I used to run three or four days a week. I could live with three, four hurt. Then I started training for triathlons and things got a lot more interesting – and busier. I still ran two days a week but I rode five.
One thing I learned by chance was that if I rode my bike after I ran, I could recover from the run up in half the time. Running distance didn’t matter… Half marathon? Ten to fifteen easy miles on the bike immediately after and I’d be fine the next day. I spoke with a few of my distance running friends about it, they called it “active recovery”. I had to look it up on the web. This was my introduction to what would end up unlocking almost unlimited weight loss potential. I’ve written about active recovery a ton but not much about the fact that I was doing it wrong.
My biggest shortcoming with active recovery was that I had a tendency to ride too fast. My full-on efforts worked out to 20-21-1/2 mph, my medium efforts between 19&19-1/2 and my easy efforts all pegged around 18 mph (all solo of course). I would inevitably come to the conclusion, often within a few hundred feet of my driveway, that once my legs loosened up (or if I still felt pretty good) if I went slow I’d be misusing an opportunity to get faster. Inevitably I’d end up with dead legs after a couple of weeks of doing this and be forced into taking a day or two off the bike. My body would literally force a slow-down – I would get to a point where I couldn’t physically go faster than 18-1/2 mph, no matter how hard I tried.
Then my wife started riding with some regularity. Every Friday became our day to ride together and it was good… A major benefit is that she rides at about a 16 mph average, a perfect recovery speed for me and a decent workout for her. I read an article that said a good active recovery speed on a bike is one that has the cyclist going slow enough that he or she would be embarrassed to be seen riding that slow should they see one of their friends. Well, 16 mph would do that if I wasn’t riding with my wife, in which case I don’t care what my friends think. Not only that, I don’t ever have to worry about losing my head and picking up the pace because when I’m with my wife, it’s all about enjoying a nice time with her.
This has led to incredible gains this year. At first I doubted it could work but after the last couple of months of hanging with the big dogs on the club ride and turning out averages more than a mile an hour better than anything I could hope for last year, there’s no doubt that taking it very slow once or twice a week is where it’s at. For me, it gets even better though. Ever since I started cycling I’ve been a “head down, hammer all the way” kind of guy because it’s always been about getting faster. I’ve never bothered to check out the scenery (with the exception of traffic and where I’m going, obviously), I’ve never stopped to smell the roses if you will.
How this translates to riding every day…
In my first two years, the best I could do was thirteen days in a row on the bike before I’d have to take a day off or risk slowing down. My first year I limited it to one day off of the bike every two weeks and did well enough. My second year, because I was fast but plateaued, I changed that to one day a week off and that worked quite well, culminating in a personal best 4:36 century. This year, because I’ve been riding once or twice a week slow, I’ve been able to throw the day off out the window, reserving them for rain days only. At least twice this season I’ve been able to go more than three weeks without having to take a single day off of the bike – and I have gotten faster in the process. There’s no doubt this year has been a strange work in progress, but it’s been infinitely more interesting and rewarding for having slowed down a little bit more a day or two a week.
I stepped out the door, bike in tow, yesterday morning properly dressed for a long ride with the temp in the low 50’s. I had one bottle of water and one with a Hammer Perpetuem mix, a single ERG Energy Bar (all natural, best I’ve ever eaten – check them out) and ten bucks in my pocket. Other than that, all I knew is that there would be at least three of us and we’d be riding somewhere between 90 and 120 km (50-70 miles give or take).
We rode comfortably in a tight formation for 48 miles at without a moment of distress. No discomfort, no hanging on at the back to conserve energy and no wondering if I’d have enough in the tank to make it. I knew I would make it and have a great time.
Times weren’t always so bright. Not long ago I’d have had my back pockets jammed with goodies – Gu Roctane gels, Jelly Belly Energy Beans and a couple of energy bars and I’d have been hoping I’d keep up and have enough on-board food to keep from bonking. I’d have eaten way too much and still worried about not being able to push through the tough times that come with any long ride. Back in those days I was thought I could make it but I never really knew. Even though I loved cycling, because I questioned whether or not I’d have it, riding was always just a little stressful.
This doesn’t mean I’m out of the woods completely, there’s always something that can go wrong. A mechanical issue that I cant fix, a stupid fitting mistake like when I decided to change my bike saddle and put the new one on almost an inch too far forward and not checking it (that had me bonking out of my favorite ride of the year after just 45 miles)… When all things are square though, I know I’ve got what it takes.
Much of knowing comes with experience. To further abuse an already overused statement, I have been there and done that but there is more to it than just having completed big rides in the past… I’ve become so brutally adept at beating my mental demons that they are no longer as pernicious. They don’t hold the same sway that they once did. I don’t entertain those doubts as I once did.
Taking part in any endurance activity, especially at an above average level, be it running, cycling or swimming (or all three) requires the ability to conquer those thoughts that hold me back – and more importantly, discerning which are simply thoughts to be ignored and when I’ve actually reached my limits. Unfortunately, in my case it’s usually the former that I mistake for the latter.
So I went for a walk with my wife and kids last evening to walk the neighbor’s dog. A half mile or so into it I brought up some of the difficulties I had in getting the handlebar just right after installing my brand new $165 carbon fiber wrapped aluminum stem that matches my “A” bike’s paint scheme perfectly (aluminum stems are 50-100 grams lighter than carbon fiber). With the patience of a saint she listened and let me get through my little story, a story that I kept, mercifully, to all of two minutes.
Friday, while heading home on our normal Friday 25 mile ride, we were trying to figure out how much we’d spent on cycling in the last few years. It’s not a small amount. We had a nice chuckle about it and went about our happy day. Thankfully, my wife, Mrs. Bgddy, gets it. Others are not so lucky so I’m putting this post together for the benefit of humanity and to help keep sacred the sanctity of marriage. I go big, ladies and gentlemen. This post is intended for those married to a cyclist and assumes one very important thing: You actually want to remain married.
To the spouse:
1. I know, on one hand, we get a little crazy with the whole cycling thing. On the other, the benefit of enjoying cycling is a more youthful and healthy significant other… Your spouse will be around and employable longer… enough to make up for the cash spent on cycling ten times over. [Ed. Humorously enough, the WordPress spell checker highlighted the word “employable” as misspelled. The alternate was “unemployable”. How interesting, that]
2. Cycling, for those of us who love it, has the magical effect of clearing the way for happiness – if we’re not constantly hounded for taking an hour to go for a ride, or a few on a weekend day.
3. Men especially end up falling into some form of mid-life crisis activity. We all laugh about it, sure but let’s look at this in reality – typically men get into one of these four things: Cars, motorcycles, boats or younger women. If your man gets into cycling, while $5,000-$10,000 on a bike might seem like a lot of money, consider the alternatives… The first three options all have an initial cost several times that of a high-end bike and run solely on a fella’s wallet. A bicycle runs on fat. Hands down, the bike wins. Then there’s that fourth option. That last one can make an otherwise intelligent man so stupid we need not even discuss it further – and that one runs on your marriage. Considering the other options, if your man is into cycling, you got off easy… So to speak. Especially considering the fact that if your husband is cycling properly, his testosterone is going through the roof just about the time you’re coming into your prime. Do the math, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out: You win.
4. You get one hell of a negotiating chip. Whatever your taste, just remember this scenario: “Oh, you want a new $10,000 dream bike? I want a romantic trip to Italy.” Looks like somebody’s sucking it up and going to Italy!… Time to brush up on that Italian and put on the romantic cap. For the gentleman with the cyclist wife, you get the idea.
5. Good God you soul-sucking pain in the ass… Get off of the pity potty for just a minute and let your significant other have some freaking fun, would ya? Sheesh. Just because you’re miserable, doesn’t mean you should take your spouse with you! Happiness is an inside job. You’re not miserable because of him/her – you’re the cause of your misery. Deal with it. [This applies to a very few people. If you instantly got pissed at reading this one instead of thinking, “well this one doesn’t fit me at all”, Houston, you have a problem]
6. This last one hits close to home… While the first four in some form or another all apply to my personal life, this last one – all BS and joking aside – made our marriage better: If you can get into cycling too, even if it’s just a little bit, all of a sudden you’ll get to spend time with your spouse that was never possible before. This assumes, of course, that you married your spouse because you actually love them in the first place and that you want to enjoy your marriage. I loved my wife before we rode together, deeply, but there is no mistaking the fact that our marriage is better for cycling, for both of us.
To the cyclist:
1. Okay, here’s the deal… I know you love cycling. By now, most of the people in your world know you love cycling. Every now and again, when you haven’t seen your cycling buds in a while, you’re going to want to talk to someone outside that circle about cycling. Your spouse will take the brunt of this. Show some mercy, keep it short and simple. Going into a full technical dissertation on why an aerodynamic, $250 helmet will shave 14 seconds off of your Thursday night club ride, adding that it very well could be the deciding factor in your winning the sprint finish, is an exercise in flagellation. Save it for someone else.
2. Set up a slush fund for your gear and be honest and transparent with it. I set aside $100 a month for my cycling stuff. Enough that I can buy nice stuff every now and again but not enough that it hurts – not even a little bit. Now, if you’ve got a large income this obviously won’t be as necessary. Under any other circumstance, if your spouse is even a little bit reasonable, this can save you a headache or two. Or thirty-five. If all else fails, bribe them.
3. Dude, you don’t need to train 21 hours a week unless you’re training for an Ironman, getting paid for it, are independently wealthy or retired… Keep the time investment in check. Obligations to one’s family must be tops on the priority list. For instance, besting your 5 hour century PR by five minutes won’t mean a hill of shit in divorce court. Gaining a few tenths of a mile per hour is not worth taking three hours a day away from your family unless you’re training for and actually have a chance at riding in the Tour de France. Keep it in perspective, knucklehead.
Mrs. Bgddy and I went for our usual 25 mile ride around the block yesterday – a bit cool when we left, especially in the abundant shade, but glorious in the sun. By the time we were headed south, the arm warmers were off and stowed in the back pockets. I’ve been battling the last vestiges of a minor cold and yesterday was my breakthrough day, you know – you’re still achy a little bit but your head is finally clearing up and you don’t feel like you want to sleep all of the time. I felt a little bit more normal… Finally.
Unfortunately this has also been the best week of cycling weather all summer long and I wasn’t about to miss out on the great weather. I ended up riding when I probably should have rested. While I rode the last three days, I had to pack my bike up on Tuesday after I had a spoke nipple break on my front wheel. I could have taken the spoke out and adjusted the others to get the wheel to a point where I could ride it but I knew good and well that it was going to be a fast night, no wind, decent temps and plenty of sun, so I opted to pack up my bike instead. The last thing I need is to get stranded or worse, crash. It just wasn’t worth the risk when I was under the weather anyway.
Today is going to be a bit of a mess. I’ll be riding with my buddy Mike in a couple of hours but only for ten miles before I have to turn around and head home – Mrs. Bgddy has a commitment that she has to attend at 8:30. That’ll mean another 16 or so this afternoon after she gets back. For tomorrow, it’s kind of open, I don’t know what we’re doing yet. Either a few of the guys and I will head up to the Pere-Marquette rail trail or we’ll be riding local. Either way, I should be getting some good miles in tomorrow, I’m hoping around 50 or 60.
As for the special thank you, this week has been pretty incredible as far as the blog goes. I just crossed over 1,000 follows, I’ll pass 200,000 views either tomorrow or Monday and I just passed 1,600 posts a week ago… It took two years to get the first 100,000 hits but this last 100,000 came just in the last ten months, so I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has kept coming back and contributed to my blog.
I gave my last iPhone to my daughter. A pristine 4s that had never seen the light of day without a Life-Proof case protecting it. I’ve taken videos of my kids swimming, underwater, with that phone and case, ridden through downpours with it in my back pocket. Dropped it countless times, and even skidded it across a parking lot a time or two… Take it out of the case and it looks as good as it did the day I bought it. Seriously.
Alas, I was due for an upgrade At the beginning of September and that phone and I had been through a lot, so when I heard the 6 was coming out, I figured I’d bite the bullet and go big.
I got the last one at my local store. The very, last, one.
And It. Is. Huge. Heck, I thought the four was big, but the Six? Good Lord, I have some big-ass hands and it’s tough to hold even for me. Still, I did get the Gold edition so it’s got some really great features and more memory than my first laptop. Also, my old eyes are very happy with the change. I can see again!
Not only that, the camera is much improved. Not that I didn’t like the 4s camera, it was enough for what I do, but the new one is better for the after work and the finished project photos:
So here I am, with the newest, hottest tech gadget in the first three days of its release and I dig it plenty – I just can’t wait for the Life-Proof case to finally come out (Apple apparently won’t release an early copy to anyone so the aftermarket products can coincide with the release). For now, I’ve got the Otter Box Defender and hate it. You can’t get to the “vibrate” button easily and it’s not H2O proof. I’m not one to rush out for a new phone and I would not be caught dead waiting in line… Nope, I walked into the store Monday morning, waited 20 minutes, and walked out with my new phone after they set it up. Still, I could have waited till December I suppose, and just gotten the proper case.
Oh, and I got the small one! The big one is utterly, ridiculously huge. No chance I’d go for that clunky thing.
In other news, I’ve got a new stem waiting for me at the shop and I’ve special ordered a Specialized carbon fiber Aerofly handlebar that’ll be in sometime in November… I’ll knock off 50 grams for the bar and rather than add weight with a full carbon stem, I opted to drop another 80 grams with a carbon wrapped aluminum model (that matches the paint scheme of my bike, of course)… So when this November rolls around I’ll be right at 16.2 pounds. A new carbon crank next spring and I’ll be low 15.
All else is fantastic.
So you’re getting into cycling. You love it but you want to get faster and you’re at a loss for where to start. Fear not, it’ll take a lot of hard work and a little bit of cash, but it’s not impossible (and age, while it matters, isn’t as big a factor as many think). One thing is for certain though, if you don’t have a plan you can get bogged down on some of the less important aspects of speed because there’s a lot one can do to improve their overall pace on a bike. Let’s get right into it…
1. Weight (and we’re not talking about the bike here): Cycling is not like golf, meaning you can’t cycle around your gut – it’s just the nature of the sport. This doesn’t mean you can’t ride, it just means you can’t realize your full potential until you drop the gut. First, being heavy will mean extra weight climbing hills and you won’t be able to make that up on the downhill – the disadvantage is disproportionate to the advantage. Second, having to work around a belly will mean that you can’t ride low on the bars and drops which, in effect, turns you into a big sail on top of a bike. The best way to get fast is to get low, out of the wind. The cyclist’s weight is the single most important factor to cycling, above all else – and it’s also the cheapest to do something about. Ride more and eat less – in fact, fixing the weight can even be said to save money.
This dude has some gut to work on.
2. Bike Setup: The single most important bike related and second most important factor detracting from speed is the bike setup. There are a few things a noob must embrace when it comes to the setup: 1) You don’t know what you’re doing. 2) The setup person at your local shop does. 3) Millimeters matter and by that I mean one or two. Get your bike set up by someone who knows what they’re doing and pay attention while they’re doing it so you can change it on your own as you get improve and lose weight. Important areas: Saddle height (this needs to be within 2 millimeters of dead on). Saddle fore and aft (one millimeter). Stem Length (5-10 millimeters). Things to remember: You don’t change the fore-aft position of the saddle if you have to reach too far for the handlebars – ever. Do NOT do this. You buy a longer/shorter stem. Your feet, and legs and more importantly, knees have to be in a specific position above the axles of the pedals. Saddle height is nothing to trifle with either. 2 millimeters too high and you lose power at the bottom of the pedal stroke, where you need it. 2 millimeters to low and you lose power at the main section of the pedal stroke – where you need it even more.
UPDATE: MJ Ray, in the comments, suggested verifying the bona fides of your “fitter” as some “fake it”. I agree, though thankfully I’m spoiled in this regard – the owner of our local shop has more credentials than could possibly be needed.
3. Diet, both on and off the bike: Now this is a tricky one – if you have any questions, first look to #1. That notwithstanding, you’ve got several camps on this front. The main groups would have to look something like the healthy eaters, the vegetarians, the omnivores and the sweets fanatics. I’m an omnivore who enjoys his occasional treat. Fit into any of the first three and if you want to lose weight while you ride, I might even suggest limiting the meat and bread to an extent, with the understanding that your body will require a substantial amount of protein to build muscle as you work on getting faster. Once the weight is under control though, I would recommend against a vegetarian diet. Veggies are not a great power-food. In fact, at no point in the history of mankind, ever, has someone uttered the phrase, “Yeah, I got a big race tomorrow, I’m gonna veggie load.” If you’re going for speed, even sugar (within another longer burning fuel source, of course) is far better for you than a cucumber. You must, one way or another, learn to love bananas though.
4. Fitness/Legs and Flexibility: Next up would be fitness and flexibility. For the fitness, this only takes time, miles and intensity. Get to it. The flexibility is simple enough but requires a little pain tolerance, at least to do it my way. I’m not big into stretching, yoga and all of that hoo-ha so I worked on my flexibility on the bike. This meant getting used to riding in the drops regularly for long periods of time – the goal at a minimum should be an hour straight riding in the drops. The more you can ride in the drops, the lower you can drop your stem, the faster you’ll be able to ride. Just keep in mind that too much of a good thing is bad. As far as the legs go, here’s the catch phrase (Copyright, of course): “A high-end bike won’t fix low-end legs”. Burn that in.
5. Bike Frame Material: Holding a decent average on a high-end entry-level bike (meaning not your big box special road bike with the twist-grip shifters, those are crap and will slow you down when it comes to shifting into the proper gear as needed – you want Trek, Cannondale, Specialized, Jamis or Scott just to name a few) is possible, often desirable to some racers because the aluminum frame of the entry-level bike is stiff. No power loss when you’re putting the hammer down. On the other hand, that stiffness comes at a price: Comfort. You’ll feel every single little pebble in the road. If you can afford a carbon fiber bike, they’re much more comfortable. How does this translate to speed? Well, rolling over gnarly pavement on an aluminum bike can be quite demoralizing as the miles rack up. You can literally feel the speed bleed over the bumps. On a carbon fiber bike, they absorb chop a lot better so you should be more comfortable and able to hold high speeds for longer. This was a great leap for me, one of the happiest days of cycling, when I brought home my first full carbon bike. Take note though, how low this is on the list.
6. Wheels: In my experience, wheels are one of the most overlooked component to cycling with speed. While the nice carbon aero wheels are great, a decent set of wheels with some high-end hubs will go a long way to making a decent speed maintainable. You can overcome the disadvantage of cheap wheels (I do, mine only cost me $370 or so), but even my cheap wheels were a vast improvement over the wheels that came on the bike originally. When it comes to wheels, the good stuff does matter, but they’re not worth the poor-house either.
7. Aerodynamic Equipment: Notice this is before the overall weight of the bike? The only time aerodynamic equipment takes a back seat to weight is in the mountains. Aero beats weight every day of the week and twice on Sunday otherwise. You’ll be able to get around the equipment with hard work and guts but it’ll take a lot of both to do it. Unfortunately, you’ll be paying top-dollar for anything aero – from helmets to clothing to the wheels and bike itself. Aero is never cheap unless you can get a deal on last year’s stuff – and even then, it only costs an arm… Which is good, you’ll need that leg to ride.
8. Bike weight: Finally we’re down to bike weight. Now, if you’ve got the cash, this is the easiest way to pick up a little bit of speed. All it takes is a month’s salary (on average of course). Having a light bike helps immensely on hills, there’s no doubt about that, but on flat ground it’s really not all that big a deal (see #7).
Just think, for the bargain price of $15,000 (and change), you can have a 10 pound bike too (4.65 kg)!
Now, it could be stated that component choice should be included in this post as well but I can clear that up in one fell swoop: As long as you’re looking at any of the three main manufacturer’s base race lines (Shimano 105 as an example) or better, the components won’t have much of an effect on speed. Obviously, the more you’re willing to spend, the lighter the components are but by the time the noob gets to that point, you’re splitting seconds. Whatever line you choose, save the down tube shifters and the bar end shifters for your leisure bikes. If you want speed, the integrated brake/shifters are the only way to go. Anything less will have you working harder to keep up. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the shifters aren’t that big of a deal, that you can get used to the down tube shifters and everything will work out. You’ll be wrong. I was.