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!