Why Ride

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

Riding for Life

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After several false starts on this topic — there’s so much to say — I decided to pair it down. I ride because it connects me to a world of awesome people — riding mates, training ride leaders, ALC staff, the New Bears, all the cycling groups and teams I’m privileged to ride with, and most especially important, my donors. Without all of you, cycling would not be the fun adventure it is.1012879_10202812765093536_1089430597807237171_n

So far, I’ve raised $5,254.69 to stop AIDS in its tracks. These donations go to support programs, outreach, services, lobbying, HIV testing, needle exchange, and a myriad of other programs with one purpose in mind: to make California AIDS-free. But the most important thing is that each person who’s life we reach becomes one more supporter of life. You can see it in people’s eyes when we invade a Starbucks in the middle of nowhere. They do react positively and they do ask questions.

If you think HIV is almost over, the stigma is almost none, then you’re not paying enough attention. California had over 5,000 new cases in 2011. And while the US is better than most countries, the stigma still exists and is still deadly for millions. But by reaching out and lending a hand to our neighbors, brothers, and friends, we set the example and layout the course. We can defeat this disease despite ignorance and fear.

Scientific advances are making HIV more and more manageable every day. Between PrEP and studies showing that persons with HIV who consistently take their antiviral medicine and are undetectable pass along the virus at a much lower rate, HIV transmission has been targeted. Also, our understanding of how HIV works will hopefully lead to a cure in our lifetimes.

But for now, we must live with the facts: HIV is manageable but chronic. Those living with it face a lifetime of expensive and not pleasant treatment. HIV negative persons remain much better off if they can stay negative. That is why the AIDS/LifeCycle is as vital now as it was in 1994 when it began as the California AIDS Ride. And why I’ll ride every one I can and why I love you, my readers, my friends, my donors.

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

Happy New Year Readers, Riders, and Donors

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Wishing all my readers, riders, and donors a happy, healthy, and safe 2014 with a special shout out to all my new cycling friends in California and beyond.

Every day I watch your progress on Facebook and I think about how great this sport is that so many people can excel simply by simply getting on the bike — no competition and no judgments — just the personal challenge of making it happen every day.

Sean, Andrew, CJ, and me at Lake Hennesey, December 2013.
You are heroes all. Thank you for making this my reality.
Your Bear

Fundraising for Absolute Beginners

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Raising even the minimum donation can be the scariest part of committing to the AIDS/LifeCycle. The AIDS/LifeCycle website has information to help you:

Plus, there is a calendar of Fundraising Workshops for you to attend and get ideas.

But the number one way to get a donation is simply to ask for one. Your donors are your friends and family. Your donors are committed to seeing the end of the AIDS epidemic, supporting people with HIV, and eliminating the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. Your donors care about you. Your donors have used HIV and AIDS services.
They want to be asked to support your ride. They want to be involved. They want to support you because they know it means that you care. So, the question is: How do you get up the nerve to ask? The answer is: you don’t need nerve, you need love and passion to ask. That and a little bit of social lubricant … er social media … can’t hurt either.
1. Post on Your Own Wall.
If you’ve not yet started your fundraising, I want you to post this message on your Facebook wall right now (modified to suit your fundraising level and with your own URL):

Hi. I’m riding in the #aidslifecycle #alc2014. I’ve committed myself to raising $12,000 to fight HIV and AIDS, to support people living with HIV, to end the spread of the disease through testing and outreach, and to finally end the stigma we all have to live with. 

I can only succeed with your donation. Please follow the link and donate whatever you can. Thank you. http://www.tofighthiv.org/goto/bear2014.

You won’t raise the money if you don’t ask! Post similar messages throughout the training and fundraising season updating your status, how far you’ve progressed in your goal, and with news items or facts about the ride, HIV and AIDS research, or your won cycling training!
2. Send Individual Messages.
Usually, status updates to your wall are not enough. Follow these up with individual messages to each and every one of your Facebook friends — however well you know them. Ask politely, and you’ll find only polite responses in return. Not everyone can donate to your ride. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to support you.
Let me know if you need ideas for the text of these messages; I’m happy to share the text I use.
3. Follow Up.
If an individual responds, always thank them for that response — even if it is negative — and reply accordingly.
  • “I understand you cannot donate, but your encouragement is greatly appreciated.”
  • “Thank you for your offer to donate! I’ll follow up in a few weeks to remind you.”
  • “Your generous donation will go a long way to helping people living with HIV. On their behalf, I thank you.”
If an individual does not respond, don’t pepper them with messages. But next time you see them in person, you might want to ask if they received it or you may want to follow up with a message in a different media (say by letter, email, or telephone).
4. “Promote” Your Facebook Posts.

Each post on your Facebook wall now has a handy “Promote” link. For about $7, you can make sure your posting will not drop the bottom of the stack. Thus, it will be seen by more people. Usually, I get a 30% increase in views for my promoted posts. I do that once a month or so — not enough to become annoying, but enough to keep my ride in the back of everyone’s mind.
5. Team Fundraise.
I don’t have the best advise about fundraising with others, but many teams are quite successful raising money together. Ask your training buddies what team they are on to find out about membership.
6. Multimedia.
Don’t limit yourself to social media. Use as many forms of communication as you can. Print business cards. Send out mailings to all your friends. Make a Youtube video (it is surprisingly easy). Make your message consistent and redundant!
The AIDS/LifeCycle Participant Center has an email interface you can use to send formatted emails asking for donations or thanking your donors. Explore your Participant Center and use it!
7. Thank your Donors.
A happy donor will donate again and again. Happy donors want to know they are making an impact. You are the face of the ride for them, so show them the impact you’re making by thanking them by name on your Facebook wall (ask them if they don’t mind being publicly thanked, first). Send emails and messages on social media.
And if you can, send a card or letter to each donor. No one gets handwritten mail any more, so a simple note will make each donor feel really special.
8. Don’t Stop There.

Once your donations start rolling in, challenge your donors to help you raise a sub-goal by a certain date, raffle off prizes, or offer prizes to top donors. Keep your donors engaged in the process. Many of them might love to ride, but cannot for various reasons. Therefore, let them know: This is their ride too!
Your Bear

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!

Eating Right: Don’t call it Diet (Absolute Beginners)

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Among the excellent reasons to start cycling are health and weight loss. Because cyclists require targeted fuel before, during, and after rides, nutrition is integral to successful cycling. Without proper nutrition, cyclist can feel exhausted during or after rides. I’ve written on eating in preparation for long rides before, but today I want to discuss the greater goal of how to use your quotidian diet to support your goal of riding the AIDS/LifeCycle (or similar rides).

If you have a nutrition-based illness or need some serious weight loss, it is important to start out with a check up from your physician. Only he or she can tell you whether a simple diet-and-exercise regime will help. But for most people, health and weight loss involve getting enough nutrients from the right number of calories. The right number of calories is some percentage less than the number of calories burned during the day. When you have a calorie deficit in this way, you are going to lose weight.

The topic of weight loss is huge and the subject of scientific study and pseudoscientific charlatanism. As Forbes magazine points out, weight loss can be done in a reliable and scientific way, avoiding expensive and possibly dangerous fads and fantasies. For instance:

Image credit.
  1. Diet trumps exercise in weight loss.
  2. Exercise supports this weight loss.
  3. Exercise is going to be your constant companion in life.
  4. There is no magical combination of foods which will achieve weight loss.
  5. For purposes of weight loss, a calorie is a calorie.
  6. Its all about the brain.
And its no. 6 on this list why we must replace the word Diet. Colloquially, “diet” implies a short-term solution to a temporary problem. Whereas, a more-successful strategy is implementing a permanent, achievable, and stable weight loss goal. But how do you set such a goal? The easiest way is to simply start making informed choices in your day-to-day eating habits.
I started my exercise regime with the excellent and free advice given by Scooby on his website Scooby’s Workshop. He advocates a number of techniques to loose fat and retain muscle from the easy (exercising and making informed dietary choices) to the difficult (measuring your body fat and weighing your potions for each meal. (Review his “Losing Weight and Building 6-Pack Abs” page for details.) But all he advocates is:
  1. Exercise a bit more;
  2. Eat a bit less;
  3. Drink lots of water;
  4. Sleep.
As a cyclist, you’re presumably working on (1), and learning the importance of water for (3). Sleep is a topic on which I’ve blogged before, but if you’re not getting 7 to 9 hours a night, you may want to figure out why or consult your doctor to achieve (4). (Read his page, too, for advice about each point.) On eating less, Scooby advises:

The second part of losing fat is eating less, and remember this does not mean hunger and deprivation! Most people fail to achieve their weight loss goals not because they eat too much but because they don’t eat enough! The starve themselves then end up binging! If you are hungry then you are doing something very wrong. If you have cravings for your favorite food, then you are human – I address how to handle cravings at the end of this section. If you dont understand my nutrition section then consider buying the book Bodybuilding Revealed which has the best coverage of bodybuilding nutrition I have seen.

The #1 easiest way to lose fat is to eat your calories rather then drinking them, this simple tip can help you lose 5lbs fat a month or more without any additional changes to your nutrition. There are many nutritional methods of weight loss and all of them will work, at least in the short term. Where they differ is in how healthy they are and if the results are long term and lasting or not

Apart from his advise, I have the following comments to help you make wise choices:
  1. Portion control. Prepare your meal to include everything you want to eat. Then eat it and no more.
  2. Plan on eating 5 or 6 meals per day. Its easier to choose a wise portion at one meal when you know you will be eating again in a couple hours
  3. Avoid:
    1. Sugary drinks. This includes fruit juices where most of the calories are from sugar. Eat an orange, don’t drink orange juice.
    2. Fats. Not because fat is magically bad, but because fat has a LOT of calories compared to other sources. (Do this by choosing lean meat, avoid cheese, avoid fried foods, use small amounts of spray-on oil instead of pouring out the olive oil.)
    3. Empty carbohydrates. While there’s nothing wrong with white bread, choose it less often than whole grains to maximize the nutritional impact of your meal.
    4. Alcohol. Alcohol is calorie dense with no nutritional value.
  4. Choose:
    1. Whole fresh fruit, vegetables with no sauce, and whole grains. These will help you feel full by providing bulk, while providing lots of nutrition for the number of calories consumed.
    2. Lean meat. Egg whites, fat-free chicken breasts, canned “white” tuna, tilapia fillets, and similar foods give you a lot of protein for a minimum of calories.
    3. Fat-free dairy. If you can eat dairy, there are lots of amazing choices which you can use to make your meals more enticing, but which add protein and nutrients instead of fat. (Fat-free greek yogurt makes an excellent creamy sauce for various foods both sweet and savory.)
    4. Good fats. Since fat is so calorie rich, you want to choose fats which go along with real nutrition. Salmon and other fatty fishes, for instance, are good choices.
  5. Cheat, but know what you’re doing. If its your birthday, you will want to eat that cake. Do it, but try to keep it to one slice. Eat pizza, but rarely. Eat french fries at lunch on your ride, but pair them with a chicken breast and not a bacon double cheese burger. Try to save your cheats for special occasions (like Thanksgiving!), so you can indulge and feel good about it.
  6. Have healthy treats all around the house and at work. If you have a package of fat-free brown rice crackers, an apple, or some oatmeal at your desk, you’re much less likely to scarf the last piece of cake in the lunchroom.
Finally, make small changes at first. Switch from full-fat milk to 1% or skim milk. Start taking lunch with you to work. Eat kale in your salads. Make your tuna salad with greek yogurt, not mayo. Integrate these choices into your routine so they don’t feel painful. When you’re ready, integrate a new change toward a more healthy diet.
I’ll write a second post on advanced healthy eating, but you can get lots of great advice off Scooby’s Workshop in the meanwhile.
When your friends ask what diet you’re on, you can say: “Oh, I’m not on a diet. I’m making informed choices about nutrition which will last my lifetime.”

All that and ride! Don’t forget to ride your bike!

Your Bear

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!