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There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Just Bad Gear (And Other Nonsense Having to Do With Cycling In Bad Weather)
There is such a thing as bad weather for cycling. Let’s see if you can guess which photos best depict this simple truth:
Friends, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. When you have snow stuck to your eyebrows, that’s a pretty good indication you’ve just ridden in weather bad for cycling. Let’s say you know someone who’s extra-dim, though. Have them ask anyone who lives in Ireland (or most of the UK for that matter) and they’ll be more than happy to tell you all you need to know. Sadly, in such places, if you want to ride, you’re going to have to come to grips with a popup rain shower. I’d bet my lunch the saying originated either during a Minnesota winter or anywhere in the UK. There once was an All Seasons Cyclist who loved that saying (and did more than his fair share to prove its plausibility). There’s just one problem: real bad weather sucks. All good gear can do is make bad cycling weather suck less.
Let’s just say we’ve got, for comparison’s sake, on one hand, a sunny 80° day with a gentle breeze. On the other, a windy, 34° (1 C) day with a smattering of rain/snow mix. The first example, if you hadn’t guessed yet, is a good day for cycling. The second would be bad. You can’t put enough lipstick on that second pig to make it pretty.
See what I did there? I took a perfect day and compared it with a perfectly lousy day – I took the two extremes as examples to bolster an obvious statement so as to create controversy in the middle by playing the poles. That, my friends, is politics. Let’s look at a simpler scenario. Let’s take out the wind and rain and just go with a chilly night for a ride. I had one just the other night as a matter of fact, that provides an excellent example of how not to dress for the cold.
When I walked my bike out the door at 4:50 pm, it was 54° (12 C). Not exactly balmy, but pretty normal around here for mid-November, average. I rolled out over to Chuck’s house and found myself riding a little faster than I’d planned, to stay warm. I had on arm-warmers, a short sleeved jersey, and a nice long sleeve that I love for 50° rides – it doesn’t block the wind at all, though (thus, the jersey and arm warmers). For below the belt, I went with wool socks, mtb shoes, leg warmers and bibs. Again, normal for 50. I should have been fine and was quite flummoxed as to why I was cold.
In hindsight, once the sun started going down, the temp went with it, and the Weather Channel completely missed this happening. It had us in the upper 40’s till 9pm) but that’s not what we got. It turned cold. By the time I had four miles in it was down to 45° (7 C). Just two miles later, 37° (or 3 C). I was on the bad side of cold most of the ride (though it wasn’t too horrible as long as I didn’t coast much). I didn’t know why I was so cold while I was riding, but now that I can see the temp reading from my Garmin on Strava, it makes all the sense in the world. I should have had a thermal vest on as well, and a second layer down low, with either foot covers or at least toe covers. And that’s exactly where the saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear” makes sense.
There’s no question I was underdressed for that ride. In a case like that, the gear selection made for a chilly ride, even if it wasn’t technically my fault. The prognosticator at the Weather Channel wasn’t riding my bike, so “blaming it” on him does about as much good as $#!++!ng in my hand to prove a point. It wasn’t a “bad” ride by any stretch, either, but the right clothing would have made it vastly more enjoyable. And that was my first poorly judged weather scenario of the fall season.
In cases like that, good gear choices can absolutely make or break a ride. Getting closer to the bad pole, though, sucky cycling weather is sucky cycling weather, was ever thus.
Suffice it to say, some frickin’ days are meant for Zwift. Or a good movie. And jammies.
All year long, from riding on the trainer starting New Year’s Day to get into spring fit and strong, to the first thaw in early spring and all through summer and into fall, we grind and hammer to be tip of the sword fast.
There are recovery rides, of course, but at least four days a week it’s hammer down.
Then comes autumn proper. Cold morning temps near freezing, cloudy skies, and nature’s fireworks display. 23-mph on a road bike is double-cold, so we’ve taken to gravel bikes and easy rides on dirt roads.
We talk about the year gone by and crack good-natured jokes about the year’s miscues and bonks, and we spin the cranks. The pace is relaxed and fun – a bunch of old kids out on their toys. Fall is our time to stop and smell the dirt. To enjoy the gains we worked for all year long, to laugh and to ride with friends.
We’ve all heard or read “in these trying times” or “to save lives” so many times, they’re likely a trigger for most (I’m real close with “to save lives” myself), riding the back roads with friends “in these trying times” is the safest way I know to enjoy time together with others. While some of us like to act like hermit crabs, we all need friend time.
And so it was, Saturday and Sunday. We rode slow and had a lot of laughs. We watched the colors change right in front of us. And, just for a few hours each day, things were normal again. And it was good.
I clipped in, right first, push off, left, and rolled out. I was in Funkier bibs and my Assenmacher jersey, just barely warm enough to justify the getup. The clouds had rolled in hours ago and the wind was… incessant, and from the south.
I let the wind push me north, slowly picking up speed till I hit my first turn to head east. East sucked, wind out of the southeast. I bent my arms to lower my shoulders and head and casually spun into it. With the big ride on Tuesday, I actually had a goal with this ride and average pace wasn’t it.
Still early, I passed Chuck’s street to get an extra couple miles. It wasn’t looking too promising with the mounting cloud cover. I turned south and hit the real wind. And fresh chip-seal, still with gravel piled in the center of each lane and the middle of the road… half a mile, I gave up and carefully turned around. Heading north and west were much better.
I pulled into Chuck’s driveway just as he was coming out of the house. We rolled out. We had a nice crossing tailwind and talked about current events. Three miles later we were headed north and it started spitting on us… the old Michigan curse: 19% chance of rain means a 100% chance of being 19% wet.
Still, it wasn’t all that bad, so we pedaled on… 5% wet. A loop through a small subdivision for an extra mile and back north… 10% wet, and that’s when I saw what was coming. I looked for hope of a quick shower and respite. There was none. We were getting wet.
I told Chuck what was coming but we decided to ride it out a minute… more tailwind. Two minutes later, “spitting” became constant drizzle. 20% wet. A quarter-mile later, I threw in the towel. I told Chuck I was taking my toy home. He said he was going to ride it out.
It got dark in a hurry and I ground it out into the cross headwind, keeping my pace around 20. 30% wet. I concentrated on my pedal stroke, getting the most out of each revolution, while taking care to keep it right on the edge without going over. The pavement was wet, as was I. I tried not to think about the five miles ahead, all headwind.
Then south. 40% wet. It wasn’t so bad at first. I managed to get the pace up to 19 before a gust hit me, kicking me back to reality. 16-mph, then 17… 50%.
I turned east to dry pavement and the rain slowed to a spit… before picking up. Again, concentrating on the pedal stroke. Powering to the ground and around… 20-mph… and spitting became rain.
I pulled into the driveway after the hard grind into the wind and unclipped. Not drenched, but far from dry. I spent the next 20 minutes cleaning and drying my bike.
My wife was out and my eldest at the gym. Swimming practice had been canceled for the storms and my youngest left for a 4-mile run. I showered and readied my supper, a leftover burger from Saturday’s cookout.
Then, Star Wars The Last Jedi and sleep. I was out like a light, dreaming about drier days on two wheels and other happy thoughts. The last thought that went through my melon before sleep took me was how lucky I am to be me.
That’s a good way to end a day.
We’ve used summer up. We’re just a few days from fall and we had glorious weather on our hands yesterday – and it’s not going to be this nice again for the near future (though we can never rule out an early fall warm stretch for a few days). I needed to make the most of one of our last shorts and short-sleeve days.
Chuck was going to be ready at a quarter past five, I was on the road at 4:32, soaking up the sunshine, enjoying a nice, slow spin. Mrs. Bgddy had meetings and the girls had swim practice, so I was on my own for the evening – no time constraints, no awaiting responsibilities (except a meeting a few miles down the road at 8). I simply wandered, enjoying the feel of the Trek under me. I still had 15 minutes before Chuck would be ready so I headed up to loop around a local fire station parking lot before heading south into a cross-headwind, then over to Chuck’s. I did a loop around his subdivision, then turned around and looped the other way. I was lolling into a nice one-way righthand corner when a pickup truck with a trailer cut the corner making a left, forcing me all the way to the inside of the corner. I turned and shot him a “WTF” look and he came to a stop. I looped around and approached his window and asked, “Was that on purpose, or was that an oops?” He apologized profusely, saying I was right in his blind spot (the support arm for his windshield) and thinking back, that made sense – I could barely see his face. I told him all was well, no harm, no foul and went on my way and he on his.
Chuck pulled out of his driveway just before I got there and we were on our merry way. Chuck hit 15-mph as I caught him and he said, “This is about my pace for the night, right here.” And so it was. We got most of the headwind out of the way early and vented about current events and the comical way many issues are framed. The whole ride was chilled out, relaxed and enjoyable… until we noticed clouds coagulating to the north of us. A cold front was moving in and we managed to ride right up to the edge of it.
I pulled into the driveway with a little more than 31 miles and a 16-mph average – which is perfect because tonight will be a fast Lake Shannon Loop. With cool temps and a gentle breeze out of the south, I have no doubt it’s going to be… energetic.
So, what do we do when we’ve got a big ride planned for the next day? We carb load. This calls for pizza (right or wrong, I don’t care – I just like pizza and I’m more than okay with justifying eating it as “carb loading”). And I didn’t mess around last night. I got the good stuff from a local Italian restaurant. My pizza aficionado-ness is well earned – I’ve done everything from delivery to running a gourmet pizza shop when I was a younger lad. I know my pie. So I picked mine up, along with some good, old-fashioned Faygo Rock & Rye to wash it down on the way to my meeting. Only recently have I gone back to Rock & Rye, a favorite of my childhood. There’s something sweet about enjoying memories through the taste of an old soda.
The meeting, as is almost always the case with in-person meetings, was fantastic. I only hope I did someone some good with what I had to say. By the time I arrived home, I was good and cooked. I was asleep eight seconds after my head hit the pillow… and that’s exactly as it should be when you’re living the good life.
UPDATE: Funny how plans change… Can’t ride tonight. My daughters are going for a relay record this evening at swimming and I want to be there for it.
Finding The Joy In Slower Cycling When You’re Undoubtedly, Unquestionably Fast… It Doesn’t Have To Be One Or The Other
This post is a long time coming. It’s taken me the better part of ten years to figure this out and now that I have, I’m having a more enjoyable time cycling than any previous year – by a long shot. Allow me to expound…
Be Fast or Be Slow… But Be Happy… Or BOTH
Being fast is a bit of a double-edged sword. It sounds awesome to those who aren’t fast, but it’s not quite all “unicorns farting rainbows” as you might think. First, it takes a lot of work to get fast. There’s the solo rides, hill sprints, the hill repeats, the telephone/power pole sprints, and then you’re stuck feeling as though you have to go all out all the time. There’s a fear associated with that last bit – actually a few layers of fear. First, I was afraid I’d lose that speed, or at the very least, the mental drive to stay fast. There’s the fear that slow rides cause one to lose fitness. Then, there’s the fear that not riding fast at every opportunity will breed laziness, or a lack of desire to push hard enough that one is willing to hurl on one’s top tube.
It’s that last one that really hurts. The thinking is, if I take it easy, I might find out I like cycling slow and therefore lose the will to put in the effort to stay fast. I literally lost sleep over that. Not much, of course, but some sleep.
Put all of those together and I can be a very difficult person to ride slow with if I’m not in the right frame of mind or haven’t put in the requisite fast days. Ask my wife – she’s spent as much time grooming me to take it easy (and subsequently had to deal with her fair bit of venom) as I did grooming her to be fast.
Thankfully, because 2020 is so upside-down, this has been my fastest year and I’ve spent more slow, enjoyable miles than ever before. I learned a lesson I may never have without COVIDcation. Take 2020: 6,002 miles (so far) have taken me 377 hours. That averages out to just a 15.9-mph average. Last year’s average was 16.9 (both include everything from road to gravel to mountain). A drop of a full mile per hour on the overall average is huge. On the other hand, we’ve hit 24-mph once and logged several other 28-mile loops between 22 & 23-mph. Additionally, Thursday night went from being 20-mph for a hard workout to 22-mph.
So how could it possibly be that I dropped a mile an hour off of my average but turned out faster?
My wife, and taking massive turns in the headwind in her service, taught me how to f’in’ relax a little bit (more like verbally “beat me into submission”). As long as I got my weekly hard efforts in, who cared if I stopped to take a few photos at the side of the road and that burned five tenths off our average? Certainly not me! Not during COVIDcation. It ended up I was simply happy to be spending time with my wife. I figured I’d take five or six weeks to get back into the Tuesday Night groove when the rides started. It’d suck, but I’d get through it, I thought.
It didn’t take five or six weeks. It took a few to get my legs under me as we went from mild, late-spring temps to “freaking HOT” in the space of a week. I bonked out on a ride, gave up on one, then BAM. I got my legs after that and we were all over it.
I’ve done some decently fast centuries (six), a pile of metric centuries (a baker’s dozen), and set PR’s on the Tuesday and Thursday night routes – PR’s I didn’t think would be possible last year.
In other words, I’ve gone slower and gotten faster at the same time. I’ve been able to literally enjoy the best of both worlds without either messing the other up. In fact, because I’m able to enjoy the slower days with my friends so much, I’ve found myself a more fulfilled cyclist – and I’m happier all the way around.
There is one tiny trick to all of this, though: I must have my fast days. Without those, I get antsy. There is a part of me that has to go fast – speed, after all, is a huge part of the fun for me – I can only contain that beast for so long.
Garmin Incident Detection: A Fantastic Idea, Horribly Executed… I Finally Had to Shut Mine Off To Avoid It CAUSING a Crash
In theory, Garmin’s incident detection is a fabulous idea. A sudden stop and a klaxon alarm blares from your phone and emails go out to chosen contacts. Brilliant!
Ish. Well, not really.
In reality, it’s more likely to cause a crash than help someone who’s actually, you know, crashed, because it goes off if you stop your bike in an abnormal place (driveway, intersection, etc.). Now, for a certain group of naysayers I should clarify, by “stop your bike” I do not mean “grab a handful of brakes and skid that sucker to a tail-sliding stop, kicking up a cloud of dust”. No, I mean “stop your bike”. My tires cost $50+ a pop! No chance I’m stopping like that!
Garmin simply made the system too sensitive… say, by a factor of… guessing here… 20? Ish.
So, with cars behind me waiting to clear an intersection that I properly stopped for, the freaking alarm starts sounding. I had to clear the intersection to allow traffic behind me to get on with their lives after patiently waiting on me while trying to steer the bike through a turn, in traffic, with one hand and cancel the alarm within 35 seconds with the other, or the emails go out that I’m “rubber up” in a freaking ditch… and all because I stopped my bike a stop sign intersection.
Presumably, if I’d have rolled it, I wouldn’t have such a fantastic tale to pass along.
Last Saturday, in the middle of a century, my regular riding buddy, Mike, was on the toasty side and wanted to stop by the side of the road. I coasted to an easy stop at the end of a paved driveway, unclipped, put my foot down, looked back at Mike… and the klaxon. That was the last straw. After riding 103 miles and my ride was uploaded, I sat down and turned off the incident detection.
So, Garmin, a note to you on the incident detection system in your devices (Edge 520 Plus in my case), I’d rather turn it off and risk actually needing it than live with my phone bleating at me that I’ve stopped when I don’t roll through a stop sign at an intersection. Do us a favor, would ya? Turn that sensitivity down just a bit so we can, you know, use the incident detection system that actually detects incidents… not incidents and that you’ve stopped your bicycle.
After the weekend I had, work turned crazy Monday morning. A high-profile job had me scrambling all day long. I was on my feet most of the day and I was absolutely beat.
I got to the office early and left downtown Detroit late (don’t believe all of the reports, I did and I was on edge for nothing – everyone, cops to citizens were cordial – the weekend was crazy but Monday was back to normal). By the time I got home I almost thought about phoning it in. I knew my riding partner was hurting after a long weekend in the saddle, though. No chance he’d want to hammer it.
It was almost comical. Two miles in (four for me – I rode the two miles to his house) we were looking at a 15-mph average into a single-digit breeze… and I had no desire to try to raise it. I simply chose an easy gear and turned the crank. Chuck wasn’t coming around, either. We talked politics (he and I being on the same team, this is possible on a bike ride – when in a mixed group or if you don’t know the composition, I recommend sticking to the tried and true “no politics on a bike ride”).
I was just shy of 10 miles before Chuck came around to take his first turn up front… it lasted less than a mile-and-a-half. That was the last time he saw the front. This was perfectly fine with me. I knew Chuck was hurting after two centuries in a row (miles, not km’s) Saturday and Sunday. I did the Saturday century but kept my Sunday to 42 miles.
Twelve miles in and we were still below 16-mph for the average but my legs were starting to come back to life a little bit. I decided to pick up the pace. Not much, but enough.
Our max speed for the ride was just 23-mph and that took a decent quarter-mile long downhill to hit it.
16 miles in and I was starting to feel like me. I rode down in the drops just to change up my position a little, but maintained our slow pace. 18 miles, still up front and I could have picked it up to a more normal 20-mph pace. The pain in my back was gone, my legs were loose and happy. I didn’t budge off 18-mph.
I know guys who will swear up and down, “why ride if you can’t go all out?” It’s been a long while since I was one of those.
I pulled into the driveway with a 16.1-mph average over 22 miles and some change. I’d gone from run-down, not wanting to ride to feeling a little bit like myself in less than an hour and a half. The active recovery ride is the key to my riding every day – and there’s no question, a Foghat ride is a better fix for sore legs than days off. Monday’s are perfect for a slow ride. Take it easy.
I could almost smell that noodle salad.
The Fabulous Gloriousness That Is Cycling: Riding in a Fast Group of Friends… It’s as Good as It Gets
I put in a full day at work, ridden, rested, eaten, and I’m sitting on the couch, filled with gratitude for being me.A few stray thoughts have tried to stick in the gray matter, but they’re summarily dispatched with the cunning lethality of a samurai standing vigilant guard… in… um… my melon.We rolled out last evening, just eight pullers and two hanger’s on. We started out a little slow for my liking, but after the first mile, the pace cranked up into a light headwind.That would be the last time I worried about pace.We rolled out with the precision of a squad who’d put in thousands of miles together. We had two newer guys but they’d learned how to hide at the back. The eight of us who were taking turns up front had known each other for years. One fella in particular really stuck out. He rides a super nice LeMond modern steel bike (it weighs, dripping wet, something like 19 pounds, it’s really impressive). Dave’s hidden at the back for years but over the last several weeks he’s really come into his own. Before I left for vacation he’d managed to hang with the group for the full loop at a 23-mph pace, faster than he’d ever ridden in his life (he’s my age, a little older and has been cycling for decades). Last night, he took his lumps up front like a champ.Dave, if you read this, brother, it was really impressive, man. Nice work. It didn’t go unnoticed, all throughout the group.As we hit the 2/3’s mark, about 20 miles in, we singled up to make the most of the group we had. We were down to about six of us pulling and we hammered hard to the intermediate sprint. I was three bikes back and I heard one of the guys behind me, Toby, shift hard under pressure. That’s all I needed to hear and I hit the gas. Toby tucked in right behind me (I could see his shadow) and I tried to shake him to no avail and he cruised by me with Chuck on his tail with 100 yards to go (maybe a little less). Reports are, Chuck pipped him at the line by a tire.We hammered the home stretch, a couple miles into the wind and four home. The wind had died down a bit and we put in a great effort. Efficient is an excellent word for the whole ride. We had five or six for the final sprint to the line, but nobody actually sprinted. It seemed we were content with the 32 we were going as we crossed the line. I was.There weren’t any fist bumps with the virus, but you can bet we were all smiles as we downshifted and took our time heading back to the church parking lot.It was a perfect night.And that brings me back to the start of the post. It never ceases to amaze me how good I feel about the world and my place on it after a ride like that. It never gets old. I drifted off to sleep, a smile on my face. And I woke up with that smile still there.
The Fix For The Over-calculation of Calories in Strava, Endomondo, Garmin Connect… And Just How Far Off Are the Apps On Your Calorie Count? It’s A Lot.
I rode Tuesday night, our normal group ride night. The main event was 28 miles of pure awesome. It wasn’t terribly fast, but it was quick and I absolutely got the blood pumping.
Strava kicked back, once the ride uploaded, that I’d burned 846 calories over those 28 miles. The average speed was 21.5-mph. Max speed was just a shade under 35-mph. Estimated average power was 218 watts. My average heart rate was 136 bpm, max was 167, leading out the group at the first sprint sign above 30-mph for more than a half-mile.
I rode again Wednesday night. Nothing special, just a little bit of an active recovery ride with my buddy, Chuck to burn off the stiffness from Tuesday night. It’s been a long month and 2/3’s since my last day off and I’m really starting to feel it. Thankfully I’ve got a couple of days off coming up. God knows what I’ll write about (oh ye of little faith, I’m already working on those posts!). Anyway, 22 miles, 17-mph average, 114 watts… and 1,236 calories. Now how it God’s green earth do I burn 400 more calories on a shorter ride using 100 fewer watts over six fewer miles?!
Another ride Thursday, another 28 miles, but this one is a lot harder… more up. A bit more than double that of Tuesday night. I scored a new PR on that route, a 21.9-mph average. My average power was 240 watts. I was a happy man… another 12 achievements in 15 segments on Strava (that’s pretty good), including three cups and another on a warm-up climb. Average heart rate was 142 bpm with a max of 166. 880 calories burned.
That same ride last week? 235 watts, 21.6-mph average… 1,859 calories burned.
What’s missing is the heart rate. A heart rate monitor evens out the calorie burn and fixes the algorithm. I’d bet a power meter would do about the same. The point is, if you’re not using a heart rate monitor or power meter (or both), you’re burning less than half the calories your app says. I knew it was bad. I didn’t know it was that bad.
Ride hard, my friends. And know, if you’re not using a heart rate monitor, you’re actually burning about half the calories your app says you are. If you eat according to your Strava or Endomondo calorie burn, don’t be surprised when you put on weight.
One good thing I did learn about all of this, my Garmin is set to 190 for my max heart rate. I’ve bumped my head against 170 quite often but I can’t do much better. I thought there was something wrong with me till I learned you get your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220… or, for me, 170. It made everything make sense.
Garmin is down for some reason, so there’s no uploading (Bluetooth-ily) to Strava, Endomondo or Ride with GPS right now. You don’t have to manually enter your rides, though. In fact, uploading your rides is faster than manually entering them and it’s as easy as easy gets.
Strava and Endomondo are the same (I didn’t bother with RWGPS).
Open your computer/laptop. Plug in your Garmin device. Open your web browser. Open up your homepage. Hit the “+” button for “add a workout”. Choose “Upload Activity” (Strava) or “Import from File” for Endomondo. Your activity will be in the “Activities” folder on your Garmin device. Choose the proper file by the date. Click “Open”, customize your info and click “Save”. You’re done. Your ride will appear on your activity feed.
Super simple and you get all of your intricate data from your ride profile, rather than just entering in the miles and time and getting an average speed you’ll get everything, including segment records.
UPDATE: Kecia commented that it’s possibly a ransomware issue at Garmin… They’re still down as of 11 am today (7/24). I confirmed Kecia’s comment against multiple news sources. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Garmin tracks the perpetrators down. I have a feeling that’s going to get messy.