There once was a time that I was certain I needed regular time off the bike. At first I’d hoped it was one day every two weeks but I wound up struggling so last year I changed to once a week.
It’s always bothered me however, that pros don’t take days off, at least not in the true sense of the phrase. If they can go every day at a pace that would leave me a quivering pile of sweaty goo on the road, why should I be subjected to a day off?
The more I thought about it, the more it bugged me. Not because I mind a day off now and again, I don’t… What I do mind is taking sunny, warm, summer day off the bike just to get my day off done. That happened quite a bit last year. Worse, often I’d take a perfectly good Monday off only to have to ride in the rain (or even worse, take two days off) to get my miles in. Nice days are in short supply come November so if I have my druthers, I’ll take more time off once the snow flies.
I don’t stretch, I don’t foam roll, or do yoga, no massages (other than a back rub from Mrs. Bgddy now and again)… I just ride, 48 to 60 minutes a day during the week (two hours on Tuesday evening) and then I go a little crazy on the weekends. I normally save my easy rides for the shorter days but other than that, I have no real cheats.
The trick has been to enjoy a slow day two or three times a week, and my slow days are slow, five or six mph slower than my fast days. No dead legs, no overuse injuries… and I’ve actually managed to get a little faster and stronger. It’s working, I haven’t had one negative consequence and I’m no longer missing otherwise perfectly good days to ride. Sure I get stuck from time to time taking a day off for weather or obligations, but I don’t have to watch a clear, sunny day go by, wishing I could ride instead of sticking to a schedule.
There are a few points I’d like to add. First, cycling is not running. There’s no way I could comfortably run every day, not like I can ride. Second, this post contains my experience only. I choose not to subscribe to the standard, “Thou shall take X number of days off” way of doing things. Not because I’m some fitness junkie, but because I love to ride my bike. Simple as that. Third, and this is written tongue-in-cheek, I realize I’m an exceptionally strong man and don’t expect anyone else in America, short of a pro cyclist, could possibly keep up with me and ride a bicycle every day for weight loss, fitness, or enjoyment (even though there are bike every day campaigns worldwide). If you have to listen to your body, just make sure it’s your body calling the shots, not your melon over-exaggerating every little niggle that troubles you.
Finally, before you head to the comments section to tell me about how I should listen to my body, I already do. Mine says, “Gimme more big shooter”.
So, Fit Recovery’s definition of “Taking time off the bike” is now, “What’s that? Those words don’t have to hang out in that particular order, ya know?”
UPDATE: As an afterthought, there is one last important point that I should have made in this post… I’ve tried the “no time off” approach before and failed miserably. Specifically, my easy rides were way too fast. On a recovery ride I was averaging north of 18 mph, only 4 mph slower than my best pace with a small group (less than 20 cyclists). I ended up with what we like to call “dead legs”… Didn’t matter how hard I tried, I had a tough time keeping pace once the hard days came around. It was classic over-training. Today, I’ve got another two years worth of miles on my legs and dropping the slow rides down another couple of miles per hour has helped considerably. Also, with the base I have now, I could go faster. I could do more but I don’t want or need to. I am, without a doubt, in an excellent spot where I’m fit, trim, and happy. That’s all I ever wanted with fitness in the first place.
It was close to 75 when cleats clipped into pedals, at 7:15 am, in Michigan, that’s kind of a big deal. The temp was forecast to top 90 well before we returned to the parking lot. In Florida that’s Tuesday, we only see a handful of those days way up here just a couple hour’s drive from the 45th parallel. That means one thing for me: A lot of work cycling with my friends. For some crazy reason I’m blessed with an amazing body temp regulation system when I’m on a bike. While others are struggling I’m usually having a fine ole time of it. On hot days, when I’m with my friends (in this case, Mike, Phill and Carla) I spend an inordinate amount of time up front or second bike.
Every once in a while I can form a minor resentment at having to do all of that work… Until I get home and complain to my wife who promptly reminds me that I love being that guy. And she’s right, I do. Today was not one of those rare days. I was happy with my role as that first drop of sweat hit my top tube. I was still smiling when we pulled into the parking lot 65 miles later. I do love being that guy. The uninitiated would ignorantly write that off to an over-inflated ego or a superiority complex but that’s not it at all. A guy with an over-inflated ego or superiority complex would bury everyone in the group so he/she could then listen to everyone talk about how strong he/she is. For some, a minority, that may be the case.
To the initiated, we’re happy to be that person. We’re glad that we have the ability to help our group – to be of use. Two days before I came home from vacation, my compadre Mike called and told me that I had to come home, that he needed me to help carry our group because he was tired. That was music to my ears. It does me good to know that the people I ride with can ride just a little faster and a little farther because I’m in the group.
So halfway through the ride, well a little more than halfway, we stopped at a convenience store and I picked up what has become my favorite mid-ride snack, one of those tiny bottles of Coke and a Snickers (I prefer a Payday because they have more peanuts but the store we stopped at didn’t have them in stock). For Noobs, before you recoil at the horror of drinking a soda and eating a candy bar, relax. There’s a method to the madness: The caffeine and sugar in the coke provide and excellent, quick boost. In the Snickers, you’ve got the sugar boost and some decent longer burning fuel in the peanuts. If you’re feeling it a little bit, that combo can absolutely turn you around. The trick is not tapping that resource more than once or twice in a long ride.
The temperature was already well into the upper 80’s and it was getting to a point where I could feel the heat radiate back off of the road surface no matter how fast I was going… That’s when you know it’s hot.
I did my part for the rest of the ride. I took 6-10 minute turns up front, kept a consistent pace, didn’t cook anyone on the hills* and when one of the others looked like they were flagging a little in the heat, I went around to give them a little more time to rest at the back. We made a command decision to cut the ride a little short because Carla’s got a sprint Tri today at our last stop… I chose a cold fruit punch PowerAde that absolutely hit the spot. I topped off one of by bottles with PowerAde and drank the rest and we were off..
The wind had not been favorable to our choice of routes though it wasn’t really all that strong (only about 5 mph). We started out with the wind at our back and ate it all the way home. With about ten miles to go though, I noticed some clouds building on the horizon. They were not the pretty, wispy clouds. They were the “it would behoove you to pedal a little harder” variety. We did, and pulled into the parking lot with just five minutes to spare…
Last week, with vacation, I ended up with only 60 miles for the week. After yesterday’s 67 miles and today’s 50 (give or take), I’ll cap the week with a minimum of 220 miles – right back on track. Yesterday’s ride wasn’t very fast, we only averaged 18 mph when it was all said and done but considering the heat and the finishing temp of better than 90 degrees, I was more than happy with it. In fact, I had a fantastic time. It’s good to be back without missing a beat.
*I have a tendency to push too hard in the hills and I end up dropping people, unintentionally. I’ve had to really pay attention to who I’m riding with when we get into hills… It’s a delicate balance. Of course, on Tuesday night I get dropped in the hills, so there’s that too.
GCN came out with a new video last week entitled “How to Pedal”.
They don’t specifically say so in the video, they reference “back pedaling”, but this new video is completely counter their old video advice of trying to work on a smooth, full circle pedal stroke.
Now, far be it from me to criticize someone for having to walk back what they’ve said once they found out that it really isn’t that big a deal once they get the science sorted out. It is what it is boys. I do have a problem or two with the newer video though. The new notion is that pedaling a bike should be an organic, “let your body find it’s own Zen pedaling stroke” kind of thing. This might not be bad practice if we were all teenagers hopping onto a bike for the first time, but we’re not. In my case I was a runner long before I ever started cycling. One thing we all know about runners is that they tend to mash really hard gears. If I had to guess, this would be because we’re used to the shock of running so we tend to transfer that “feel” to the bike. The problem here is that when you put a runner on a bike they naturally want to work inefficiently on that bike – so letting your body find its happy place in a pedal stroke, at least in the two for two cases I’m intimately familiar with (my wife’s and mine), it makes a lot of sense to make the body learn to spin more and mash less.
I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that I’m a better cyclist for changing how I pedal, for adopting a rounder pedal stroke and an easier gear/higher cadence style of riding.
They go on, in the video, to explain that one should let their body find it’s natural cadence… Well, going by my experience, this is only true for the three or four year cycling vet, not for the true noob. Truthfully, I could rehash everything I wrote in the previous statement because it all applies. My cadence was really slow when I started but now that I know what I’m doing, how to climb hills, how to shift for them, how to cycle them, now that I’ve had time to log a few hundred group rides and see how important an efficient pedal strokes and decent cadence is, yes I can let my body find its happy cadence. I had no such luxury as a noob though. I had to work at it.
The remainder of their five points look great and make a lot of sense. However, I definitely advocate pitching that runner’s cadence and tendency to mash a hard gear when picking up the cycling.
A Noob’s Guide to Cycling: To Climb Hills Like a Goat, Speed is Everything and One Simple Thing that can make You Bust Your Butt or Cruise Up the Steepest Inclines with a Smile on Your Face
It’s that time of year again my friends, I’m cycling in the mountains and I’ve got a lot of interesting things to mull over. I’m droppin’ ’em like they’re hot.
Unlike years past, this year I spent all of my road time with my wife. While I could have gone off on my own to rack up the miles, getting more miles just wasn’t that big a deal. I’m way up over last year and I’m just in a different place with cycling since I managed to balance my desire to be fast with the ability to enjoy riding with my better half.
Riding with my wife provided me, not only with the opportunity to get a bunch of enjoyable rides in but to really pay attention to little differences in the characteristics of a different style of riding. She’s a few miles per hour slower than I am but fast enough that I get a decent recovery ride at her comfortable pace. Throw in a bunch of hills and things get interesting.
What I’ve learned riding hills at a slower pace is that while I don’t work as hard on the flats and on the descents, I have to work harder on the climbs. A lot harder. There’s a simple truth at work here: When it comes to climbing hills, especially rollers, speed is your friend.
Now it goes without saying that the more speed you can carry into a climb, the less you’ll have to work going up the rest of the hill once your momentum bleeds off. For instance, just before the halfway point of our normal vacation ride, we climb up an absolutely nasty hill. It’s bad enough that I’m almost in my granny gear on the race bike and I have to drop to the baby ring on my triple when I bring the Trek. On the way back though, if I put some leg into it, I can hit 40 mph and I don’t have to pedal hard again for almost a half-mile, over three or four short ascents and a nice flat to slightly uphill section (too much speed would make the switchbacks too tough to manage with traffic). That same section at a slower pace and I’m pedaling the whole way and really working on the ascents. This is the low-hanging obvious fruit though.
Being in the right gear heading into a big climb is huge too. I want to be in a cruising gear or one up (harder to pedal) from that. Once I sense drag on my cadence, I downshift – and I keep downshifting when my cadence drags until pedaling becomes easy enough to sustain a decent cadence (or I run out of gears) for the remainder of the hill. To define “easy enough” can be quite difficult, but here’s my test: If I can accelerate going up the hill with a little extra effort, I’m in the right gear. If I have to grind to accelerate, I’m in the wrong gear – I need to downshift.
Cadence and Spinning Vs. Grinding and Finding the Right Gear
Watching my wife’s struggles and talking with her about them, one of her biggest issues was getting into the right gear before she came up to a hill. She fumbled with the high gears cresting the hills and heading down, she coasted at the worst possible times and then had a rough time getting into the right gear on the way up the next hill. When speed is your friend, troubling with the gears is exactly what we don’t need – you can end up grinding when you want to spin and spinning wildly when you want to grind (this is exactly what my wife was suffering through – heck, even I had a tough time more than once).
So here are my little tricks for not getting stuck. First, don’t stop pedaling. When we stop pedaling whether we’re going up or down a hill, we can get stuck in too high or too low a gear and then we have to scramble to try to find the right gear. Second, throw your ego out the window when we’re talking about ascending a hill. Don’t worry about pace and speed so much as being in the right gear – the speed will come as you get the gear selection right.
We’ll start out on the flat first. It’s very simple, starting with my cruising gear, as soon as I feel drag on my cadence, I downshift and spin that gear till I feel drag again and downshift again. If I get stuck and have to shift big ring to little (up front), I give it two hard pedal strokes so I can lighten up on the pedal pressure, then shift one or two gears up (harder) in the back followed by shift to the smaller ring up front. It’ll be quite seamless once you get the hang of it and each gear setup is different so you’ll have to find what works best for you on your bike. Once I’ve crested the hill and start back down, I immediately go from the small ring to the big ring up front or upshift three gears in the back (smaller gears in the back, remember). Don’t try to do both, you’ll get caught in too hard a gear and you won’t be able to build momentum. Now, if you’re lucky enough to have a triple, except on really tough hills, you can do a lot of damage in that middle ring up front, you’ll only have to worry about shifting in the back. Take a look at that profile above. I was able to climb (spinning a decent 75-90 cadence) every hill on that out and back ride except that big one right in the middle in the middle ring (42 teeth) so I only had to mess with the rear gears for the rest of the ride. My Venge is a little trickier because it’s got a 52/36 double up front but the same principles apply.
Another big problem my wife faced was what to do when cresting a hill and heading down the back side. She was understandably pooped coming over the top of the hill so she’d stop pedaling to rest a second while she headed down. You can guess what happened when she hit 25 mph and hadn’t shifted because she wanted to coast… She was going 25mph in a gear meant for 12 and she’d have to try to upshift to match her speed without going too far up in gears where it got too hard to pedal. This had a profound affect on her momentum and gave her fits once she started climbing the next hill. The trick is to shift up a few gears and light-pedal while you rest. Just because you’re moving your feet around doesn’t mean you have to mash the pedals to go faster. You can still rest and pedal and you’ll be in the right gear when you do want to apply pressure to the pedals. This increases your momentum going into the next climb… because speed is your friend.
Now, as far as coasting goes, I did plenty of it to let my wife catch up, I just picked the right spots to do it. If you want to pedal light to catch your breath, do it at the top of the hill, not at the bottom. You’ll want to be on the gas once you start to pitch up and if you’re not pedaling at the bottom, you’ll never feel the drag to know when to downshift which can lead to, again, being in the wrong gear – and being in the wrong gear on the way up is worse than on the way down because you have to keep going forward or you’ll fall over. Shifting is also harder when you have a lot of pressure on the derailleur (not to mention shifting under pressure wears all of the drivetrain parts out faster) so it’s best to be pedaling at the bottom.
Finally, that last crucial tip I mentioned in the Title of this post. Get this right and you’ll be able to climb faster while working half as hard as others who don’t pay close attention to how they climb… And keep in mind while reading this: I’m 20 pounds heavier than when I was much slower in the hills:
Timing is everything. Get the timing of one shift wrong and you could be laboring up a relatively easy hill or spinning like a madman(woman) down the back. Get the timing right and hills are smooth and a whole lot faster. Take these simple tips and figure out how to put them to work for you. Before you know it, you won’t hate hills as much.
Tuesday night’s club ride was rough. Despite wanting to quit at some point in miles 7, 8, 9, 11, 12 I hung in there until all of my friends went first. More than once I had to remind myself that I’d feel better in a minute, I just had to keep going, especially during the few miles we hitting 50 km/h – folks, that isn’t downhill. Not surprising to me, I did feel better. It would come and go and I had to hide a few times to keep up but I also took my turns at the front, as short as they sometimes were. Once my friends and I chose to drop off the back, then the real work started. I am one of the younger fellas in our group and I enjoy being one of the horses of our little rabble so I don’t mess around. I work as hard as I can for my guys so we can all ride just a little faster… Lots of work, lots of speed…
Then there was last night. It was supposed to be an easy ride. I rode by myself, with my wife still on vacation in Georgia with the kids…. My mind started to shut off the instant my first cleat snapped into my pedal. My exquisitely maintained, immaculately clean Venge made only two slight sounds as I cruised down the road: The barely audible hum of the chain as each link roller met with a tooth from the 52 tooth chain ring could be heard under the whooshing of the tires on the asphalt. Into the wind, I topped out at 19 mph, where I thought I should be but my cadence was just a little too easy so I upshifted a gear and kept it at 20-1/2. Five stop signs (that absolutely must be fully stopped at under risk of death) and five U-turns later and I pulled into the driveway with a 19 mph average over 20 miles.
Under normal conditions I’d have been riding with my wife and we’d have pulled a 17-18 mph average but on my own, I was at that perfect butter-zone. Between 20 and 22 mph (sometimes up to 24 downhill or with a tailwind), where I’m putting forth a fair effort but I’m not really working hard enough to tax myself, that’s where I am at my happiest. That’s where my brain just shuts down the hamster wheel. It’s not that I can’t get there at slower speeds, I do, but for some reason when I hit that zone between 20 and 22 mph, all exterior thoughts outside of where I am at that very moment cease. No thoughts about work or the normal trappings of everyday life can bust through. This is where I am closest to my higher power (that I choose to call God but that’s me, and I only clarify for those ignoramuses who would leap to the conclusion that my Higher Power is me). This is my meditation. This is where everything is simply okay, where I’m just in the moment.
It could be fairly argued that one shouldn’t count cycling as meditation because as a cyclist you have to be too aware of your surroundings just to remain safe. That if I were sitting on the ground with my legs crossed, smelling of patchouli and barefoot, chanting ooooouuuuummmmm, I’d be able to truly experience letting go… Or if I were bent like a pretzel on a yoga mat… Look, I’m not one to argue. I’m also not much on yoga and barefoot and patchouli ain’t happening. I simply don’t have the personality for it so don’t bother. I know, done it, tried it, it’s just not happening. It’s perfectly fine if that works for others, it’s just not my cup of joe. The truth is, I simply can’t sit still that long without falling asleep, for one. For another, good God is that stuff boring! I have nothing but admiration for those who can sit still like that, I’m just not exactly wasting away opining that I am not one of them anymore either.
My point is this, I’ve wasted precious time in my past trying to be another type of person. I’ve tried to sit still and meditate, to do the oooouuuuuummmmm thing, and then wondered what was wrong with me that I didn’t have the patience when all along, cycling was what I needed to fulfill that space that could be classified as the need to unwind.
Long ago I was a follower. When someone said, “Try meditation, it’s wonderful for the soul”, I would try it, only to become frustrated that their version of how to achieve that didn’t work for me. I wondered what was wrong with me that I’d fall asleep when I tried to use quiet time to quiet my mind. Only later in life did I realize that I don’t have to like everything that another thinks is wonderful. It’s not that there’s something wrong, it’s that I’m not that guy. There’s nothing wrong with me for not liking it just like there’s nothing wrong with someone who does. I want to be open-minded and teachable but I don’t have to glom on to every fad that comes down the road either. I am okay with who I am and that’s good enough for government work. I even know what’s in the Bill before I pass it.
Last night was my return to the Tuesday night club ride and there was plenty of sucking for everyone. Now I know what 31 mph in a group feels like. It’s frickin’ fast. It’s also a lot of fun. And it. Is. Frickin’. Hard. Hard enough that it’s simply stunning to contemplate just how tough it would be to hold that speed for an hour, even on a perfect wood track, with no wind.
We started out tamely enough, at 18.5 mph with a howling crosswind to let the full group form up, Mike and I up front. Then we turned north, right into the teeth of the wind where the horses took over and momentarily took us up to 23-1/2 mph… I was chucking, looking at my computer. No way they were going to hold that into a sustained 20+ mph wind. Sure enough, they brought it back down to a more reasonable 20 to 21 after a couple of miles. Six miles later, we turned southwest and had the wind at our back. We were at 24 right off the turn and it was cranked up to 26 within another 100 yards. A mile later and we were dead west with a gnarly crosswind, then southwest again and up to 28. We got progressively faster until we hit the first due south section. We crossed 30 mph for the first time I’ve seen on a Tuesday night and held there for several miles. It was rough, for sure but it was nothing short of awesome. I can sprint, from a rolling 18 mph, to 32 mph easily enough, but to cruise at over 30 for miles was really quite cool.
Mike, Phill and I dropped off the back unceremoniously, on the first set of hills, having had enough. We were the last three of the “B” riders to drop. Five miles later we stopped at the side of the road to wait for Phill to change a flat after he rolled over a fairly large rock in the road. Then we were on our way again. We talked about two of our friends who are going through illnesses, about how we can help them stay active through their struggles, dedicating ourselves to protect them when they choose to ride so they can still maintain some level of fitness for when they heal up (hopefully) and come back to the group whole.
We worked hard, but not too hard, until we caught Carla and her son (she rode her old mountain bike so she could get a good workout with her young son on his road bike). As we passed, I heard him ask his mom if he could try to stay with us. She gave her blessing and I dropped back 20 feet to help him up to the group. I looked back to see him bobbing a bit, trying to get a good draft, so I pointed out where to hang on my wheel and he took his spot. The three of us protected the little fella (he’s maybe twelve) and took rotations at the front. He managed to stay with us for the last four miles and crossed the line with the big kids.
The three of us gave him his “attaboy’s” and I asked him if he noticed how Mike, Phill and I took turns pulling, allowing him to use our draft to stay with us. He said he did and appreciated it. I took took the opportunity to learn him a little lesson in cycling with our group. I said, “When you’re an older buck, you’re going to find yourself in the position of being stronger than someone else who needs your help to stay with the group. We do our best to help those who need it, so remember this day and help them to be the best they can, that’s just how we roll.”
Later on, while we were packing up, Carla rolled up wiping a few tears from her eyes. She thanked the three of us for watching after her boy, and said it was the most amazing thing to watch him pull away…
We didn’t break any PR’S last night, but it was the best club ride I’ve been a part of in a long time. It was a good night. Oh, and we didn’t even get rained on!
So, you’re a cycling enthusiast and you’re coming home with relatives. Your wife has asked if she can keep the kids for another week, so you’re going to be flying solo… The car pulls out of the driveway at 4:30 am. You spend the next 12h:07m:38s in the car…with only two pee breaks. Seriously.
Fortunately, I knew what was coming so I stopped drinking fluids around six the night before. Anywho, twelve long hours and I stretch my legs, pee for ten minutes, and haul my gear inside.
It’s 4:50pm now and you have a choice. You’re physically tired from one awesome vacation but you’re a little worried you didn’t quite get enough miles in over the vacation and you know good and well, it’s easier to keep the train rollin’ than take a day off right before the big club ride tomorrow night…
A) Say skip it, take the night off. Maybe watch a movie or something.
B) Figure you worked more than hard enough to chance it tomorrow night, order a pizza, eat the whole thing based on your “active vacation”.
C) Take an easy 10 mile ride, looking at all of the wonderful scenery, just to keep the legs spun up…
or D) Start out at an easy pace, only to find that your easy pace jumped from 19 to 22 mph because you hammered the mountains so hard, so you maintain that throughout the ride only dropping below 20 when you’re into the wind… Then order that pizza but only eat half of it (man did that taste good!) and watch the homerun derby. For you folks across the pond, that’d be “watch a soccer match”. Err, European Football or something. Chuckle.