Back in the Saddle Again – Looking Under the Hood

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Well, it’s now been a few weeks since I’ve been riding consistently again and I definitely notice & feel the difference.  My bike fit adjustment, although small, has helped quite a bit.  My lower back appreciates it!  But I know it’s important to incorporate more stretching and massage into my weekly routine.

IMG_3252I meant to get a VO2 test shortly after getting back on the bike, but you know how scheduling goes when your juggling work and family!  This would have given me a snapshot of my baseline fitness in what I considered to be my “out of shape” state.  By the time I got to my test today, my fitness was certainly much improved from that first ride back in June.  I shouldn’t have waited so long but at least I know where I stand today.  I’ve heard a lot of our customers say, “I’ve got to get in better shape before I get that VO2 test.”  For some reason that is the way many people view a VO2 test, but it really is the complete opposite.  The goal of the test is to see where your fitness stands right now.  Then, you can utilize the numbers to guide your training starting the very next day!  Unfortunately, I don’t think the term “VO2 test” is very good.  Actually, it’s usually called a VO2 Max test.  It sounds too scientific and does not convey why it’s beneficial.  Some people use terminology such as “metabolic testing” or “physiological testing” but I don’t think they are much better.  I use the term “fitness test” but that tends to get people nervous – who wants to test their fitness?  What if I don’t measure up?  What if I’m not in as good a shape as I thought? (probably the reason people think they need to “get in shape” before the test).   First of all, that’s not the point!  And second of all, I would say who cares?  It’s not like anyone is going to post your results to Facebook!!  The purpose of the test is not to see how your fitness stacks up against others – it’s to help YOU get better, no matter where you are in your fitness journey.

Whatever you call the test, I like the analogy of a car engine.  Your body is the engine that powers the bike so you are essentially “looking under the hood” to get an engine diagnostic check.  I think of the heart rate as the tachometer.  You can only rev the engine into the red zone for so long before something bad happens.  Our red zone is when our heart rate goes above our Anaerobic Threshold.  We can handle this red zone for only so long before our body just gives out.  The key to becoming a better cyclist or any sort of endurance athlete is to raise the threshold before you hit your red zone.  This can be measured in terms of heart rate and power output (wattage).IMG_3254

Most people think of a VO2 Max test as someone running or cycling to complete and utter exhaustion while wearing a funny looking mask.  It looks worse than it really is.  The test starts out with an easy warm-up and you get used to the mask fairly quickly.  Every couple of minutes, the power is ramped up 20-25 watts until you hit your Anaerobic Threshold and go a little beyond.  And here is something you should know:  you do not need to go to complete exhaustion!  This is also known as a VO2 Submax test.  The most important data is gained BEFORE hitting your maximum effort – that being your Anaerobic Threshold and training zones leading up to it.  For most of us, those are the key metrics to help us train smarter.  Some additional data IS gained if you do go to complete exhaustion, but it’s not required.  For today’s test, I went above my Anaerobic Threshold but opted not to completely max out.  The test itself only lasts 15 – 20 minutes but the process takes about an hour including a pre-test Q&A with the Exercise Physiologist as well as body fat and resting heart rate measurements.

Hopefully I’ve conveyed here that first, the purpose of the VO2 or “fitness” test is not to see how fit you are compared to others.  It’s to see what YOUR engine looks like TODAY, so you can train better TOMORROW.  And second, the test itself is fairly quick and not as tough as it might seem, especially since hitting your maximum heart rate is not required.  If you want to, go for it, but it’s not necessary for the vast majority of us.

In my next “Back in the Saddle” series blog post, I will talk about the test results and most importantly, how to USE THE TEST RESULTS.  Those who can benefit the most are actually the recreational to enthusiast cyclist and those just starting an exercise program – think recent couch potato!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the Saddle Again – First Ride

Cycling became my adult athletic pursuit once my childhood days of team sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer were long gone.  It pretty much has been since I graduated college back in the early ’90s.  I’m what you call an enthusiast, or nowadays can be termed the “Gran Fondo” rider.  I’m not into racing simply because I don’t want to go down like a domino and break my collarbone in a criterium – I’ve got a wife, three kids and a business to run!  But I admire those who train to compete in amateur bike racing, especially those Masters guys who also have families and a career.  Probably like the majority of cyclists out there, I enjoy both the group ride and solo rides.  The midweek or weekend group ride is more social and forces you to step up your game, lest you get dropped.  Fear is a powerful motivator!  The solo training ride helps clear your head from stressful days.  Over the years, my riding consistency has waxed and waned depending on what was going on in my life.  Invariably something would come up, like the birth of a child, a move, a new job, etc. that took me away from my weekly riding routine.  Soon a few weeks would go by and I could feel all that hard-earned fitness slipping away.  And then weeks might turn into a few months.  Since my non-cycling spouse liked that fact I was around more to help around the house, I figured it was good that I took some time off.  But I would get restless, missing my fitness and time outside.  All the time, I knew that getting back on the bike and into a new routine was GOING TO HURT.

IMG_3003So it was that one of those life interrupters came along at the end of 2015 – this time a local move.  But add to that my volunteering as an assistant baseball coach for my son’s Little League team and my riding time went to nil.  Before I knew it, it was nearly halfway through the year and I had hardly ridden my bike.  Fast forward to mid-June and the baseball season was now over (Little League must be the longest and most time intensive of youth sports!) and we were for the most part in our new house.  So on June 21st, the second day of summer, I decided to get back in the saddle again.  Can’t you hear those Gene Autry song lyrics?  Or Aerosmith?  At lunch time, I hopped onto the shop’s demo Pinarello Dogma F8 – which just so happens to fit me 🙂 – and decided to dip my toe back in the water.  One of my favorite short rides from the shop is the Newport Back Bay Loop.  It’s scenic and fortunately, pretty flat.  No serious climbing for me as I ease my way back!  The first couple of miles and I’m thinking, “this feels pretty good.”  But as I jumped on the bike trail and headed towards the coast, a nice 10 mph headwind smacks me in the face and suddenly I see my average speed start to drop.  And now it was starting to hurt.  I tell myself not to get hung up on what the Garmin says and just go at a comfortable pace.  I’m not going to get back to my previous fitness overnight, it’s going to take some time and consistent riding.

I finished that ride feeling more tired than I wanted to admit but happy to have completed that first ride back – it’s more of a psychological barrier than anything.  It was much easier to go on my second and third ride that week having completed the first one.  Clearly my bike fitness has a ways to go, but it was nice to get the sensations of getting outside and spinning those legs again.   Going through this process is giving me the chance to utilize some of the services we promote regularly at ARB Cyclery – in other words, to become a customer of my own shop!  Having been off the bike for awhile, it’s definitely time for my bike fit to be re-evaluated.  Some changes could be made to help me ride a little more comfortably until I can improve on my fitness, strength and flexibility.  The subject of my next blog post in this series will be my visit to the SoCal Endurance Lab’s Senior Fit Specialist, Barrett Brauer.  After that, I’ll pay a visit to the SoCal EL’s Exercise Physiologist to find my current level of baseline fitness.  Stay tuned!

 

Belgian Waffle Ride

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The Belgian Waffle Ride, or BWR, on its Facebook page and in numerous requotes, bills itself as “the most unique cycling event in the country.”  This is generous euphemism.  Unique is a loaded word in this case.  In this instance, what unique really means is “ungodly hard.”  So, for the sake of accuracy, we can re-write that phrase to read, “the most ungodly hard cycling event open to amateurs in the country.”  I added that part about being open to amateurs because I have no doubt there are some pro level races, single day, that are pretty hard, and we want to compare apples to apples.

Let’s go over the bullet points:

  • 146 miles – more than last year
  • Over 13,000 feet of vertical gain – more than last year
  • 40 miles of bona fide off road riding – more than last year

Michael Marckx, the founder and chief organizer,  in some of the verbiage he is fond of using to “promote” the ride, doesn’t hide the fact this ride is a challenge, and it can be distilled down to a single word to describe what is in store for the participant: dread.26080866004_816b2af2c4_o

Having done this event, this year and the three years prior, what is my takeaway?  How might sharing my experiences be an instructive exercise for those contemplating making a serious stab at attempting the most unique cycling event in the country?  With that in mind, I’ll catalog what went right and what went wrong, both the result of just plain bad luck, and the mostly self-inflicted kind.  Ok, it will be mostly the self-inflicted kind. In fact, a more apt title might be: How Not to Prepare and Participate in the Belgian Waffle Ride.

Step One -Early Preparation:  As in, you actually have to train.

Familiarity breeds a certain kind of creeping complacency. I’ve done this ride the last three years, and actually felt pretty good last year and put in a decent time.  “Meh. I’ve done this ride before. I can handle it.  How hard can it be?”  Well, quite a bit it turns out, especially if you don’t put in the appropriate time to train. As intimidating as I make this ride out to be, it really is quite doable for most cyclists.  However, you can’t take riding 146 miles for granted.  That’s a long time to be in the saddle, and sadly, my 50 mile weekend rides weren’t quite sufficient to prepare me for riding..well…more than fifty miles, which is about the time I started to fade during BWR.  This made miles 50-146 quite interminable,as in, looking for a quiet shady spot on the side of the road to just crawl into the fetal position.  I was actually hoping for a mechanical that would give me the excuse to quit.

Last year, I did some longer rides all the way back in January, which gave me a good head start.  The earlier and better you prepare with some longer rides will ease the pain come event time – and you don’t have to ride a 146 miles in training, but please!..something a little more than fifty will help.  

As haphazard and as abbreviated as my training was, I did do one or two things right.  I have a short, steep hill near my home, and I’ve taken to the habit of giving a maximum effort in the saddle to climb up near the top.  It takes about thirty seconds, and I recover for another thirty seconds and try it again.  This helped in one very specific section of BWR, which specifically were the short, dirt climbs.  I was actually surprised what I could clean on skinny tires and inappropriate gearing, and I think having that short term power on those grinding sections is an area I thought I improved over last year. So I’ll take that as a small accomplishment.

Having the Right Equipment – or – Don’t be Stupid.

Riding BWR, or any any serious road ride that combines lengthy off-road sections requires its own type of unique equipment choice.  There’s an optimal bike I have in mind when it comes to rides like this, and I thought my equipment choice came pretty close the last two years. For example, last year I rode a titanium frame with compact gearing with a 28 max cog in back and 28mm wide tubeless tires running latex sealant.  That worked reasonably well. Titanium is my favorite material for rides such as this because it’s virtually indestructible, has a more compliant, “springy” type of ride quality that makes those off-road sections a little more tolerable, fun even, and simply requires a rinse off to have it looking nearly pristine again – no paint chipping.

The Guru ti bike has since moved on, so I tried my luck with my stiff carbon road bike with standard gearing, as in a 53/39 chainring with a 25 tooth max cog in back.  In other words, stupid gearing.  The only way my bike set up would have been sillier is if I had ridden a time trial bike with a straight block rear cassette and a 55 tooth front chainring.  It was the difference between riding and pushing my bike up the short steep climbs.  There were still some that I was able to clean, which was actually quite fun and surprised me, but that came at a cost, too, once my lower back began to throb at that aforementioned 50 mile mark.  

I did get the the tire choice right – sort of. In this, my fourth BWR, I’ve not gotten a flat tire, which is pretty remarkable, and is a combination of a little good luck (even I get some of that) and some sensible tire choices. This year, again, I ran my favorite combo of Hutchinson Sector tubeless tires with latex sealant.  No flats again this year, which was fortunate considering I lost my saddlebag on one of the dirt sections.  Nevertheless, I did run a tire pressure of about 90 to 95, which was just too high. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking here.  Normally, I would have run 80-85.  I suppose I was just in a hurry.

The big downside to riding road bikes in the dirt is just the lack of traction when making turns at any kind of speed when it’s loose.   Running high pressure with slick tires on loose dirt made the already treacherous handling a ready made scenario for me to wind up in a crumpled head on the side of the trail after having washed out.  Lesson learned the hard way, again.  It wasn’t until the Sandy Bandy section that I just pulled off to the side of the trail and let air out of the tires.  This actually helped tremendously on the rest of the off road sections.  So, check.  Another lesson learned.

 

As a bonus, we listed some more detailed info on how
our staff members’ bikes were set up!

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Raffaele

  • Bianchi Oltre XR1
  • Panaracer Gravel King  28
  • Standard cranks    11-28 cassette
  • If you could do one thing differently next time: “I would wear chamois cream. 100% chamois cream. “

Jason

  • Guru Praemio
  • Sector 28 Tubeless Tires
  • Compact cranks    11-32 cassette
  • If you could do one thing differently next time: “I used 3T Ergosum Carbon bars this time. I would switch to FSA short and shallow bars for more comfort next time. “

Tony

  • BMC CX01
  • Challenge Strada Bianca Tires
  • 1 x 11  40 tooth       11-36 cassette
  • If you could do one thing differently next time: “I would double wrap my bars next time and bring muscle relaxers. Thank you Double Peak for cramping my legs. “

 

 

Ultimate Fred Bike

Sometimes a bike looks so bad it can almost look good. For example, take a look at Joe Dombrowski’s new Dogma 65.1. He’s a Neo-Pro with Team Sky this year and recently published a shot of his new training bike. Take note of the huge saddle bag, mismatched bottles, full size frame pump and 24mm tires.

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In the world of “Pro” looking bikes, it’s a tragedy. However, it also shows the blue collar side of the pro peloton. These guys spend 4-6 hours on their bikes everyday and many don’t have the luxury of having a team car SAG every ride. This particular shot shows a certain level of PROness despite breaking all the rules!

Rainy Day Riding

Riding in the rain should not be frowned upon. In fact, it’s one of the rules:

Rule #9 // If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.
Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work. (Taken from http://www.velominati.com/the-rules)

I find that riding in the rain is oddly satisfying and is necessary to graduate to the next level of suffering. Most (sane) people want to stay inside when it is pouring but I love the tranquility of empty roads and the rhythm of a steady downpour.

It is common belief that riding in the rain requires a significant amount of extra gear but in reality, a simple rain jacket over your existing fall/winter gear is more than enough. On a rainy day, I’ll usually wear a base layer, jersey, wind vest and a thin rain jacket. The jacket doesn’t offer great ventilation but offers a certain level of water resistance.

Tech Tips & Tales from the Mockster

Rainy Day Bike Blues Cures

The recent rainy weather  has brought with it a bunch of new bicycle maintenance concerns.  Even if you are not riding while it’s actually raining, road conditions have definitely changed since our last fair weather riding days.  Since the rains started you will find cars have pushed a lot of extra road grit and debris into your regular riding path where it is just waiting to be picked up by your bike.  These road nasties can easily destroy your bike’s finish and grind down the chain, gears, brakes as well as the tires and rims.  Although many people express concern about bad weather riding,  a little extra love will keep your bike looking good and running smoothly and let you ride safely into spring.    In previous posts we have detailed proper bike maintenance using Motorex products available at ARB, but let’s talk in detail about post-rainy day ride good maintence demands and procedures

.Bike: You’ve just come in from your “epic” ride and your bike is covered with road grime.  Now is a good time to give your ride a little attention before that dirt gets really attached.  A high pressure water blast is not recommended because water will get into places where it can cause damage ie:  bearings and cables.  On the other hand, a “dry” wipe can lead to paint scratches.   We are probably going to need a little low pressure water flush.  Use either a garden hose on very low pressure or a watering can with warm water or a bucket and a rag works well.  Wet the bike down from top-to-bottom, avoiding cables, headset bearings hubs as much as possible.  Gently wipe down bike with a soft rag or towel, and flush with water again.  Dry with a clean soft towel.

Brakes:  Open up brake releases and inspect for grit build-up or metal transfer as shown as the silver specks in the picture to the left.  Most often  you will  hear this as a grinding noise before you see it.  This build-up needs to be removed immediately because it will destroy your expensive rims. Use a pick or sharp point to remove the foreign material and polish with a bit of sandpaper as necessary.  Be sure to wipe down your rim braking surface as well.  Next, squeeze the brake calipers together and make sure they snap back to the open position.  Any drag or resistance means a brake service is required,  which means pulling and lubing the cables.  Some of this cable contamination can be avoided by wiping and oiling the cables where they enter the cable housing at the brake adjusters on the caliper body.

Drive Train:  For our purposes, let’s define your bike’s drive-train as the cranks/chainrings, chain, cassette, and front and rear derailleurs.  Bad weather bike riding problems usually show up here first. The key to keeping your bike shifting and noise-free always starts with keeping it clean and well lubed. Your chain is the primary muck magnet, so spend some extra time here.  A lot of chain grime can be removed by wiping it with a disposable towel while back pedaling.  All that road grit is grinding your bike away, so get as much off as you can,  paying attention to the chain rings, and rear derailleur jockey pulleys as well as the chain.  Rainy weather riding also demands you increase your chain lubing frequency, maybe to as much as every ride.  We are recently seeing a lot of dry and even rusty chains coming into the ARB service department.  Keeping your drive train clean and well lubed is your key to a trouble free winter riding experience.

Tires: Rainy weather is not the best time to put your expensive race tires at risk.  All of the road grit that is gunking up your drive train is definitely making you more vulnerable to flatting.  One good solution for this is a good set of “training” tires such as Continental Gatorskins.  A benefit of doing this,aside from much more flat resistance,  is that when you switch back to your racers next spring, they are going to feel that much faster.  At a minimum, inspect your tires after every ride looking for rocks or grit that just love to imbed themselves leading to increased flat frequency.

Pedals:  Again, the best thing you can do here is keep your pedals and shoes clean and mud/grit free.  Oil the clips and springs on your pedals with a good light oil such as Tri-Flow.  Make sure your shoe clips are clean rust free and lube them as the manufacturer recommends, such as with Speedplay lube.  Your collar bone will love you for it.Keeping

Keeping your bike clean and well maintained is always key to a good bike riding experience.  With a little more regular attention you can easily  cruise on into spring mostly trouble free.

As always, stop by ARB for a free maintenance diagnosis.

Yours, for good bike health,

“Doc” Mock

ITB Relief

Most cyclist or tri-athletes I know have suffered from knee pain in one way or another. Here is a quick look at the most common source of knee pain:

http://globaltherapies.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/itbs-illotibial-band-syndrome/

In my experience, seeing a chiropractor who specialized in Active Release Techniques really helped jump start my recovery. From there, I continued to stretch and use the foam roller. In addition, I actively worked on recruiting my hamstrings and gluts while cycling. As a result, I have a more efficient pedal stroke and haven’t suffered from knee pain in a few years!

Why Ride Fixed Gear?

Giant Bowery Fixed Gear
Giant Bowery Fixed Gear

Why in this day and age would I choose to ride a fixed gear bike? Surely having only one gear and not being able to coast sounds like a bad time! Not true my friends, it’s a great way to mix up your riding and training. When you ride a fixed gear, you use your leg power not only to accelerate and maintain speed, but slow down as well. This combined with the lack of gearing options leads you to “man up” and push harder while lugging up climbs or while spun out in a paceline. It’s truly a riding experience to be enjoyed!