So you work your butt off on your favorite route, your computer shows you maintaining between 19 and 20 mph the whole way and you’re stoked – you’ll finally get back and check your STRAVA stats and they show an average of 17 mph and you’re bummed. You worked so hard!
I know, it sucks. Been there. There are a few things you have to consider before you become disheartened though – factors you have to take into account. We amateur enthusiasts don’t have the benefit of closed roads, we must follow traffic laws. We also have climbs to deal with and a bunch of other variables. All of these must be considered when looking at the stats – and the faster you go, the more detrimental these factors will be to your average.
First, having to ride on roads open to traffic and obeying traffic laws will easily knock as many as four miles per hour off of your average. The group I ride with on Tuesday night, we run into this conundrum every week. Just the other day we had perfect conditions – 63 degrees (17 C), sunshine, great roads, and a pittance of a breeze (around 5 mph). We started out fast and stayed fast, between 23 & 28 mph except for climbs (19-23 mph) which were few and far between. The only negative factor was traffic on open roads. We had to wait for traffic to clear so we could get the whole group across several intersections that we can usually breeze through – call it bad timing. At the 20 mile point, when I had a second to check our average, we were at 22 mph. Having to slow for stops took at least 3 mph off of our average. On solo rides, if I want to come in with a 20 mph average, I’d better be between 22 & 24 mph the whole way or there’s no way to make up for the stops at intersections. It’s the nature of the average.
The next average killer is hills. The more hills you have to contend with, the tougher it is to maintain a decent average and you can never make up the loss on the climbs on the descents. It just doesn’t work that way. Here at home, I’m an easy 20 mph average when I give it a decent effort. When I really try, I’m around 21 mph, but you add in some hills in the mountains down in Georgia and I’ll drop to 18.5 – 19 (though I have to admit, I’m on vacation when we head south and there’s no way I’m busting my ass on vacation – I’ll ride hard, but I’m riding more for fun than for a workout or maintain an average).
Wind is another factor that works much the same way as hills, if it’s not more detrimental than hills in terms of not being to make up the drag from the headwind with a tailwind. I can lose as much as 1 mph off of my average on a day when the wind tops 15 mph and I have an exceptionally well set-up bike that’s suited for riding aerodynamically. If you’re a cyclist whose back is bothered by riding low, if you’re riding with an upright position, even in the drops, the wind can have a huge affect on your average.
Then there’s your speed in general. The faster you go, the more detrimental the items mentioned above are to your average. Speed is relative. If I’m riding at 17 mph, hoping for a 15 or 16 mph average, stopping for a stop sign or light won’t take as long if I’m riding at 24 mph hoping for that 21 mph average. Also, getting started from a full stop is going to take longer as well. The higher the average, the harder it you’ll have to work.
Now, if you really want to be humbled, and I don’t, buy a power meter… Once the wattage is normalized, it won’t matter what the stats say because the wattage never lies. Just be prepared… We’ve got a Cat 3 racer who analyzes his stats all of the time. At the toughest points in our Tuesday night ride, we’re hitting a normalized 200-250 watts (normalized means you average out the peaks and valleys). Pros regularly operate at around 350 watts… Your typical 15 mph Sunday cyclist? Maybe 90-130 watts at best. When I say humbling, I mean it.
The Great Bicycle Helmet Debate: Do Helmets Protect Your Melon in a Crash or Do They Do More Harm Than Good? How The Debate Works
If you’ve watched Outrageous Acts of Science on the Science Channel (Discovery’s Baby) and you saw the episode where the dude tosses a bowling ball in the air, above his head, and it comes down breaking a stack of plates sitting on his melon, you know he walks away from that unscathed. The physics behind it go like this: If you were to just throw a bowling ball in the air and let it hit your noggin, you’re pretty much screwed. On the other hand, because the fella had that stack of plates on his dome, when the bowling ball hit the plates, it had more time to slow down (even if it was milliseconds) and the nutty guy walked away unscathed.
On the other hand, there are statistics out there that are reported to show head trauma increases when mandatory bicycle helmet laws are passed on enacted. In fact, there’s a whole movement based on statistics, or mathematical equations, to back up the notion that people are safer not wearing a helmet.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, I ride with a lot of other cyclists, at high rates of speed and we make use of a draft. Think NASCAR, but on bicycles. On a typical Tuesday night, we’ll hit upwards of 30 mph, on flat roads (meaning no help from gravity) and without a tailwind. When we’re hitting those speeds, we’ve got maybe six inches (15 cm) to 18 inches (45 cm) between our tires. In short, if someone in front of us goes down, we’re going down too. Now these accidents are rare but two of my very close friends were in accidents like that and had to either get stitched up or spent time in a hospital recovering from such accidents. In other words, I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Another friend of mine, a man who has been building and riding bikes for more than four decades, decided to see just how far he could go without taking a drink on the bike. The answer was 38 miles. We know this because he passed out, literally, while he was pedaling and fell over. He split his helmet in two by knocking his melon on the pavement (think of that fella who landed a bowling ball on a stack of plates on top of his head). He walked away from that with a black eye and a bruised ego (and a bruised rib or two as well).
My personal experience aside though, are helmets more dangerous for a bicyclist than no melon protection at all?
In short, the way the debate works is pretty simple: If people aren’t wearing helmets, they will use more caution. With a dome protector on, they’re more likely to ride erratically because they mistakenly believe they’re “safe”. Another way to look at this would be with cars. It’s said that seat belts and air bags have increased the severity of car accidents because motorists “feel” invincible. They drive more erratically and therefore find themselves in increasingly severe accidents. Follow me so far? Well, by the logic of the “no helmet” crowd, the way to make cars safer would be to remove the airbag from the steering column and mount a 4″ long knife blade in its place that points directly at the motorist. Sure you’d have to be very careful when reaching for your latte, but how many people do you think would still text while driving with that blade staring at them? You’d virtually end speeding overnight. Drunk drivers would call a cab and let their driver get stabbed rather than attempt a drunken dive home. Overnight, car accidents would fall precipitously. Who would risk being impaled by their own steering column?! It’s the same idea as not wearing a helmet. You’re more likely to become a vegetable or require a diaper change for the rest of your life if you don’t wear a helmet so you’re more likely to ride safer. It’s that simple – though they’ll never come out and explain it like this because common sense folks who ride responsibly anyway would respond with, “you’re freaking nuts“.
That’s not quite the end of the discussion though. See, there are questions of torsional or rotational injuries that the anti-helmet folks say increases with wearing a helmet. I’m a common sense guy though and I know the painted surface of my dome protector will slide on macadam a lot better than my head, so I’ll take my chances thank you very much.
Last Friday, my wife and I were out on our normal Friday lunch ride and we were sitting down to our lunches at the local Wendy’s. An older gentleman came up to us and admired my bike (it happens a lot):
Anywho, this old fella comes up to us and after commenting about how utterly spectacular my bike is, says “I really like that you guys have those helmets right there. I used to work for the Sheriff’s Paramedic Division and I used to see people with fractured skulls all of the time. You see, a doctor explained it once that your head is about the consistency of a watermelon. You drop that on the ground and bad things happen – and I’ve seen the X-rays… The whole skull is spider webbed.”
Now, I respect anyone’s right to decide against wearing a helmet as long as they don’t whine about the consequences. I also don’t support helmet laws because I think the government has their hands full enough just trying to balance a damned budget. On the other hand, when it comes to my melon, you can bet your ass it’ll have a helmet on it whilst I’m atop my bike. I’d rather have a piece of foam between my head and the pavement than some statistics (statistics that can be skewed to mean anything, lest we all have forgotten our first day in Statistics 101).
Rarely has there been such a perfect night for a Tuesday night club ride. This is not an exaggeration.
Light, wispy clouds, not near enough to block the sun’s warmth. 63 perfect degrees and maybe a 5 mph wind out of the north, not that such a pittance mattered though – we’re used to winds in the 15-20 mph range. My new Affable Hammers kit was a no-brainer (as it was for two-thirds of the guys riding last night). In addition, I decided on arm warmers, and God Bless America, no knee warmers. No vests, no full finger gloves, no hats under the dome protector, no long sleeve jerseys… And I broke a sweat.
The seven mile warmup was fast, right out of the gate. 20-22 mph the whole way, even into the breeze. We tacked on a few laps around the block to keep the legs warm, bringing the warmup to 8.8 miles
It turned out that everyone who showed up and bought a club kit, wore it. The Hammers were out in force – and we were lookin’ good. We got rolling promptly at 6 pm and once we formed up, it was on. Once we tipped 23 mph, we never looked back except to stop for traffic at the necessary intersections.
Once we hit the infamous Shipman Road, with a crossing tailwind, that was ramped up to the neighborhood of 26 and climbed. Within two miles we were bumping uglies with 30 mph. 30. It would be ten miles before we saw anything in the low twenties again (and that was due to hills.
I’ve made it quite clear that I don’t like hiding in the group, I do my part or I flame out trying. However, I’ve decided to modify that thinking. We have an intersection three miles before the first real hills on the route. No matter where I am, when we hit that intersection I take what I call a ‘strategic fall back’. I take the turn wide and simply let everyone go buy, until I can find a hole about 2/3’s of the way to the back… If I do this, I’m well rested and prepared once the hills start. We climb ridiculously fast, so if you’re not ready, you’re in trouble.
So we made it through the first four big sets of hills and something surprising occurred to me… Leading up to the hill where we always get dropped (it’s a gut wrencher – steep and about a quarter-mile long), I had enough gas in the tank to keep going. It was the first time ever. I saw the attack come, I saw the leaders go, and I sat up and let them. I second-guessed that decision a half-dozen times since last night. In the end, I told several of my friends that I was dropping at that hill so we could form up and head back so I did as I said I would. In the future, I’ll refrain from making that promise I think.
My BCB, Mike, couldn’t make it because he was sick, Brad was farming, so that left Chuck, Phill and a couple of others. Unfortunately, the pace in the first 20 miles was so fast, guys were scattered to the wind and I was in the lead. I soft-pedaled and waited for two guys (who should have been Phill and Chuck)… When they caught up, after about a mile, I set the pace, and it was fast – we’d climbed two more decent hills and had a two-mile mild downhill (just shy of level, but enough to maintain a decent speed without killing oneself) leading into town and we always make the best of it, speeds generally ranged between 24 and 26 mph. After just three miles or so, we’d dropped the third guy and it was just Phill and I. Now, the shortcut that we take cuts off about three miles from the racer’s route. We always blow a couple of minutes trying to form up while the others are hammering down the road at 24-28 mph. By the time we’re lined up, we’ve lost a mile to them… That gives us about a five minute advantage when it’s all said and done. Our goal is to not get caught – If anyone’s done it with only two guys, I can’t remember hearing about it. Still, that’s the goal so we kept our feet on the gas, so to speak.
With two guys, especially Phill and I, getting the timing right with who will lead, when and how fast, gets tricky. Phill has more of an upright setup on his bike while I’m slammed as low as I can go. He doesn’t get the same draft off of me as I do him, so he doesn’t get to recover like I do. This means I have to spend more time up front if we are going to make it. I have no idea how fast we were going, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to it. That said, when I did take a glance, it was usually between 22 & 24. I gave it absolutely everything I had and so did Phill. We had our timing down perfect within a mile and every time the leader started to fade, the guy in back would come around and keep hammering. Neither one of us rode out of the drops in the last eight miles, we kept the hammer down the whole way… No rest for the weary.
We rode as if we were being whipped, knowing the racers would catch us if we rested even for a minute. Sweat poured down my face and dripped off the tip of my nose. I wouldn’t even take the time to wipe it off, couldn’t. We’d fallen off the lead group with a 22 mph average (a lot of traffic last night meant a lot of stops and a terrible average)… When we crossed the city limit sign, we’d only lost a half mile an hour off of that – with only two guys. We beat the lead group back by more than two minutes. We were packing our stuff up when they pulled into the parking lot. We ended up with a 21.5 mph average, one of our better averages from last year with four or five guys sharing the work. It was one heck of an effort and a fine Tuesday night ride.
Thank God, Spring finally decided to show up!
Ten miles. Hardly worth getting dressed up for, right? Well, not necessarily.
On most days, I’d say yes. If I’ve got time for ten miles, I’ve got an extra eighteen minutes for six more.
I rode my first 100k of the season on Sunday and while it wasn’t all that fast, I spent almost the entire ride out front, blocking for my wife. It was really quite the interesting ride. I was never working hard enough to struggle but we weren’t watching the grass grow either. In fact, my wife managed to turn in a time only nineteen minutes longer than the first time I did that ride. To put that nineteen minutes in perspective, that’s only 20 seconds a mile slower than my best the first time. We averaged 3m:36s per mile.
On waking up yesterday, I felt it. My legs were a little sore and touch slow to respond. Not sore, not dead, but they were worked. I’d hoped to get a full 16 mile recovery ride in, just enough to spin my legs out, but I was pressed for time to get my girls to swimming practice and the full sixteen at a recovery pace just wasn’t going to work. (Normally, 63 miles at 17 mph wouldn’t be a big deal, but this early in the season and after trying to make up for bad weather in the beginning of the week with a decent 43 miler the day before, an easier 21 and a hard 11 on the “blind guy tandem” on Friday, it made sense that I was a little off kilter.)
I set out for a ten miler, into a heavy headwind, dropped into the baby ring and spun up to an easy 100 rpm cadence which held me between 16 & 17 mph. After the first mile I headed east and switched back to the big ring for the crosswind (I don’t use the low gears in the baby ring [11, 12, or 13]) and held it to 18-19 mph for two miles. Then I had another two heading south with a tailwind and it was my best not to get overly enthused with the helping wind. I turned around after two and headed back into the wind but was happy to learn that it had shifted to a northeasterly direction. It still sucked heading north at 16-17, but I would at least have a little help on the way home. How rare is that? Two miles later and I was headed west with a lot more help than I’d anticipated. 21-22 mph was soft-pedaling and I liked it. My final mile back home was heading south so I had enjoyed a little more help, still keeping it between 19 & 20. The main focus of this whole ride was to keep the legs moving rapidly, the cadence. I ended up doing that ten miles in just over 34 minutes, barely breaking a sweat.
Having been through this rodeo before, if I know anything, it’s that when my legs feel a little smoked, I’m better off knocking two or three miles an hour off of my normal pace and spinning my legs out than I am taking a full day off to rest them. There are those days when a real day off is in order but those are reserved for the tail-end of a two-week stretch of riding every day. With four days off due to weather at the beginning of the week, another day off would only end in my legs hurting more for the club ride tonight. I’d spend the first ten miles just trying to keep up until my legs loosened up. Instead, I got an excellent night’s sleep and after this evening’s warm up I’ll be able to hit that first mile running.
I always approach the saying, “I have to listen to my body” with caution. While “listening to one’s body” is a good thing, I’d better know what it’s saying. Let’s just say I like to keep in mind there’s a lot of room for misinterpretation – especially when “my legs hurt, I must need a day off” is really just, “I don’t wanna”.
Gotta love it.
I’m 42 years old. On August 30th of 2014 I had my last drink at the tender young age of 41. That was just about 8 months ago. At 2 AM on August 30th I woke up in the middle of the night and had what can only described as a moment of complete clarity. I woke up my wife and told her that I was finished drinking. She was skeptical of course as it certainly wasn’t the first time she had heard this but I knew it was different. Since that moment I have not once had a thought about consuming alcohol. What an interesting journey it has been since then but I’ll leave that for another post or 10.
I’m not big on words like “alcoholic” or “disease” because any rational thinking person understands everything you do in life is a choice. Some choices are fucking…
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Yesterday was the
fifth Sixth (oops) annual Dawn Farm Ride for Recovery.
The skies were clear, or close enough to it. That bodes well for later in the ride because it’ll warm up quick. On the other side of that ledger, it means it’ll be cold at the start. In April. In Michigan. It was just a shade below freezing as the sun started its ascent, as I was loading the bikes on our rack.
By the time we got to the farm and started unpacking the bikes and gear the temp was already pushing 37 (or about 2 C, I think). I was overdressed. Over the last year, riding with the big dogs in some gnarly cold weather, I’ve learned that cycling in the cold is all about getting the clothing right – and getting the clothing right is all about properly gauging how hard I’m going to be working… The harder I have to work, the lighter the layers are going to have to be. I was planning on a 100k at around 16 mph. My wife has shown decent ability and we’re usually around 16-16.5 averages lately, on rides up to about 40 miles. It made sense then, that you subtract 1/2 to 1 mph from the average for a large bump in mileage and that should get us close, right?
Well, unfortunately (fortunately, really, I’m being facetious), my wife finally got her fitting done on the Alias I bought her for Christmas and Matt changed the setup a lot. We started out, right out of the gate, well north of 19 mph and my wife was just getting to breathing heavy after ten miles. We’d gotten through the first 18 miles in less than an hour and when you take into account that the roads weren’t closed and we were sticking to traffic laws (loosely), we were at or above 20 mph for much of that first 18 miles. In other words, because I am my wife’s knight in shining armor, I had to work to keep her protected and rolling. A great problem to have.
As the day warmed and the wind picked up, and we caught other cyclists in our range, we spent time in various cliques but we never really gelled as a group. Before long, it was just my wife, a guy named Gary, and me. The route we were on was basically an out and back with two loops on either end so the vast majority of our ride had a northerly crosswind and I had to back Gary off a few times as my wife started working way too hard to sustain for the full 62 miles.
We pulled into the half-way rest stop just below an 18 mph average. I was having an exceptionally fun ride, much faster than originally anticipated, the sun was out and it was warming up rather nicely. The wind was a little rough, but I’d have to kick my own ass for having such excellent conditions but finding something to complain about. We had some Gatorade and a protein bar and set out for the last 30 miles.
The next ten miles went along fairly easy and my wife was keeping pace a lot better than I could have expected and Gary was still with us… Until we turned north. This is what always sucks the life out of people who aren’t prepared for it on long rides. Mrs. Bgddy hung on like a champ for about four miles at 17 to 17.5 mph before calling “No mas”. I sped up to let Gary know he should go it his own pace for the rest of the ride, that we were going to dial it back some. After a few more miles we turned west again but it seemed like we were struggling a little bit picking the speed back up… At the 45 mile mark we had a left turn, which put us south with the wind at our back and a rest stop about six miles down the road… But we had a gas station corner to our left so I figured it was time to introduce my wife to cycling attitude fuel – Coca-Cola.
For those who believe they are too healthful to sink to the level of an ice-cold Coke half-way through a long ride, I will simply say this: There’s a reason you see, every year during the Tour de France, at least one shot of a cyclist being handed a can of Coke. First, when you’re already laying waste to your glycogen stores anyway, there is no chance of that coke being stored as fat. Your body will simply eat it up. Then, the caffeine has been shown in numerous studies to be helpful to athletes. If ever there was a good time to enjoy a Coke, during a long ride is it. Preferably to wash down one of your all natural grain bars. You’ll get a short term boost from the sugar and a long term jolt from an energy bar. My wife’s change in attitude didn’t surprise me at all, but it did her. We hit that tailwind section with a fervor not seen in 30 miles. She took the lead and kept us well above 20 mph for the full six miles. Then we hit the next east section which we held a fair 18-19 mph and my wife was doing excellently well – though I noticed a pattern developing. I kept it to myself, but when she took a turn up front, I noticed that she was 1-2 mph faster than when I was blocking for her. I kept an eye on it.
With about eight miles to go, we hit the tough section. All into the wind, and all uphill. None of the climbs were all that tough, but it was just the relentless uphill that wore my wife down in a hurry… Until I let her run up front. Sure enough, 1-2 mph faster than when I was blocking the wind for her. I knew something was up and it couldn’t be physical, so I decided to save that for after the ride and after we ate (fellas, if you bring up an unsolicited critique of your wife’s cycling before the ride is done and she’s had a chance to get some food into her, you’re not only wrong, you’re nuts). The last mile was quick, as we finally leveled out and turned west and we rolled into the finish with a 16.7 mph average. Interestingly enough though, with just four miles to go we were over 17.1 and with ten miles to go, we were just under 18.
Now, my wife went from a 16 mph cyclist over 20-40 miles to an 18 mph cyclist over 50. With a proper fitting. It’s as simple as that, nothing else changed.
Second, on the ride home I decided to break into the 1-2 mph gain when my wife is leading as opposed to drafting (she was literally falling off the back while I was pulling and then when I let her up front she was going faster – there were no wind or elevation changes that could explain this gain). Long story short, my wife was having a tough time understanding the whole concept of drafting and how it works. She was going by where she thought she had to be to get the best draft, rather than by feel. Ride long enough in pace lines and you’ll be able to tell where the best draft is (I’ll save that for another post). So not only was she trying to think her way into the draft, she was having a tough time with worrying about bowling into my back wheel at the same time. In other words, she was working in so much fear that it was affecting her ability to keep her pace.
I gave her a few tips in the car but we’ll be working on them in the near future…but one thing’s for sure: My life just got interesting and probably a whole lot more fun – my wife is getting fast!
Last week: 4 days off for rain, sleet, hail, snow, wind and cold (yes, it was that bad). Then Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 137 Miles… The beginning of the week stunk but I sure made up for it.
I went for a 43 mile ride with my friends this morning. We kept it between 18 & 20 mph the whole way, just a tandem, my buddy Mike and I. We rode in a classic pace line formation for maybe 15 miles of that ride, the rest was a staggered formation where nobody got much of an advantage. It was a fun, easy, enjoyable ride. In fact, one of the more enjoyable in recent memory.
So, how does one make that easy?
Train for 24 mph. Of course