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How To Become a Fast Cyclist; The Tools You’ll Need, Plus the One Single, Most Important Factor That’ll Allow One to Achieve Fast…

I am fortunate enough to be in the upper crust of cyclists (I almost used the word “lucky”, but luck has/had nothing to do with it).  Locally, I’m in the second tier of riders, but I’m told by visitors who happen by our group, our B Group is everyone else’s A Group, so I’m also fortunate to have a great pool of exceptional cyclists to ride with who consistently help me improve.  I’ve been riding with the same group for seven years and we, as a group, have increased our average pace over our usual 28+ mile course from 20.5-mph to well over 23-mph.  The A Group increased from 21.5 to 25-mph over 32 miles (and change).  Keep in mind, this is all on open roads… we have to stop for stop signs.  If we were to close the course so we didn’t have to worry about traffic, we’d easily be able to maintain 24-ish and 27-ish mph averages.

I detailed, specifically, the workouts I did, from day one on a mountain bike two sizes too small, to get fast in this post if you’re interested.

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I love that post.  It’s one of my most popular of all-time, but it’s missing a little something.  What’s more important than simply going fast, which anyone can do with the right equipment and desire, is being happy on the bike.  Some people have to push it to the edge to smile, and for those folks, more power to their pedals.  This is why I ride with the B Group rather than the A’s.  With a little work, I could ride with the faster group.  I’m infinitely happy with the friends I ride with, though.  I don’t need to be any faster.  So, my point is this: Enjoy cycling first.  If you’re still willing to put in the work required to be fast, read on.

Next, on to the important stuff.  The equipment you’ll need is important to the discussion.  You absolutely can get away with an aluminum bike in a fast group; I have two friends who ride aluminum road bikes – well, only one, now.  One guy finally picked up a Venge.  The second guy rides a high-end Specialized Allez with Zipp wheels, a Specialized Aerofly carbon handlebar and all the bells and whistles you’d want on a high-end race bike.  Basically, he rides the equivalent of an aluminum Venge.   He, and four others, hold the World Record for cross-state travel.  In other words, you don’t need carbon fiber to succeed (though it certainly doesn’t hurt).

More important is the component set, or groupset.  At a minimum, you’ll want Shimano 105 or SRAM Rival.  Better, Ultegra or Force.  I left Campagnolo out, but that’d be the Potenza or Chorus lines… or Record and another $800 to $1,000… The 105 and Rival levels are the entry-level race sets.  Anything below those and you have to deal with inadequacies and inefficiencies that get in the way of maintaining speed.  You could get away with Shimano Sora, but the 9-speed drivetrain leaves “cadence holes” – gaps in cadence between cogs, greater than 10 RPM.  11-speed is preferable, though I do fine with 10-speed.

I’ve got one of each component sets; an Ultegra bike and a 105, the only difference between the groupsets is weight.  They operate about the same, which would be excellently.

Next, and just as important as the groupset, are the wheels if you want to be fast.  Without question or exception, unless you’re freakishly strong, you’ll want a decent set of wheels on that bike.  On my good bike, shown above, I’ve got 38 mm carbon fiber wheels.  Some prefer 50 mm at a minimum but we deal with a lot of wind during the beginning and end months of a season.  I chose a rim that would be compliant in higher winds.  Alloy wheels are fine, though we would want to look for something with a decent aero profile, if possible.  I also prefer bladed aero spokes.  The important point with wheels is that they roll well.  The original wheels that came with my Venge are absolutely horrible – I can’t stand them.  They’re easily a mile an hour slower than the Velocity/Vuelta set on my Trek (below).  While you’ll want a good set of wheels, good doesn’t have to mean expensive.  I’ve only got $550 into the Velocity/Vuelta wheels below.  My Ican wheelset was less than $500.

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I’ve got Velocity Fusion rims with Vuelta Hubs (sealed bearings) with 24 mm tires on my Trek

Now, let me be exceptionally clear here, all of the aero stuff in the world won’t make you faster – that stuff makes fast easier.  If you’re thinking you’re going to buy a set of aero wheels and an aero bike with an aero handlebar and you’re going to jump from a 16-mph average to 20, you’re going to be deeply disappointed to find you just blew $5,000, you’ve got no excuses left, and the real problem all along was the engine.  Of course, at least you’ll love the new bike!

The final factor in fast is your bike’s weight.  This is usually taken care of by choosing a decent wheelset and higher-end components.  Even an aluminum bike will be fairly light with a Dura-Ace groupset and decent wheels.  Bike weight is behind rider weight, of course, and losing rider weight is free.  The important point here, fast will be easier, considerably so, on a 15 pound bike than it will on a 24 pounder.

To put a bow on this post, the last, and without question, most important factor in the quest for speed, the thing that separates the men and women from the boys and girls, was mentioned earlier in this post as “desire”.

Simpler, and the way I like to say it, is “want to”.  A light, fast bike with fantastic wheels and a Dollar will get you a cup of coffee without “want to”.  In fact, as fast as I am, once I ran out of “want to”, that was it… I only got faster when and because the group got faster.  I am just as fast on my 1999 Trek 5200 (right) as I am on the “aero everything” Specialized Venge (left) – even with the alloy wheels on the Trek.  In fact, up until just this year, four full seasons after I bought my Venge, my fastest ride ever was on my trusty, old Trek.  And the Trek is three pounds heavier.

New, carbon fiber, aero bikes are fantastic.  All of that carbon fiber, aluminum, and titanium look awesome and you can bank on the fact that they’re fun to ride.

But without want to, that crap is useless.

Ride hard, my friends.

Only 25 Miles To Go To 6,000 and a Neat Surprise In the Closing Miles

I’ve only got 25 miles to cross 6,000 outdoor miles for the year, and I should hit that this morning…

It was a cold start yesterday morning. At just 24° (-4 C), but there wasn’t much wind and the sun was out, so at least it wasn’t brutal.

In fact, after a wet couple of weeks, the cold froze the dirt roads so we could skip asphalt.

We rolled out at 8:30 am and hit frozen dirt almost immediately. The ride was advertised as an easy, fun pace and that’s exactly where we kept it. I can’t remember a cold weather ride that was more enjoyable. I was dressed just right, possibly a touch on the warm side, so I was never uncomfortable, and the company was awesome.

Sadly, not long after the 14-mile mark, with the sun warming the air, it also warmed the frozen roads. They started turning to mush just seven miles from home.

It was fantastic being outside, riding with my wife, a friend, and a new friend. I’ve been stuck on the trainer so long, it was fun.

Now for the surprise. About six or seven miles from home, I hear John, a relatively new rider to the group, mention the Affable Hammers to Diane. My wife and I were talking a couple of yards ahead, side by side. The mention of the Hammers got my attention, though. He said something to the effect, there’s a blog out there and the guy writes a lot about the Affable Hammers…

A smile stretched across my face. I turned my head, the smile still across my mug, and said, “That’s me, man”. He said, “That’s so cool, I feel like I know you already”. We talked about blog stuff over the next few miles.

I’ve bumped into people who read my blog, people I never would have expected, about a half-dozen times, and every time it makes me feel good about what I do here. It makes all of the time I put into it worth the effort. Thank you, John. You made my day.

We pulled into the driveway with 27.2 miles which got me to 5,976.1 miles for the year, according to Strava’s total… I should have 6,001 outdoor miles after today’s ride. As for overall miles (indoor and outdoor), I crossed over 7,700 yesterday – I’ll hit 8,000 for the year, easily(!). Too cool.

UPDATE:

How I Handle Adversity in Recovery: A Fantastic Week, Grinding Out the Miles After My Unsettled Recovery Anniversary.

Last week was a pretty good week as weeks go.  With my anniversary, I was squirrely as I can remember ever being – so much so, it was unsettling.

Of course, in my world, because everything happens in God’s world for a reason, unsettled is a good thing.

Allow me to explain.  Friends, there’s nothing like a little unsettled squirreliness to remind a fella exactly where he stands in the recovery game.  Tomorrow is a promise to no one in recovery.   Not to put too fine a point on it, but I still have to watch my @$$.  Last week I saw alcohol everywhere.  Commercials, on TV, driving down the street, at work… everywhere.  Usually, that stuff just fades into the background, I don’t even notice it anymore.  When I get close to my anniversary, though, something changes and things go a little haywire for a week or so.  This squirreliness isn’t always noticing booze, either.  It varies from year to year, but one way or another I manage to find a way to be unsettled around my anniversary.

I don’t know what causes this, nor do I really care.  I just accept it for what it is and use the experience to strengthen my recovery, because that’s what we do.  I remember what it was like to hang on to recovery by a knot at the end of a thread, praying with everything I had that an urge to drink again would pass.  Sometimes I’d just repeat in my head, “God help me.  God help me…. over and over again, until sanity returned.  At quiet times in my head, I’d ask for ten seconds of sanity before I did something stupid; and that worked.

My friends, everyone has tough times.  Everyone.  Rich people, poor people, kind people, mean people… As recovering alcoholics, we don’t have an artificial escape from the chaos anymore.  We have to accept it as it is, work some steps at it, and get on with doing the next right thing in any given situation.  It’s simple as that, so that’s what I do when the hamsters start running on the hamster wheel again.  My unease is a gift that reminds me I could be out there with nothing in a matter of months – all I have to do is take a drink and I’ll be in free-fall within days.  Recovery is a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of my program and my relationship with my Higher Power.

My anniversary was Monday, it’s now Thursday, and my attitude and outlook are improving daily.  I’m finally relaxed again, rather than being a bit “on edge”.  I’ve been busy, though.  It seems the nine-hour workdays just fly by, then I get home to grind out some trainer miles before heading off to whatever event we’ve got lined up for the evening.  Then I get home and crash out by 8 pm, just to turn around and start it all over again at 3 in the morning.

There’s nothing like being so tired at the end of a day that you simply can’t keep your eyes open any longer.  They say the average person should fall asleep in 23 minutes.  It takes me 23 seconds.  I know when I’m that tired at the end of a day, I’m getting as much as I can out of life, and I dig it.

Today’s another day in a really good life.  It’s another day in paradise.

Recover hard, my friends.  There just might not be a do-over.

Vegans Over the Edge… Yet Again: Class Action Lawsuit Against Burger King for Using Same Grill as Normal Burgers. Paging Captain Obvious, Please Call the Office

Trigger (heh) warning:  This post will be somewhat of a hit piece on a specific, small, yet exceedingly loud portion of the vegan/vegetarian population.  Not quite what would come out of the New York Times if it pertained to President Trump, because at least this will be truthful, but I’m going to be pretty blunt, as my disclaimer to the left explains.  I’m not, in any way, shape, form, or manner, trying to say all vegans and/or vegetarians are bad, mean-spirited, ignoramuses… just that a very specific cult of that small group is.  You have been trigger (heh) warned.

My wife has a vegetarian friend who once complained that my grill had meat cooked on it at one time, so she’d prefer it if I didn’t grill her veggie burger on that same grill…  I did figure a way around that for her, though.  I steam cleaned that side of the grill to her liking, applied some oil to keep her burger from sticking, and grilled her veggie burger.  I did this because I love my wife, and her friend is pretty cool about the whole thing, anyway.  Now, if she were like some people…

When Burger King came out with their Impossible Whopper, however, I had a feeling a complaint wasn’t too far off because there’s no way Burger King was going to appease the vegan nutter base.  What’s it been?  Three months and some change.  One way or another, someone was going to go all apoplectic.  I should have published something to show what a genius I am… and what a loser the vegan who would eventually sue Burger King is:

The lawsuit alleges that if he had known the burger would be cooked in such a manner, he would have not purchased it.
The Burger King that Williams visited did not have signage at the drive-thru indicating that the plant-based burger would be cooked on the same grill as meat, the suit says.

Paging Captain Obvious, please call the office.

What did this knucklehead think, Burger King would install another grill to grill their Impossible Whopper?  The guy, if he thought that, is impossibly stupid.  He obviously has never looked beyond the cash counter to see how little room there is in the back of a Burger King – there’s certainly no room for another broiler!

Where this, and so many sordid stories like it, runs afoul of decency is when nutters try to impose their idiosyncrasies on the rest of civilization.  It’s not Burger King’s job to anticipate and prepare for every nut who walks into a Burger King.  If Phillip Williams has a problem with his veggie burger being cooked on the same grill as a normal burger, perhaps he should be wearing signage stating that his beliefs run counter to popular norms and he prefers his burgers to be prepared a special way… this way the employees can simply nuke his Impossible Whopper (I’d bet that’s BK’s “non-broiler method of preparation”) and be done with it:

“For guests looking for a meat-free option, a non-broiler method of preparation is available upon request,” the site notes.

This can be put in simple terms, folks; if you require your food to be prepared in a special way, not in the norm, and obviously Phillip Williams knows he does, then it’s his responsibility to make sure his needs are met, not someone else’s.

Better, in a sane world the court would make the complainant prove his/her/their Impossible Whopper actually did get beef on it from being cooked on the same grill.  What most people don’t know about Burger King broilers (that I happen to), is that the grill is a based on a conveyor belt system, about 2-1/2 feet wide by, maybe five feet long (if memory serves), so the grill actually goes through the fire a second time which gives any meat that might be stuck to the links time to cook off.  Thinking back on teenage days at BK, more than three decades ago, I can’t remember ever seeing any buildup on the conveyor, certainly not like one would see on their home grill, and certainly not in amounts that would lead to meat clinging to the conveyor so it could then be transferred to someone’s Impossible Whopper – the claim this could happen seems shady to me.

Anyway, insufferable people are insufferable.  Paging Captain Obvious.  Again.

Sobriety is ALWAYS a Longshot… But It’s a Beautiful Thing When You Work It.

My name is Jim, and I’m a recovered alcoholic. I have recovered from a seemingly helpless state of mind. I was, at one time, so depraved, it’s hard to believe I was that guy.

I am a small miracle. Anyone who makes it a year is. I once couldn’t make it 24 hours without a drink or the shakes would start.

The first year was a gift. The next four were hard work. The clouds started to break up at ten years. Our first daughter was born at eleven. Our second was born at 14. The clouds parted at fifteen. At twenty, the clouds dissipated and it was time for the flippin’ sunscreen, baby. The last seven years have been glorious, though with some challenges.

It wasn’t that the years before 20 were bad, far from it. They were challenging, though, through the looking back glass. I was learning how to live a sober, clean life, and sometimes I bumped heads with good orderly direction.  Even so, life seemed good enough it was often tough to wrap my head around it.

The easiest way to describe the last couple of decades and change is like this: Each year sober was a new gift. I had no clue how good life would eventually get, so I never felt like I was shortchanged. It just kept getting better.  And that’s the idea.

Every year, since 2012 when I wrote the following post, I like to link to it around my anniversary.  It is, without question, the best thing I’ve ever written.  Please click here and give it a read:

November is a special month for me. I celebrate every single day of the entire month. I celebrate having the ability to have a wife and two fantastic daughters. I celebrate being on the right side of the grass, pumping air. I celebrate being able to love my wife….

[Tap the link to read on]

On 27 Years Sober; A Celebration of Sorts, But a Trip Through the Darkness, First…

From the Big Book, page 151-152

The less people tolerated us, the more we withdrew from society, from life itself. As we became subjects of King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm, the chilling vapor that is loneliness settled down. It thickened, ever becoming blacker. Some of us sought out sordid places, hoping to find understanding companionship and approval. Momentarily we did-then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four Horsemen-Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair. Unhappy drinkers who read this page will understand!

Now and then a serious drinker, being dry at the moment says, “I don’t miss it at all. Feel better. Work better. Having a better time.” As ex-problem drinkers, we smile at such a sally. We know our friend is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself. Inwardly he would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn’t happy about his sobriety. He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end.

Been there. I’ve got the t-shirt, and worn it to tatters.

It’s been a long time since I felt the cold desperation of my jumping-off place. I haven’t forgotten the feeling, though. I remember it like I was there yesterday.

There’s a better, brighter future for we alcoholics. There is a new freedom, a new happiness… a new peace.

If you’re struggling with alcohol, walk into a meeting and sit down. If you can’t picture life without alcohol, the problem is with the eyes through which you look. It’s not the process, or the program. Given a chance, your perception will change over time. It does, if we allow it.

When I was sitting in those shoes, I was the problem. It was my eyes that were inadequate to see a way out, let alone see a way to happiness and freedom. I did get there, though. One day at a time.

To start, though, what’s important is that a leap of faith is far better than a leap.

I made it to the other side. I can see the sun shining and it feels good. And if I can get there, anyone can.

For those who are new, let me be the first to welcome you to a new and glorious way of life. Freedom and happiness are not only possible, they’re promised. If we work for them.

And if nobody’s told you they love you today, let me be the first.

Good Lord, it’s good to be free. Join me. I’ll enjoy the company.

Of Course eBikes Are Cheating… But They’re Not At The Same Time.

I read an article on The Verge with a Title that said just the opposite of what my initial Title statement says… then went on to show that my Title is right.

Of course eBikes are cheating – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Imagine a middle-aged cyclist, late 40’s.  He’s quite fast, but knows how to enjoy his active recovery days.  His father, meanwhile, is sedentary but not averse to getting off the couch.  He buys an eBike and all of a sudden, straight out of the box, he can ride with his son.

I know this guy.  I ride with him on a regular basis, and you should have heard him talk about riding a bike with his dad.  That’s not cheating.  That’s a small miracle.  That’s using an eBike for good.

How about another case?  An older cyclist who’s begun to slow down decides to buy an eBike so she can keep up with her younger group?  Good Lord, folks, if ever there was a good use for an eBike, that’s it!

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No, where we’re going to run into trouble is on Strava, where you’ve got eBike riders trying to pass themselves off as natural cyclists.  This will be your normal braggart who, instead of shaving a few miles off a 30-mile ride to say he came in first, will say that he handed it to the A Group, whilst failing to include that he was on a $17,000 eBike.  Actually, we’d probably have to go with the B Group in our case, because they don’t make an eBike that fast yet.

I actually know a guy like this, only substitute a fully fared bullet trike for the eBike.  He took every local Strava segment there was until a friend flagged him and Strava stripped him of all his KOM’s (rightly so).  Sadly, there are those people out there.  Another friend of mine rode with a guy on a gravel ride a couple of months ago.  Later that day, he noticed the guy on Strava, bragging, “not to toot my own horn, but I was the first one back”… he’d failed to mention that to do so, he shaved seven miles off the ride with a shortcut.

That’s cheating.  Sadly, those people are out there.  While they do, momentarily, piss me off, eventually I get around to feeling sorry for them.  Imagine being so shallow that you’d resort to cheating and lying so you could feel better about yourself.  Friends, that’s sad.  And sick.  People like that need prayers – and that’s a good thing, because I need the practice.