Monday, November 26, 2012

Lifting for Cyclists

Image credit: Top Bicep Workouts
I am a strong advocate for weight training to support cycling. Even modest weight training builds muscle, strengthens bones, and helps to build core strength — important because cycling does not do these things. If done properly, it is safe and will help riders avoid injury, rather than risking a chance of it.
Hitting the gym can be a foreign experience to cyclists, but how you lift weights in just your first week of strength training can lead to better results. In a study of rest intervals between exercise sets, researchers found that limiting breaks to 60 seconds during the first week of weight training boosted study participants' hormonal response to the exercise. —Bicycling Magazine
Strength training may (or may not) be important for professionals; but for recreational cyclists all you need are some inexpensive free weights or a gym membership. The single most important advice for everyone doing weight training is to focus on form, rather than amount of weight lifted. For this reason, you will need some kind of instruction.

There are lots of training programs for cyclists, and if you are going to cycle competitively, they may be useful. As cited above, there is a debate amongst professionals about cycling training and workouts. From this debate, you'll find many complicated strength training routines on line and in various expensive looking programs. It seems unlikely that any recreational cyclist will need that level of complexity. So instead, find a reliable source and stick with it, so long as it works for you.

I get my training advice from Scooby's Workshop. A wonderful, free resource with video instructions on nearly every weight training exercise a new weightlifter will need.

Generally, here is a list of tips I've gathered over the years:

  1. Focus on Form: Focusing on form will help you get the most out of the workout and reduce the chance of injury.
  2. Lower the Weight: Lower weights with high repetition is generally safer than higher weight with low repetition.
  3. Avoid Real Pain: Listen to your body: not all pain is gain. Pain in joints, pain which is sharp or sudden, pain in the lower back are all bad. The only pain which is beneficial is the almost-pleasant muscular soreness you can get after any energetic activity.
  4. Stop Before Injury: So, if an exercise feels odd, it could injure you. Stop, check your form, and lower the weight. Or skip that exercise altogether (you may not be ready of it, or it may simply not be for you — we're not all the same!).
  5. Swinging Causes Injury: Avoid exercises that have you swinging heavy weights: this could lead to injury.
  6. Complex Motion Causes Injury: Avoid exercises that have you moving your body in more than one plane at a time (for the same reason).
  7. Keep Mentally Fit: Don't compare yourself to others (unless doing so inspires you). You don't know how long they've been training, or how they are training.
  8. Be Regular: If you train diligently (at least three times per week), you will see results. Be patient.
  9. Be Patient: Results gained over a long period are more likely to be permanent than those gained quickly.
  10. Make Life Changes: So — like an improved diet and cycling — make weight training part of your weekly routine.
  11. Be Routine: Your workout should last about an hour for cycling purposes, but do more if you feel comfortable.
  12. Be Committed: Don't chat, fiddle with your iPhone, gawk at the muscle men (much), or nap during your workout. Get in the gym and get it over with. You should be moving nearly constantly during your workout.
  13. Develop your Core: Ripped abs come from diet and aerobics. A strong core comes from strength training. Do both, but don't expect that six-pack until you get your diet under control.
  14. Body Weight: Exercises that use your body weight (pull-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, hand stands and the like) are excellent strength training exercises that can ultimately be done nearly anywhere without too much special equipment.
  15. Vary your Program: Sticking with training does not mean sticking with a routine until it becomes so dull your stop doing it. Additionally, your muscles will respond to changes in exercise and intensity.
But most importantly, enjoy the workout. If you find it too hard, too dull, or too confusing, try something new. And keep safe at the gym, so weight training will support rather than impede hours on the road!

Your, Bear

Friday, November 9, 2012

Core Training for Cyclists

Image Source: Project Put that Cookie Down Now!
"Core" is a fancy way of saying "abdominal." (The Wikipedia article on "core training" redirects to "abdominal exercises.") As Scooby says:
Strengthening the abdominals is important for basic health to keep you injury free. Strong abs help stabilize the spine and keep you from injuring your back. Strong abs are important in virtually every sport, from golfing to running.
We cyclists may think that we are excluded. After all, the power behind the pedal stroke is generated in the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles. Isn't it? The answer, I think is partially yes and partially no. The immediate power you get comes from your legs, but what's behind the legs? Supporting them is your torso. The torso is the wall against which all the other muscles push to generate power.

So if the torso is weak, the wall is going to crumble before the ride is over:
YOUR BULGING QUADS AND RAZOR-CUT CALVES are the envy of your pack, and you start every ride strong. As the ride progresses, though, your hips seesaw in the saddle, your lower back aches, and you slow in corners. The problem? Your core cries uncle long before your legs wear out. Although a cyclist's legs provide the most tangible source of power, the abs and lower back are the vital foundation from which all movement, including the pedal stroke, stems. (Bicycling Magazine, links in the original.)
So, how do you build core strength? These are some tips that I've used and noticed a marked improvement in my core strength and riding ability:

First, riding itself will help, but is not likely to be enough to keep you strong on long rides. In concert with these other suggestions, core strength will improve over time.

Second, cross train. Mixing in another sport — anything from walking or swimming to weight training or tennis will help develop different sets of muscles, skills, reactions, etc. which can only help strengthen your core.

Corollary: Stand at your work desk instead of sitting (See New York Time article "Is Sitting a Lethal Activity").

Third, incorporate abdominal training into your routine. I use the 15 minute "rotisserie" routine developed by Scooby three days a week, and the result have been tremendous (see video). Scooby has a comprehensive list of abdominal exercises on his site.

Fourth, improve your eating habits. I'm loth to say "diet" because that implies a short-term solution. I have actively improved my eating habits and plan to keep my new habits for the rest of my life. Just making smart choices may be enough to reduce fat and increase muscle. A stricter diet may be required if your goal is to race, but for recreational cyclist, start with Scooby's "simple substitution" method to improve your diet. But, remember that cyclists have specific nutritional needs before, during, and after rides.

Fifth, actively improve your posture, while riding, sitting, or standing.

I hope these tips help. Please let me know what works for you!

your Bear

Friday, October 19, 2012

Performance Enhance Cycling

Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs and hid that fact from authorities (find the report here). He won seven Tour de France races that way. The Tour de France is arguably the most important athletic event in France. Stripped of his titles, Armstrong no longer represents the paragon of American sport, but possibly the best of the worst — the one who was found out.

Its an embarrassment for the country but more importantly, it is an embarrassment for the sport. Its so bad, that not only are sponsors leaving Armstrong and his foundation, but they are also abandoning the sport, generally.

Here is an excellent article from a true Lance Armstrong fan who makes no apologies and draws no conclusions. But his tone demonstrates his extreme disappointment:

We live in a different age, one that may not allow the forgiveness of Lance Armstrong, that may hold him to be the creator rather than the product of the era he reigned over. We might even judge this champion's cheating and lying too vile to permit the remembrance of the part of him that, even now, convinced that he doped to win the Tour, I can't stop being a fan of: the plain fact that he was, as even his bitter enemy Floyd Landis told me when we spoke last year, "a badass on a bike."

I've never been a fan of professional athletics. I think the pros get paid way too much in proportion to their contribution. But I am a cyclist and this is my sport. I want to encourage others to participate — cycling is a great way for people of all fitness levels to get in shape. I want those people to know they can ride a bicycle without doping. I don't want kids risking their health to emulate the great riders.

Thus, I cannot condone doping as a way to enhance athletic performance — as alluring as it is. For greater society, the risks simply outweigh the benefits.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cornering, the Centerpiece of Cycling

Image from Wikimedia
Riding a bike requires almost equal parts skill and trust. And successful cornering is all about trust. One cannot ride in a straight line forever, though I suppose it is feasible, so inevitably turning is going to come into play. There are at least two kinds of technical turns which cause trepidation and fear among cyclists: turning on a fast descent, and curves from a steep ascent into a steeper grade. They require different technical skills, but the same level of trust.

A. Trust

To succeed, you have about three things to trust: your skills, the road, and your bike. Trust in your skills comes from experience and practice. The more and longer you are on your bike, the more comfortable you will feel on it. Read my prior post on training for an overview. Shifting and braking skills are particularly important in cornering.

Trust in the road comes from knowing the road: where the turns are, the amount and ferocity of traffic, and the likelihood of debris or potholes. You will trust a road better if you've been on it, or if you're on an organized ride where the host has, ostensibly, driven the route and place warning signs for cyclists and drivers.

But, for most, the lack of trust comes from a fear of mechanical failure. So you need to know your bike. You need to make sure the chain is lubed and clean. You need to make sure your tires are properly inflated. You need to make sure you've replaced the consumables on your bike within the manufacturer's wear specifications: chain, tires, chainring and cassette, brake pads, cables.

Again, confidence in your bike comes from experience riding it, but more it comes from knowing how it works (Exploratorium's excellent page on bicycle physics, but a Google for others), and knowing how to repair it. Both of these topics are huge; I'm going to write a non-egghead article on why a bicycle stays upright (teaser answer: we don't know).

But you can start to gain more trust in your bike by working on it:
As you ride, you will gain confidence. It is inevitable.

B. Universal Cornering Skills

Making a turn on a bicycle is easy compared with explaining what you do to make a bicycle turn. Your position, the bicycle's position, and the position of the front wheel all make a difference. In our experiments with bicycles, the Exploratorium staff has discovered that you can initiate a turn to one side by steering to the other side. Motorcycle riders call this "counter-steering," a small jerk on the handlebars in one direction to initiate a turn in the opposite direction. (Emphasis added.)
But these are some tips I've learned over the years:
  • Keep your head up.
  • Look into the corner, not at the ground.
  • Moderate your speed before you enter the turn, not while you're in it.
  • Beware of gravel on the road, but don't freak out about it — Don't slam on your brakes!
  • Brake evenly with both hands, not just one.
  • Lean into the turn, and press on the handle bar with the inside hand (counter steering, this may never need to be a conscious activity, but its important to think of it this way).
  • Keep your inside foot up and your outside foot down (to keep from bashing your pedal into the ground).
  • Avoid riding your brakes to keep them from overheating (thus heating the rim and leading to a popped tube, see the section on Fast Cornering).
All this takes practice — or not. You learn this stuff by feeling it and doing it more than by reading it. But you can visualize yourself on the bike performing all these techniques, and improve in that way. Try it!

C. Fast Cornering

Oh, geez, this is hard! I'm an new rider, and my descent skills are just beginning to bloom. However, one lesson I've learned is that I have to let go — mostly of fear — to get down the hill. The more I ride, the faster I can make it down the hill. And believe it or not, faster is better.

If you ride your brakes to descend slowly, you will wear out the components on your bike faster, make it more likely that you have a catastrophic failure of some key system (most likely the tires), and increase the chances of slipping on gravel or in a pothole. Instead, practice using your brakes sparingly on descents — to moderate your speed when you cannot do so by other means (gently brake, release, gently brake to keep from overheating), and to lower your speed as you enter a turn (keep your head up!!).

The Charles River Wheelmen have an excellent article on descents:
.For some, a descent full of twists and turns is nothing short of bliss, while for others it’s pure terror. Wherever you fit in this spectrum, you may find helpful some instruction on how to handle unforeseen problems.
Steep descents can be tricky. Steering will be exaggerated, small turns become more difficult, and your weight is transferred forward. This is a very different experience from riding the flats, and you must know how to counteract these forces. In addition, the road surface conditions play a greater role. At slow speeds, potholes, gravel, spilled oil, and fallen tree limbs are a challenge, but at high speeds such conditions can become a greater threat.
On the topic of cornering in descents, the article continues:
When cornering, lean your bike while keeping your body more upright. Weighting your outer pedal [another way to look at counter steering] and/or pointing your inside knee into the turn can help you maintain proper cornering position. An abrupt steering correction can break the front tire loose, as can the front brake if applied with too much force. Ride within your limits, and adjust your speed based on your line of sight.
And as to braking:
Speed control on descents is essential, which is best accomplished by feathering, or light taps, of the brakes. Stopping distances increase greatly with speed (especially when the rims are wet!). ... The steeper the descent, the less hard you can brake without pitching over the handlebars, so choose a speed that will allow you to stop comfortably if there is an obstacle or hazard just out of sight.
Another problem in descending steeply is that the wheel rims and brake pads may get hot if you apply them too frequently or for too long a time, potentially causing tires and tubes to fail. Use both brakes and short intervals of braking with time in between for the rims to cool.
The article then recommends braking in less steep area rather than on the steepest portions of the hill. Great advise to keep you from doing an endo and will help keep your brakes cooler.

D. Slow Cornering

Equally daunting for some is a slow assent into a steep turn. I'll have to ruminate on this and draft a complete article, but the principles will require, again, practice! The primary tips I have are:
  • Make sure you're in a gear that can accommodate the increased steepness (possibly your lowest gear, or "granny gear").
  • Keep your cadence up (this is the other half of being in the correct gear for the hill) so that you don't burn out your muscles half way through the ascent.
  • Keep your head up and look into the turn.
  • Most importantly: Don't stop pedaling.
Well, that's it for now. Don't hesitate to ask questions or make comments!

Your, Bear.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Be the Cyclist

Proficient cyclists are more than just efficient and athletic, they are safe cyclists (California cycling fatalities have decreased in recent years). Cocky cyclists are hospitalized. I have a right to talk about this topic. Not. As you may have read in other articles, I take safety very seriously. I never ride without my helmet; I always wear gloves; I signal religiously; and I point out obstacles to riders behind me even when they are oblivious. What I do do, though is run red lights and stop signs. Not every one, and only when I deem it to be safe, but under prime circumstances, I won't wait.

I've rationalized this practice. I tell myself that hanging out in an intersection makes me vulnerable and reduces my mobility. California law contradicts this sentiment:
Image credit Threadless Tees
Bicyclists must obey STOP signs and red signal lights. It’s a good idea to stop for yellow lights too–rushing through a yellow light may not leave you enough time to make it across the intersection before the light changes.
California bicycle regulations are available on the DMV website (do a Google search to find your state or country's regulations).

The law specifically provides that, apart from the listed regulations, bicycles are subject to the same laws as motor vehicles under the Vehicle Code. That means cyclists must stop at red lights and stop signs. I begrudgingly agree with that I'm in the wrong with respect to them. (I do take exception to the suggestion that cyclists stop at yellow lights. As a general practice, that is not going to make you friends with surrounding motorists.)

This was all a set up to the point of my article: You got to own your place on the road. Own up to being a cyclist. Encourage others to bicycle.

That was the point of a recent Slate article about the inherent conflict and out-of-proportion fear and loathing drivers have about cyclists:
Every time another bicyclist pulls some dickish stunt, [drivers' negative view of cyclists is reinforced]. The same isn’t true in reverse: The conviction that bicyclists are erratically moving hazards is not diminished by the repeated observance of safe and respectful riding. … [But, once] a person becomes aware of her biases, she is more able to engage rational thought processes to overcome the affect heuristic and dispel her inaccurate conclusions. So, study those stats bike haters!
The unfounded, negative attitude toward cyclists revealed its ugly head a couple months ago when a driver in a fancy convertible pulled up to me and said, "Stay in the bike lane asshole." Being that he was in a car, I should have flashed him my patented smile and given him a thumbs up. I hadn't been doing anything wrong!

It was a narrow two lane road, crowded with parked cars. I was, as is my habit, riding the white line to stay away from opening car doors — a perfectly valid habit under the California code and one that has saved me from collision. But of course, how could I convey that message best in the split second as he passed? "Fuck you, asshole." That pretty much summed up the substance of my comments, even as he slowed down to tell me how I was maligning cyclists in the eyes of motorists.

As if I care. Actually, I'm a motorist too, albeit only rarely. I do care. I don't want to care, but I do and I know I should. Owning my cycling means being safe, obeying the law, and leaving righteous indignation where it belongs — in blog posts infrequently read. As Jim Saksa said in the Slate article I quoted earlier: "So, let me say this to drivers, pedestrians, and my fellow riders alike: I’m sorry. See, aren’t cyclists the nicest, most polite people in the whole world?"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sleep like an Athlete

Thanks Danell Leyva for being the best Olympian
On Saturday, I overheard some party-goers discussing sleep. They were touting the utility of sleep deprivation, joking as if it were funny. The gist of their comments was that less sleep means more time to work. Although there are two problems with this premise (the first being that one should spend all non-sleep time working), the second is the primary problem: scientific evidence establishes that lack of sleep produces a host of ill consequences. Insufficient sleep may:
The best quote from any article I read was:
"Very extraordinary boy. . . . Goes on errands fast asleep, and snores as he waits at table . . . a wonderfully fat boy." Charles Dickens penned the first description of the Pickwickian syndrome, a syndrome that provides one of many intriguing links between nutrition and slep. Though patients suffering from it may be improved by dieting their basic disorder is a neuro-physiological one that gives rise to overeating, to daytime sleepiness, and to characteristic nocturnal sleep made up of an endless sequence of apnoea, abortive grunts, and explosive snorts. —Nutrition and Sleep (1972) British Medical Journal.
But for the purposes of this blog, the most important ill effect is that lack of sleep diminishes athletic performance. Getting enough sleep produces optimal performance. In the WebMD article on the topic, the author states:
"Not only do athletes need sleep to improve on their athletic skills, but the restoration that occurs within muscles during deep sleep is important," says Sara Mednick, PhD, a sleep researcher at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. "If you don't get enough sleep it can be detrimental to your performance."
 The WebMD article lists ways the researchers used to improve the athletes' sleep.

Not only can lack of sleep negatively affect your athletic performance, but extra sleep may actually improve your athletic performance. For instance in one study:
Athletic performance was assessed after each regularly scheduled swim practice. After obtaining extra sleep, athletes swam a 15-meter meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks.
Scooby has an excellent article on burning extra fat by getting enough sleep:
Turns out that when you are sleep deprived your leptin decrease[s] and your ghrelin levels increase which causes your metabolism to slow down. It also makes you hungrier so that you eat more. Sleep deprivation is a double-bad for people trying to lose weight – it makes you burn off fewer calories AND it makes you eat more, so you get FAT!  (See his references.)
Ghrelin is a hormone which regulates hunger. The more hunger, the more you want to eat. Sleep deprived people have whacked ghrelin levels and an increased difficulty with weight loss. Leptin is a hormone which regulates energy intake — and an decrease in leptin causes your metabolism to slow down.

Sleep deprivation causes the body to burn muscle:
Sleep deprivation makes you burn muscle rather than fat! If you are dieting while sleep deprived, you will burn twice as much muscle and only half as much fat.
And do we really have to describe the importance of muscle to cyclists? Really? If so, read here.

Scooby touts a book called the seven habits of some-kind of effective people. I personally hate self-help books, so I won't advocate it here. But Scooby does have some pointers on how to get better sleep. Try them out. Various things which have worked for me are:
  • Giving myself some breathing room before bed time by spacing out with a good book.
  • Imagining myself floating over the house, and then slowly rising up to view the earth, then the solar system, then the galaxy.
  • Trying to clear my mind of all thought.
  • Taking a hot shower before bed.
  • Washing my feet in cold water before bed.
  • Telling an imaginary computer to lower the temperature, suffuse the room with sleep aids, or anesthetize me.
  • Avoiding stress right before bed.
  • Not drinking too much alcohol right before bed.
  • Being well hydrated.
  • Getting enough exercise during the day.
  • Taking ibuprofen when needed for exercise-related aches and pains.
I have many other little things which help.

If stress is the thing which keeps you awake, consider what the stressors are and how you can eliminate them. Life is too short!
Carpe diem quam minimum credulo postero. —Horace.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thighs: Go big or go home (psyche). Weight training for endurance cyclists.

I have 23 inch thighs based on my non-scientific tape-measure-only measurement. I'm proud of my thighs. I developed them over years of cycling and I'd say they were my best feature. But they're not at all like these muscle puppies:

Andre Greipel and Robert  Förstemann
This is the famous "quad-off" image where two track cyclists compare their lower guns. Förstemann's thighs are an astounding 34 inches in diameter at the thickest point. That's 11 inches larger than mine, and larger than his waist! Thighs of no shorter than 23.6 inches are necessary for track cyclists:

“The picture is definitely real,” said Benjamin Sharp, the high-performance endurance director for USA Cycling. “[Track c]yclists have strange shapes: big quads, small waists and big butts. It’s hard to find pants.”
                                                *                 *                 *
Athletes tabbed the baseline measurement for an acceptable sprint cyclist’s thigh at 60 centimeters, or 23.6 inches. Newell cited the American cyclist Jennie Reed as someone she envied in that regard.
[Source, New York Times, August 6, 2012; see my prior entry for another picture of the great Mr. Förstemann.]

Fortunately for us mere mortals — and for endurance riding, which is what we do on the AIDS/LifeCycle and on your average century ride— thighs of that proportion are unnecessary. Developing nut-crunching quads is probably going to be counter productive for most of us anyway.

Still, weight training is important to help improve endurance and stamina. Focus on helper body parts. This is what I've experienced, though its, again, not entirely scientific. (Here are some generalized tips for weight training and endurance cycling; let me know if you find other sites.)
  1. Developing arms, chest, and shoulders will give you strength to hold your body in equally between the seat and the bars, improving balance and technical skills.
  2. Developing your "core" — abs and lower back — will give you more power in the saddle and will reduce back pain, allowing you to ride for longer.
  3. Developing your gluts will give you power and balance out the pressure on your quads.
  4. Developing your calves will strengthen your up stroke and give you better control over the bike.
Of these, developing your core is probably the most important. Having a strong torso will allow you to more readily maneuver the bike and that should improve reaction time to obstacles, making you a more confident rider.

Also, larger muscles mean more fat burning during aerobic exercise; and being generally lighter means there is less to push up Quad-Buster or Cardiac.

Ginger Brewlay atop Quad-Buster:

This video makes me remember how every time we reached a new point on the ride there was some wonderful, inspirational person waiting to cheer us on. I'm crying as I type. Thanks Ginger. Thanks to every single person who smiled and waived at me as we rode by.

Your Bear

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Training like an Elite Athlete for the Dilettante

With the Olympics in full swing, reports abound (well, I've heard one) about the roll of science in elite athletics. From materials research to physiology to psychology, the sciences are producing steady and legal gains on performance. In sports where tenths or hundredths of a second divide the winner from the loser, tiny gains are important.

Specifically, I was listening to the Naked Scientist's podcast entry, "How Science Goes for the Gold."

Robert Förstemann
As I listened to the report, I was wondering how we mortals can freeload some good training advise off of the Gods without paying a red cent. Here is some information — some more, some less useful and some more, some less new news — I gleaned from the story:

  1. Feeling well prepared for your event improves your performance more than psyching yourself up for it at the last minute.
  2. Carbon fiber rocks.
  3. Lactic acid is not the evil it was once thought of.
  4. Each type of exercise has a lactic acid profile, and scientists can 
  5. You burn more fat from low-intensity activity and more carbohydrates from high-intensity activity.
  6. Polyurethane swim suits scared the IOC so badly that they were banned from the competition.
  7. Hydration is vitally important in competition.
  8. Only a tiny fraction of the population can be an elite athlete.
Although no single thing struck me as something I could use on a day-to-day basis to change my workouts, one thing does fall out of all that hi-tech information: athletic competition is hard. It astounds me to some degree that Olympians think about the same things I think about when I ride: keeping my heart rate at a good level, keeping hydrated and well-fed, worries about not performing up to my potential, wondering if my equipment is aiding or hindering my performance, among other things.

Another thing which stood out: I'm never going to be an elite athlete. While its true I never thought that before, it is good to think about. Sport needs to be fun for its own sake to be worth doing. So don't worry if an oldster smokes you on a hill; the only person you have to psych out is yourself.

Your, Bear.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Training: Conditions to Prepare For

Training is key to long distance cycling...and training is half the fun. Even if you don't ride every day, or prepare aerobically for the event, there are still lots of things you can do now to prepare for the AIDS/LifeCycle 12.

Here's a check list of things to prepare for. If you don't want to read all my comments, just remember that nothing will prepare you for each of these better than experiencing them for yourself. (But there are lots of helpful links in the text.) (Enjoy the video; the first ALC 12 fundraising video I've seen on YouTube...what a go-getter!)

  1. Daily Riding: Few of us have time to do a 50 mile ride during the week, so do it in pieces: commute on your bike. If you commute 10 miles per day, that's 50 miles per week! Daily riding for any distance provides confidence of experience, added physical strength, and practice with the technical skills listed below. Get out of your car and commute on your bike. (Bonus: no more cardio at the gym!)
  2. Distance: Finishing a difficult ride is gratifying and each ride increases experience. To ride 60 to 100 miles well, you have to practice. Start with easy and familiar terrain and add miles in small increments. Avoid a new ride with unusual challenges when selecting your first long ride. However, you can get a great experience on an organized ride either for charity or with a group of friends to support and encourage you.
  3. Consecutive Distance: Once you're ridden your first century, you're not done. Try to pair it with a 60 mile ride on consecutive days. Such challenges will prepare your muscles for future rides, improve your stamina, and boost fat burning.
  4. Inclement Weather: Learn to ride in all conditions — and learn to care for your bike in all conditions. Successfully changing a flat during an unexpected rainstorm and then finishing the ride will make you feel like a cyclist rather than a bike rider!
    1. Heat and Sun: Prepare with electrolyte to replace lost salt, sunscreen, sun sleeves, a hat for under your helmet, and lots of water. Drink constantly and before you feel thirsty; eat before you feel hungry.
    2. Wind: Sunscreen, chapstick, and a windbreaker are invaluable. Cycling windbreakers are gossamer and outrageously expensive high-tech devices, but pack small when removed. See "Terrain: Flats, False Flats and Headwinds/Crosswinds, and Tailwinds" below.
    3. Cold: No one wants to wear bulky clothing on a ride, but cold-weather riding can lead to hypothermia and that is such a ride killer. (Google "hypothermia and cycling," there were so many links.) So dress for the descents not the climbs. If you think there won't be wind, you might be OK with a thin jacket or windbreaker. But if its cold and windy, you'll need something more. But even winter cycling jackets are thin (though less packable). Plus you can get cycling leggings, winter sleeves, and insulated bike shorts which can be removed if the weather gets nice.
    4. Rain: Combined with cold and wind, rain will cause hypothermia. Prepare with quality cycling gear, and avoid stopping until you can be someplace warm and dry. Once you've  mastered how to ride and stop in the rain, you'll feel invincible.
  5. Terrain: Practice your technical skills by focusing on a particular type of terrain, even though rides often offer a variety of terrain types. For instance, vary rides between a short 25 to 40 mile hilly ride with a flat century. Then evaluate your skills to improve your performance.
    1. Rolling Hills: A series of short climbs followed by short descents (but one man's rolling hill is another man's mountain). Some routes with rolling hills make you feel like you're flying (Paradise Loop in Marin), while some feel like death-marches. See the section on shifting, below.
    2. Climbs: Don't fear climbs. Just ensure all your gears are in working order. Once you're on the hill, mentally break the climb into chunks. Use flatter sections to catch your breath. Avoid stopping on steeper sections; restarting on a steep ascent is challenging. Also avoid walking to the top as that can undermine your confidence — go slower, and prepare by reading some climbing tips.
    3. Descents: A descent on a windy, tree-lined, narrow country road can be a harrowing experience or it can be an amazing rush. Know your skills and know the road; slow down if you're unsure of either. There's no shame in riding your brakes, only learn how to properly do so before you ride. Improper braking can send you over the handlebars on into the hospital.
    4. Flats, False Flats and Headwinds:
      1. Flats are often deceptively easy. But unlike rolling or hilly terrain, constant pedalling is required to create forward momentum. Going for 20 mile non-stop on such terrain can be draining, especially at speed. Learn to pace yourself.
      2. False flats are really subtle up-hills. If it looks flat but there's no wind, you're probably really riding up hill. Check your altimeter.
      3. Headwinds: The winds can be deceptive; you might not feel any wind at all and still be in a headwind. So if you're struggling on roads which are usually easy for you (and you're not bonking) there's probably a headwind. Learn to ride in headwinds.
      4. Crosswinds can be worse since you can't manipulate your riding position to avoid the wind when your broadside is exposed to it! Learn to ride in crosswinds.
    5. Tailwinds: Everyone loves a tailwind! If you feel like you're flying on a road you've been struggling with, go ahead and attribute it to your months of training and how righteously you kick ass on the road. We all do. (But here are the maths on cycling aerodynamics.)
  6. Urban Riding and Traffic: Read my posts on safety, read my posts on riding in traffic, and wear your helmet! The gist is: urban riding will teach you how to stop quickly, how to stop frequently, how to ride in traffic, how to avoid pedestrians, how to signal, and how to leave your road rage at home.
  7. Country Riding and Isolation: Read my posts on nutrition and cycling. Know the locations of parks for water and restrooms, convenience stores, or other similar locations on all rides, but especially on country riding. Avoid riding alone when going out into the middle of nowhere!
  8. Technical Skills and Obstacles: This is a huge topic and involves: riding with others signaling to other riders both your intentions and road hazards, avoiding obstacles, weaving, bunny hopping, riding very slowly, unclipping quickly, starting from a stop on both steep descents and ascents, and many other things.
  9. Endurance, Nutrition, Muscle and Core Strength: In addition to long rides and climbs, building muscle and especially building your core will help you feel like a winning cyclist. I'll write more about this topic. And re fat burning: The less you have to push uphill, the easier it is!
  10. Early Rising: Learn how to get your ass out of bed. The best way to do it is to make a plan to meet a friend for an early morning ride. To make it easier, get your bike and gear ready for the next day and have coffee or breakfast waiting for you when you wake up.
  11. Cornering: Cornering is a technical skill requiring its own entry. Look for an upcoming post all about cornering. 
  12. Shifting: Don't be shy to shift. Your bike has 18 gears. Use them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ALC 11: Video Interview Miguel Diaz

On the ride, I interviewed several people about their experiences riding for charity. Here's my interview with Miguel Diaz, a friend from Sacramento. With his team, Miguel participated in four events and rode over 1,000 miles to raise money for charity. I asked him about dedicating so much of his life to the ride.

(I think this may be the first video where I got the sound right!)

Miguel is an inspiration. Thanks for answering my question, Miguel!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cycling Safety: Wear your Helmet

I'm writing this as a follow up to my entries on safety (here and here). Scooby from Scooby's Workshop posted the following blog entry on "#1 Most Important Safety Device" and made some compelling arguments for his point. Scooby argues that aware cyclists are most likely to be hit from behind, and if they can see the cars behind them, they are better equipped to avoid them.

I think he overstates this argument. Helmets are far and away the most important safety equipment you can have while cycling. Head injuries can be severe, even in low-velocity collisions, if your head hits something hard. As reported by LiveStrong:
Studies have shown between 45 and 88 percent of brain injuries could have been prevented with helmet use and that wearing a helmet could prevent as many as 85 percent of head injuries. [Citations at link.]

For instance, head injury is a major source of concern in low-speed auto accidents:
The present preliminary survey was of 56 accidents in urban traffic. 50 per cent of surviving motor-cyclists incurred head injuries. Soft tissue facial wounds were sustained by 38 per cent and fractures of facial bone and teeth by 11 per cent of the injured. The majority of the accidents occurred at speeds of 30 m.p.h. or less to riders of machines of small cubic capacity. (From PubMed.)
Similarly, if a cyclist's head hits the pavement, a car, or even a person and even at low speeds, his is much more likely to be injured than if he has a properly fitted helmet in place. Conversely, bike helmets protect in high-speed impacts as well. As this site argues, the cyclist is likely to have decelerated prior to striking the ground -- without a helmet that person is dead but with one, he may well be saved. Here's an excerpt:

Myth 1: Helmets do not provide any protection to the head in the event of head impact crash.
Fact 1: Every case-controlled study proves the exact opposite. A list of case controlled studies is included below.

Myth 2: You shouldn't wear a helmet because helmets do nothing to prevent accidents.
Fact 2: This is poor logic for not wearing a helmet.

Myth 3: "The evidence of the protective ability of helmets in the event of a collision with a vehicle remains unclear."
Fact 3: This is a favorite one that's trotted out often, most recently in the U.K. after a conservative leader David Cameron was spotted riding with his helmet dangling from his handlebars. It's true, that if a vehicle (or a bicycle) runs a red light the vehicle broadsides the bicycle at 50 MPH, a helmet is probably not going to save the cyclist. But in reality, most car/bicycle accidents are not of that type. Typically the cyclists will go flying through the air, an will be decelerating until they hit the ground, and at impact they will be going much slower than the vehicle that hit them. Bottom line is that helmets have a huge protective effect in many, if not most, vehicle/bicycle collisions. Isn't it funny-sad how these lobbying groups have learned all the code words and are able to ignore all the evidence with statements like "remains unclear" or "needs more study." Just like those that don't believe every scientist in the world about global warming.

The site also contains links to studies on head injuries and helmet use.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has established guidelines for the manufacture and proper use of helmets:
On March 10, 1998, the CPSC published a final rule establishing 16 CFR Part 1203, Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets, which applies to bicycle helmets manufactured after March 10, 1999. The interim mandatory standard that went into effect on March 17, 1995, continues to apply to helmets manufactured between March 17, 1995, and March 10, 1999. The standard mandates several performance requirements including:
  • Impact protection in a crash: The standard establishes a performance test to ensure that helmets adequately protect the head in a collision or a fall;
  • Children’s helmets and head coverage: The standard specifies an increased area of head coverage for children age 1 to 5;
  • Chinstrap strength: The standard establishes a performance test to measure chinstrap strength to prevent breakage or excessive elongation of the strap during a crash;
  • Helmet Stability: The standard specifies a test procedure and requirement for a helmet rolling off a head during a collision or fall; and
  • Peripheral Vision: The standard requires that a helmet allow a field of vision of 105 degrees to both the left and right of straight ahead.
In addition, helmets meeting the standard must have labels indicating that they comply with CPSC requirements. 
Learn how to fit a bike helmet at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation's website.

Scooby argues that avoidance is better than protection, and maybe in a perfect world he'd be right. But even when you see a car which might hit you, you may be powerless to do anything about it. (For instance, a parked car jams its door into you, shoving you into traffic.) Bike helmets can save you, even when you cannot save yourself.

Thus, while you probably should get a mirror, you should never ride in traffic without a helmet. Never ever. Thus, helmets are the #1 safety device for a bicycle.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

ALC 11: Video Interviews Chris and Gary

Chris and Gary are a couple from Ventura who participated on the ride together this year. Chris has been on the ride five times, and Gary this once. Gary was a roadie...a group of excellent individuals who volunteer to support the riders by providing all the services needed to keep everyone safe, fed, and watered for all seven days.

For 2200 riders, there were about 500 roadies. That means the ride requires its own mini city, schlepping the copious stuff from camp to camp -- including about ten tractor trailers with showers, kitchens, and gear, huge tents which become cafeteria, commissary, and medic station, and all the rider's gear. Plus, every 20 miles or so on the ride is an amazing set of rest stops with snacks, water, and Gatorade -- and all staffed with volunteers.

Roadies, I thank you!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

ALC 11: Interview with Samantha Wallace

Little known fact: though the ride started out as mostly gay people, 50% of the riders in ALC 11 were straight! Though HIV/AIDS affects more straight people globally than gay people, it remains stigmatized here as a "gay disease."  (First link leads to a great video from an Ontario HIV awareness organization.) For that reason, I thank all our straight allies from the bottom of my heart.

I heard so many inspirational stories from both straight and gay people -- I wish I could have interviewed each and every person. But I'm just too shy! I did get this great interview with Samantha Wallace, blogger and one of our training ride leaders on ALC 11. (Link to her blog is in the sidebar.) Hear why Samantha rides:

Thank you Samantha for your dedication and for cruising all the very fine straight and gay guys with me. See you next year!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

ALC 11: Interview with Jon Walker

Here's my one minute with Jon Walker, my good friend and tent-mate on the AIDS Lifecycle 11. Jon's talking about being properly geared for the weather conditions! I think this video was taken in the morning on Day 3. Day 3 was clear and sunny -- a welcome change from the rain the day before -- but was cool in the morning.

Thanks Jon, it was wonderful camping with you!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Video Interview: Neil Giuliano

Here's my interview with Neil Giuliano, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation about what inspires him about the riders on the AIDS Lifecycle. (Sorry about the audio quality, remember, I'm a beginner!)

And once again, many thanks to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Los Angeles County Gay and Lesbian Center, and the ALC. Words cannot describe how wonderful the ride was.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Video Interviews From the Ride

Over the next few days I'll post the six video interviews I did on the ride. The interview below is one I posted already: Alic Shook from San Francisco. I asked Alic why he was riding on the AIDS Lifecycle 11. Alic and I met on training rides and he's an inspirational person for me. He's and incredibly strong rider and always seems to be smiling.

Hopefully this is a higher quality video. Sorry if the sound is off...I'll have to work on that for next year. I took these videos with my phone after all! All the responses are well worth parsing out the background noise for.

I took these little videos to inspire my boyfriend to do the ride with me next year. I hope they inspire you to do so, too. If you do, please let me know! I'll interview you and get you up on my blog...and maybe I can "be the reason" for you!

Big hugs,

Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 6

83 miles today. It's clear, warm, and no wind at the top of the first hill. Finally warming up. Waiting for my friends at the first rest stop. Still excited, but looking forward to a real shower and bed!

My muscles and joints seem to be holding out. And lack of sleep's not really been a hindrance either.

I've definitely noticed a tendency to cry when I hear people's ride or life stories. So much inspiration and courage in one place. I took a bunch of videos, and will post them when I get back. I think the quality of upload from the phone sucks.

Can't say I want this to be over. Can't say I'm sad I'll get back to normal in 2 days!

Sent from my iPhone.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Riding in the Sun

It's bright and sunny. Day 4 we made it to the halfway point. Sunscreen is a major topic of conversation. Everyone looks sun dazed but happy. I wish I could be here forever.

Stopped in Pismo Beach for a cinnamon roll. I relented and had half. Thanks, Jon!

Two Nice Men Waiting for Cinamon rolls on Day 4

Keith and Mike.

Day 4, Half Way to LA

Hoping for a better pic, but for now!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Don't Cheap Out on Camping Equipment

Cheap camp towels suck and get smelly fast. Cheap camp pads (which I thankfully replaced) are not comfy. But actually cheap sleeping bags aren't so bad...if you have two. But get the $20 towels!

Day 3 Pics

I'll try to post videos when I get back.

Day 3 Video

My friend Alic and why he rides the AIDS LifeCycle.

Rest Stop 2 Day 3

Demitrius and Jon

Rest Stop 2 Day 3

Our new friend Tim and his fondest admirer.

Day 3

Bright clear and cold. Still glowing that we finished yesterday. Didn't sleep that good but ready to ride. Gonna get out at 6:30.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Day 2 From Hell

First, the good news I completed all 109 miles with no mishaps (though Jon almost ran me over). Only about 400 riders finished today. That's the bad news. Though it wasn't that cold (low 60s all day) the winds were a good 30 mph. Red Cross had to sag in hundreds of riders. Many people had hypothermia. Will get the details tonight after dinner.

Shortly after we had lunch in San Geronimo we left because it was too cold to hang around. If we hadn't, we wouldn't have been able to complete the day.

This was my most challenging ride ever. Some kick ass tail winds though. I had an average time of 16 mph. But the head- and cross- winds were killer.

And the rain! Not in sheets or anything, but just sporadic enough to really drench you.

Just learned that most of my team made it back too!

All in all a great day!

Sent from my iPhone.

Day 2 Start

It's 4:00 am. Couldn't sleep 109 miles today. I think I can handle it. Brushing my teeth. Breakfast at 5. Ride out is 6:15 today.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dinner Video

Camp video 2

Camp video

Look at all the luggage!

And 1/3 of camp has already picked up.

John's Horse

Lunch Day 1

Turkey on croissant, pasta salad, chips, cookie, and a nectarine. Never has food tasted so good. I hear it's gonna get old though.

Kevin at Rest Stop 2

Loading the Arena

Everyone filing in for opening ceremonies.

Some Friends from Sacramento

Not awake...5:00 am, Really?

It's 4:10 am and I can't figure out why we need to meet up at 5. Why not 9? Anyway, I slept and am ready to ride!

Thanks to all my donors. I raised about $5,500 by ride day!!

Sent from my iPhone.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Me and My Platinum Sponsor

At Bike Parking

From Instagram

Sent from my iPhone.

Registration Line

Waiting in Registration Line

Jon, Kevin, and Scott.

Crying During Safety Video

Scott says I'll be crying all week. Gah!!

Standing in Line for Check in

The Culprit

Erin Fixing my Cable

Thank God for Erin.

Major Surgery

Getting a new shift cable installed.

On the way to Orientation

Jon got an orange Mohawk. I'm so jealous!

Ready to Go...More or Less

I'm packed. Have my gear, helmet, shoes, gloves, water bottles, everything. I cleaned my chain thoroughly, reinstalled it, lubed it, and tested in for about 200 miles. I'm good to go, right? Of course, the gremlins come out at night.

This morning, I had a few minutes to kill after I woke up, and decided to clean and lube my chain. I clean it. I lube it -- with the heavier oil since it might rain, and then try to run through the gears. What happens? I can't shift into the high gears!! GAH. The rear derailleur won't budge from the middle cog.

Videos make derailleur adjustment seem doable, but without a work stand, the process would take me a few hours! Who's freaking out? Me?

Anyway, all the local bike shops don't open until 10:00 a.m., so I can't get someone to look at it right now, and my ride is due in 15 minutes anyway. Not sweating...there are bike techs at the rest stops, right?

Still, it would be nice to have my high gears for tomorrow morning!! As it turns out, there will be a bike technician (sponsored by Cannondale) at the Orientation day.

Here's a map of the orientation day set up.

Now I just want to leave and hope that the line for the technician is not too long so that there's time after orientation to get to Mr. S Leather for some last minute shopping.

Orientation Day

Just waking up. Not ready to go. Bed is so comfy... Zzzzzzzz

Sent from my iPhone.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On-the-ride Time Management

This was such a great little essay on how to manage time on the ride, that I'm sharing it (currently without permission) from Samantha:

If you've joined any of our Sacramento or Vacaville Training Rides, then you know I am not a very fast rider or a strong climber. I'm typically the last one on a route to roll in. But I do roll in. Last year in ALC I managed to ride every mile and finish every single day. How did I do this if I'm so much slower than everybody else? Four things:
  1. I trained sensibly and methodically.
  2. I stayed focused on just riding rest stop to rest stop.
  3. I routinely checked my bike for possible mechanical issues. 
  4. I managed my time and got in and out of rest stops quickly! 
If you are a rider who doesn't routinely average 14-15 mph on a training ride, then stay focused and think hard about #4. Getting in and out of rest stops is a key component to riding every mile. I know we get tired and sometimes the miles ahead can feel daunting - and trust me, it doesn't matter how fast or fit you are, by the last rest stop on day 3 it will be difficult to climb back on that bike.

Rest stops always feature the same things: bike parking, porta-potties, food station, water station, and medical station. Rest stop 4 usually features entertainment. Usually there's nowhere to sit down at any of the stops unless it's the ground. And don't sit down anyways unless you really need to stretch something, because it only makes it harder to get back on the bike. You can sit for a little bit at lunch. The key is to keep moving and be quick about it. 
Start thinking of your rest stop routine now. Start practicing on the training rides you have left!
  1. When you roll into Rest Stop 3 on ALC think about how many miles you have left until the end of the day and how much time you have. Can you put some extra food in your jersey, so all you need at Rest Stop 4 is water? As you approach rest stop 4 and you still have one full bottle of water left, do you really need to stop at all? Yes, Rest Stop 4 is fun and they usually put on a show. Before you go to ALC decide what you want to do - do you want stop and see the show every day or do you want to ride every mile. If you are having a slow day and you want to ride every mile, then plan ahead at rest stop 3.  Agreeing with yourself right now what you want to get out of the ride every day gives you one less thing to think about when you are on the ride. It is totally okay to not ride every mile. We are there for the cause, right? It's also okay to ride every mile even if it means you skip some of the fun stuff. This is your ride! It's not a race. But a good time management plan can really help you. 
  2. Roll into the rest stop. Park your bike. Do what you need to do. Get back on the bike and go. It's that simple. 
  3. On Day 3 when we ride through the town of Bradley and they have the BBQ lunch, take a look at that line. Check your time. Think about how there's really no shade to stand in. Do you want to stand in that line for potentially an hour in the sun, when you can quickly make a donation to the school and go grab an ALC lunch? Maybe...maybe not? But think hard about it. I chose to stand in that line and for me personally it was a mistake. That cheeseburger was the best thing I had tasted in days, but standing around for that long took it's toll on me. This year, I'll be taking the ALC lunch and while I eat it, I'll lovingly think of Perry who probably devoured two cheeseburgers an hour before I even arrived in Bradley. I'll pretend my turkey sandwich is a cheeseburger and then quickly get on the bike and get moving again.
  4. Riding on the ride with a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/friend/someone? Have a conversation right now and come to an agreement of how you are going to ride together each day. Are you going to wait for each other? If one of you is going to need to SAG, is there already an agreement the other one keeps riding? All of this plays into my time management principles as well. Don't waste time on the side of the road figuring out what the other is going to do. It also will keep hurt feelings at bay. I'm telling you - Work it out now people!!
So we are nearing the end of training and the big Day 1 is looming. Use the training time you have left to work on your habits, get in a rest stop groove, and work on your time management plan or whatever plan you think you are going to need for whatever is your definition of a successful ALC.

Lastly, while on the ride be prepared to have the following constantly shouted at you through a megaphone:
"RIDERS! You need to get back on your bike and move to the next rest stop! RIDERS! Get moving. RIDERS! Get on your bike and go!"

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 6

OK, I've lived in both Northern and Southern California — Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, Cathedral City — but reviewing the route has really made me realize how vast California is, and how little I know about it! Day 6 goes from Lompoc to Ventura, and I have never really visited any of the places on the route:
I have been to Santa Barbara, and it is a stunning city, but only on a drive-through while on a road trip. Good to know for future visits: Santa Barbara has an extensive set of bike trails; you can order a bike map on line for free, or download it in two parts — northern and southern Santa Barbara County.

Day 6 seems to be mostly on the coast! Coastal views are every rider's dream, but possibly also every rider's bane, if coastal breezes cause headwinds! This is what the ALC has to say about Day 6:

Lompoc to Ventura
Day 6 begins on one of the prettiest roads on the entire route. You will pedal through vast expansive ranchlands with wildflower-covered hills on both sides! As you ride toward the coast through the gorgeous Gaviota Pass, you will be on US101. This is a well-travelled freeway and caution should be practiced at all times along this portion of the route. After lunch, you will pass through the heart of Santa Barbara, Montecito and Carpinteria, and on into Ventura, where we camp at San Buenaventura State Beach. Highlight of the day: Day 6 is your best bet for dolphin sightings!! Cast an eye to the sea and perhaps you will glimpse those playful creatures jumping in and out of the water as they frolic just off the coast. 

River Park
Sweeney Rd. & Hwy 246, Lompoc, 93436

San Buenaventura State Beach
901 San Pedro St., Ventura, 93001


83.3 Miles