Sunday, March 24, 2013

Musings of a morning rider

Time to STP: 109 Days
 
 
For my Sunday post, I typically will spend some time talking about things I learned on the saddle, interesting routes taken or basically anything as a chronicle of what it was I observed and generally just trying to be helpful to anyone who reads this on things they want to think about while on the road.
 
However, this week I had my kids, so per normal my entire morning and weekend rides had to be squeezed into the period before my children woke up.  So, instead I just wanted to spend a moment talking about the things that I see on my urban rides.  It is so interesting the things that you see.  For me, some things become like landmarks.  I know once I have passed the Chevron that I am about 2 miles away from my turn around point for my workday morning rides.  But, during the weekends...the Chevron is just another gas station that I will pass.
 
Along Fourth Plain there is this video store at the end of this single level stretch of buildings across from what used to be a grocery store (and was recently demolished).  When I lived closer, I used to pass by this strip of shops all the time, and they were all the same (although a Dog Groomer recently moved in and has a really neat Snoopy above their shop now), and the white painted building looked like one those that was probably put in when this region of Fourth Plain was developing from a smaller community minded area into something that saw a good deal more traffic.  I imagine a haberdasher was probably in one of those white brick shops.
 
But one of the places that I have seen in the whole of the time that I have lived in the area is this video store.  It is at the end of the white brick shops and is the one place with something resembling a professional looking sign attached to it.  In all the time I have passed it, I couldn't tell you the name of it.  And now that I ride past it at least 5 days a week on Betsy, I spend some of my mental energy imagining it.  It is the kind of video shop that I remember going to as a kid.  Where the VHS tapes were crammed everywhere in something vaguely resembling order.  The order was usually by genre and then alphabetical, but the last bit was always a little questionable. 
 
Stuffed in between the copy of Ghost and Ghostbusters 2 was Ghostslayer: The Reckoning (not an actual movie title) or some other thing that the video store owner had to purchase in order to get the latest copy of a Bruce Willis flick from the studio and even though it was a B film, the contract for the video store owner stipulated that Ghostslayer was part of the Bruce Willis deal.  As I pass by this shop that has only one window facing the street, I don't see posters from movies just released, but movies released 6-8 months ago.  They cover the makeshift plywood counter that the old monochromatic CRT monitor sits on and where the plastic box that holds index cards with every one's account information also sits snugged up to the multi-like rotary telephone.
 
This place is just a glimpse of my youth.  It even says, subtly but directly, that they carry Adult Videos.  I imagine that they are in the part of the white brick building that hasn't seen natural light since 1962 and they are hidden behind a beaded curtain that was made in the same year.  If the posters in the front are eight months old, then undoubtedly so are the films of ill repute that lay behind that beige macrame wall.  Countless a kid has stood on the other side of that curtain, wondering what is there, wondering what treasures it may hold only to be pulled by the balding video store owner, back to the reality of the kids section which contains Toy Story and the complete boxed Gundam series.
 
I don't know if I am going to ever make it into this store, though during the morning when the frosty breath proceeds my wheels, I tell myself I will.  Looking at this video store is another milestone for me (1 mile to the morning turn around point) and a reminder of the youth I had when riding a bike all day meant I was going to my friends house with 50 cents and my squirt gun.
 
 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Importance of Recovery Days

Time to STP: 114 Days
 
 
I think I am not alone as a burgeoning cyclist (or anyone that is working getting in shape) in thinking that the more your exercise, the better you will end up looking.  It seems reasonable.  You go from drinking beer on your couch and watching Dr. Who reruns to hopping in the saddle or in the gym and after some amount of time, you start looking ripped, breathing better and can go longer and longer.  Well, from everything that I have seen, this is only mostly true.  And it is something that I am trying like a madman to realize.
 
According to this article and many other online resources, a recovery day is just as important as those days that you are exercising.  The whole purpose of those days in which you rest is to give your body a breather, to allow it to mend itself with rest and with the nutrients that you are filling yourself with. 
 
From the above linked article
 
            " One of the most common mistake made by the amateur cyclist is over training. In recent     years more and more importance is being paid to recovery by top riders. All too often riders will go out and ride hard at every opportunity which would appear the best way to improve. However it is actually after rides when your fitness will improve when your muscles recover from their workload. Exercise damages muscle tissues creating small tears and it is during the post ride recovery period that they heal and grow back larger and stronger."
 
 
In the end, it is in your interest to rest up and not continue to push yourself.  The fear that I have, and I am sure you might as well, is thinking you will "fall off the wagon" and treat every day until the weekend as a recovery day, then try and make it all up on the weekend.  While there is something to be said about high intensity workouts, you do your body more good by being consistent and varying the intensity of your workouts above your comfortable baseline.  Make sure to eat well, and healthy on your recovery day as well.  Treat your body right and you are going to have the energy to push on further the next day.  Here are a couple examples of a good recovery day meals.  Work within it or out of it.  I have discovered that just because you are exercising doesn't mean you now have to eliminate every flavorful thing from your diet.
 
Breakfast
 
1 eggs, poached (poaching does not have to be hard )
Whole grain muffin
1 slice low fat cheese (go provolone, great flavor)
Olive oil (drizzle a bit on the muffin)
Diced fruit (don't forget the starchy stuff like watermelon)
1 cup of milk/almond milk

Lunch
Turkey Sandwich
4 oz turkey breast sliced
2 slices whole wheat bread
2 tsp mayonnaise (or have some fun with this, maybe add a teaspoon of adobo to the mayo, mix it up and give it a spicy flair, alternatively, some pureed cranberries added to this could also give it a more fruity character)
1/2 sliced tomato
shredded lettuce
1 cup milk 1
8 oz glass water

Dinner
1 fish fillet (marinated in a tablespoon of olive oil, lemon, dash of salt and a few sprigs of fresh basil)
1/2 cup brown rice
1 cup broccoli (steamed)
1 8 oz glass water
 
Preheat oven to 400, cook fish on a wire rack just until done.
With the rice, you can use minute rice, which is inherently a little more processed.  I recommend just making your typical 1 cup of brown rice and saving that for reheat later (after taking out your 1/2 c portion)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Small goals make a big difference

As of 3/17/2013
Having a regular training schedule has given me real goals to achieve as I go.  I suppose that is the entire purpose of having a schedule like this one, setting those goals that make you feel like you have accomplished something throughout the week.  The fact that I have gotten to this point without outright dying is something of a pride point for me, now.  I was worried I wasn't going to be able to make it to each of the milestones that I have set for myself as I have gone.  And I have hit them and in some cases surpassed them.

This weekend was the 40 mile mark that I had been a little afraid of.  I was worried that 30 had been so difficult, that 40 would be murderous.  I had never ridden that distance continuously ever.  But, I had tackled all the other milestones with some degree of conviction and efficiency, so why not this.

While I had originally planned on heading out to Gresham on a well traveled bike path.  The mileage was there, but to be perfectly honest, I knew the route well enough that it seemed like it would be a titch boring.  Ira Glass playing in my ears aside, it just seemed like a route to make the miles and not to really enjoy the ride, which is-ultimately-what this should be about.  After discussing it with my girlfriend, she suggested that I instead head north into Ridgefield/La Center area.  There are backroads a plenty there and early in the morning I should have been relatively safe.

Safe though I was, I wasn't quite prepared for the large degree of rolling hills that I was going to have to deal with.  The back roads of the Northwestern part of Clark County are riddled with poorly maintained roads that will move from asphalt to concrete and back again with noticeable bumps in the transition.  Cracks are ubiquitous and as the roads are not as frequently traveled, the cracks are not sealed particularly well-if at all.  To add to this, this is all former/current farmland which is not always on the level, meaning I could (and did), work my way up a 9%-13% grade over .2 of a mile only to go down another one after a short level space.  I must say, though, that despite how potentially punishing it was, there were some truly beautiful sites that I got to travel along in La Center and in the crisp morning air, it was truly a treat. 

I should note that it is fairly important that you study your proposed route prior to embarking on it.  On a few occasions, I came to an intersection where I wasn't absolutely certain where I should go and had to look at my phone and try and bring up an active map of the area.  Well, should you be in a no cell phone zone, this is not going to be terribly useful.  In short, have a paper map with you.

Sunday, I headed out with a friend of mine on what would be a remarkable tour around the Portland area.  We left SE Portland and headed to Marine Drive, a road that closely follows the Columbia River and then rode our way to Kelly Point, which is effectively where the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia River are and enjoyed a brief respite before heading out to the St. John's Bridge, probably one of my top 3 favorite bridges in Portland.  The air coming off the Willamette was blowing us a bit, and as I had not retensioned my derailleur cables since putting the old brake levers back on Betsy, I was loosing a few gears on the rear cassette going up and around.  Thankfully, though, my brakes were in good working order so the decent was quick and safe.

This ride, really, ended up being such a night and day experience from my back road Clark County ride.  We traversed almost 43 miles and always had a shoulder, bike path or otherwise reserved lane that we could safely ride in.  Several parts of Portland, I am told, also have a magnetic switch at some intersections that if you ride your bike above it, will activate the traffic signal so you are not waiting for another car to come on and allow you to make your left.  While Vancouver might be a "bike friendly" community, Portland actually accepts cyclists as an integral part of it.

I am becoming progressively cautiously optimistic (yes, I am loading on the adverbs) on my prospects for STP.  The miles are coming easier and the real attitude shift that I feel daily makes me look forward to the next morning's ride.  This training, these goals have ultimately helped me start becoming a better, trimmer and more positive person, I believe.  And for that, I am truly grateful the goals I have set.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Brakes: They Save Your LIfe

When I first changed out Betsy's drop downs, I also took the time to replace her brake levers.  I had effectively gone from a long pull brake lever to a standard pull brake lever.  The type of mechanical advantage that is used in long pull brakes is perfect for the center pull cantilever brakes that I have on but the Standard Pull (or Short Pull) do not have the same advantage, therefore, the margin of error on adjusting these brakes is a good deal more slim, in almost every way.  Standard pull brake levers are perfect for the side pull cantilever brakes that are standard on most road cycles.  However, in potential increased load on a touring bike requires a braking system that will have a bit more stopping power, and a brake lever that pull the extra length you need for these center pull and side pull cantilever brakes.   This has been something of a pain for me as I have had to ensure the tension was perfect, particularly after installing new brake lines which will tend to stretch a little.

As I have documented in prior posts, using the barrel screw to adjust brake tension after you have run your new lines is definitely an option.  This, however, becomes increasingly impractical if your brakes are not wearing perfectly even (a result of not setting them properly) or your wheel is even slightly out of true.  Even if these conditions are met, you still have the problem of not having enough lever to really get a good stop on your bike.  It should be said that there are items (called a "Travel Agent") that you can place in line with the cable to take up the additional slack by using a standard pull linear brake lever  I have tried, like a mad man to avoid these issues, and there are many people who are able to make it work, I have not.  So, this weekend, I removed the Shimano 105 levers and replaced them with the levers that came with Betsy.  There is a noticeable difference in braking almost immediately as I am now using the appropriate type of lever for the type of brakes mounted on my bike.

Be cautious of these issues when you are changing out levers to reduce weight or even to something that is more aesthetically pleasing.  At the end of the day, the only thing between you and a car door is those two levers by your hands.

Just for some further reading, take a look at Sheldon Brown's website regarding cantilever brake geometry, very informative.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Another week down

Time to STP: 123 Days


As I am getting closer and closer to the 3 month mark before STP I am approaching things with both a degree of fear and optimism.  Since setting my sights on the Monster Cookie Metric Century in April, I find myself with something of an achievable goal to go for.  I know that this 62 mile ride will be achievable if I continue at the pace I have been going and it makes something of a milestone for me as I head towards those century rides (I am still hoping to do an organized century before STP).

Since I had my kids this week, though, I was unable to get in the amount of miles I would really like to.  I have to wake up early and get in my morning interval training just so I can remain limber before getting back home and rousing the troops for another day at school or something. Then, on the weekends, I have to pray they sleep in a little longer so I can get out and get something in the 30 mile range in before they wake up and we start things for the day.  Truly one of the most difficult parts of trying to get all the training in for this ride, as a single parent, is getting all the training in.  It becomes somewhat impractical at some point to track with the training schedule when you have to make sure to get breakfast made for four hungry mouths.  Squeezing in those 10-15 mile rides during the week and trying to do some hill work on the weekends is ultimately all I can muster, and regardless if it IS enough, it has to be enough.

I would be interested to see how other single parents manage training for this or other similar events (or marathons for runners or even triathlons).  Trying to fit everything you can into a limited window of time really can be a lot to deal with.  But, the end goal ideally will be worth it.

I have been reading more and more into healthy dieting and fueling up before a ride, after a ride, and just good snacks to have.  There are literally hundreds of books out there that cover these issues that I have scratched the surface on, but I have recently discovered one that seems to be pretty promising that I picked up at Powell's this last weekend.  The Feed Zone seems to be a great book with a lot of really interesting and easy recipes in it.  I will be posting some of my favorites as I go along.  For the last week, though, I have really been trying to use other recipes that I have found online along with some general information that I have located to make meals that are more healthy and diverse for my kids.  Things that they might not typically have and makes them feel better at the end of the day. 

One, that I made Saturday night is a Mediterranean Bulgur.  A fabulous "salad" in a more abstract sense that was a real hit with everyone (recipe follows).  It is full of flavor and highly filling.  I suppose this could be made as a side dish, but it is so hearty, that it easily operates as a main course.

The other thing, and this is something of a happiness point for me, is crock pot oatmeal.  As you know, I am a real oatmeal consumer, every morning, and the idea of throwing it in the crock pot before I go to bed to have it hot and ready in the morning seemed like a wonderful idea (recipe follows).  Since I make breakfast for my kids every Sunday morning, this was a great way for me to be able to sit down and eat with them and provide a low sugar, nutritious meal full of vitamins.

Mediterranean Bulgur
1 1/2 cups of either cooked lentils or chickpeas
1 cup cooked bulgur
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 tomato, diced
1/3 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup kalamata or black olives
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
2 tsp fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp dried dill
1 tsp sea salt
Pepper to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil (optional)
Let the bulgur and lentils or chickpeas come to room temperature. Toss all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Makes two servings, I would double it if you are feeding a family.

Overnight Oatmeal

  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup dried figs
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients and set to low heat. Cover and let cook for 8 to 9 hours.
Stir and remove to serving bowls. This method works best if started before you go to bed. This way your oatmeal will be finished by morning.   This should be sweet enough for you, as well, but if it isn't, drizzle a tbs or so of pure maple syrup in there.  If your crock pot doesn't have a delay timer, try using one of those Christmas light timers and plug your crock pot into that.  That way if you go to bed early, like I do, the oats do not overcook.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Oven baked lemon chicken-No more boring food

Tired of the same grilled and baked chicken recipes as you are trying to fuel your body?  You don't need to punish your taste buds as much as you have been.  There is a happy medium between being a food lover and exercise lover and you can dress up and spice up those go-to meals with minimal extra effort.

Oven Baked Lemon Chicken
1 Large boneless/skinless Chicken Breast
1/2 cup of nonfat Greek yogurt
1 cup of breadcrumbs
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 large lemon (cut into several thin slices)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place 1/2c of Greek yogurt in a bowl and 1c of breadcrumbs in another (add salt and pepper to your breadcrumbs to give it the extra kick that you may want).  Wash your chicken breast off and pat it dry.  Dip your chicken breast in the Greek yogurt and then lightly coat in breadcrumbs.  Place chicken breast on cookie sheet, cover with thinly sliced lemon and cook for about 10-15 minutes, just until the crumbs start to brown.  Turn over with a pair of tongs, add a couple more slices lemon and cook until done and second side of breading is browned as well.  Remove from oven and let sit for a few moments, then enjoy.
For a little advanced planning, and a bit more flavor, I suggest taking the 1/2c of Greek yogurt and adding a few spices to it, then marinating the chicken in it for a day.  This helps make the chicken more tender and will give that added flavor kick that you may want.  The same approach can be taken with the break crumbs.  Why not add a dash of Cayenne or onion flakes?  Change it up and see what best suits your pallet.

To make this a whole meal, steam some fresh veggies or even some frozen ones that can be purchased cheaply.  For last night's dinner, we steamed a mix of peas and corn and then toss it with some cracked black pepper.  Then look at a grain like brown rice or quinoa.  We will cook some quinoa (in the same way you cook rice.  2.5c water: 1c quinoa, cooked for about 20 minutes) with a herb blend mixed in as it cooks and then toss in a rich olive oil at the end to give some flavor complexity.

Remember, your protient intake on a day to day basis (for meat) should only be around the size of a deck of cards.  You want the bulk of your plate to be as full of multi-colored foods and diversity as you can.  With this meal, you are hitting most of the major food groups and giving yourself fuel for the following day.

Truly, you can make every meal interesting and healthy as you go, and it starts with just changing the way you approach your food and the flavors you are willing to give a go.
Blurry and ill lit, but delicious
 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Routine Maintainence for your Bicycle

One of the most important things you can probably do for yourself if you are riding your bicycle with any regularity is just maintaining the moving parts. While changing out your cables and housings should be done at least yearly, you can expand the longevity of your chain, improve shifting and even decrease energy spent by pedaling by just cleaning and maintaining your ride.

I have discovered that just like driving your car, operating your bike for anything more than a few miles, you will start accumulating road grime that can get into your drive train, wheels and bike itself.  When you get right down to it, it will start looking a bit less shiny than the day you bought it.

Before you set down to give your ride a good once over you will need:
Spray Degreaser (I use simple green)
Plenty of shop rags
An old towel
Chain Lube (I use Finish Line Dry)
Lubricant for your components (I use Tri-Flow. Not only is it a lubricant, but it also has a solvent agent in it, so it can clean and lubricate)
Chain Cleaning tool (optional, but will me your life easier)
Narrow nylon brush
Spray bottle full of 1:1 rubbing alcohol and water.
Wax (optional)
Polish (optional)

If you have a bike stand, you can count yourself lucky as you have a bit less work ahead of you, if you don't, just immobilize your ride so you can spend half an hour or so working on it. First, wipe down your entire bike with a damp cloth to remove any excess and unwanted dirt.  Next, spray down all the greasy areas of your bike (the drive train, wheels, down tube, fork, seat tube).  I don't recommend spraying on your hub, but instead spraying some degreaser on a shop rag and gently cleaning it until it is free from grime.

While it is working through the puddles you have splashed through and the accumulated tar the road has saw fit to spray your frame with, lay down a the old towel beneath your chain and attach your chain cleaner with an ample amount of degreaser/cleaner in the container (the above linked Park Tools kit comes with a small starter bottle).  If you are not using the chain cleaner, I would suggest spraying the degreaser on the chain lightly just so it covers it and grab a couple rags in your hand and lightly cup the chain.  Run it 30 or so revolutions and start cycling through the gears on the cassette as you pedal the bike. Change the now dirty cleaner/rag and repeat a couple more times until all the grime is off.

Now, take either a thin hard bristled nylon brush or a shop rag and start cleaning the cassette with a back and forth scrubbing motion until you get all the grime off.

Take another shop rag and wipe down all the joints and general areas that you have cleaned. The last thing you want is degreaser getting where you actually want grease (the hubs and bottom bracket in particular)!

Now, take your bottle of alcohol solution and spray everything you had degreased down lightly. This acts to neutralize the degreaser. Wait a few minutes for things to dry, then relube your chain with a few drops of the Dry Lube while pedaling and then start cycling through your gears to ensure everything is coated. Add a few drops of the Tri-Flow to your derailleurs to give them new life and to the pedals themselves as well.  Those few drops of lube to the pedals can make a difference in effort on those long rides (when I did mine last weekend, I spun the pedals after dropping a little Tri-Flow into the pivot points just to get the agent to work in)..

Make sure the rims of your breaks are free from degreaser, if you are using clincher rims, otherwise your stopping power might become "barely slowing" power.

You now have a newly revitalized ride!  What better way to finish than to polish up your aluminum rims and maybe throw a light coat of wax on there to give it a sparkle and get the rain less to adhere to.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mount Tabor, Arugula and a Great Training Week

Time to STP: 131 Days

In every place I read, it seems that there is a high recommendation to take at least a day off every week for recovery.  And while my chocolate syrup works wonderfully for recovery purposes, it doesn't fully rebuild me for the next day; invariably I need to contend with some soreness.  However, I haven't seemed to take a lot of the advice on this.  This is the first week in which I biked every day.  Out to my girlfriend's house, out to dinner.  Name it, I would bike there.  The only real exception was a 24 hour period when I didn't ride but ended up riding that night.  At this point, I am becoming somewhat comfortable with a constant state of soreness on my legs.  It is something of a comfort though.  I like knowing it is there, if that makes any sense whatsoever.  It makes me know that I am really working and that STP is within reach.

The week's morning rides were as expected and we are still having an unseasonably dry winter (knock on wood for me, will you?), but I spent the week getting in around 10 miles every morning, sometimes a little more which is a fabulous way to start the day.  Where my week was really quite something was yesterday, however.  

I have a friend that works for Castelli and he is an avid cyclocross racer.  Cross, as you will read from the Wiki, was actually started in Europe as a way for the professional racers to stay in shape during the winter months.  I have heard him talking about it as long as I have known him and he has become something of a benchmark for me when it comes to cycling.  This guy is a encyclopedia (too dated?  Let's say he is a Wiki) of information on the cycling world, and pretty much my go-to when I want to know anything that I don't quite know where to look online.  Well, anyway,  we had been tossing around doing a ride together for a couple of weeks and it finally came together.  Saturday morning I headed over to his place and within minutes I learned about ways to replace presta valve stems on an inner tube (I feel I would need to draw a diagram), and then we headed out.  What he had planned for the ride was a tour throughout Southeast Portland taking us through Powell-Butte, the Springwater Corridor and everywhere in between.  At some point, we were going to drop by Apex, a local cash only fermented beverage establishment, and then head onto a very large hill so we could work on hills (and my standing fear of The Big Hill).  It was a true change-up from what I have been used to when going out and riding.  We went through city streets, over packed dirt trails, I learned some had signals that he says I would be seeing often in STP, and I learned about drafting (a practice I had read about, but since I don't ride in groups-had never employed [basically, you ride 3-6"'s from another rider and let them split up the air for you]).  We really went through such a great variety of places (followed along Johnson Creek which is so great, you need to see it for yourself) that it has inspired me to try to explore what else Vancouver has to offer.

After we had ridden about 22 miles, we stopped at Apex with a line going around the block.  No beer was worth the line to me, and it was only 11:45 and I wanted to get some more miles in, so we made a couple of quick turns and headed toward Mount Tabor.  Now, as we approached the "foothills" of Tabor, I looked on and said "where exactly are we going", he looks back and says "towards that clump of trees there".  I gulped.  I didn't know exactly how high it was, and I had hiked something similar on many occasions, but this looked positively daunting at least a couple miles out.  I know I sounded like I was complaining, and he heard it.  At one point he says "you said you wanted to ride your bike, right?".  I did.  I wanted to get to wherever we were and I wanted to challenge myself.  I think I tend to psych myself out some when I look at hills; not thinking of what I know I can now do, but instead thinking of what it felt like the first time I did them (I still hold dread for the Mill Plain/Grand hill).  But we headed on.  

Over a quick dirt path and then onto the paved road of Tabor we went.  It was steep.  Like, really steep.  Like 636' elevation gained in a couple of miles steep, which isn't much when you are hiking it, but add the fact that you are also pushing an additional 20 pounds of aluminum, steel, rubber and cabling and it all becomes quite a bit to handle.  He knew it was hurting and he knew that I, as a former smoker, was going to have some breathing problems.  And, it seems that a safe word had already been developed "arugula".  I say that, and we cut out and return home.  I breathed hard.  I geared down as low as I could (although my #1 cog wouldn't engage so I did this on the 2nd cog on the crank).  I pushed.  Sometimes painfully slow, but I pushed.  I looked at it and wanted to cry out the safe word.  I wanted to stop, but I knew...at what point do you give up?  When do you say it is too much when just a little more effort will take you that much further.  I couldn't say the word (I think it would have been a breathing issue, in part), but I didn't want to give up.  And I didn't.  I made it all 636 feet to the top where a remarkable statue resides.  I saw it briefly, and then back down the hill through a packed footpath we went.  If the ascent was the hard part , then the decent was the sweet victory.  We wound down the hill, cutting up the dirt, avoiding railroad spikes and getting a wonderful view of East Portland/West Gresham.  If I could, I would make the trip up tabor every weekend.

We made our way down the hill and to a local Stumptown (best coffee in Portland) at 29.52 miles ridden,  As we sat drinking our coffee and enjoying our pastries, my friend looks at my saddle, angled distinctly downword and says "we need to fix this".  You see, I had been complaining my hands were hurting on the decent.  This was in part because I was squeezing the crud out of my brakes (and the resulting mental strain that puts on you) but also, as it seems, because when your seat is angled down, it pushes you forward.  Go figure.  Your saddle should be level, ultimately, and mine was not.  A few quick turns of an allen wrench later, I was level (the clumps on your seat post not only adjust back and forth, they adjust angle).  My first big ride with someone else ended up being a total blast.

Today's ride was just a nice change-up.  Instead of the 30 mile loop that I had planned, I instead tried to revisit a portion of my old commuter route.  So I headed from home, over the interstate bridge and then detoured along Marine Drive to the I-205 bridge and bike path.  This ended up being a completely beautiful ride on a   a sleepy Sunday morning with the hill on Ellsworth in Vancouver really making me work.  All told, I only put in about 23 miles today, but I have to figure the hill work counts for something.

I have done some reading on nutrition ideas as well, and it has just backed up what we hear all our lives about breakfast: Eat a big one to carry you through the day.  Along with regular snacks, the idea is to stay full all day long and not eat too big of a dinner, because this will end up carrying you through the entire following day with hunger and screw up the way your body is processing food if you go the junk food route. Thus far, my oatmeal with soy milk morning has worked really well (and, as I just picked up a case of soy milk from Costco, I am good for a while).

'On a final note, I have now officially registered for what will be my first organized group ride: The Monster Cookie Metric Century.  100km (62 miles) sponsored by the Salem Bicycle club.  It falls right in line with when I need to do my first 60 mile ride and will be a great education for riding in a group.  It is just a couple months away and I am looking forward to it.

Getting your weight in line

As I move forward on not only training for STP, but also getting a bit healthier, I am always looking for a but more information. The below article seems to have some great information for both and I encourage you to read it even if you are not training for a tour, but maybe just trying to get your body in line to where you would like it to be health wise.

  Find Your Ideal Cycling Body Weight | Bicycling Magazine

Thursday, February 28, 2013

And I tackle the training schedule

Time to STP: 134 Days

As you know, I have been training actively for about two months at this point, but I have finally started falling on the basic training schedule guidelines put out by the Cascade Bike Club. 

Because I have gone so long without seriously riding, and because I am nervous about hitting up STP without dying in the process, I basically put all my free time into riding whenever and wherever I can.  This starts with moving up my alarm clock in the morning to 4:59 (I contend that there is something psychologically different about waking up at that hour versus at 5:02) so when I have my kids (I am a part time dad and have them for a week at a time), I can get up and ride while they are sleeping and be home before they wake to shower and have my first cup of coffee.  I also have stopped driving to my girlfriend's house (or anywhere else that I can help it) and instead ride there in the evening when I don't have my kids.  It gives me about 6.5 miles if I go there as directly (and safely) as I can, and more if I want to work in another mile or two during the day.

As a result of this, I think I am getting into a better habit of general training for interval purposes and I have recently decided I would try and really concentrate on my cadence as well.  The bike computer I bought is finally set properly, so I can more closely monitor how fast I am going.  My goal is to maintain around a 14mph average wherever I go with the idea that I can complete each leg of STP in about 6 hours or so (my 30 mile ride day last Sunday took me just over 2 hours, so I am optimistic).

I have also discovered increasing problems trying to find ways to stay local and meet my mileage goals.  While I intend on starting to bike to and from work towards the end of March (around 16 miles round trip), the big weekend rides are going to be difficult to do with the limited resources that  I have available to me (I do have the entire Internet, true, but sites like Bikely.com do not have a lot of resources for the Vancouver area).  So, in an effort to get in my mileage requirements and learn more about the nuances (and rules) of group riding, I plan on doing a Metric Century in April and then a full century ride in June.  STP is just over four months away and I want to be as prepared as I possibly can.

I have also, just in terms of suggestions, have found that Ride Oregon is a remarkably useful website for a variety of reasons and have started frequenting it more and more as I learn more and prep up more. 

As I prep up my menu for next week, I will post a few more recipes, as well.  My morning breakfast standard, instant oatmeal, has been modified for the last couple of weeks.  I have continued with the low sugar oatmeal, but now make it with organic soy milk.  It is quite tasty, fills you up and provides you with a wide variety of nutrients.  For those of you that want a nice and healthy snack during the day, I recommend picking up some dried soy beans or some edamame (which you can find in the frozen food isle).  It really takes the edge off hunger and gives you a healthy dose of protein for the day.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A new bike computer: A review

With my morning rides while the kids are sleeping, I have rapidly determined that what I need is not only a way to tell time, but also a way to see if I am getting the mileage that I am shooting for in a limited window of time in the mornings.  I had spoken with a friend who rode STP a few years back and she suggested I guy something like what you see pictured to the side here.

I headed to REI on Saturday with the kids and decided to pick this one up.  At $20 it seemed like a great deal and was going to do everything that I needed to do.  I have previously owned a bike computer, but sadly it was of the "Hot Wheels" variety and was evidently so popular, I can't even find a photo of it on a image search.  However, after I opened the box to the Sigma BC 5.12, I saw that the mechanics were basically the same.  It came with two rubber bands for strapping the computer itself onto the handlebar (or you could switch out the screws to mount it to the stem, which I did) and another for mounting the wired sensor on the inside of your fork.  A magnet is attached to your spoke with a silvered sleeve to hold it into place as it helps monitor your speed/mileage.  This process was done in fairly short order with only a tiny screwdriver being used to change the mounting orientation for the computer itself.

The computer comes installed with a single button battery that is easily changed out, should the need arise, and the real beauty of this computer-and what attracted me to it other than price, was the single button on the face of the computer.  No up or down or menu keys.  You can easily press this with your gloves on while riding to find out any of the information you need from your ride while you are in it.  It locks into place with a simple twist on the mount.and the large numbers are easily readable.

Now, for someone that does not set up these things regularly, I must say it was beyond frustrating setting this thing up.  There is a single slightly recessed button on the back that you use for setting the clock/wheel size/auto scan function (a feature that will cycle through all of your available data while on the road-speed, trip distance, total distance and time).  Anyone that has set up a clock on any piece of electronics in the last five years should have no problem accomplishing this function and if you do have issues, there is a very large instruction manual that comes with step by step instructions in various languages on how to accomplish this.  The real problem comes when you are trying to set your wheel size.

Not only do the number of button presses seem arbitrary and not intuitive on any level, but how big your wheels are supposed to be and how you measure this is shown in two cryptic photos that show two different methods for determining the size with conversions for going from inches to mm's, I think.  This is the single most frustrating aspect of setting up this computer as the need to have this measurement precise is integral to getting good data from your cycling computer (and in my case, knowing that I have the right amount of mileage before I head back home).  For statistic fanatics, the wrong number in the wrong place means your data is all off.  The directions for this process are printed so small (7 point font, probably smaller) that I had to have my son read it to me, and even then-they were not particularly clear.  I even pulled out my copy of Zinn and the art of Road Bike Maintenance for some guidance, which helped, but when I had the required data, the reference chart on the instruction sheet was less than helpful in every way. 

The first day I took this computer out for a stroll my mileage was off by 4 miles at the end of the ride (4 more miles tracked than ridden) and this morning, it was off by .6 under what was actually ridden.  I will endeavor to tweak this again tonight, but the prospects of getting meaningful data from this unit seem slim.  Sigma does have installation instruction videos that are helpful, but nothing to help set the computer up with these measurements.  In short, if you can't figure this out exactly, you end up with a $20 dollar digital clock with no back light.

A final complaint is that this also has no real off function to conserve battery life.  Although the LCD display is not back lit, and probably will not suck much from the battery, the only offering that this unit offers is a standby mode after 15 minutes (a fact I had to find out on the FAQ of Sigma's website).  Be prepared, this thing is always on.

Because I am stubborn, I will not be taking this back as I can't imagine how I can be beat so easily by this little device, but I don't know that I would recommend this unit to anyone but someone who has spent years working with them.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Saddles do matter, recipes and a new milestone

Time to STP: 138 Days

As stated in a previous post, I decided to buy a new saddle that was ideally going to be a little bit more comfy on the longer rides, as I progressed.  Throughout the week I have been riding on my Oval Concepts saddle and have been quite surprised.  I can't say that there are a ton of real discernible differences between my old Specialized saddle and this one at first.  The back end is a little more narrow and there aren't any gripping features on it.  But as I rode this week, things just felt largely more in tune with the way I ride.

if my own experience wasn't proof enough, my youngest son, daughter and I went on a ride Monday to enjoy an usually warm(ish) PNW day sans rain down a trail we had ridden much when we lived closer to it, but had not in some time.  My son on a Haro BMX style bike and my daughter on a Magna mountain bike that she got for her birthday last year.  The ride was not much, about 12 miles, but more than either of them had done in a very long time.  And although my son was fortunate enough to have a gear ratio on his Haro that lent itself to multi-purpose riding, my 8 year old daughter had to figure out how to use her six speeds to go up and down the hills along the Burnt Bridge Creek trail.  This in itself created some issues, but as we were returning, my poor daughter's bum started to hurt more and more.  Point of fact, this bike was probably not built for total comfort and she was feeling it.  I would be inclined to buy her a saddle that would fit her better, but as I have figured out-it is a crapshoot when you are trying to find a perfect saddle and likely she was going to grow out of it in the next several months.  It is funny, because it never occurred to me that something as basic as a saddle could make such a difference in riding.  As a kid, I used to ride for hours and hours and I don't remember thinking that my butt hurt afterwards.  Maybe it is the haze of reflection from 25 years past.

The honey/chocolate syrup has been marvelous for my post ride recovery and as I have been trying to get more familiar with the healthier options of taking care of my body for riding, I have also been stumbling upon more recipes just to make things more interesting.  Friday night was a Thai Green Curry (recipe follows).  Be careful on how much green curry you use, though, as it will really spice things up.  And don't be disparaged if it doesn't look like the curries that you get at your local Thai place, chances are, they are using a LOT of coconut milk to create that saucy look that you get at the restaurant.  Saturday night was baked salmon fillets and mashed cauliflower.  I know a lot of people that were/are doing Atkins do this as a replacement to mashed potatoes, but let me say-mashed potatoes this is not, so don't treat it that way, I think.  I mashed a signed cauliflower head and added 1/2 a cup of Greek yogurt with some sea salt and black pepper and some dried onion flakes.  It was quite good and I really recommend it.

Finally, I hit my first mental milestone in training today.  Just over 30 miles in the saddle at 2 hours and 15 minutes, which I was pretty happy about.  Fortunately, the weather has been pretty forgiving for Winter (about 40 degrees and dry).  A nice combination of hills and flat made the ride quite nice and although I should not be wearing headphones while riding, I was listening to the last several episodes of Radiolab the entire time which makes the ride feel a bit less long, like I have someone chatting with me the whole time (like most of NPR's programming, I highly recommend this show).  I really feel like I am making progress towards STP now.  I think it is because 30 miles is the most I have ever ridden uninterrupted and feel that if I am in the end of February and can do this, that the 138 days I have left are really going to be enough.  I feel fabulous and can't wait for my next ride.

And, although I didn't post the photos for the fork modifications for the Bridgestone, that went smoothly.  A $6 metal file purchased at Home Depot and about 5 minutes of time opened up the dropouts on the fork enough to drop in the 700mm front wheel into the fork.  It is sitting on the bike at present and waiting to be ridden.

Many thanks to Bicycling.com for these recipes
Spicy Thai Curry
16 oz. cubed chicken breast, tofu, or shrimp
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
3 Tbsp soy or tamari sauce
2 large red bell peppers, thinly sliced
3 scallions, chopped
16 oz. fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup low-fat coconut milk
4 tsp green curry paste (or to taste)
4 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
1/3 cup fresh basil

1/2 cup unsalted peanuts, chopped 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 lime, quartered

Cook the chicken in a tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat until done. Remove from pan. Add remaining oil and saute garlic and ginger on medium heat. When the oil is absorbed, add soy sauce, then add the peppers. Cook for two minutes, then add the scallions and spinach. Cook for two more minutes. Add the coconut milk and green curry paste and stir until well combined. Serve over rice and season with fresh basil, chopped peanuts, crushed red pepper, and a squeeze of lime. Makes four servings.

For my part, I instead used extra firm tofu and squeezed as much fluid out as I could by sandwiching it between two cutting boards and placing a cast iron skillet on top of it for about 10 minutes.  I then cut them into 1"X1/2" bits and seared those in a nonstick skillet with a little olive oil.  The tofu really ends up absorbing the flavors of the curry etc... and tastes great.  Also, brown rice is something of a pain if you are used to cooking white rice.  I recommend checking here to cook brown rice good every time.  Seriously, brown rice just provides a bit more substance and fills you up a bit quicker.

Oven-Roasted Salmon
1 5-oz. fillet of salmon (or other fish) 
1 Tbsp butter 
Salt, pepper, and other seasonings to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place fish on a foil-lined baking sheet. Top with butter and seasonings. Bake for 15 minutes, or until desired doneness. Makes one serving.

I nixed the butter entirely and used olive oil instead.  Then I just tossed on some herbs de provence  which is my sort of catch all herb blend.  You could do anything you want with this, truly.  Along with the mashed cauliflower, too, I took a few slices of sourdough bread, brushed them with olive oil and dusted them with garlic salt.  Put this under the broiler until they brown and you have some fabulous garlic bread to go with your meal.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A short shopping list

Time to STP: 141 Days

As alluded to in my previous post, I have been reading "The Cyclist's Food Guide" and in the first few pages of this guide, there is a great shopping list of things that you should just generally have in your cupboard to healthy eating.  One thing that I have really discovered as of late is that a lot of foods that you eat when you are working to train for anything (in this case, a tour) are really protein heavy. But at the same time, you want to make sure that you are not overly depleting your glycogen stores daily (see previous post for chocolate milk recipe that is quite useful in getting some of this back to your body after a run/ride).  Really, keeping your body fueled before and after a long workout really quite important.

Although you may be trying to trim up, I have found, you can't rely entirely on your typical caloric intake for the day to fuel your body.  On a typical 1 hour ride, I burn around 660 calories.  For someone in my age bracket, just to maintain, I should be eating around 2400 calories a day. If you want to lose weight, then the recommendation is cutting your caloric intake by around 500.  So, even if I am trying to trim up a bit, I still need to consume around 2500 calories per day just to keep things working.  It has been a terrifically interesting trying to learn these things as I am trying to not only shed a few pounds from when my daughter was born, but also feel more energized on a ride.

As an aside, I saw something at New Seasons the other day and wondered if I could replicate it.  This is really a meal unto itself depending on your proportions, and will last for days.

Quinoa Salad
2 Cups Quinoa (cooked)
1 Cup dried cranberries
1 bunch of spinach (chopped) or 1 cup of baby spinach
1 can chick peas
2 tbs pine nuts (optional)
2 tbs olive oil
Herbs to taste
Mix together and chill.
Serving size  is what you like of it, but I found around a cup works good and puts you at around 300 calories, give or take.





Sunday, February 17, 2013

Where I figure out that saddles matter and that you should eat food.

Time to STP: 143 days
 
 
What a massively productive week! Per Runkeeper, I ended up logging 114.6 miles in the saddle last week.  That is me riding every day except last Wednesday which I used as a recovery day.  I ended up getting up earlier every day and starting to try a recovery regimen.  Basically, this week was just about upping the mileage and trying to not kill myself doing it.
 
My girlfriend, an active runner, has become something of an information resource for me.  She has been exercising consistently for a few years now and as a result is in the best shape of her life and shedded an astonishing amount of weight.  I figured if anyone knew anything about how to really properly take care of yourself after a ride.  She had mentioned that what I really needed was something to help rebuild the muscles after a ride and that something would typically be proteins.  So, for the first couple post ride days this week I tried boiling a few eggs and scarfing those down with my coffee.  A little sea salt and a little cracked pepper and I was good to go.  I happen to love eggs and this wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but these things wen straight to my stomach and sat there in a way that I would necessarily describe as "pleasant".  It didn't give me that full feeling that I was hoping for, but I figured if it was helping my legs do it all over again the next day then it was no big deal.  However, she then suggested that there was a theory that chocolate milk could be a good recovery drink as well.  Evidently there are a number of fats and proteins in chocolate milk that are good for recovery as well as antioxidants (there is a great article here that discusses it).  As an added bonus, I also happened to have a carton of soy milk (hello protein) that I wasn't doing anything with and now, for the last several days, I have given the chocolate milk a good go.  I can say, that though I thought it would feel too thick or sweet after a ride, it has been quite refreshing, and although my legs are still tight during the day, I don't feel as drained as I did when I started training last month.
 
Really, what I have been doing for the last week is also trying to make myself aware of more of the nutritional requirements of what it is that I am trying to do.  I am trying to trim down, improve my cardiovascular and build up so I can take STP head on and not feel wiped Monday after I come back to work after training or after the big ride itself (yes, I am actually coming back to work after STP).  I know myself well enough to know, too, that if I skip too many days, that I will find it harder to get back on the training wagon.  So, as it sits right now, I train for six days a week.  However, I know I need to feed myself properly, so I have been finding some great recipes online, including-but not limited to- a homemade chocolate syrup that isn't infused with high fructose corn syrup (I am making this tonight).  I recently picked up "The Cyclists Food Guide" as well, and so far this is an interesting read with even a good list of the things that you should keep in your house to build up a good set of healthy meals. 
 
Saturday I decided to increase my days mileage some and ride the 20 mile loop that I had put together for the previous Sunday.  I woke up a little late and had a few cups of coffee and headed out.  The first bit of the ride was uneventful, but fun, but as I whipped back for my return trip I encountered a headwind.  From what I understand, most of STP operates with a headwind so this wasn't something I had planned for but it was good training.  What I was not prepared for is the wall (metaphorical) that I hit right around mile 13.  I sort of lost my pep.  I lost the energy I was enjoying for the first half of my ride.  As well, I started having some rather irritating saddle rubbing issues that I also hadn't expected.  Basically, this made the last 7 miles of my ride tiresome and irritating (physically speaking).  I do ride with bib shorts and I spoke with the manufacturer and they had said their material is not necessarily designed to have to use butt butter but that people did.  I was finding, though, that it wasn't the whole of my bum that was hurting, just a section on back end of the saddle itself.  After another 23 mile ride Sunday, I resolved to do some investigation into saddles.
 
While a buddy of mine rides a fi'zi:k and swears by it, I wasn't really prepared to spent upwards of 20 bucks on a saddle just yet (yes, the argument can be made that it is money well spent, but ever since I bought Betsy, I have done nothing but buy something every week...is this normal?).   I ended up with a nice Oval Concepts saddle (can't seem to find the model number) that I picked up from the CCC.  I will give that one a go and see how it works out, but all indications seem to point to something that will be a fair bit more comfortable than what I have been riding up until this point.
 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Crisis probably averted


Time to STP:  150 Days
 
So, it seems, there is a whole page on the STP website dedicated to midpoint lodging.

I think I am going to be staying at Centralia college.  The experience seems really cool, and this will be a real chance to meet some of my other riders after I get into town.  I have heard a real argument for riding down to Vader, as it is over halfway and if you have it in you, you can do that.  I haven't sent anything off yet, but I am going to think real hard about this today and tomorrow and decide what direction I want to go. 

It seems that the STP Facebook page has a ton of great information on there.  People discussing different options (and I have had several people suggest nutition ideas as well). 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hotels

Time to STP: 154 Days

I knew that I was doing a 2 day ride, this was never a secret to me.  Something that I was trying to figure out.  But, I had been waiting to work out accommodations until I knew what the midpoint would be.  Well, after looking at the Facebook page and all the advice about getting a room soon, I decided to look into it this morning.  As of this writing, there was virtually nothing available.  A room at the Great Wolf Lodge (around 300 bucks a night) and a room at an America's Best for 434 bucks.  Yes.  A Travelodge analogue wants to charge $400 for one room.  Hello price gouging.

Lesson for the future: Book well in advance.  Really well in advance.

Staples suck.

Well, at least I know my front tire is new.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Minor adjustments

Time to STP:  155 Days

I have registered for STP!  10:03 Tuesday morning I submitted my information. And as of this writing, the event is 80% sold out.  You can register here, if you want to join the fun.

After finally finishing the tweaks on Betsy this week, I was really looking forward to getting her out this week and feeling my handy work all come to fruition.  I have discovered a few things in the process.  First, that center pull cantilever breaks are kind of a pain to adjust in general, but when I put on the 105 break levers that I had laying around, it made things a little more difficult.  Center pulls are one of the better set ups for touring bikes (which Betsy is) because of their sheer stopping power.  However, the levers I installed are not designed to pull to the degree that center pull requires, so it requires some tweaking (after talking with the shop owner of Bad Monkey and to a friend of mine, they said that this is a problem a lot of people come to)..  I am thinking about replacing the actual center pull bracket today with something that will give me more mechanical advantage.  Truthfully, I should just replace the brake levers, but I don't want to effectively lose all the money I just invested in bar wrap.  Who knows, we will see where this goes in the near future..

I also discovered that I suck at adjusting the rear derailleur,  I haven't spent a ton of time dinking with derailleur's before, but I figured the process would be approximately the same as working with brakes (which, up until this point, I had been successful at).  I am going to have to take Betsy down to Bad Monkey today to get them to adjust it for me.  What has effectively happened is I have lost two entire gears on my main cog, which has made tackling the hill on Mill Plain even more problematic.  Since I plan on doing 20+ miles tomorrow, and I really don't want to have to worry about this anymore, the money will be well spent, but I need to spend some time seeing what they are doing.  I figure I am going to be putting the better part of 1K miles on my bike over the next six months and don't want to do that with 8 speeds only. 

Also, while working on my girlfriends bike last weekend, we discovered that a few things have changed in the last 30 years since her bike was manufactured.  Her bike, a cruiser, is heavy.  I mean, nigh on WalMart bike heavy, but there are several ways to reduce the weight and get better performance from it.  One of which, is switching out her steel rims to aluminum.  And since she rives a sedan, I figured she would also want quick release hubs so she could pack her bike in and out of her front seat.  I picked up a aluminum wheel from Bad Monkey last weekend to help this, but when trying to install it on the front, i realized quickly that the spacing was different (as in stock was 100mm while the new hub was spaced at 110mm).  Generally (since this is a steel fork) this would just require bending the fork out.  However, moving from a bolt through hub to a quick release also offered its own special set of issues.  Stock was something on the order of 5/16" while modern is around 7/16".  Whilst talking with the shop owner at Bad Monkey, I was trying to brainstorm ideas, and basically just trying to do what it was I was doing required a single tool: a file.  This is my weekend project (I will post photos).

Who would have known that I would be learning so much while training for this race about bikes?

Total miles for the week is just over 50, which I am happy about.  I have rode three mornings this week plus today.  I am getting there, slowly.  Incidentally, if you want to track my progress for STP or just use a great app, check out Runkeeper.  They just did a new update and are making improvements all the time. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Betsy Gets a Tuneup

Days to STP: 158
As I said in a previous post, I bought a new set of drop down handlebars for Betsy.  A nice set of bars that were actually meant for a Cyclocross.  They have great length and a bit of a shallower curve on the drop downs that I liked.  I realized quickly, though, that when I put these on, I was going to have to replace all of my brake and shift cables as well as their housings.

New bars mounted


Old bars, removed.









What began as a nice way to add a bit of customization to my otherwise stock T700, became a minor tune up affair.  I also had a set of Shimano 105 brake levers laying around the garage that I wanted to replace the stock levers with, and I figured if I was replacing all the cabling anyway, I might as well switch these out.  Although I didn't take photos of the entire experience, there are a few things that I learned.
  • Don't skimp on tools.  Seriously, don't.  I bought this cable puller a year or so ago because it was a bit cheaper than the Park Tools equivalent.   Somehow, they ended up making this thing only suitable for lefties (at least that is how it handles for me) and trying to tension a cable and get a box wrench in to turn a nut is nightmarish.  When/If I ever break this thing, i am going to buy one with a lower overall profile and the ability to be used both right and left handed
    • As a sub of this, invest in some long handle hex wrenches.  I spent $15 on a hardened steel set of metric and US wrenches and the added leverage really helped when adjusting the tension on the brakes.
  • Measure twice, and then measure again, cut once.  I knew full well that I was moving from 39cm bars to 44cm and that the flare where my bar end shifters were would add some additional length.  However, when it came to running cables for my back brakes, I just seemed to have issues and had to go out and buy more cable housing just to stretch the additional 3"'s that I needed.
  • Make sure that your brake levers are placed where they will be comfortable.  I checked, double and triple checked to make sure they were where I naturally wanted them to be.  Doing this kind of thing is pointless unless you are comfortable at the end.
  • Create a clean and organized work place.  Just make sure you know where all your tools are.  I suddenly get why shops have that little bucket on the top of their racks.  Just make sure everything is where it needs to be so you aren't searching everywhere when you need to switch from a 9mm to a 10mm wrench in a hurry.
  • The ground is not a good place to store parts.  Yes, you may think you'll see it, but you won't.  Even if it is a back part on a white floor.
  • Before venturing back to the bike shop, make sure they are open.  The folks at Bad Monkey are awesome, but they do have to close on occasion.
I also discovered wrapping handlebars is not nearly as daunting as I would have suspected.  After I had run all the cables and adjusted the brakes (Betsy is currently running center pull cantilever brakes that really have to be tweaked in order to get good contact), my son and I decided to wrap the bars.  I wanted something that was going to last for a spell and the folks at Bad Monkey recommended the Lizard Skin tape.  It was a little on the pricey side, but I figured if I was only going to have to do this every so often, it wasn't as big of a deal.



While you can't see it very well, there is a thin strip of adhesive here.

After my son and I figured out how to get the adhesive off the back of one of the rolls of bar tape, it was a simple process of wrapping the bars and trying to be mindful of the shifters etc...

As I was doing it, as well, I knew that I was going to want to maintain some naked bar space for my lights and a bike computer later, so I tried to stop things at a point where I had some clearance.

And finally, after about 15 minutes, we were done.  I left myself enough room overall for things I would want on my bars.

I also took a few minutes at the end to adjust my rear derailleur which was not shifting quite the way I would have preferred.  This is done with a couple of screws on the back of the derailleur itself and after a little help from my son, it was done in short order.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Finding a route

Time to STP: 160 Days

As I am now into my second real week of training for STP (although, I am operating ahead of their proposed schedule), I have found it increasingly difficult to find routes around Vancouver to use for training. At least ones that logically lend themselves to riding a bike and not having to dodge cars or (by extension) suck exhaust.  As such, I just started taking the little information that I know about distances in the city and started looping them around, trying to find a place to meet my daily mileage requirements.  This, I have learned, is not the most efficient way of doing things.

What I have started to do now, is use Runkeeper's website to create routes, which allows me to track mileage along the way as I create it.  Also, I am able to modify it, even if I have it all mapped out, to include additional mileage.  With the added satellite view, it makes things a good deal easier.  I knew I was going to cycle both days last weekend (I have been using the stationary during the week up until this point) from two different start points and I knew the kind of mileage that I was hoping to achieve (as close as I could get to 15 miles each day).\

It is a wonder how your sense of perspective changes, truly.  A couple weeks ago, I was riding in 27 degree weather and when I went out Saturday and Sunday morning, I was astonished at the balmy 40 that it was (read: much sarcasm). While the training information I have found has really encouraged riding relatively flat rides with at least 1 hilly ride a weekend, I have found that I just like to mix it up for the sake of not being bored.  Saturday's ride as well as Sunday's were a nice combination of those things (with Sunday finding me tackling the dreaded Mill Plain hill again).  However, on both days, I ended up shorting myself some on mileage.  Saturday was around 12 and Sunday was around 13.  25 miles for the weekend isn't bad, but wasn't quite what I was hoping to accomplish. 

The two day training schedule from last year.  A good guide regardless.
 
The schedule also suggests just riding in the middle of week and the weekends.  I am hoping to mitigate some of the heavy weekday riding by doing several smaller rides during the week either before or after I go to work.  Does anyone have any experience prepping for a century that they might be able to suggest?  A friend of mine recommended beer and burgers as a good offset.  I don't disagree with that, but I also know (through some more reading) that I would benefit from increasing my veggie and fruit intake more.
 
Also, on a more personal note, I regressed on smoking this weekend, back on the wagon today.  I really need to just kick that demon to the curb.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Technique matters, go figure.

As I was recently reading through some STP literature, I read something in their FAQ about the way that people typically pedal their bikes and how it is really inefficient or improper.  One of the suggestions that I read was putting your force of peddling into an action similar to scraping dirt off your shoe.  So, really, your strength goes into the backstroke, and not pushing down on the pedals.  Why does this even matter?  Well, if you are riding 200+ miles over a couple of days, the few calories that you are able to save by proper technique-extrapolated over thousands of strokes throughout the day could mean the difference between complete exhaustion in the middle of the ride versus at the end when you are supposed to be exhausted.

I tried to use the conceptual idea of this modified stroke when I was out yesterday, and what do you know-it made a difference.  The two real changes were in where I felt the strain (the top portion of my quadriceps) and in the speed.  As I changed my stroke halfway through my ride, I suddenly found myself going faster and using a muscle group that, while I thought I was using, I wasn't using in any significant way.  I had to stop myself on a few occasions from lapsing back into the pedal stroke I have used since I learned how to ride a bike, and I am sure when I go riding tomorrow morning, I will need to re-remind myself of the same thing.  I am not sure what I expected, but I am discovering there is a fair amount more to riding a bike than just hoping on (I mean, you can do that, and it is totally fine, but, there are things to make you more efficient and things easier). I also could be wrong entirely on how I am interpreting this.

Also, as an aside.  I bought new drop downs yesterday at the CCC (well, new to me).  A set of pretty nice Cyclocross 44cm's with bar ends that flare to 50cm.  I think this will give me a lot more control and the overall shape of them seems to make much more intuitive sense when riding in a more aerodynamic sense.  The guy at the CCC said that older style bikes (which Betsy is) tended to have a more narrow philosophy attached to them.  As in, the handlebars were much more narrow.  It is fine, but when I tested the Redline, I liked the broader handlebars from a control and aesthetic sense (and I read that contemporary thinking is that your handlebars should be as broad as your shoulders).  I am hoping to mount them this weekend once I pick up new cabling/cable housing (since everything will be at least a few inches longer now).

Below are a few links that I found for peddling information, for your perusal.  Much of this is easier when you are riding clipless or with toe clips as standard platform pedals are rather suited to the push style peddling we have all done for years.  But I think some of this technique can really extrapolate.

An essay with a couple diagrams on this

 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hilly climbs

Vancouver is something of an interesting city to me (at least from the perspective of someone that grew up in the desert which is relatively flat): the entire western side of the city is peppered with random hills. If you know how to commute around town, this isn't actually a huge issue. But, I was hoping to start training for the "big hill" that is a notorious STP feature.
The particular hill that I opted to tackle is right on Mill Plain off of Grand. Even when I was cycling daily to Portland, this thing was a nightmare. While it doesn't sound like too much, it is around a 500 foot climb over about .1 of a mile. And I am not too proud to say, this thing beat me up (and just being a couple weeks out of smoking, my lungs were in fire). It beat me up good, and like an idiot, I tackled this thing in the middle of my ride. I see it as something of a real goal to be able to make this one without stopping and at something of a brisk pace. I have roughly six months to get ready for STP and I know hitting hills like this one is going to be imperative.
On a more physical note, the daily training on the bike is helping with my quads and my fingers didn't freeze today, which-you know-is a nice bonus. Also, I think I need to see about some new drop bars or at least repositioning my brake levers; their current location is in no way sensible.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Frosty mornings

The weather in the Pacific Northwest has not abated much.  Yesterday I decided to head out with a friend on a morning ride. The weather reports early in the week were saying 50 degrees by this weekends and it seemed rather promising. So, we set up a 9 am rendezvous at my place .

Well, 9 am came and it was still only 27 degrees out, but I had grabbed a couple of full fingered gloves with the hopes that it would take care of the frozen fingers. The ultimate plan being for a nice 15 mile urban ride. As they say, the best laid plans and all that. With the frost all over, and me being unaware how road tires would perform in those conditions, we hopped on the Burnt Bridge Creek trail and rode a nice 7 mile loop. The ride itself, over fairly flat terrain, was just fine. My neck and ears-however-lost all feeling some time around mile four. It was obvious that I needed better preparation .

I headed out later that day with a better idea of what I needed and picked up a fleece head wrap and was given a wonderful pair of full fingered Thinsulate gloves from a friend (an avid biker who also spent some time explaining what I rapidly was discovering : biking in the winter is expensive).

Today, 28 degrees out, I mapped out a 10 mile loop by my girlfriend's house in Battle Ground. Now, better armed than ever, I was hoping I could reach the kind of speeds I do when on the stationary (around 19 miles an hour). With dark and untraveled roads I opted to keep the pace a little more measured (and in lines with what I need to maintain for STP) pace, around 12mph.

I rediscovered today why I live riding so much. Just you and the open air and the quiet of your bike. At the end, I did 10.11 miles in just over 50 minutes. Not bad for one of my first real rides of the season.

An interesting note, however, is that I discovered Wind+Moisture+Freezing Temperatures=Ice Accumulation on bare legs. Go figure.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

First day out on Betsy

Why I am calling her Betsy is beyond me, but, that is what I am running with right now.
My kids were out, but aware that I wanted to head out on the first training ride (moving ahead of STP schedule.  I have quit smoking and know that I need to work out my cardio and get all this crud out of my lungs) so while they were sleeping I geared up.  Betsy came with SPD clipless pedals, my first foray into the clipliss world, and I was fortunate enough to pick up some used Specialized shoes with cleats still attached at Next Adventure for a great price (their Bargain Basement is often a parental savior).  It was cold outside.  Really cold.  Like 27 degrees cold (ice on the ground and you might die cold), but I figured my legs would do the warming for themselves, and I had enough gear to warm my
upper body I wasn't too nervous about it. 

I  loaded up Runkeeper on my phone and headed out.

The first half a mile should have told me something.  My fingers started to loose sensation from the wind attacking them.  You see, I had fingerless riding gloves on, and while my palms were quite warm, anything exposed was rapidly freezing.  Long story short: I made it 2.2 miles.  On the upside, according to Runkeeper, though, I set a personal pace record.  So that was a bonus (and I know I wasn't riding as hard as I normally would.  Seems those skinny tires makes a difference), but I couldn't hit the 10 mile goal I was hoping for.  I am hoping to make that first 10 to 15 mile ride next weekend (with warmer hands).

Lesson learned: If it is 27 degrees out, wear full fingered gloves.