Pace Yourself

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Training ride number 10. You’re out on the road, feeling pretty good. The cause is right, the friends are right, and at mile 2, the pace is right. At some point, you notice the conversation dies down, and the guy who was right front of you is suddenly a couple hundred feet in front. Then you turn a corner, and he’s gone!

Image courtesy: Jeff Meyers

You think: he’s my height, age, and build. He was helpful, compared his bike to mine, and he was impressed that they were largely equivalent. As you go through the factors that made you eat his dust, you conclude: It must be me. How do I improve?

Addressing that question has taken years. This blog is full of researched and cited tips on safety, performance, nutrition, hydration, sleep, clothing, and dragons. Please search, browse, and enjoy.

New and experienced riders can feel this way. So, you are not alone. To answer the first part first: it is you. You are the rider who got up at 5 am to make the 7:30 am meet up time. You are the rider who stayed up late cleaning his bike. You are the rider who carved out 7 hours on a Sunday to ride 70 miles. You are the rider committed to schlepping his ass 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. You are already strong.

So the real question is: how could it be that that other guy is so much faster than I am? That question I will try to answer in a short series of posts which will help you to understand issues affecting performance. You’ll be surprised how subtle changes can affect your cycling.

But, if you want to start answering the question, you have to make me two promises. First, try to think: I’ve already won just by getting out of bed and onto my bike. Second, try to minimize comparing your performance to others. These are big asks, so I’m only asking that you try.

All promised? Good.

Here’s an outline of upcoming posts:

  • Maintaining a good spin to avoid muscle fatigue.
  • Climbing, descending, and flats.
  • Eating and drinking for performance.
  • Keeping your bike clean.
  • Working through your doubts and fears.
  • Riding in poor weather.
  • Setting a workable training schedule.

I will commit to writing one entry a week. That brings us up to about mid-April. Please message me and let me know what additional topics you’d like to talk about. And comment, below!

Your Bear


The Thing About Cycling

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Read my host of entries on why I ride in the AIDS/LifeCycle: the people, community, fighting homophobia and HIV/AIDS fears, and the joy of cycling. Here’s a bit of a primer on the joys of cycling for those who cannot fathom spending a day on a bike.

Waking up for a ride can be hard. Its 6 am. Or its 5 am. Or 4; or even 3 am. Riding a long distance is time consuming. The days grow longer, the weather fairer, and the miles and climbing increase. But with all these increases comes greater strength, more camaraderie as we help each other achieve our goals, and a renewed sense of commitment to cycling and to the charities which will bring about an end to AIDS in our lifetimes.

Preparing for the ride can also feel like a lonesome burden. Grumbling, your pets and husband(s) still slumbering peacefully, you have to don a thin layer of spandex which seems a bit insufficient to hide your shame, down as much coffee as possible, and hope you’ve consumed enough carbs for the day’s journey. But you do it anyway because you remember the last time when you reached your goals or you didn’t quite make it up that hill, or you saw a new rider full of pride because she finally got out of the house and made it to the top of a great climb.

[Click for image credit.]
Chris Horner being cheered by cyclists and fans. [Click for image credit.]
Then there’s the unfortunate drive to the meet up point. I try to ride to the meet up point whenever possible. But usually, especially when I’m riding far away or when the miles increase, driving is the only option. But even driving can become a joy when you get to commute with your friends. The secret here is planning and communication. Make sure you’re connected to your mates on Facebook, Twitter, or by text. Asking will doubtless get you a ride. And that’s always more fun.

Finally at the meet up point. It seems too cold to be wearing so little. Everything is a blur because there wasn’t time for enough coffee. But everyone else — though complaining about aches and pains and lack of sleep — is smiling broadly and looks happy to see you. When the Training Ride Leader comes around and asks how you’re training is going, you’ll find you have a lot to talk about and an interested ear. When you start to stretch, you realize that all those days of early mornings are paying off. The pains seem as phantom as the twilight which is rapidly giving way to blue skies (unless your ride starts out in San Francisco, in which case you’ll have to wait an hour or so for the blue to emerge from the grey).

The ride begins and you feel like a little kid again. Can you feel the giddy anticipation? The TRL warned you about the climbing, the warm weather, the bumpy roads, the cow manure, or the wind. But instead of feeling trepidatious, all you can muster is a thrill of anticipation like a kid on Christmas. The knowledge that you will be with your friends, being encouraged, doing something you used to watch others do from your speeding car window. This is the thing about cycling.

Challenges arise, but you face them. The hill was twice as steep as you were warned. The wind made the whole ride feel like a climb. The sun beat down with a furor. But you did it. You watched your Garmin register increasing cumulative miles: 12, 23, 37, 52, 63.4. Somehow, using your muscle power alone. somehow you became the athlete you always knew you could be. No, the ride wasn’t easy. The challenges were difficult. And some of them you might not quite have achieved. But in the end, you rode those miles. Pride swells inside. Something its nearly impossible to make others understand.

Back at the starting point, you start to think about home. All life’s cares were erased for that one instant. From the other side, it seemed like the ride would take forever. But now, the ride seemed all too short. You remember that tomorrow’s Monday, that you have dinner plans with your wife, and that your dog misses you with a passion. You hug your riding mates and promise to see them the following week for the even-harder ride (could it be a century?).

And you know, however hard it is to get up that day, you’re going to do it. Riding has entered your blood. You are the rider.

Your Bear

Absolute Beginners: Training for the Dilettante

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Believe it or not, more than half the training year is gone! We have only five months or 25 more weekends to prepare for the epic 545! But, you say, how can I possibly be ready? Here are 15 16 training tips to help you and make training fun and easy.

Please add your tips in the comments! Also, follow some of the links for additional articles I’ve written on these subjects.

How the Polar Bears rock ALC 2014 training in the far north.
Image Credit: Glenn Gebhardt.
  1. Daily Rides. Training is less painful if it’s routine. Find a way to fit daily or quasi-daily rides into your schedule, even if they’re short.
  2. Commuting. Even if you have to drive part of the way, find a way to ride your bike to work. You’ll totally impress your friends and colleagues!
  3. Spin Classes. A great way to get your body ready for rides. Spin classes are no substitute for hours on the road, but they’ll increase your aerobic capacity and help your body get ready for warmer weather and longer rides.
  4. Get a Trainer. For around $300 (or much, much more), you can ride your own bicycle in the warmth of your living room. Add on those miles, sweat off the Christmas feast, and increase aerobic exercise without riding in the dark.
  5. Choose Back-To-Back Rides Over Distance. If you have a limited number of hours per week to ride (but more than 2 hours per week), choose to ride on two consecutive days rather than putting all your time into one longer ride. This will prepare you for the 7 days we’ll be riding in June.
  6. Choose One Longer Ride Over Two Shorter Ones. Alternately, if you’re limited to about two hours, do one long ride rather than two one-hour rides. A two-hour ride will help condition your body for the distances we’ll be doing.
  7. Leave from your House. When going on a recreational ride, choose a ride that leaves from your house. That will help keep the time commitment low by eliminating the time driving.
  8. Ride Before Work. If you cannot commute, grab a banana and do an hour or two before you leave for work. If you go early enough, there will be less traffic than after work. Better get a light set!
  9. Spend Some Time Getting to Know Your Bike. On the days you cannot ride, set aside some time to clean and examine your bike. This will help you feel more confident on rides, and will keep your bike running well.
  10. Get a Bike Fit. Now is the time to make sure your bike is properly fit for you. A good fitter will make small adjustments which will eliminate pain and numbness! It is well worth the expense.
  11. Make a Training Plan. Sit down with a calendar, the ALC website, and your mates and choose weekend dates and rides. Then add one to five week-day training rides and commit to them.
  12. Gradually Increase Mileage. In your training plan, don’t forget to plan for hour and mileage increases. You need to get comfortable with a 60-mile ride by June. At this point, a 60-mile ride might take you up to seven hours — a real time suck. So start smaller and work your way up.
  13. Go on Training Rides. The ALC offers volunteer-led training rides all over California and in other states as well. If none of them are convenient, ask your local bike shop about rides in your area.
  14. Commit to a Training Ride Series. Some of the ALC training rides are “series.” A series is a set of rides on consecutive weekends that begin at the same place and time every single week, and gradually build the number of miles. This will build confidence, your cycling network, and motivation.
  15. Hook up with a Ride Buddy. I cannot stress how important this step is. Cycling is wonderful because almost anyone can do it and improve. In some ways it appears to be a solo sport, but really its all about the people. Connect and you will learn to love the early hours and sore muscles!
  16. Ride for time, not Distance. Cyclists alway ride for distance — “I rode 30 miles today.” “Are you doing that century?” “The ALC is 545 miles.” This can be intimidating and cause you to think your training is insufficient. Instead, if you have an hour, ride for a half hour and return. Next time, try to ride a bit further with your half hour.
Figure out what works for you, then do it. You’ll impress your friends. You’ll impress your coworkers. You’ll impress your partner. You’ll impress yourself. But most importantly, you’ll impress your donors!

Much love and here’s to a great 2014 training season!
Your Bear.

PS: If you found this useful, click “Donate,” above and consider a gift to my ride!

Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!

Kindness of Friends and Strangers

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Many a ride is interrupted by seemingly intractable mechanical problems. When those mechanical problems occur near your house or a bike shop, they can be easy to fix. When you’re in the middle of nowhere or you’re in unfamiliar territory, a mechanical problem can seem intractable and make you utterly demoralized. But its also at these times you can learn about the cycling community.

My chain wedged between
the cassette and hub

On Saturday, 15 minutes into an AIDS/LifeCycle training ride, my chain popped off the top ring of the cassette and wedged itself into the gap between the cassette and the hub. Fortunately, this happened just as I was stopping. I was one of only two Training Ride Leaders on the ride, and so the ride couldn’t go on without me. I was sweep (the TRL at the end who makes sure all the others complete the ride), so everyone was ahead of me. When I looked down, I saw immediately what had happened, but did not absorb the enormity of it.

I’ve not ever had a chain slip on this bike, so I wasn’t sure if the symptoms were typical. the chain was wedged in, so I couldn’t spin the rear tire. I had to carry my bike to a safe place. A few seconds of tugging made me realize that I wasn’t going to be able to pull it out without loosening the cassette (a task accomplished with a chain whip — not the sort of equipment you usually carry on a ride). But the severe nature of the problem was also sinking in: had this happened when I was moving faster, I might have crashed.

I tried calling the other riders, but since they were riding, they didn’t answer. So I started to search maps for local bike shops. Since the area was new to me, the bike shops seemed insurmountably far away. But just as I began to call a cab to get me there, CJ pulled up, having turned around from the ride. He looked at the problem and agreed it needed a bike shop. Then the other ride leader, Craig and a rider, Celeste — both local to the area — came to see what I needed.

William helping CJ with an
emergency tire repair

Celeste offered to get her car and take me to the bike shop. I didn’t refuse! So, about 30 minutes later, we were on our way to the bike shop.

She took me to Elk Grove Cyclery which was about 2.5 miles from where I broke down. After only a few minutes of tinkering, the mechanic diagnosed both how to remove the chain and why the chain had slipped in the first place.

He told me that the cassette had been wrongly installed — there was one too many spacers between the cassette and the hub. Also, because the cassette and wheel were not the originals for this bike, the rear derailleur was slightly out of adjustment. Now the spacer is like a couple millimeters thick. And he showed me how off the derailleur was — also a couple millimeters. The total couldn’t have been more than a few millimeters. But that is enough to push the chain off the top side of the cassette!

At this explanation, I sheepishly admitted that I had installed the wheel and the cassette. What was astonishing was that I’d been riding with the poorly-installed cassette for nearly eight months without incident. The mechanic showed me how to fix the derailleur and how to tell if you have too many spacers. Then, he charged me only $15 for the repair and derailleur adjustment! Sadly, I didn’t have any cash for a tip. But if you go to Elk Grove, stop in at Elk Grove Cyclery!

And this is one of my favorite things about cycling. You’re never alone on the road. Your mates care, bicycle mechanics usually love their job and they care, too. But when you get a flat and you’re spare is also flat, you’ll find that passing cyclist will be thrilled to help if you ask.

The other moral of the story is that I need to get my work check carefully by a mechanic in the future!

Your Bear

Just Pedal

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It’s foggy, cold, grey. You’re tired, moody, sore. There are hills, headwinds, traffic. But it doesn’t matter. You just keep pedaling.

I’m sad. Today’s the last day of the AIDS/LifeCycle. 3000 friends riding together for a good cause to do some thing they love. Everyone should experience this.

Day Six

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I’ve not slept well in days. My body is exhausted. There’s no privacy. The food is hot and plentiful, if bland. But I have never been happier in my entire life.

I get to get up at 4:00 am to ride my bike 87 miles along the California coast toward Santa Barbara and Ventura. I get to support my brothers and sisters living with HIV and AIDS who would otherwise be forgotten.

It’s 4:00 am. What are you doing?

20 Million Miles Ridden

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ALC riders have done 20 million miles down the California coast supporting people with HIV and AIDS. A real achievement!