS the saddle on my Venge and 5200:  Spec Romin Saddle
Now most noobs are going to look at those two saddles and think that the one on the left would be far more comfortable… and would be entirely wrong – if one has the proper shorts to go with the saddle on the right.  Now don’t get me wrong, riding fifty miles on the saddle on the left is possible, I’ve done it – it just hurts.  Another example I can use of cutting corners to the detriment of comfort was my initial desire to wear my mountain biking shoes on my road bike – after all, I already had my shoes, all I needed was a pair of $50 pedals and I’d be good, right?  Well, that was brilliant in theory but not very practical.  Mountain biking shoes (at least the one’s I had) are meant to walk in more than road shoes and are a bit more flexible.  They also have a very small connection point to the pedal.  What I ended up with was terrible “hot spots” on my foot where the cleat clipped into the pedal when I was riding more than 50 or 60 miles at a crack.  I ended up with some excellent composite soled tri shoes with Look Keo Classic pedals and haven’t had a hot spot problem since.

Here’s the point:  When I have the right equipment and it fits right, from the bike all the way up to my brain bucket, I am more “connected” with the bike.  Every movement, whether it’s climbing a hill out of the saddle or sprinting to the finish line on Tuesday night, feels better.  With pieces of the puzzle missing, I was always trying to battle some kind of pain – and when you’re talking about 50-100 miles, I ended up with a lot.

Where I went wrong is that I approached performance cycling as if I were riding a bike as I did when I was a kid.  My skepticism of what I thought “the market” decided was a necessity got in the way of truly enjoying cycling – and I spent more money than necessary to find this out the hard way.

To wrap this post up, I am not suggesting anyone should spend themselves into oblivion or debt to enjoy the sport.  What I am suggesting is that if you’re like me, if you really want to perform to the best of your ability on a bike, the carbon fiber soled shoes, the fancy pedals, the perfectly fitted featherweight bike, aren’t necessary but they really do help one enjoy the sport.  It is my experience that it all works together and when it’s right, I can absolutely feel the difference.

 

 

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Which Road Bike Should I Buy? Avid Enthusiast vs. The Recreational Cyclist…

I happened on a YouTube video that looks at the difference between high-priced bikes vs. entry-level bikes as they pertain to a recreational cyclist…  Now, I’m going to embed it here but you’d better put on a pot of coffee, drink up and have something else to do while this guy is talking in the background because he is quite possibly the most boring lecturer I’ve ever heard since college when I had an unintelligible Asian professor (if memory serves, she was from Communist China) lecturing us on Western Religion – oh, it was a hoot.

Now, while boring, this fella makes some very good points in his 37 minute video – when you’re talking about a recreational cyclist and only if you have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.  He’s angry that cycling is going the way that it is – with people like me spending thousands of dollars on a bike when he thinks $650 on a Motobecane el-cheapo off of bikes direct dot-com should be more than enough for anyone (in his opinion of course).  He compares his idea of a great bike to Trek’s top of the line Madone 7.9 that is made only for the upper echelon racer – you can get almost the exact same bike for $4,600 if you drop to a 6.2 (you give up the Dura-Ace Di2 Electronic Shifting for Ultegra components).  In other words, it seems like he’s rigging the discussion to fuel his anger – what recreational cyclist would drop $11 g’s to get electronic shifting?  None that I’ve ever met or even heard of – including me and I’m WAY passed what anyone could call recreational cyclist (avid enthusiast at the very least).

I actually own a bike similar to his Motobecane, my Cannondale SR400 – it’s actually a little nicer than his choice though it is 23 years older.  Same idea though – it’s all aluminum but it has a chro-mo fork because carbon fiber was just being kicked around back then and was insanely expensive (today they use carbon fiber forks for most decent entry-level road bikes because aluminum sucks at absorbing minor road inconsistencies).  Sure enough, when it comes to speed, he’s actually got a point – he says that a recreational cyclist could go as fast on the Motobecane as he could on the Trek…  Well he’s kind of got a point.  I can make my Cannondale go just about as fast as my Venge over short distances (ten miles or so).  The problem is that I’ve gotta be on glass-smooth roads to do it.  We don’t have those where I live.  We ride on chip-seal road surfaces (small chunks of crushed gravel “glued” to asphalt roads – it’s cheap, durable and helps with traction during the winter).  Riding my aluminum bike over that crap sucks, while I can keep much better speed with the composite Venge.  Is having an amazingly awesome composite bike absolutely necessary?  No – it’s just vastly more enjoyable to ride.  Carbon fiber bikes are about weight, yes, but they’re also about comfort without having to suffer the extra weight of steel.  In other words, I can ride my bike faster, for a longer distance, and more enjoyably than I can an aluminum bike.

Then, at about 21 minutes in, he goes into a long diatribe concerning a bike that’s out of alignment.  He goes off the deep end when he suggests through omission that there’s a possibility that his Motobecane could roll better than that $11,500 Trek.  Folks, if you spent that kind of cash and wound up with a bike that was even a millimeter off, Trek would ship a brand new bike, no questions asked and might even give you a kiss on the cheek (either one of the four) for your trouble.  He then says, incorrectly, that an aluminum frame can’t be fixed if it’s out of alignment.  It can be fixed – I watched Matt Assenmacher fix my Cannondale in less than an hour.  The odd thing is, if his argument were true, he would be making the case that one should buy a carbon bike!  At 23:30 he goes into head tube angle (seriously) to suggest that the geometry of a race bike is for skilled riders so if a noob rode a high-priced race bike they’d be slower that they would on a hybrid because a newer cyclist would be weaving back and forth on the road because of the geometry – a noob couldn’t balance on the bike in other words.  Now I can pretty fairly say that the guy who made that claim is absolutely full of shit.  The head tube angle on his $300 hybrid is 72 degrees.  The head tube angle on that $11,500 Trek?  73 degrees.  I laughed my butt off when I checked.  If that wasn’t enough, you cannot buy a twelve thousand dollar race bike in the US unless you get it from a shop – if you’re buying one from a shop, they’re going to measure you up first, then try to talk you out of buying that race bike and into buying one that fits properly and costs a lot less than half of the one you think you want if you’re anything but a racer.  In other words, what he’s talking about actually can’t happen in the real world anyway.

It gets better though!  He then goes on to say that one should plan on replacing a bunch of components on one’s bike after purchasing it because things like crank arm length, stem length and handlebar width will have to be changed once the bike arrives – a cost that he says could be as much as an additional $6,000 for the Trek.  This is pure, utter, poppycock.  My Venge was a little more than a quarter of the Trek he listed as an example and everything on that bike was perfect but I bought my bike at a shop from an owner who knows me…  It sounds like the guy in the video is confusing internet shopping results with a legitimate bike shop.  This simply is not how things work.  When you drop that kind of cash, the bike you pick up has been fitted to you.  He says that with his Motobecane, replacement parts to get the bike to fit right might cost $300.  Mine cost $0 after I walked it out the door (I did upgrade my wheels because I didn’t like the wheels that came with the bike, but this upgrade wasn’t a “necessity”.

He comes back down to earth for the last few minutes or so, except for calling today’s shorts with the padded chamois silly (which is stupid because they’re awesome), to talk about the additional costs of cycling (shoes, pedals, helmet etc.).  The point is, cycling is a tough sport because it can cost an arm and a leg (believe me, I know).  There’s a lot of misinformation out there that can sound really convincing if you don’t know how to cross check what you’re hearing or reading.  Look at the whole ridiculous claim about the head tube angle causing one to wobble about the road uncontrollably – a one degree difference?  If I had to guess, I’d bet the guy has never actually ridden a high-end bike, he was just throwing darts.

The trick to buying the right bike for the recreational cyclist, 1,200 words boiled down into one paragraph, is this:  Buy the best bike you can.  If you want to be fast, buy a road bike – the nicest one you can get your hands on, new or used.  If you want to commute, slower but comfortably, buy a hybrid.  If you want to play in the dirt, buy a mountain bike and an extra set of wheels so you can put slicks on it and turn it into a hybrid in less than three minutes.  Just do yourself a favor – don’t buy based on watching a video made by a guy who’s been riding for 40 years and still doesn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground.

If you’re an avid enthusiast, like me, the sky is the limit.  I love my high-end plastic bike.  It’s the only thing I’ve ever bought that seven months later, I’m still completely happy that I spent every single penny.  Stick to what you can comfortably afford and ride the wheels off of it.

 

Why Do Cyclists Shave Their Legs, and Should You Shave Yours: A Noob’s Guide Through A Slippery Subject…

Rule number 33 of the substantial list of cycling guidelines, known simply as “The Rules“, is as follows:

Rule #33// Shave your guns.
Legs are to be carefully shaved at all times. If, for some reason, your legs are to be left hairy, make sure you can dish out plenty of hurt to shaved riders, or be considered a hippie douche on your way to a Critical Mass. Whether you use a straight razor or a Bowie knife, use Baxter to keep them smooth.

I happened upon this list three days before my first initiation into “real” cycling – that is, actual cycling, not just “riding my bike”.  I had already been worried about the shaving of the guns before I happened on the rules because I’d seen it mentioned elsewhere while researching proper group cycling etiquette.  While I am not quite a yeti, I am a furry fellow and up until the day I happened on Rule #33, I had only been trimming my leg, arm and chest hair with clippers.  I kept it just long enough that I wouldn’t feel like wool to my wife when we snuggled up on the couch.  Reading the rule changed everything for me…

Not wanting to be a “hippie douche on [my] way to Critical Mass” on the day of my first ride with real cyclists, I took razor to leg and shaved “the guns”.   Imagine my surprise when, sitting on my top tube (according to Rule #80 – see below) at the starting point, I noticed that I am the only cyclist with “shaved guns”.  In my attempt to not be a “hippie douche”, I stuck out as a dopey noob who bought the hype.  I was rather embarrassed to say the least.

The ever important "Casually Deliberate" pre-ride resting posture - I maintain the Two-Elbow posture

The ever important “Casually Deliberate” pre-ride resting posture – I maintain the Two-Elbow posture

The next day I passed on my horror, in great detail, with the owner, now a good friend, of the local shop.  He explained that, at least in our small town, only the racers who ride in State Champ races or better, shave their legs – that for most, it is an option that simply isn’t worth the effort.  Eventually, once the embarrassment subsided, I spoke with my wife about the situation expecting we would have a hearty laugh and I would allow my hair to grow back.  If I didn’t already feel like I was in a bad episode of Twilight Zone, she actually said she liked my newly silken jackhammers and asked me to keep up them as such.  Will wonders never cease.  I have kept the guns wicked clean since.  I don’t even opt for the allowable every four-day shave, for this would mean an uncomfortably pokey snuggle partner for my wife – happy wife, happy life.

Now, my awesomely laughable tragedy notwithstanding, the question will invariably come up once a man decides to take up cycling, must one’s legs be shaved.  I am here to help navigate this slippery subject, because this will be anything but simple…

First, let’s get the low-hanging fruit out of the way:  If you are going to stick to mountain biking only, the answer is flat-out, no, you do not have to shave the guns.  You can but it is absolutely not necessary.  The reasons for choosing to will follow below.

For road cyclists, you will want to fit in with the group you ride with so a simple trip to the local bike shop will go a long way to sorting this out – and best to ask someone with authority, manager or owner.  If you’re too self-conscious, I would suggest the following guidelines:  If you’ll be riding with the no-drop (slow) group, definitely do not go to the trouble of shaving your legs.  If you’ll be riding with the advanced crew (20 mph + average speeds), you’ve got a 50-50 chance and you will not be derided if you show up with the guns glistening – but you may want to suck it up and visit the shop to be sure.  If you will be racing (I would say at any level), get out your razor.

Now let’s get to the why.  While shaving is technically more aerodynamic, to acknowledge this (let alone use it as the reason to shave) is strictly verboten.  The advantage is so miniscule one is expected to make up the difference with muscle and determination.  Swimming, however, is a completely different story.  If you show up and someone asks you why you shave, if you answer “because it’s more aero”, you will rightly be laughed at behind your back.  Next up is the road rash factor.  If you crash, cleaning up a wound afterwards is much easier without matted hair tangled in the clot – this is why racers shave (and for a better massage).  Crashes are more common in a race.  Also, and this is the usual reason, your legs will look way more awesome without the fur.  It’s just that simple.  Now, as a side note here, there is a very good chance that if you opt to shave, your significant other will like that you do.  Several wives (in addition to my own) who regularly read this blog and have cyclist husbands have happily shared this truth.  Finally, and I can personally attest to this one, if you choose to shave and show up at the group ride only to find that you’re the only one there will no hair on his legs, it is perfectly acceptable to, when asked (never offer), respond with, “I got caught up in the internet meme that all non-hippie cyclists shave their legs and it turned out that my wife liked it so I simply kept shaving”.  The fact that your legs look super-awesome as a result need never be discussed.  At that point there will be a few chuckles and you will be brought into the group with open arms for openly admitting your noob-ish, and hilarious, over-enthusiastic mistake.

UPDATE:  Kecia from Push My Limits added in the comments section that Triathletes will fit in better with clean-shaven legs as well – and shared that my wife’s assessment of shaven guns are, uh…  Better.

 

SPRING! Tentatively.

Looking at the weather report for the next ten days, I’m starting to get excited…  I’m about burned out on the trainer (I just can’t take it anymore).  While we’ll have plenty of rain, as we always do this time of year, the temperatures are finally starting to head in the right direction!  Over the next ten days we’re expecting highs from 41 F (5 C) to 59 (15 C)!

This has been the winter that just keeps on giving (worst in recorded history from what I’ve heard on the news) and normal temps for the 28th of March are in the neighborhood of 51.  It snowed yesterday.  It snowed two days ago…  But finally, today we’ve got upper 40’s and rain.  It’s rain, but who cares.  For tomorrow we’ve got low 40’s and more rain, but then on Sunday, we’re looking at low 50’s AND SUNSHINE!.  Monday it gets even better – we could even see 60!

Unfortunately, we’ve got a busy weekend so I’m going to have to get a little bit lucky to get out…  Except for Sunday because my wife freaking ROCKS, the boys and I are heading out for an easy 50km ride (that sounds so much better than just 30 miles, eh?).  Temps should be near 50 by the time we fly and we’ve got sun in the forecast.  Sadly we’re keeping it to 30 miles (though I’ll ride out to my buddy’s house and back so I’ll get 40 in) – normally, with the six guys we’ll have, we’d be in for somewhere north of 70 miles but this Godforsaken winter has meant that nobody has any miles on their legs yet so we’re easing into it a little bit.

I don’t want to get too excited yet, Michigan is notorious for at least one decent snow storm in April, but we’re getting close.  At least it’ll be nice to stretch the legs out on Sunday.

 

Why Did You Glance At My Cleavage?!

We all do it boys, but this is a loaded question that should not be fallen for… The correct answer is to respond indignantly, “why would you want to show me your boobs”?!  Even better if you can preemptively interrupt the question… “Why are you”…and lower the boom.

This is why I love my wife.  She loves that I dig her boobs.  Better still, she’s actually happy that I do and shows the girls off for me regularly.  Ah, her cleavage is Heavenly. Mmmm…back on point, uh, so to speak.

That notwithstanding…um, I lost my train of thought.  Dammit, I hate it when that happens.

Oh yeah, women check out boobs just as much as men do…  And I’m just going to let this post die here because that is entirely too hot…and my wife should be to the office any minute now…to help me with the books of course.

Happy…  Uh, Wednesday.

 

The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: The One MUST NOT BREAK Golden Rule

There are all kinds of “rules” to cycling that must be followed if you either, A) want a good laugh or B) are a jerk.  These are the rules like, shave your legs (which most cyclists don’t do – even if I do), wear only black shorts, don’t wear socks that are too long or too short…  Honest to goodness, if you bothered wasting your time with all of them, it’s like government.  There are so many rules you can’t help but violate at least six of them by simply being on the right side of the grass, pumping air.

That said, there is one golden rule that absolutely should never be broken:

Don’t make sacrifices for the sake of looking cool.  Cool comes later, as one naturally grows into the sport.

I am one to talk.  I was an exceptionally geeky noob.  I wore cheap shorts that fit well enough but had me sore after anything more than a fifteen mile ride.  Instead of leg warmers I wore a pair of old running tights (my wife’s).  I had one nice jersey but my other two were cheap and I often wore old running clothes too.  I wore cheap clothing because, at the time, I couldn’t justify spending the big bucks on the equipment and I hoped I could get by on the cheap.  The trick is, getting by on the cheap is possible, it just hurts more – especially when it comes to the shorts.

As I grew in the sport though, I went through a transformation.  I started putting $100 a month aside for a cycling/hunting slush fund and every few months I’d pick up a new piece of kit or two and before I knew it I’d gone from cycling geek to…well, at least well dressed.  During that early period of my cycling I had plenty of opportunities to feel “less than”.  Even though not one person I rode with ever gave me grief over what I was wearing, the thought was always present at the back of my mind – seeing some of the more seasoned cyclists in their $300 get-ups was sometimes tough.  I always managed to beat it back though and there were two related things that helped with that:  First, even though I was a noob, I knew how to ride my bike.  I practiced and researched hard, for months to make sure I wouldn’t put anyone else at risk while I learned the intricacies of the sport.  Second, I was fast.  Not as fast as the racers, but I could keep up with or lay waste to a majority of the cyclists in the advanced group.  Fast helps.

Beyond that, the final piece was being true to myself.  I didn’t have the 16 pound bike, the $250 shoes, the $150 shorts and the $100 jerseys because my wife and kids and several other responsibilities came first.  Sure I wanted to look good like the other guys and I spent a lot of time beating back thoughts of inadequacy but crush the thoughts I did.  The problem was not that I was inadequate as a cyclist – I was quite good and I’m a really good guy once you get to know me.  The problem was not the other guys flaunting their expensive gear either.  In fact, over time I came to learn that most of that stuff makes performing well a lot more enjoyable.

The problem was the thought itself.  The notion that I was somehow less than because I couldn’t (or chose not to) afford all of that fine gear was the problem – and that thought came from me.  Having dealt with what we in sobriety like to call “stinkin’ thinkin'” often, as it pertains to recovery, seeing it fester elsewhere in my life when it rears its ugly head has become second nature.  Stinkin’ thinkin’ is the root of all evil in my life and I’ve learned to become adept at stomping it out because it’s only result is misery…

Left unchecked, stinking thinking is the one thing that can get me to break the second MUST NOT BREAK Golden Rule:  Show up.

The Ultimate Arnold Palmer…

I’m a huge fan of the AP’s. Try this: 1/2 Raspberry Iced Tea and 1/2 Lemonade. Sweet Jesus Marimba – it’s GOOD!

PS: For the Catholics in the house, that’s Hey-zuess.