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Monthly Archives: April 2015

We Are the Affable Hammers…

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I won’t lie…   I had my misgivings about the name at first.  After all, you can make a pretty big mess of “Affable”.  On the other hand, it actually fits and the more I think about it, the more I like it.  We really are an affable bunch and many of us are hammers.  In fact, the name also sounds…um, mature.  This makes sense too.  At 44, I think I’ll be one of the youngest guys wearing that kit, by as many as 20 years.

So, if you’re wondering exactly what the definition of “Affable” is, here:  friendly, good-natured, or easy to talk to.

Too often in cycling, you hear about the snobbery involved in the sport.  Much of the assumed snobbery, I believe, is misperceived self-preservation, but there’s no doubt that some cyclists are entire DB’s.  Our gang are almost to a man, friendly, good-natured and easy to talk to.  The only two prerequisites are that you’re fast and can ride your bike well (mainly because we’re fast).  You pass those two and you’re in.

I ride with a no-BS triathlon National Champion (Age Group – as in fastest in the USA – Sprint Triathlon and Duathlon), several Cat 3 masters racers, a few Cat 4’s, a one-time State Champion…  You get the idea, we have some hammers, and the reason for the two prerequisites is simple:  We don’t wait up for anybody because everyone gets dropped.  I’ve seen that group start with more than 30 and end up with four guys pulling into the parking lot (my friends and I cheat – we all drop at the same time and take a 3 mile shortcut so we almost always beat the lead guys back).

In any event, poke fun if you will, I kinda like the geezerly name.  If the s#!t fits, wear it.

It does.  I am an Affable Hammer.

 

Unprecedented…  Three Days Off.

I’m sore, a little cranky and I miss my bikes…  Three days off, in a row.  I am not using the word “unprecedented” in the title as many people misuse the word “literally” – overzealously.  I can’t remember being sick and taking three days off.  Alas:

  
Awfully late in April for a snow storm, but there it is.  Stuck all over my windshield.

It was rainy with 35 mph winds yesterday.  Rainy and 30 mph winds the on Monday.  

Dammit.

I haven’t missed three days in a row in more than four years.  Brighter weather on the horizon though.  I’ll have a lot of miles to catch up on come the weekend.

Cycling and What Noobs Really Wanna Know: The Bib Shorts Conundrum…  How To Go Without Making a Mess of It.

Our club recently had a new kit made up…

Life is cruel and unfair.  Bib shorts:  Ask almost anyone who wears them, they are vastly more comfortable and absolutely more visually flattering, than cycling shorts.  With the shoulder straps, tight waistbands aren’t necessary and the mesh holds in the love handles in a lot better.  Male or female, the consensus is, for comfort, bib shorts are where it’s at.

Unfortunately, with all of the vast technology available to us in 2015, they haven’t yet been able to design a pair of bibs with a breakaway strap (or two for the ladies) so they can be lowered to a point where relieving oneself becomes simple and easy (or maybe such an invention does exist, I just haven’t found it yet).

Now, if you’re squeamish, don’t click the “More” button to read the rest of this post.  If you don’t see the “More” button to click, you landed directly on this post…  Know this gets a little crazy, but pretty much stays PG to PG 13…  Read on at your own risk..  I don’t want to read any whining in the comments section – you were fairly warned:  (more…)

New Cages for the Venge:  Specialized’s Zee Cages, for a LEFTIE = Awesome

My bcb (best cycling buddy) Mike and I share a relative in the woodpile somewhere.  He had a red and black Madone 6.5.  I have a black and red Venge.  We’re both color coordinated to the point of lunacy (cold weather being the exception – when it’s below freezing, you wear what keeps you warm, screw fashion).

Bottle cages match the base or secondary color of the bike, wheels and stem match the base color with secondary color accents, computer matches the secondary color.  Bar tape and saddle are black…  Shorts black, jersey matches the bike colors, helmet and shoes match.  Shades take the tertiary color (white in my case).  Pedals match either base or secondary color (secondary, red in my case).  It might seem like a bunch of BS but it looks badass going down the road and I like badass.

Unlike some though, I only care about how I look.  How someone else chooses to dress when they cycle is up to them – as long as they ride well when I’m on their wheel, it’s almost all good (thighty-whities sticking out of the cycling shorts is bad – always!  You can be certain when you see this person, and I have, that they have no clue how to ride the bike they’re on – be extra careful around them).

Anyway, one thing that always drove Mike nuts about my bike was the fact that I had Bontrager (Trek) cages on my Specialized Venge.  I have a set of Spec. Rib cages but I hate them.  They grip the bottle too hard so I have to wrestle them out. Wrestling anything at 28 mph on the flat, sucks.  The Bontrager cages were flat black, like my bike, and they held just enough that a full bottle won’t bounce out going over a train track but don’t have to be wrestled out at high speed…  In fact, I’ve actually had a few friends comment on the brand crossing.

Now most normal people, when questioned, would simply respond to comments by saying, “Hey, they match and work better than the Spec. cages.”  I am not most people, and I am absolutely not normal…  So I finally bit the bullet: 

…and tried two Specialized Zee Cages.  As you can see, they match the secondary color, the wheels, the stem and pedals perfectly.  Now, it could be fairly argued that there’s too much red there – and for most people, that would be a fair assessment, but not for me.  I’m loud awesome, baby, so red was the only choice.  It could also be fairly argued that I should have saved 46 grams (or 1/10th of a pound or a weight savings to cost ratio that equates to $800 a pound) and gone for the carbon fiber cages.  I contemplated that momentarily, until Mrs. Bgddy flashed me that, “Try it mister, no lovin’ for you for a month” look.  Yup, honey, red composite will look GREAT!

So, to the little reviewy part…  First, I am a leftie and I make no apologies to witch huntin’, leftie haters, so I took the right cage and put that on the seat post and the left cage went on the down tube, all set up for a leftie.  As for function, they’re fantastic.  They hold a little bit better than the Bontrager cages but are exceptionally easy to retrieve a bottle from at speed.  I only wish I’d have gone this route to begin with…

If you’re wondering what fate befell my Trek cages, I donated them to a friend who just bought a super-bright red (black secondary color, of course) Trek Emonda SL6 – Ultrgra.  He will be poor for a while so they went to a good cause.

Cycling and Gears – Everything the Noob Needs to Know about Road and Mountain Bike Gearing

The inspiration for this post was a mountain bike ride that I took on Wednesday.  A little more than 17 miles on Wednesday, on dirt roads.  I have a nice mountain bike but it’s not like my road bike.  It’s a heavy, hulk of a thing and it’s an 8 speed drivetrain rather than the 10 speed on my road bike.  Shifting, of course, is just as easy on either bike.  For the road bike, a flick of the wrist against the brake lever (or middle a finger for a harder gear) and I’m in a new gear.  A flick of my thumb on the mountain bike (I have the under/under shifters rather than the older over/under shifters).

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The 20 speed Double Road Bike or the 24 speed Triple Mountain bike?

Where this gets interesting is the 8 and 10 speed drivetrain and how the number of gears help (or hurt) speed.  For we older folk, who grew up with ten speeds, where the total number of gears were ten, or maybe fifteen if you had a triple crank up front, you might think the 24 gears of an 8 speed triple on the mountain bike would trump the 20 of the 10 speed double on the road bike, for building and maintaining speed – and you would be wrong.  Never mind the differences between the two bikes that make the road bike vastly faster anyway.  Even if we were to take into account that the mountain bike is 5 mph slower, on average, there is a huge problem built into the 8 speed transmission of the mountain bike that makes maintaining speed miserable and that makes those 10 and now 11 speed cassettes awesome.

My Rockhopper has an 11 tooth to 34 tooth 8 speed cassette (the size of the gear is measured in the number of teeth)  That means you’ve got 8 gears to span a difference of 23 teeth.  On my Venge I’ve got an 11t to 27t (it came with a 28 originally)…  So I’ve got ten gears to span a difference of just 16 teeth…  Do the math, and the average jump from gear to gear on the mountain bike is just shy of 3 teeth.  On the road bike it’s only 1.6

Here’s the gears on the 8 sp.:  11,13,15,18,21,24,28,34
And on the 10 sp.:  11,12,13,15,17,19,21,23,25,27

Down at the small end of the cassette, there is a difference of two teeth for the first three gears on the 8 speed, while the first three gears on the 10 speed road cassette only go up by one…  After that, there’s a difference of three teeth for the next three, four on the fourth and six on the fifth to get you to 34.  On the road cassette, it’s a jump of two all the way till the largest cog.  11 speed cassettes are even better, giving the cyclist an extra gear at the hard end with a difference of only one tooth.  Why is this important?  First, the gears are closer the smaller they get because the smaller cogs are harder to pedal.  As you get easier, the jump gets bigger, especially on the mountain bikes.  Got that?

Okay.  Maintaining speed on the road (dirt or paved) is all about maintaining a cadence.  With a jump of three teeth or more into a harder gear (smaller), there’s a huge leap in the power required to maintain speed.  This doesn’t matter so much on a slower single-track, where there are often intense changes in elevation so you rarely have long stretches where you’re pounding down the trail, trying to pick the perfect gear.  You’re often up and back down the cassette in the space of a few hundred yards.  Conversely, on the road, hills are usually less sharp and the bikes are much lighter so you don’t need quite the range on the cassette and with the extra two gears and only a two teeth jump, it’s a lot easier to pick a gear to match a desired speed and cadence.  In short, the closer you can get the gears (especially as they get smaller on the cassette), the easier it is to find a desirable gear to match your cadence and the amount of force you can put on the pedals.

Now, with that out of the way, I wanted to get into a little bit about how to use the gears.  We have 20 to 33 gears on a bike for a reason – to use them.  They’re not there to look cool (in fact, some would argue that having more than 22 is useless my Trek is a triple and I do love it down south in the mountains).  Most people, if you really pay attention, don’t shift near enough.  I use every gear on my 10 speed cassette (except the 27 tooth cog to prevent cross-chaining) and it has been successfully argued that we don’t even have hills on that 3o mile route.  We do, of course.  They’re just not all that big.  In any event, it’s a rare day that I’ll ever use the baby chain ring, but I do use all of the gears on the cassette, multiple times.  I shift constantly as the elevation changes…  As soon as my cadence starts to slow or when it gets harder to maintain, I shift.  There are times when it makes sense to try to muscle through a gear (if my breathing is too fast or heart rate is too high, for example or if the top of the hill is within a few dozen meters) but they are few and far between.  It’s almost always better to shift and maintain a high cadence while maintaining the speed to keep up.

We can use weight lifting as the example here.  Most people, especially men though, if you put a five-pound weight in their hand, will be able to do curls all day long.  Up that to 30 pounds and you won’t be able to do as many reps.  Well, pedaling in a hard gear works on the same principle.

As President Clinton used to say:  Shift early and shift often.  Err, wait…

A Note to Eddy Merckx:  I Don’t Like You Very Much, Eddy…

I wrote the other day that I read a post in which the author stated that the great Eddy Merckx used to ride home with the wind in his face to work harder when he was tired, to build endurance.  

“Great”, I thought, and I ran right out and did it.  

So when the boys suggested a route yesterday that had a crosswind on the way out and on the way back (wind out of the north, on an east to west to east out and back), I didn’t think anything of it – I certainly didn’t have images of the great one bouncing around my melon.

Long about the 15th mile, after we were pulling at 21 to 23 mph, three or four miles at a turn (four guys, two by two), I realized something just wasn’t right.  I could feel the wind hard on my right shoulder but 21 to 23 mph?  Could I already be in June’s form already?!  I’ve certainly been putting in the miles for it.  That was the last I thought about it until we reached the Lainsburg gas station and our turnaround point.  29 miles, and change, from home.

We were standing outside and I was enjoying a Snickers and a Coke.  Ah, cycling food.  Anyway, I digress…  I look up at an American flag stuck at a 90 degree angle from the flag pole…  Pointing at an odd angle.  Not from the north but the northeast.  We were going to eat wind for 29 miles because we actually had a little help on the way out once the wind shifted.

See, I don’t know if the young Eddy Merckx would look at that and smile, heck he’d probably throw in another 50 for good measure…  But I’m not Eddy.  I’m Jim, I’m a dad and I have a day job. I just want to stay healthy and unfat.  I was not enthused, but what are you gonna do?  

We clipped in and got to grinding…and within a dozen miles, I realized I have a new problem to work on.  When I ride with my friends I have a tendency, when it’s my turn up front, to pick up the speed by as much as 2-3 mph before I burn up and head for the back to recharge.  There are worse problems to have but I could be spending a lot more time up front if I’d just stay at the average speed.  I start out at the right speed, I just have a tendency to pick up as we go.  I know, we should all be this lucky.

Anyway, we turned in a nice 55 miles and change in 2h:56m, a decent average, just short of 19 mph…  And I’m still hurting this morning.

No rest for the weary though.  I’m out for the 37 miles and change this morning.  Fortunately though, I’m leading the slow group so it’s going to be a pretty fun day – and that’s the way I like it…  Work hard one day, ride fun the next.  

  

Time to Tighten the Bolts…

So, I’m getting close to 1,000 outdoor miles for 2015 already, in fact I should cross that hurdle tomorrow morning.  It’s time to tighten the bolts.  This isn’t a metaphor.

It’s literally, time to tighten the bolts.  On the right is a most excellent tool, Bontrager’s 5 Nm 4mm torque Allen wrench.  Did you know that on most newer bikes, a lot of the important bolts are 4mm?  Ah, yes.  Also, carbon fiber bikes, especially ones that you have closing in on $5,000 invested in, require the use of a torque wrench and between 4.6 and 5 Nm of torque.  In other words, it’s a perfect tool.  The stem bolts and seat post bolts are 4mm…

I’ve read articles suggesting tightening the main bike bolts before every ride but if you lube the threads correctly, every now and again should suffice.  Here’s the reason we lube threads…  Dry threads give you a false “tight”.  They’re “sticky” so what shows as tight on a torque wrench, isn’t always.  When the threads are lightly lubed (with bike grease), there is no “stick” – you get a proper tight that will remain tight.  It might seem counterintuitive, but it works.

Still, I tightened up today and I got an 1/8th of a turn on the saddle bolt, 1/2 turn (!) on the seat post bolts and 1/8 turn on the two lower stem bolts.  I lubed and tightened all of those myself…  In other words, they’ve loosened over time.  Not much, but enough.  I also got 1/8th turn on the brake mounting bolts by the way.

The physics are pretty simple when you think about it a minute.  On a normal, jaunt around the park bike, the parts aren’t under all that much stress.  On a race bike that sees heavy action and ridiculous torque, everything is under a tremendous amounts of stress.

So, folks, every now and again, take ten minutes to tighten your bolts.  It’ll take the creaks out of your bike and maybe even give you a more solid ride at speed.  Just don’t overtighten them.  That’s bad too.

Dropping Weight at Will:  Blessed to Bike.

Fourteen years ago I was maybe six months to a year from becoming fat.  Already overweight, obese was only a couple dozen pizzas and two-liters of Coke away.

Along came an impromptu photo (read that, a photo I didn’t have the wherewithal to pose for) and I saw the double-chin.  I’m 6′ tall and weighed 140 pounds when I sobered up – Pro cyclists would have been jealous of my weight back then!  I pulled out a scale…  195.  I stood in front of the mirror and looked at my gut – and decided to let myself get fat.  Seriously.  

The next day I changed my mind and started running.  Just a touch more than 24 hours later.  A mile and a half that first day, something like a 9:30 min. mile.  Two days later it was two miles, then three.  Over the course of the next year I got down to 170 and there I stayed there.  I didn’t hate running but I only did it because I did hate the idea of getting fat and riding a $160 Sears mountain bike wasn’t all that exciting.  Riding a bike was for kids, I thought…  

Nine years later I bought a bike, a cheap $20 garage sale mountain bike – and I started to ride.  Then I bought another.  And another.  And one more.  I went from 15 mph for just four miles on the mountain bike to 21 for 30 miles on a road bike (solo), in two years.  I was hooked, and I mean hooked on cycling.  I dropped 20 pounds so fast it was scary – and my legs became awesome (I added muscle and lost a BUNCH of fat, in other words).

A couple of months ago, one of the racers in our Tuesday night group decided to get anyone in our group who wanted, hooked up with a club kit.  Our local bike shop is represented on a sleeve, as are a few other companies, and our group along with a small map of our 33 mile route…  Three weeks ago the fit kits came in and we all tried them on.  They’re pro-fit so I figured my normal medium would became a large.  The large was really tight so I decided to go with an XL which fit perfectly.  They came in yesterday and I tried the jersey on.  It’s not nearly as tight as when I tried it on just a few weeks ago.  

Three weeks at between 150 and 190 miles a week and I have to think about ordering a large for later in the summer – and I’m trying to keep my weight where it was.  Let’s just say I’m not exactly pushing myself away from the table.

Besides the obvious, eating to fuel (not just to eat), there are a few tricks to my continued success in dropping weight through cycling.  I ride hard, I ride fast and I ride long.  During the week, work only allows an hour a day (except our Tuesday club ride which is just shy of two, including the warmup).  On Friday and through the weekend though, I’m on the gas for at least seven hours.  

A typical Friday, Saturday, Sunday looks like this:  25-35 fairly easy miles with Mrs. Bgddy, 50-75 hard miles on Saturday and 40 easy with Mrs. Bgddy on Sunday.  Eventually, that Sunday will have to go into the hard column to get ready for DALMAC (4 days, 415 miles) but for now it’s great fun hanging with my wife that extra day.  

This is how my week breaks down:

  • Monday – easy or off
  • Tuesday – HARD
  • Wednesday – medium 18-19 mph
  • Thursday – hard or medium (depends on legs)
  • Friday – easy
  • Saturday – hard
  • Sunday – easy

The simplest way to put the difference between running and riding is that now it’s not about losing weight or maintaining weight (though the maintaining part can get tricky, trying to replace all of those calories spent on the bikes)…  It’s about having a good time.  That’s what cycling did for me and that’s why I’m blessed to bike.  I look forward to putting in the miles – all day long.  It’s my escape.  

I’m not saying my way is the right way but I will say this:  It sure beats eating twigs, leaves and tofurkey.  It beats cutting carbs or counting calories.  It’s macro in lieu of micro-managing.  It works if I work it. 

And it is good.

The smile isn’t cheap, but it’s easy.

Take your pick… Buy a bike and ride it.

Fit Recovery on Club Rides and Taking Your Turn Up Front:  You Never Get Faster at the Back

Anyone who has ridden in a fast club ride knows what a wheel sucker is – you’ve either seen one or you are one.  Some can pull it off while others, well let’s just say not so much.  That said…

I’m going to make this into a tee shirt:

Respect the Engine™ 

You Only Get Faster at the Front.

This is one of those funny sayings that has some truth to it, but mainly sounds badass so it’ll be cool.  Still…

A friend of mine showed up to his first club ride of the season on Tuesday.  He’s an insufferable drunk but he’s also funny as a guy can get and he’s a freaking horse.  And he weighs about a buck-forty dripping wet.  Really though, he’s just a fun guy to have on a ride.  I’d never hang out with him on a Saturday night but Sunday morning, when we’re on the line, you bet.

He derides me every Tuesday for taking too many turns at the front, too early in the ride.  He’s got a point, to an extent, because he’s always just a few seconds back of the lead group while I get dropped in the hills, about 20 miles in.  My problem, and it is my problem, is that I want have to do my part.  To put it simply, I’d rather go down in a ball of flames 20 miles in and limp home after a shortcut than hide to make it to the end.

On one hand, I will hide when the ride is fast and long, but I always feel like a jerk when I do.  On the other, I have much more fun when I do my part for the group and I get more out of it when I’m working hard up front.

I ride a bike to stay fit and get faster; and I’ll never get faster hanging in the draft at the back.  I may be able to hang on until the last few miles but disregarding the rudeness, I simply have more fun when I’m pulling my own weight – You only get faster at the front anyway.

*Respect the Engine is a Trademark of Feed the Engine Apparel (along with its logo).  You can’t use it.

Fashionable, Yet Functional, Cycling Wear…

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…You know, for those times when you need 5-50 Parachord but still want to match the race bike.