Up until April, my single best month of cycling included three organized centuries, four 38 mile club rides (maybe five) with a total of 803 miles for a month (August 2013).
With my BCB (Best Cycling Bud) Mike living just two miles up the road, my long weekend rides have gone from 35-45 on one day and 20 miles on the other (last year) to 65-80 on one day and 40 (or more) on the other. With the Horsey Hundred last week, I knew I was going to close in on my best month… I didn’t know I was going to destroy it:
879 miles, just under 30 miles a day (29.3 to be exact, or 28.3 if we can’t ride today – and that’s likely, due to rain).
I’ve been tempted, now that I’m in my fourth year of cycling, to try a pro-style schedule which is quite simple: no days off. There are slow days, in the form of active recovery, or days off for rain as always, but as we get into the dry season come July I almost always take time off with sunny skies just to take a day off. I’m going to see how long I can go without a day off and (more important) without a drop in performance. Previously, that was 13 days in a row, then I’d tank.
I’ve written about this before and drew the inspiration from last year’s Tour de France coverage in which it was revealed that the cyclists, on their “day off”, spend three hours on the turbo.
This made perfect sense to me as I’ve always had a miserably tough time getting my legs spun back up after a day off. Interestingly, I used to schedule days off on Monday, the day before my toughest, fastest day. My warmup was always miserable and getting my legs under me for the main ride was unnerving. Since dropping the practice this year, Tuesday nights have been much faster and more enjoyable.
Just in the nick of time…
Yesterday’s ride wasn’t without its excitement… Well, the first 63.87 miles were relatively perfect. Sunshine, some clouds now and again, a nice breeze then wind, temps in the mid-70’s (pretty awesome for a 7:30 am start)… The trick was, the forecasters were calling for rain to come in at noon. Not 11 am, not 1 pm… Noon. At 10:30 we were over 60 miles (it’s a long story, I’d put in about five slow miles before the ride ever “technically” started, 2 miles getting to Mike’s house, three or four miles looking for Chuck, who’d taken a shortcut to meet us up the road). We ate wind for the next 32 miles or so before turning back. Crosswind at first, for a couple of dozen miles, then a glorious tailwind… Which gets us to that 63.87 mile mark. Mike had noticed a gathering of intensifying pod of clouds that was now to our south. With our west southwest tailwind, the ominous set of clouds were chasing us. Phill and Brad had already split off for home, it was just Mike and I. The good news was that Mike and I had Brad and Phill on the edge (mostly Brad, Phill’s Kung Fu is strong) so with them on their own, Mike and I could hammer. On the negative side, Mike and I had been doing the lion’s share of the turns up front for 40 miles… We were both fairly smoked. It started spitting on us with just four miles to go. It was a steady, but light, rain with 3-1/2 to go. Just ten minutes and we’d have missed the rain entirely.
I pulled into the driveway just as the rain picked up:
68.87 miles… I ended up with an 18.5 mph average, but with all of the slow miles at the start and riding the next 30 directly into the wind, I was quite stoked that we ended up above 18. Not a Herculean effort by any stretch but it was fun… Except for the major altercation I had with an ignorant and indignant motorist. More on that tomorrow, but I’ll tease you with this: It almost came to fisticuffs. Seriously.
Cycling in Kentucky should have been a shock to my system, and legs. If we hit 3,000 feet of climbing over a hundred miles here at home, that’s a fairly big deal. The Horsey Hundred, in stark contrast was well over double that, but I flew up hills most were grinding up. You see, I love climbing hills. I know it may sound ridiculous, but I do love to climb on a bike. There’s something about working up a hill that makes me feel good about being me. Maybe I should put a caveat on that… I’m good for about a 45 minute climb. After that, it drags on a little bit and gets a touch boring – so Kentucky was perfect for me. There were some steep one’s, but most climbs were less than mile and a half on the Horsey Hundred and Sunday was just a series of rollers, no real climbs.
The hills did, however, bl0w up a friend of mine who resorted to simple pee stops at the rest areas so he could get out ahead of us. While I, on the other hand, was taking in the pickles, half-bananas and oranges before topping off my water bottles, using the facilities and then heading out. He had maybe a five minute advantage on the rest of us and we’d make that up before we hit the next stop.
Oh, and my friend is a stronger cyclist than I am. On flat ground. In the hills, I hammer him. How does that work? Well, I can smash him because I know what it takes to make it up a hill, I have the gearing to do it, and most important, I know how to use it.
Over the course of that hundred mile ride, something clicked. Something changed in how I climb a hill. Something not related to my fitness, that had me passing people as if they were standing still. I figured out how to use all 20 of my gears. Well, maybe 19 of the 20. I never used the granny gear. Never had to.
I finally figured out how to use a real, honest to God, 90-100 cadence when climbing a hill without losing my breath within 30 seconds. While momentum played a part on the shorter rollers, all bets were off on the ascents that stretched on for more than a quarter of a mile – and there were plenty of those with a few longer than a mile between 8 & 12%.
First, I do not have a climber’s bike. I have an aero sprinter’s bike. I don’t have a compact crank on the bike… I roll the new “pro-compact” 52/36. So to those with a 50/34 compact (like my wife), I’m at a disadvantage. My friend was a different tale of woe though… I had a distinct advantage over him. He rides a 52/39 race crank with an 11/28 10 sp. cassette (same cassette as me). Those three teeth on the little ring up front make a difference on a 10-12% grade.
Beyond setup though, because I was able to hammer past dozens of people sporting compacts, and I was never passed once on a hill, was the manner in which I used the gears I had.
First, before I get into this, a bit of caution for the true noob… If this invaluable information is used incorrectly, you could flip a bike backwards on a steep enough hill. Usually mountain bikes with crazy torque gears up ultra-steep inclines are what you have to watch out for. I’ve lifted my front wheel with a pedal stroke more than once on a single-track. Be aware of what you’re doing. Don’t flip your bike because that would suck, for you and your bike.
Here are the tricks I stumbled on that had me climbing with a smile:
First, leave that 30% shit to the pros. Second, I scooted my butt back a few millimeters on my saddle and dropped my head and shoulders a little lower than normal. This position changed how I was able to spin… It made climbing a little easier and it was good. Why? I have no clue, but I liked it.
Next, I took all questions of “big ring or little ring” out of the equation. For any hills that I even had to wonder about, I chose the little ring. Think about it; worst case scenario, you’ve got enough gear in the cassette to hold 22 mph in the little ring… So I just used the little ring going into climb – but there’s a trick to that… How do you pick the right gear when you shift from big to little – and where do you shift into the little ring (if you missed it and are wondering what all of this talk of big ring/little ring is, I’m talking about the front chain rings)? My friend, on the other hand, has used a Flight Deck computer that told him what gear he was in. Leading in to a lot of the climbs he panicked to figure out the right gear… With that little hesitation, he found himself off the back and couldn’t catch up. Now this guy is an experienced cyclist, he’s not some just picked up his first Allez and he’s gonna ride him some mountains. In fact, that’s the why for this post. If he struggles, maybe this post can do some good for others.
Real quick, answer this question: If you’re cruising along at 15-20 mph and you wanted to shift to your little ring, maintain your speed and cadence, which gear would you use?
I can answer that, and pick that gear, without thinking, and shift to it, faster than it takes for you to say, “Jerk” as I go by… No missed gears, no mistakes, no late shifts, no problems – and it works like this:
There’s a hill coming up. Three upshifts right lever (harder gear which will slow the cadence for a split second), one downshift left, and I’m in close to the same cruising ratio in the little ring that I was in the big. It takes all of two seconds. I was in the little ring before I ever started going up a hill. From there, it’s just downshifts when my cadence starts to drag. I never have to worry about whether or not I was in the right gear – I always was in the optimal gear at any given moment, without having to think about it (or second guess myself).
See, this may not seem that it should be such a big a deal, but in my neck of the woods, I’ve only ever needed the little ring to climb a hill maybe four times, so I never had to worry about any of this. We just don’t have many hills big enough to warrant a little ring.
The only question left is spin in the saddle or out of the saddle. I’ve been a mixture of both on flat ground for a long time – when the breathing and heart rate get out of whack from too much spinning, I always switch to a heavier gear to let my muscles do the work till they burn. Then it’s back down to an easier gear to spin. Decent climbs are no different, though I’ve found it far more beneficial to save the grinding for the shorter climbs. Anything over a quarter mile and I’m spinning it unless there’s a short but sharp increase in grade at some point in the climb – then it’s spin-grind-spin.
The main thing to remember when climbing is that the strategy isn’t really too different from cycling on flat ground, it’s just a lot slower. Take some time on climbs to work through where you want to be on your gearing so that when you get to the hill you don’t have to think, just downshift to maintain your cadence. Then spin away till you get to the top. Work on getting your breathing square so you’re not hyperventilating 2/3’s of the way up the hill and if you are, shift to an easier gear and keep spinning (your forward progress will slow a bit, but when learning how to handle a hill, it’s never a race – get your strategy right first, then worry about getting faster). Finally, if you want to get out of the saddle for a break from spinning, shift up to a harder gear (or two)… If you try to climb, out of the saddle, in too easy a gear, your heart rate and breathing will go through the roof…
In conclusion, remember this: Learning how to climb hills properly is a process. It takes a lot of thought and strategy to get it right, so find a hill and practice until you can get the shifting, cadence and feel right. Climbing is excellent fun, when you know what you’re doing.
UPDATE: For several more excellent tips, check out Gary’s excellent post.
A high-end bike won’t fix low-end legs©. God how I wish this weren’t true but it is. I’d be riding with the racers, shooting off the front every now and again… I have the high-end bike, and believe me, all it does is make fast a little more attainable… especially in the hills. In the end, it’s just a bicycle weighing slightly more than a bowling ball and slightly less than a bowling ball and a pair of bowling shoes. However, not all is lost on the super-bikes either. For instance, much is made of steel bikes and how comfortable their ride is… Unfortunately, at a shade over 20 pounds for the lightest of them (but usually north of 25), I’d take my Venge any day of the week and twice on Sunday for climbing anything more than a speed bump.
That said, cycling is almost all about maintaining the engine. Like him or not, Rush Limbaugh likes to say that weight loss has nothing to do with exercise, that it’s all about diet, that one could sit on the couch forever and lose weight if the diet was right:
Far be it from me to take on the King of talk radio but I must respectfully disagree:
See folks, here’s the deal: I’ve never heard of anyone who wasn’t bed-ridden developing a bed sore. Ever. We were meant to move, to be active, to get off of the couch. It’s in our DNA, our very makeup. It’s evolution and creation shaking hands and saying, “It’s all good”. Oh, you can say that all doctors are quacks, that the exercise industry is just a billion Dollar money-making scam and that we’re all nuts… Of course, the same could be said of the diet industry, but let’s not argue over the intricacies…
There is a simple truth to the whole discussion though. We’ve been searching for the easier, softer way since the desk job was invented and I’m an advocate, not unlike the aforementioned Limbaugh, for “whatever works”. For me, there’s no doubt it’s cycling. I hadn’t seen a few of my friends in three weeks until last night and they all commented on how ripped and trim I look without thinning down. This is a direct result of cycling and has nothing to do with diet – I’ve been eating what I always eat. For others, it’s running. Then there are the diet conscious, vegetarians, and so forth. “The means that can be sustained until the ends are realized” makes a great sound bite but will only last if we have a smile on our face at the end of the day.
I love the speed of cycling. I love the bikes in the same way car enthusiasts love a good sports car. Blasting down the road with five to twenty good friends for a few hours on a Saturday morning is as close as I get to Heaven on Earth. Sharing cycling with my wife makes her look like she does in that photo above and gives us something fun (and easy) to talk about. Cycling with my wife on Sunday morning has become a necessary capper to the week. We plan vacations around taking time to ride…
This wasn’t always the case. I never was as big as Rush, but I was pushing maximum allowable density. In other words, I was as big as I could allow myself to get. I wanted to try rollerblading to drop weight but that really didn’t fit with where I was living. I settled on running and while I enjoyed it and reaped the benefits of getting in shape (I dropped 24 pounds in a few short months), I never really loved it. I could sustain it, but only as long as I had friends to run with. Cycling, not just riding a bike, is a completely different experience as far as I’m concerned. It has everything I was ever looking for in a fitness activity. Cycling is my easier, softer way… It just so happens that it’s not easy or soft, but that’s by choice.
The one problem that I do see with fitness is that it’s a lot like everything else that works like a marriage: You get out of it what you put into it. I ride hard, long and fast miles so I tighten up and drop any residual winter weight fast. It’s D + E = R, or Distance plus Effort equals Results. The greater the distance and effort, the better the results. All too often, with fitness, the distance and effort parts of the math problem are, or become, work. As many of us have enough work to do, another job staying fit is the last thing we’re looking for. Cycling is my “easier, softer way” because it’s never work, in the true sense of the word. It’s almost always fun and enjoyable.
So, my friends, the trick is to find our “easier, softer way”. Just be prepared, because the easiest, softest way is rarely easy or soft. It sure beats Type II Diabetes though. Now that’s hard.
It’s a “crisp” March morning. You think “crisp”, because “butt-ass cold” is too difficult to get over in your mind. It’s all about perspective.
The high temp for the day isn’t going to sniff anything above freezing. You assure yourself that you’ll be okay, that your eyes don’t start to freeze shut till well below zero with your new glasses that have the foam cups so they seal to your melon.
There’s a nagging committee member in your head who keeps trying to take the spotlight… “Man, you don’t wanna do this. Ride the fricking turbo and call it good. Who the hell do you think you are, Lance? You’re a frickin’ old man. Act like it for once.”
Dammit, that trainer sounds good…
You look at your legs as you try to warm up in the shower. They aren’t as awesome as they were just a few months ago. Not as chiseled. There’s a new layer of fat over your gut that you’d worked off last summer. It’s not much, only five pounds, certainly less than ten…Isn’t it?!
The road is better than the trainer, you know it is. It’s harder, works you more. You’re going to need the miles come May. But the trainer would be so warm… And boring.
Besides, you’re part of a group now. Your buds are going to need you – today and once we get into the season…
F— you, trainer.
One leg warmer, then the other. One knee warmer then the other. Compression shorts, cycling shorts. Arm warmers, jersey, long sleeve jersey, jacket, neck gaiter… Hat, two layers of gloves… You throw the pump in the car because if you pump the tires up in the house, you’ll lose at least 10% when the rubber hits the cold. Helmet, insulated water bottles to keep the Perpetuem and H2O from freezing…
Yep, it’s that freakin’ cold…
The first mile sucks and you’re wondering what the hell you were thinking. The second mile isn’t much better, but that third mile… 6-1/2 minutes and you become comfortable. I hesitate to say “warm up” because at 19 degrees, you never really warm up. You can’t sweat, it’ll freeze. You have to dance a fine line that is “comfortably cool”.
The next forty miles fly by and, despite the cold, you’re so glad to be outside after that gnarly winter. You pull into the parking lot with a smile on your face.
F— that trainer.
You sleep better that night than you have in a month.
You’re 50 miles into the hardest ride you’ve ever been on. You’re lean, mean and absolutely having the time of your life. You’re cruising up the hills (and the whole freaking ride has been nothing but hills), nailing the descents, just cruisin’. Somewhere around 65 miles in the real climbing starts. The hills are no longer “hills”. They’d be fricken ramps to Heaven if you were riding a crotch rocket. You spin up the first one, passing everyone on the mountain. Then the second. Then the third.
75 miles in and you’re off the front, just cruising. It’s all good. 80 miles, you’re still off the front. 85 miles. You’ve been out front for a half-hour and you realize you don’t know the shortcut back to the hotel so you’d better wait for everyone else. One of your friends says, “Man, you’re doing awesome, you were just cruisin’ right along!” And you are. Life is good.
The turbo trainer has its place, there is no doubt, but in my world, it’s reserved for when it’s so gnarly out only a nut would ride.
And chapeau to the nuts, because to most, I’m one too.
It was one of those “There’s a 60% chance we’re going to be 100% drenched before the end of this ride” nights. As it turned out, there was a 100% chance we’d be 60% drenched. I liked the latter anyway as downpours can get to be a little degrading while a little rain cools down an otherwise hot ride…
It was warm at least, 84 degrees. At 2 pm the weather channel said that there was a zero percent chance of rain at 5:00, a 34% chance at 6:00 and back down to 2% at 7:00. Um, oops. Only four of us showed up and thankfully I did choose the rain bike for the evening. Also on the plus-side, it was me, Mike, Phil and Dale…no thoroughbreds.
Now, before I get into the ride, I would like to personally kick the crotch of whoever came up with the idea that the bike doesn’t matter. There’s somewhere in the middle of a four and five pound difference between my 5200 and my Venge. It freaking matters, I felt every extra pound. Yeah, aero isn’t that big a deal? Allow me to call bullshit on that right now! If you don’t know what you’re missing it doesn’t matter… Or better, the disadvantage can be countered with more effort, but bet your ass, it matters. I kept up, sure. Took all of my turns up front too, but Phill and Mike had their race bikes and they busted my ass. It sucked! In a good way though. Call me a masochist. I’m okay with it, but only when it comes to cycling.
It was gnarly looking before we ever pulled out of the parking lot. Mike and I took the first six miles or so, with a crosswind then a tailwind for 4-1/2 miles. Phill and Dale took the next three, then we formed up into a single file echelon when we turned southwest into the 20-25 mph sustained south wind.
Rather than mess with a blow-by- blow, suffice it to say, it was hard. Two miles from our 21 mile turn-off the rain started and it was looking nasty. Not quite “seek shelter immediately” nasty, but close enough for it to be a little spooky (fortunately, no thunder or lightning). We dropped Dale, who was riding on some tired legs so we sat up and waited for him to latch back on. He told us we should go on but I’m not dropping a guy in that crap when he’s just a hair off the pace. We had to wait one other time, but he was good to go after that.
24 minutes and eight miles later, we pulled into the parking lot. I let everyone know we had about three minutes to pack up before the real rain started. It took 2m:45s and wham, the deluge hit. We ended up finishing the 20-1/2 mile ride (the short version of Tuesday) at just over a 19.5 mph average. Considering that we went out easy, between 23 & 25 mph (we should have been over 28 with that tailwind) and that I was on the rain bike with tired legs – heck, we were all tired, I was very pleased with the result. Now, about that rain… I am not a fair weather cyclist, by any stretch but I can’t stand starting out in the rain… I don’t mind if it rains during the ride at some point after I’ve started (especially if I’m on the right bike), I just won’t go out if it’s pouring before I even walk out the door… And I ride enough that I can use those rain days for days off anyway. I don’t know what the mental block is and I’m sure I’d get over it in a hurry if it rained more than a couple of days in a row, but I can’t stand starting out in the rain.
The Noob’s Guide to Cycling Fashion: The Rules; Follow Them, Ignore Them or Find Something In Between. And Why They Aren’t All that Bad.
In cycling, following the fashionable rules as published by Velominati can be pretty damned expensive, in case you haven’t figured that out yet. When I started out cycling, I didn’t have much in the way of money, but I did the best I could with what I had. Today income has improved so it’s a little easier to worry about having the proper length sock, about they type of frame mounted air pump I use, where my spare tube and tire levers should be stored, how I sit on my bike while I’m waiting for a start… The list goes on for a long, long time.
One thing is for certain with all of the rules: Make sure you can ride your bike well before worrying about any of the fashion rules. Bike handling is far and away the most important thing to concentrate on.
First things first, for guys is the shaving of the legs. Believe it or not, this is only done by the hardcore enthusiasts and those who race. Yes, I do, but you won’t necessarily have to. It depends on your region and the group you ride with. If you’re only going to ride solo, don’t even worry about it. That one caught me up and I’ve been paying for it ever since. See, I read on the internet that all guys who are worth a shit on a bike, shave their legs. Come to find out, after I followed suit of course, that this varies by region and in our neck of the woods the practice isn’t adhered to. Of course, that said, I’m glad I do and you’ll see why in a bit…
The majority of the rules, except those like #5 (HTFU – or Harden The F— Up), are simple guides and suggestions for how to look good as a cyclist. For instance, one (or two) of the rules deal strictly with sock length. Not too long, not too short but never the little ankle socks. Now, does it truly matter if one chooses to wear ankle socks? Will it matter a lick to how one rides a bike? Of course not. How about the helmet, should one take care to choose the best color and fit? Well that shouldn’t matter at all! How about wearing pro team kits or national champion kits when you are neither a pro or a national champion? Hey, it’s (hopefully) a free country! What does it matter if everyone sees at you as a poseur (they do, by the way, no matter how good you ride a bike – a buddy of mine had his wheel taco’d by the German National Champion in a local century ride because he was too tired to stop his bike in the parking lot at a rest stop – He was a horse and he did some honorable stints at the front of the group but we still laugh about that to this day, getting taken out of a silly century ride by the German National Champion…)?
How about wearing a shirt, or tennis shoes with platform pedals? Well, now we’re getting somewhere. Tennis shoes on platform pedals destroy efficiency on a road bike. You’d be better off saving that for a mountain bike. While riding with a group can be done with that get-up (I tried it when I forgot my shoes one day – it’s not impossible to keep up, but close to it), the no-shirt part of the deal is just about unforgivable. Don’t worry, I’ve done that too when I didn’t know my butt from a hole in the ground.
And finally, today, fully kitted up proper:
As you can see, in all of those photos, the bike is not the focal point – in any of them. Yet from day one to four years later, I went from complete dufus, to a decent looking cyclist. The problem was, of course, I made a lot of mistakes along the way. No jersey (tennis shoes, ultra large dome protector [first photo]), baggy jersey (second photo), poorly chosen color scheme on the bike (third photo)… It didn’t have to be that way, if I’d have paid attention to some of the rules.
The big difference between year one and today is that I follow most of the rules. I don’t belong any more on a bike today than I did back then, but by going through all of my trials and errors and finally settling on following the rules, I can look at that first photo and laugh, the second photo and shrug, the third photo and say, “Meh” and finally at the end, I’m finally happy with how I look as a cyclist. This isn’t to say I’m right, the rules are right and must be followed…
All I will commit too is that it can’t be argued… I’m pretty funny lookin’ in that first photo, and I got it right in the last one. Do what suits you. If, however, you have a desire to approach cycling like one would golf, following some of the rules is a good place to start. Finally, I use the rules as a guide, not as a bludgeon (I could care less how someone else looks on their bike as long as they ride it well and don’t crash me… and I look good). Dressing as I did in those last two photos is not cheap (actually, it’s really freaking expensive), do your best within your means and let the rest wash out on the road.
Oh, by the way, for mountain biking there pretty much aren’t any rules.
The Affable Hammers made our appearance at the Horsey Hundred, a long way from home. More than 350 miles from our home to our hotel in Georgetown, Kentucky. My buddy Mike, my wife and I collaborated and chose Sunday as the Kit day. Sunday is the shorter of the two days and Mike wasn’t completely trusting of his kit for the longer 105 mile first day.
Saturday was my day to hammer with the group so the second day, I let them go and stayed with my wife for the shorter 34 mile route.
It was a perfect day for a bike ride. Traffic was fairly light and though the climbs were a lot tougher on Saturday, if you weren’t going up a hill, you were going down so again, photos were few and far between though I did manage a few on the gentler grades.
Kentucky is a beautiful State for cycling and to be able to spend the morning riding with my hot wife was a true blessing. It was, for me, the perfect blend of working hard enough to feel like it was “a workout” but going slow enough to enjoy the scenery and being in a different State on a fitness weekend vacation.
We took a little more than two hours to complete the ride, then we cruised around town for another couple of miles before stopping to have our picture taken at the finish line.
If you have the means to take a short weekend vacation on Memorial Day weekend, I can’t speak highly enough about the Horsey Hundred. The support was amazing, lunch and/or dinner was included and good, the rest stops were plentiful and excellently stocked with cycling food (bananas, oranges, pb&j sammiches, Payday candy bars, Gatorade… And if anything, they weren’t enough miles between the rest stops.
For my wife and I, it was the perfect weekend Getaway. Plenty of cycling, lots of hills (I finally got awesome at climbing – more on that later this week), great food and good times with friends, and that famous southern hospitality was just spectacular.
The only tough part about the ride, if I wanted to be a complainer, was that drafting in all of those hills was on and off. We hung as a group, but for the most part, we were all on our own at the same time. Even so, I had a fantastic time and will absolutely be making time in the schedule for that weekend in the future. It was pure awesome on a bike.