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


Absolute Beginners: Camaraderie

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When you get up at 4:00 a.m. on Day 3 and its dark and you’re sore, you may wonder why the hell you decided to do this. You can hear people snoring all IMG_5997around you. Even though you couldn’t sleep all night on the hard ground, you fight the urge to lie back into your now-inviting camp pad. Instead, you climb out of your tent, pull the sopping wet garbage bag off your luggage and pull on the zipper. It won’t budge. you pull and pull but its stuck.

After a few minutes of struggle, you start to worry you can’t get your gear. People are stirring all around as they slowly groan their ways out of their own tents. You try the other zipper, and it seems stuck too. Thoughts of coffee and breakfast all adding to your growing dismay. As you sit back trying to look at the problem from a different angle, you reflect a bit on the prior two days. 88 and 109 miles respectively. That’s an accomplishment. Not to mention all the smoking hot guys in spandex who greeted you like old friends.

Now you really want to get into your bag so you can be the first person out at the 6:30 a.m. ride out. Maybe there’s another way into this bag, you think, considering knives. Yeah, you bought this bag new for your first AIDS/LifeCycle, but its only a bag! How complicated can it be? There are flaps and straps, but none of them allow you to get into it.

Your tent mate mumbles “good morning” in your general direction as she flops headfirst onto the wet grass in front of the tent, nearly barreling into the giant neighbor demurely pulling an incongruous pink bathrobe around him. She curses, but smiles at him. Then she starts to open her own gear bag. “Lets get cleaned up so we can eat. I’m starving.” She scratches her belly and stands next to you yawning.

“I can’t get this open,” you say, frustrated. She bends down and unbuttons the clasp holding the zippers in place and tugs on one effortlessly, opening the bag. Your cosmetics tumble out onto the ground all around you.

“C’mon, I’m hungry! Grrrr.”

Never occurred to you that your gear was such an important part of the ride. (Don’t forget to review my packing guides, and the definitive guide on packing.)

Only two more weeks!

Your Bear

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

How to Look at Hills

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“…the hill isn’t in the way, it is the way.”

What a wonderful way of looking at climbing. Read more at The author says:

My sister-in-law Christy taming Iron Point! 

Thinking about the mountain’s relentless grade that wants to pull you back down with every pedal stroke towards the top can be discouraging for most but after some time is put into the saddle something changes. Suddenly you find yourself adding that extra few miles to hit a climb or turning back downhill just to hit a section of the climb that you particularly enjoy. 

That moment shift in mentality marks the beginning. The beginning of a time when you actively want to go out and ride these taxing rides that most people wouldn’t dream of. Once you realize that the hill isn’t in the way of your destination but the way you want to go, then you might progress from an average rider to one that will make your cycling buddies groan because you’re taking them up ANOTHER climb.

The way I put this sentiment was: just pedal. Whatever the road brings you, just pedal and you will prevail. Just pedal, because that’s why you’re out there.

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.

Low and Slow

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Be patient and kind. Not everyone has the same skills as you when it comes to riding a bike.

These are the words that begin every AIDS/LifeCycle training ride and will begin the ALC itself (follow this link for information about Orientation Day). And for some of us, it may seem a cruel fact that even as we have been progressing on the training rides, so too have our friends, leaving us continually at the back. Here’s some advice (after you’ve followed your physician’s advice) to help you keep up with the pack.

  1. You can do it. Individuals with your skills have done nearly every training ride on the agenda; you can too.
  2. Stay hydrated and fed. So often cycling performance is a matter of nutrition — this goes for new riders and experienced riders. I give this advice from personal knowledge!
  3. Get a route sheet and learn how to read it. Timidity in the route and relying on training ride leaders for direction will slow you down unnecessarily.
  4. Be the first out. Pair yourself up with a fast rider who knows the route. You’ll find that person not diddling with their gloves at t-minus 5 minutes, but helmet on and ready to go. Get on the road before that person.
  5. Pass other riders. Unless they need assistance (ask), don’t slow down because a group of riders is in front of you. Go ahead and pass them (safely).
  6. Be comfortable in groups. The rules say, “one bike length between the rider in front of you.” Try to make that a maximum, not just a minimum.
  7. Miss the stop lights. Lagging behind to avoid the melee will make you hit stop lights you might otherwise have missed. This artificially makes you feel slower.
  8. Keep up at the beginning of the ride. You’re still fresh, try to minimize the distance between you and the riders in front of you.
  9. Know your gearing. Make sure you’re in the right gear at the right time to avoid slow starts.
  10. Rest quickly at rest stops. And avoid stopping between rest stops. Staying at a rest stop for too long will only tire you out. When you’re exercising, your body is burning calories even at rest. Use those calories to your benefit and be the first out of the rest stop. Plus, in hot weather you sweat more when you stop than while cycling.
  11. You’re closer than you think. Often (not always), you’re not as far behind the rider in front as you think. If you’d been behind them for a while, they’re probably wondering where you are. Try to catch them; they might be waiting for you!
I have lots more advice — get a riding buddy, avoid stopping on hills, know your strengths and use them to catch up, ask for advice, read up on cycling, if pain is a problem then seek a bike fit — and I’ve blogged on most of these topics. But the last secret is:

Everyone is tired by the end of a long ride. You can use that to your advantage if you stay on track, regroup with your mates at rest stops and regroup points, and stay hydrated!

Everyone on the ALC and other riders want to see you succeed. Even when it seems they don’t. Remember, everyone is battling their own dragons, too!
Your Bear

PS: As my friend Terri Meier says:

As someone who hears “on your left” far more than she says it, my bit of advice is to push yourself where the going is easy, and be gentle with yourself when the terrain gets tough. Going all out on the uphills can burn you out fast, but when the road is flat, put a little extra heat on, and work to increase your comfort and skill with faster speeds on the downhills. But ultimately, don’t try to “keep up” at the expense of your body, mind and spirit. There is joy to be found in meeting new friends, and even solitary meditation while on the road.