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.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Getting Started

A couple years back, I decided I wanted to try the legendary Seattle to Portland bike ride.  One  thing or another rather led to me being unable to actually be able to do it, but something this year just rather changed in me and I decided: this will be the year that I do it.  So, a couple of weeks back, I started looking at road bikes.  What I had (still have) is a nice Scott Comp Pro that I bought for a steal when I still worked for the EPA, but I knew I didn't want to make the ride with that particular bike, so I was shopping around. 

After spending hours/days on Craigslist, I finally decided to take a day where I would just go to every used bike shop in the Portland Metro area.  I started with Bad Monkey Bike and Board in Vancouver (my local bike shop and a great group of people) and got to try a 2012 Redline road bike that fit wonderfully and was priced well, but I didn't want to shoot myself in the foot so I kept looking.
After spending the better part of five hours looking for the perfect ride (and eyeballing a Fuji at City Bikes), being effectively snubbed at Veloce and not having the best of experiences at a few others, I ended up at Sellwood Cycles .  I must say, it was my first visit there and I was quite  impressed. 

They have a great setup, great location and within minutes of me being there, a nice guy named Eric came to help me and find the right ride for me.  After hearing what I wanted to do, my sizing etc.., Eric guided me upstairs to a nice blue Cannondale T700.  I took one look at her and I was entranced. I threw on a helmet and quickly took her out for a spin.  She shifted wonderfully, rode smooth and I knew I had the bike for me.  This was the bike I would tackle STP on.

What follows will be my cycling blog in general, but for the next several months, focus will often be on my efforts for STP.  I am, by no means, a professional cyclist.  This is my first road bike in 5 years.  My last was a 1983 Peugeot that was probably a bit too big for me and for the better part of a year, I commuted from my home in Vancouver to my work in Downtown Portland on a Manga that I bought at Target.  I did it because I enjoy cycling, and I enjoy the feeling of those long rides.  The feeling of the wind in your face, the feeling of your legs really stretching out as you get into a ride.  Really, this is just going to be an all around cycling blog containing the information that I glean from not only my riding, but repairing of bikes.  Last Christmas I bought my girlfriend a 6 speed Bridgestone cruiser, and we are going to repair it together.  This, really, is going to be about a little of everything in the cycling aspects of life.