I’m in an interesting spot in fitness right now. I ride my bike more miles in a year than many drive a car (6,000+ this year) and even a slow ride tops 18 mph (29 km/h), yet I am feeling fat, lazy and slow after a month of taking it too easy. The notion occurred to me after a bonk on a century the other day. Now, a hundred miles on a bike is hard. That same hundred at 20 mph is really hard and beating 4-1/2 hours is flat-out tough… Even so, I should have been more than up for it and I bonked out after only 45 miles.
This can be hard to grasp and many might wrongly believe that I’m being too hard on myself. The truth is this: I am not any of those – for 90% of the population. For that upper 10% though, I have been. In other words, I’m talking about my approximation fat, lazy and slow – and therein lies the rub.
What this boils down to is a very delicate balance between enjoying a bike ride like I would a Sunday stroll around the block or being at the top of my game without overdoing it. I like to be fast, there’s no doubt about that, but I also enjoy a nice bike ride with my wife too (who is actually catching up – she did her 34 mile leg of the Assenmacher at just over 17 mph average). To make this harder to diagnose was the fact that I had gotten stronger than many of the guys I normally ride with over the last couple of months – I had a perfect storm of awesome going all at the same time. What I did as a result of that proved to be my undoing… I took my foot off the gas and tried to coast. That worked for a week or two but then I was passed up by the same guys I could put the hurting to only a few short weeks earlier.
So be it.
Starting the very next day after that calamitous bonk – my favorite ride of the entire year, I got back to working a level that I can be happy with again.
Now, for those who have found this post but haven’t been following for long, I have been physically active, non-stop (either running or cycling) for the last thirteen years (maybe fourteen now). I’ve been eating right, or my approximation of that, for years and I am not, in any measure of the word, fat. That doesn’t change the fact that I know when I’m phoning it in and when I can do better… In other words, being fit and losing weight doesn’t have a finish line. It doesn’t have a point where I can spike the football and take it easy. Physical fitness is a constant, a way of life. It always gets faster and better, or it gets worse… I didn’t get in this predicament overnight and it’ll take a few weeks to come back, but the important point I must focus on now is that the very minute I recognized a flaw in my routine, I set about fixing it. I can sleep easy knowing I did what was right today. Where I struggle is when I choose something less.
Being fit hurts, though the dull pain lasts only a short while – especially when compared with the brutal sting of complacency…or worse, of lethargy. As long as I am doing the next right thing at any given moment, I have the ammo needed to fight back that stinking thinking committee that says, “I am not good enough” or, “I am not worthy”. I only get into trouble when the committee in my melon says I’m a slacker and I have to agree. Being fit is all about honesty with oneself. We can claim a gray area, we can obfuscate and manipulate, hoping that pacifies the melon brigade, but it never will. This is depression wearing a different cloak.
There is a bright side though! Once you shed the lying and lethargy, then learn to beat the melon committee, there’s no handhold left for stinking thinking.
The only constant in life is change. As our lives change, we adapt to that change, often with a skill-set the we learned as wee lads and lasses. As we shed those childish skills and come to find a new way of life, happily fit, we develop new ways to adapt and life gets better. Unfortunately, every now and again we choose the old way to cope and that causes problems which must be overcome if we are to grow. This is where I was on Sunday. By Monday I was back on the bike.
Feeling (or worse, being) fat, slow and lazy isn’t a sentence, it’s a call to action.
The question is are you paying attention, because the response counts.
I sucked on Sunday for the Assenmacher 100… The first thirty miles were excellent, my legs loosened up after the first ten miles or so and I felt good. There were small problems though, like the talent pool was more like me and less like the twenty racers we had to hide behind last year…and the pace was still pretty close. I took a few short-ish pulls up front but spent a lot of time hiding.
I was smiling as we pulled into the second rest stop (we always skip the first). I topped off a bottle with Gatorade, had a couple of PB&J corners, a white chocolate & macadamia nut cookie and was ready to go.
The next fifteen got progressively worse. I switched around my saddle a couple of weeks ago and when I hit a pothole that felt more like a fjord, it nosed down about a half inch. I tried to eyeball it and nosed it up too much by about three millimeters…which meant I couldn’t ride in the drops comfortably. Add to that a nice little bonk and I was off the back before I knew it. Fortunately, Matt went first so he led us out on a shortcut that put us in front of the group so we could latch back on. I stayed with them for another four miles or so before falling off the back again, this time for good… As the group faded, I knew I was in trouble. 45+ miles out and bonked. Then I came to an unmarked intersection… I should have gone straight but I was distracted by a work call (on Sunday) so I was sure they turned. Oops.
Ten miles later I knew I was in trouble, bonked and lost. I programmed in my home address and got to creeping home. Five miles more and after I completely ran dry of Gatorade in the middle of nowhere, I called my wife. I quit.
Waiting on the side of the road I had a come to Merckx (so to speak) moment, and a much needed discussion with my inner punk-ass-bitch. The main gist went like this: There were a few minor issues I had to work through but the sad truth is it’s been a month since I really busted my ass on my bike – sure I worked some in the mountains, but when I started surpassing my cycling buds I got complacent on my training rides. Sure I still worked hard and I went pretty fast, but I didn’t keep the pressure on and that led to the one big problem with cycling fast: Everyone who can ride fast knows, including me, that if you’re not getting faster, you are getting slower. So the question was, do I want to live with the slower me or do I want to buck up and start working again?
Basically, with a whole bunch of explicatives in that inner discussion (I’ll leave those out), I kicked my inner punk-ass-bitch’s ass. When I got home from the office yesterday, I really went to work on him. I set out to make the first ten miles of my ride hurt. With the club ride tomorrow, I wanted to leave the last six to spin my legs loose. Now this isn’t really recommended – after a long, hard bonking ride, to go back out the next day and hammer, but I needed to kick my butt a little bit.
The idea was simple really. I started out fast and every time I wanted to slow up a bit I pedaled harder until I hit the ten mile mark, then I sat up and cruised home after stopping at the shop to let Matt know I was good and to level out my saddle (forgot before I left so that ten miles was quite rough).
For those who might wonder about saddle tilt, the concept is simple. Nosing the saddle up helps you to sit more upright – it supports that position best. On the other hand, nosing the saddle down promotes riding low but too much and you have to work to keep your bum on the saddle. Most suggest, and I agree, that perfectly level is best though there is certainly room for disagreement.
More on my mess in the next post…
For the last week I’ve felt like I’m pedaling through two inches of mud. I’ve had a tough time getting comfortable in the saddle and my power is, put simply, still on vacation in Georgia.
Speaking of vacation in Georgia, I was excited to come home – I was feeling strong driving home after an excellent week in the mountains. I’ve been stronger down there, I had a tough time on my nemesis climb (it kicked my butt this year) but I still felt great.
My first ride back home was strong and was very fast – faster than normal by maybe a mile or two per hour. Good news going into my big “A” ride of the year, where we should average 23-24 mph over the first sixty on open roads (open roads shave 2 mph off of the average at that speed, having to stop for traffic signs and lights) and drop down to 22 going through the hills after that. That’s this morning by the way, the Assenmacher 100.
After a rain day on Tuesday, I hit my normal route feeling like I had tar on my tires (Mrs. Bgddy felt the same way) on Wednesday. At first I didn’t sweat it, but when I felt the same on Thursday I started getting nervous. On Friday I was frantic. Yesterday, panic… Then I realized, about 3/4’s of the way through my ride, that my sweat wasn’t salty. Light on electrolytes. Then I started thinking back: That whole week in the mountains I drank maybe two or three small Gatorades – and my struggles started to make sense.
Add to that the fact that I ate a lot on vacation and I’ve been feeling a little chunky all week long (and this “feeling” was exacerbated by what turned out to be an electrolyte imbalance). So until yesterday I was going into this ride thinking I was in deep trouble, even if I hadn’t written about it this week. Yesterday I started pounding Gatorade as soon as I got back and I’m hoping that helps (I do feel a little more normal today but let’s face it – with your confidence in the crapper, the last thing you want to do is go straight into a fast century).
So, what to do? I’m going to suck it up and roll, because that’s what we do. I’m going to give it my best to get to the finish line and if I bonk, I bonk. More after the ride. Right now, it’s time to get ready…
So, what do you do when you’re feeling fat and slow leading into a century? Three Ups.
Suck it up, suit up and show up.
I’m not going to shake that fat feeling on the couch.
You’ve finally found the aerobic exercise that you can love and you’re pumped. You’ve got yourself a decent bike and you’ve got your eyes on another steed – this next bike is pure eye-candy, like this one:
Yes, you’re well on your way. You’re up to a 18 mph average and you feel stronger every day… Better yet, you feel healthy and it is good. Life is exciting and far less stressful.
If that wasn’t enough, you’ve got diarrhea of the mouth, your spouse is going to spit fire the next time you mention new wheels and you’ve resorted to hiding receipts from the local bike shop(s).
Yeah, I know… My wife caught up to me with the bank statement. Damn bank statements.
Anyway, after dropping about ten grand on bikes and gear and having gained a sh!t-ton of knowledge in a relatively short period of time, I figured I’d share a few tips – some that I wish I’d heeded, others I’ve seen. Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure you probably won’t get caught at any of these – who knows, maybe you’re more wise than intelligent. Or maybe not and three years from now you’ll be like, “Oh yeah…”
For riding in a group
1. You don’t have to announce to the group that you’re a noob, we already know.
2. Don’t announce that you’re slow. Yup, we know, but that’ll change (different rules for a no-drop ride).
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Nobody else does, why buck the trend?
4. Don’t, under any circumstances, be an asshole or a whiner – if either is the case, prepare to be tore up every time you ride with the group. Even I, the great and powerful BgddyJim, cannot resist tearing up a whiner.
5. Don’t be cocky. There is a veritable phonebook’s worth of people, locally, who will happily hand your ass to you. Seen it and it is funny.
6. Use the arm flick with your wife (husband) at home. Watching TV and you want your wife to flip to the game to check the score real quick? Classic arm flick opportunity. Just remember to duck immediately afterward. Time for hubby to cut the grass or make the bed? Arm flick. That shit never gets old. Funniest example I’ve ever read: “I use the arm flick to let my wife know it’s time to make me a sammich.”
7. If you’re a strong climber, back off a little on the hills for the group (guilty as charged), that is unless it’s a competitive club ride. In that case, kick their asses (just be prepared for the attack after you drop off the lead – it will happen).
8. You will look like a doofus every now and again. Don’t be punk, laugh at it because it’s funny.
For riding solo
1. Obey the rules of the road. You’ll be hated by an alarming portion of the community just for being on the road, no need to make that portion larger.
2. Ride hard.
3. Stats are cool. Being someone everyone wants to ride with because you’re fun to be around is way cooler.
4. Use the metric system if you can because “I hit 90 kilometers an hour” sounds way cooler than “I hit 56 miles an hour”.
At the bike shop
1. Mess with the mechanics. When they recommend an excellent product (tires, new crank, tire pump, chain lube, etc.) ask, “won’t that make me slower?” Case in point, kid at the shop is two minutes away from his pro mountain biking card – he knows his stuff, recommends a new tire for me because the new minimal tread design is a vast upgrade on wet pavement… “Won’t that make me slower?” It’ll be good for a laugh – unless he’s witty and catches you… IE: “Nah, not enough that you’ll notice.” Dammit!
2. Don’t mess with other customers, no matter how stupid they are. “What? WD-40 is awesome for chains!” Don’t go near that guy. The shop owner has to service dopes too – and there are a lot of them.
3. Unless you’ve spent a considerable amount of cash at the shop, try to avoid taking your internet purchase to the shop to be fixed – or be prepared to pay big to have it serviced.
4. Stop in every now and again just to say hi.
In the general population
1. Don’t get diarrhea of the mouth. Nobody gives a crap that you’re a cyclist so keep the stories to a minimum, two minutes max.
2. Nobody is listening to you after five minutes.
3. Your spouse loves that you’re healthier – at first. Next comes indifference followed by anger and jealousy. Don’t push too hard – he/she will come around after the anger and jealousy turn to inspiration.
4. If your wife won’t get into cycling, buy her a really nice bike. It worked with mine.
5. Don’t talk, ride. Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes a braggart.
6. Get used to believing this: What I do is neat but it’s not all that big of a deal. I am a member of the cycling community and I must add to that great group, not detract from it.
The Michigan State Police have an ad campaign in which they challenge drunk drivers, stating they “know all of the tricks”, that if you drive drunk, they will catch and arrest you.
They obviously don’t know drunks very well. Normal people would hear that commercial and think, “Well me without my muff, I wouldn’t want that! I’ll take a cab instead.”
Folks, I’ve been sober for more than twenty years and I can’t help but think, “Oh yeah? You can’t catch me coppah!” when I see that commercial… And I’m a feaking goody two-shoes! I’ve spent half of my life undoing the damage I did for a drink.
If I can’t help thinking that, a practicing drunk would be twenty times worse.
Now, I am a good friend of the MSP – one of their troopers saved my life, ironically enough, when he pulled me over for drunk driving twenty-three years ago, but they’re making a mess with this ad campaign. If you’re listening out there fellas, that one with the guy chained to the DUI keg was a lot better. Just sayin’.
What is the difference between a properly sized aero race bike, with the saddle pegged 5″ above the handle bars and a standard round tube race bike with the saddle only 2-1/2″ above the bars?
Make it interesting and add skin tight racing kit opposed to a looser fitting jersey.
Everything else comparable… Aero racing wheels, road racing helmet, etc.
Last year, on a special 3/4 mile descent I managed a max speed of 43 mph on my old Trek 5200.
On my comparably equipped Specialized Venge, 53 the first time and 56 mph the next two – on the exact same hill.
Now, this isn’t to say it’s all in the bike because I had big gains in the setup, the lower handlebar and the tighter clothing. In other words, the aerodynamics were much improved…
I was a follower when it came to how I should set it up. I took the advice of virtually everyone who said an upright setup is more comfortable, so when I brought my Trek home from the shop, I rode it as it was set for a while.
Over time I started working the handlebar down but once I got to 3-1/2″, riding in the drops became less than comfortable. I still went so far as to devote one ride a week to just riding in the drops so I could try to get used to it.
Eventually I got that down to 3-3/4″ or so but that was about as low as I could comfortably go. Then I bought my Venge, the frame is smaller by 2cm with a sloped top tube and shallower drop bar… With the shallow drop handlebar I was able to lower the top of the bar far beyond that of the 5200 (5-1/4″). Also, the difference in geometry between the standard flat top tube and the sloped meant added comfort – and this one is hard to quantify scientifically, the Venge just feels better, even with the lower bar.
The standards have me, a 6′ tall male, on a 59 cm frame.
13 mph, coasting…
Many cyclists, myself included, keep a rain bike. Unfortunately, every now and again the good bike ends up out in the bad weather, it’s just a fact of life. Rain plays havoc with the moving parts of a bike and if not properly maintained after a wet ride, all kinds of bad things can happen, including rust. It just so happens, on our way home from Georgia (USA), we drove through a few thunderstorms of Biblical proportions. It was gnarly.
On arriving home, everything on the bike worked fine, the chain was a little gritty, but quiet all the same… I still set to stripping it down and cleaning everything. Now, when I say everything, I mean everything, including every single metal bolt on the bike and relubing all of the important parts – the whole process took about hour and a half. This is how it went…
I removed the chain and set it in a mason jar filled with degreaser. Then I removed the crank and wheels (the bottle cages came off right after this photo was snapped):
Once everything was stripped from the bike, I cleaned the entire frame with a soft, damp cloth. With all of those parts off, you should be able to get at every nook and cranny. Then I went about cleaning off all of the metal parts, the bolts, brakes, derailleurs, everything. While cleaning the bolts, I took a small (2mm) Allen wrench, wrapped a shop rag around it, and dug into the recesses:
Next up, I put a few drops of Boeshield T-9 on a towel and wiped it on all of the metal parts. In the process, when I came to Allen bolts, I took that 2mm wrench and towel approach and applied some oil to them as well:
No more road smutz:
Once every metal piece had been wiped clean, I moved on to the wheels. I started with the tires and worked in… Wipe down the tires and rims with a damp, lightly soapy towel, then the spokes, then the hubs. After the second wheel I went back and hit the ends of the hubs with the oil doused towel to protect the metal:
Next I went to work on the cassette. I took a clean(er) towel out to the mason jar full of degreaser and dipped a corner in it so I could go to work:
Next is the crank and if you’re riding your bike enough, it’ll be a little gnarly:
Because I never do anything related to cycling half-assed, I went whole hog and took the chain rings off, cleaning and relubing the nuts and bolts – taking the assembly apart also makes cleaning the chain rings a snap… Just make sure to line up the chain rings to your crank spider properly. My rings have notches to show where they align to the crank arm:
Relubed and assembled:
Now all we have left is to clean the cages, the cage bolts, relube them (yes, even the cage bolts) and reinstall them. Once that’s done, head over to your chain, dry if off and wipe it down and reinstall it. Apply your chain lube of choice to the chain and a drop on each of the derailleur pivot points…
And, Bob’s your uncle.
Now there are a few final notes. With an internally routed bike, the maintenance on the cables is minimal. Normally I’ll take the cable covers off and clean out the frame before reattaching them once a year but they were clean so I didn’t worry about that this time. Also, the astute observer will note that I did not disassemble the front end. Normally, had I ridden in the rain, I would have but because I was simply hauling the bike behind my vehicle and I’d just had the front end completely cleaned and relubed two weeks ago, I opted to inspect it first… It was clean as a whistle so I simply put everything back together as it was.
Now, this might seem like a lot of work to go through just for a simple splash through the rain and it is – while I take decent care of my rain bike, I go the extra mile to make sure that this bike is spot-free. This is the “A” bike after all. It gets the best care because I don’t have $4,000 sitting around for a new one.
UPDATE: A fellow who goes by the nickname Fossil Cyclist, from over in Scotland, pointed out that there’s no way he’d ever get out if he did this every time he rode in the rain… A great point that I could have pointed out in the first place… I am lucky enough to live in Michigan, USA. Not exactly the sunniest state in the US (in fact we’re somewhere in the middle if I remember), but we know when the rain is coming – and it’s usually pretty rare through our cycling season after spring. For someone who lives in a place, such as Scotland, where there’s always a 50-50 chance of rain popping up, going to the lengths described above every time the a raindrop hit the bike would be near impossible.
Ah, the Serenity prayer…
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Now, this is going to be a little weird, but make two fists. Now extend those fists out by straightening your arms parallel to the ground…
Now point your thumbs out so they’re straight. Point them straight up in the air next…
With me? Good, ’cause this next part is a little tricky…
Rotate your hands, keeping those fists, with your thumbs straight, so that your knuckles (the one’s that connect your sausages to your hands) are pointing up at the sky…
Yup, that’s it. You’re pointing at the only thing you can change.
You now know everything you need to know about the serenity prayer. You now know the difference.
If you just thought (or said), “Yeah, but…” Go back and read this post again, starting from the beginning.
Yes. I did too, but that was a long time ago.