Monday, February 25, 2013

Ride your Fear

Cycling is a great forum to face your fears. Nearly every aspect of cycling presents some barrier which must be overcome to succeed. For instance:
  1. For some, urban cycling is terrifying because of the stop-and-go riding, foot traffic, and chaos of cars.
  2. For others, cycling in the country can inspire fear because there are so few services and no one to aid you in case of emergency.
  3. The first time a new rider goes for distance, she can become intimidated by the sheer uncertainty about new stresses on the body or the bicycle.
  4. When that rider advances to clip-less pedals (the ones you clip into are called "clip-less") there is the ever-present fear of not being able to clip out in time.
  5. Riding in a group can always inspire fears of inadequacy.
  6. But the number one fear which lingers even in experienced riders is getting up those long, steep hills — and then getting back down them.
Now fear is, of course, a good thing. It will keep you riding safely in traffic. It will keep you from leaving your house without your cell phone on long, lonely rides. It will help you to remember your limits, and inspire you to practice cycling skills before you have to use them.

That being said, its equally important to keep your fears in check for they will hold you back. And as with other aspects of cycling, you keep your fears in check by regular, routine practice.

One of the the thrilling things about cycling with friends is watching the fears fall away as they advance. Soon, things that petrified become things that excite, and cycling becomes about the adventure, the exercise, and personal goals.

Later in the week I'll write about overcoming fear of hills. In the meanwhile, read my essay on cornering (which I need to update).

your Bear

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mojo is a combination of Mechanics and Goals

Its 4:45 a.m. Its only about 60º in the bedroom, so couldn't be above 35º outside. The day promises to be grey and windy, and I know I'm going to have to fight for every mile of the day's cycling adventure. Still, I get up, eat, and get into my car for the 90 minute drive to San Francisco (or Tahoe, or Santa Rosa) and smile in spite of the grumbling. Adam wants to know: How do you motivate yourself to do it? The answer is twofold: first, I make it a mechanical process so that I don't have to think; second, I keep my goals in mind.

A. Automatons Meet their Goals

Image credit unavailable.
Making fitness a mechanical process is the process of making it a priority in your life. To do it, you have to first set aside the time you need, making it sacrosanct so that nothing will dissuade you. That means knowing what you need to do ahead of time and literally calendaring it out. Once the plan is in place, you have to make it easy to accomplish by removing physical barriers. A typical ride works pretty much like this for me:
  1. "Hey, Matthew, want to go for a 100-mile ride at Lake Berryessa on Saturday?"
  2. Matthew, of course, says "Yes. Pick me up in Davis at 7:00 a.m."
  3. Then, sometime that week, I let my clients know that they'll have to leave messages on Saturday — there's only spotty cell reception on that route!
  4. Before I go out on Friday, I layout all my bike clothing, fill my water bottles, make sure my bike is clean and good to go, and I have plenty of snacks ready.
  5. Friday night, I make sure I'm home by 10:00 p.m., having eaten a carb-rich meal and drunken very little alcohol. Then I prepare the coffee pot and a bowl with oatmeal, nuts, brown sugar etc. to be made as soon as I wake up.
  6. Get up at 5:30 a.m. so I can leave my house by 6:15 or so. Make my oatmeal and coffee, eat them quickly and post on Facebook complaints about getting up so early.
  7. By the time I've used the toilet, packed my car and started off, I am usually smiling happily.
So, by doing this, I've committed my time to someone else, made sure that I am not going to be interrupted during that time, made sure I wasn't hung over, and made the process of getting up and out as easy as possible.

Yes, its hard to get out of bed, but that's when I have to think about my goals.

B. Knowing Why is Half the Battle

When I'm convinced I can't do it, then I remember why I'm doing it. You definitely have to psych yourself out on this front, because if you let doubt creep in, your goals start evaporating quickly.

My primary goal is simply overall fitness. My plan is to live to be a healthy, happy centenarian. The only way that is going to happen is to keep my body moving, muscles toned and useable, good cholesterol high and bad cholesterol low. Exercise is key to doing that. More than once, I just had to remember how much pasta I'd eaten the night before (in preparation for the ride) to get my butt out of bed. Then you start thinking how you can burn between 4000 and 7000 calories on a 100 mile ride, and how many morning buns that equals. Food is a great motivator.

My secondary goal is, of course, sex. I want to look good and feel good. I've learned that only a lot of exercise will help me keep the fat off. Diet alone never works for me — its got to be accompanied by a lot of aerobic exercise. For me, that's usually about 14 to 30 hours per week. And again, many mornings I get out of bed thinking about one of the Bears of the Day (such as the gentleman pictured). I know I'll never look like that, but as a goal, its still a great motivator to imagine I can.

Then there's the adventure. In no small measure, cycling is about adventure — remembering the fun of seeing a new landscape, mooing at passing cows or llamas, seeing the sun rise over a calm lake, making it to the top of an impossibly steep hill, or a thrilling descent into a cool shaded valley, these things make each ride different and unimaginably fun.

Finally, of course, there's the AIDS/LifeCycle. Each year as I train, I think about how great its going to ride with 2,500 of my closest friends, camping each night, eating in the chilly dining tent, getting to know new people and seeing the amazing accomplishments of my friends. And all this for the great cause of bringing life and dignity to people living with HIV and AIDS. When they finally find that cure, I'll be proud to know I did my tiny little part to bring it about.

So these two are like a positive feedback loop: I set a goal, then I do things to make it easy to accomplish that goal, by accomplishing that goal, I want to set another goal... With each accomplished goal, its possible to set a more ambitious goal. There seems to be so little in my life over which I have control. It feels so good to be able to do this one thing under the illusion that I am controlling it.

Your, Bear

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cycling Etiquette is For Safety

Every time I ride in a non-ALC event, I have to learn the hard lesson over and over: no one likes being told they are cycling unsafely, even when they are. However gentle the reminder, I always manage to piss someone off. Is the admonition not to pass on the right such a stinging blow to the ego? I suppose it is considering the reactions I've gotten!
CJ and me; Photo by CJ Julian.

This past weekend I rode in the Tour de Palm Springs, a charity ride with multiple courses of varying length. There were, according to the volunteer who checked me in, over 8,000 pre-registered riders and an expected 2,000 additional riders. That's an astounding 10,000 riders! I did the century, and from what I could tell no fewer than 2,000–3,000 riders did that route with me, and it felt like we were all on the road at the same time.

Despite some killer headwinds (followed by even more killer tailwinds!!), I did not observe anyone injured or stranded. Still, for all 100 miles, I could count on one hand the number of people who engaged with their fellow riders.

Few people said "good morning" as they passed, let alone calling out "on your left." Often, the entire travel lane was crowded with buddies riding side-by-side, requiring passers to enter the oncoming lane. Few people announced when they were on your wheel, but expected you to know they were there.

What does this mean? It means that we who care about this sport have to check our own egos and spread the word that friendly cycling is safe cycling. Keep admonitions to a minimum, but make them pointed and clear. Make sure to follow the general rules of etiquette ourselves. And remind our new rider friends to ride as safely as they can before they go out on the road.

And for me it means keeping cool and keeping my comments to a minimum.

Just for completeness sake, here is a simplified version of the ALC safety rules:
  • Obey all traffic laws, traffic signals and signs — and stop at all stop signs.
  • Ride as far to the right as is safely possible
  • Ride defensively, predictably and stay alert; assume car drivers cannot see you.
  • Always wear your helmet when on your bicycle.
  • Ride single file and leave at least one bike length between you and the rider in front of you.
  • Communicate your intentions and potential dangers with hand signals or by calling out in a loud, outside voice.
  • Look behind you before passing to make sure it is clear.  Pass only when it is safe to do so and pass only on the left.  When passing, call out loudly, "On your left!"
  • Never wear headphones or ear buds while on your bike.
  • Control your bicycle: Keep at least one hand on the handlebars at all times.
  • Be courteous and respectful of others. We are a diverse community. Please be thoughtful in your conduct and choices, and sensitive to the feelings of your fellow participants. 
Not all these rules make sense all of the time, but in events such as the Tour de Palm Springs — and the ALC, of course — they are very important.

Happy Valentine's Day,
Your Bear