Monday, February 28, 2011

Beginner's Guide for Cycling Efficiency

This past weekend offered cyclists in the Upstate of SC another unseasonably warm and sunny weekend of riding, but the cost was high winds. Sunday, after a particularly challenging 38-mile ride in a stiff wind, one of the riders talked to me afterward about looking relaxed on the bicycle. I noted that I have been riding seriously for almost thirty years now so I am very relaxed on a bicycle. But remaining relaxed under the stress of high winds and a taxing pace can challenge even the best riders.

What, then, can beginning cyclists do to become efficient, and thus relaxed, cyclists--particularly when targeting a grueling event such as either of the Assaults?

• The most important element in cycling efficiency--riding relaxed--is proper bicycle fit and weight distribution. Many beginning riders are either too upright or leaning far too heavily on the bars. Proper weight distribution should center a rider. Also, many beginning riders are set-up initially with high stems (with a high stack height and the stem sloping upward) and with the hoods/ handlebars tilted upward as well. While this position is intuitively more comfortable at first, the positioning is destined to create squirrelly handling. Beginning riders should work toward a "flat" profile that has the rider "stretched out" as much as is feasible--depending on each rider's physique. A professional fit is important for getting relaxed on the bicycle.

• The next step is obvious--ride a great deal, particularly with groups. Nothing creates relaxed and efficient cycling as much as experience.

• When riding in groups, ride with the upper body relaxed. Concentrate on NOT clenching your hands on the hoods or bar. Many beginning riders expend a great deal of energy through tense upper body muscle groups, resulting in fatigue and poor bicycle handling.

• Monitor the size gear you are pushing. Many riders get bogged down pushing a bigger gear (large chain ring with the smaller cogs), hoping to maintain speed. All cyclists can learn what the optimal cadence is for you. Traditionally, cyclists should seek a gear you can turn over at 90-100 rpms, but I will confess here, that's never worked for me. I remain a lower cadence cyclist (~85 rpm). The key here is discovering and refining your pedaling efficiency.

• Concentrate on your breathing. Breathing is, obviously, something we do during intense exercise regardless, but many of us have inefficient habits, such as shallow breathing, that negatively impact performance. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can attest that focusing on deep and proper breathing is a powerful relaxation technique in all aspects of life. Proper breathing while under stress on a ride pays positive dividends over the course of a long ride.

• Monitor your pack/group position. Many beginners sit on the back of packs--even a half-bicycle length or so off the back. Hanging on or off the back is guaranteed to get you dropped. The surges are magnified for the back, and surges are the greatest challenges for beginning riders. Position yourself in the middle or front 2/3 of the pack. Once in the heart of a pack, monitor the wind and find a spot that positions other riders on your side to block cross winds.

• Monitor transition situations--stop signs, turns, railroad crossings--and be sure not to hesitate, not to allow gaps to form as the front riders accelerate while the riders on the back decelerate for the sign, turn, or tracks. Again, if you are sitting in the middle, the transition is far less abrupt as it is on the back.

• Practice and monitor drinking, eating, and adjusting clothing. These are additional disruptions to normal riding that can create gaps beginning riders cannot afford. Skills must be developed on training rides.

• Monitor the pack dynamics. Look for strong and relaxed riders to sit on their wheels. But stronger riders often unconsciously allow gaps to form; for them closing the gap is no problem. But an inattentive beginning rider can get gapped and then dropped when other riders allow gaps to form. Beginning riders should watch and immediately go around gapping riders to keep in the main slipstream of the pack.

The relaxed and efficient rider is created through attention to detail and practice, practice, practice.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University
twitter: @plthomasEdD

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Disruptions and Transitions

For many years, I have ridden four to five days a week, religiously—Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. But so far since December, when I consider the "new" season to start, I have had trouble hitting my rhythm, rarely riding the pattern that I want and am accustomed to—due to life, work, and the weather.

I have ridden more Friday and Monday rides in the past couple months than most of my nearly 30 years of riding combined. And the inability to find that rhythm has been hard on my fitness, my mental state, and my body's reaction to riding.

So yesterday, I ventured out on a Monday to do my first mountain ride since late fall 2010, and the climb + warm temperatures + hellish winds = a bad day of riding.

Some things to consider about my miserable climbing day include the following:

• Climbing legs are developed so becoming a climber again takes patience. While yesterday I was trapped again riding with friends who claimed to be riding easy (insert laughter here), I was committed to riding with my heart rate fairly low—just to regain the sensation of extended climbs (we climbed the Saluda grade and what we call the "backside" of Hogback, going up from the bookstore side, and not the IGA side). I was patient and even slow, but I still was wiped out—my legs and back really stressed.

• My Achilles heal (other than the irritatingly low genetic ceiling I tend to bump my head against when I ride with many gifted cyclists) is heat. Yesterday's 70s was too hot for me. . .I survive warm weather, but just barely. Climbing in the 40s and 50s is ideal for me, and a huge part of my success at the Assault is the luck of the draw on temps. The year after my first and only sub-6-hour Assault, I quit the ride in Marion because we started at 6:30 am in the 70s and the day skyrocketed to over 100 (after three consecutive days in the 100s). After the ride yesterday, I realized I had not been drinking enough, maintaining the pattern of drinking that has gotten me through the cold winter so far. Even after eating and drinking post-ride, when I got home, my weight was really low—clearly signaling I was struggling with inadequate hydration.

• Riding in the wind is really taxing, nearly comparable to climbing—so our almost 4 hours on the bicycles, with two 4-5-mile climbs and fighting high winds was equivalent to a ride with even more climbing. We were rightly tired after the ride.

Ultimately, I need to keep focused on the training that each ride provides, and not be as concerned about the ride itself. Would I have preferred feeling stronger and better yesterday? Yes. That I struggled, though, makes perfect sense when I look at the big picture and recognize that the disruptions and transitions in my training are part of that training.

Nonetheless, I could do without any more hellish windy days when I am riding in the mountains.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University
twitter: @plthomasEdD

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rigid Structure or a Bunch of... what did you just say???

Yeah, you heard me.  I said fartlek.  Most of the old school guys probably know the word but these young schoolers we have running around here probably have no idea what it means even though they partake in it.  I think cyclists have morphed the original meaning to more of something like "riding hard and trying to drop your friends when they aren't looking… or are otherwise occupied" instead of the original "speed play" it really means.  Traditional fartlek is actually structured and patterned and consists of training at various intensities in a single workout.  We use the word to describe the varied intensity of our group rides as we try to hammer the sense out of each other.  Having your friends chase you or you chasing them can be great motivation to extend your limits and we try to employ that method a lot around here.  All in fun, of course!  We should never take our spandex clad selves too seriously.

I had a local youngling mention to me just the other evening that "it's always a race" and he's pretty much spot on.  At the least it's "always about to be a race."  The starter's pistol is always there bubbling under the surface.  It takes a lot of control on our rides from the participants as well as the ride leaders to keep them from devolving into an unadvertised free for all that leaves everyone scattered about the countryside hoping to find a Cliff Bar crumb or two to lead them back home before dark.  We have developed into a more civilized cycling society in these parts and we prefer to have our carnage take place all at once, between two points, about 4 miles apart.  Don't start one meter before or it doesn't count if you cross the line first.  Seriously.  You don't get a free beer for that and we'll talk about you on days you have to work or take care of the kids instead of doing what you should be doing which is training with us.  If we didn't have a core of strong willed goodhearted guys that didn't mind keeping us on task, every ride would be one long attack zone from the days of yore and we'd never be able to keep anyone interested in coming back for a group ride.  It's hard to get pack skills riding by yourself and a lot of us do want to help grow the sport by being a factor in whether someone comes back for another ride.  Be it giving some sage advice, handing out a gel, helping change a flat, or giving someone a push or a tow, we are a courteous group… on most days!

Ok, on to the point.  My initial recovery from surgery has been more rigid than the lead up to any event I've done.  Every ride, except one, has been slow and deliberate and mostly by myself due to the fact that "it's always a race."  I did a few group rides where my knee was pain free and yet I turned around early before I got out there and had some issues with pain.  I did let my guard down one time and participated in a slugfest while I halfheartedly rationalized it and after that I didn't stray from the slow and steady path I laid out for myself.  In that instance I was definitely the sluggee, not the slugger.  I didn't make it to the front even when we were going slow at the start and my "participation" merely meant that I was present and then dropped.  I haven't given any details of these structured exercises mainly because it has just been slow riding, concentrating on small chain ring spinning with no stress applied to my knee while going up any hills.  These rides are typically followed by a short session of resistance training with an elastic strap where I tie the strap to my ankle and the entertainment center and then try to drag it across the carpeted floor.  Once I am able to drag it 5 feet and then snatch the pebble out of the hand of the Shaolin master, I will be ready to ride with force.  Eh, if you never watched Kung Fu with David Carradine back in the 1970's then that image will be lost on you, grasshopper.

A structured routine consisting of short pain free efforts to get the joint working and build some muscle tone, frequent icing to reduce swelling, visits to a local chiropractor to try some accelerated healing techniques, and lots of rest has served me well the past couple of months.  Soon I'll begin a slow building process to get back strength and endurance.  I'll include details of that later as they can be used by anyone regardless if they are recovering from an injury or just getting back into riding after taking the winter or a few seasons off.  But the good news for me is that my doctor has released me to start applying full pressure to the joint and now I'm looking forward to some group fartlek before getting down to some hard core structure!
Steve Verdell

Why We are Here

There is a kind of intrinsic beauty in the mating of a person and machine; an elegantly simple union, resulting in a powerful and liberating experience.

Cycling is the best sport, the best outdoor activity, the best past-time, the best... everything.  If we didn't believe that wholeheartedly, we wouldn't ride as much as we do.  It frees us from our daily grind.  It allows us to leave the office, the house, the stresses, and the worries of our lives well behind us - if only for a few hours.  We ride with our friends (whether they are with us or not), and we use that time to rebuild what the day has torn down.

As a child, most of us still remember that key moment in our lives - that one, pivotal experience which we will never forget: riding for the first time without training wheels!  At that moment, a person feels that there are no limitations - anything is possible.  The bike becomes a symbol of freedom.

Mind you, it is not our means of escape, but rather, it is a sanctuary itself.
I still remember my first experience riding without training wheels... I was a late bloomer - all my friends had already learned to ride.  I don't know why it took me longer to figure it out, but it did.  It wasn't a lack of trying - and my father helped as much as possible.

One day, while at a friend's house, I hopped up on his bike to give it another shot.  In moments, I was free - flying without anyone's assistance!  There is no way to explain what happened; why I was suddenly able to ride.  Something just clicked, and I was off... doing circles in his driveway.

So it was a little anticlimactic.  I didn't venture far, and it was years before I rode with any kind of regularity or goals.  But a significant goal was accomplished.  I was free!  (and more importantly for a young boy, I was now a "full-fledged member of society")

The cycling community has its cliques, its snobs, and its anti-social people.  On the whole however, it's much like a family.  We bicker, we quarrel, but in the end - we all work together to get to where we're going.  We are friends and we are "brothers in arms," suffering and working together to reach the summit or overcome whatever nature can throw at us.

From the 1st Assault to the 35th, riders have reached the top, jumped off the bike, changed clothes, and volunteered.  They help the other finishers find clothes/food.  They help load bikes onto the trucks or direct traffic.  They help at rest stops along the course, and so on and so forth.  Just as we take pulls, we help those around us to achieve this massive undertaking because that is the nature of our sport.  (again... the best sport in the world.)
  • Though it isn't the only reason to do it, shaving our legs is a Rite of Passage - a symbol of our dedication to the sport and to the community.  Aside from the long list of practical reasons for a male cyclist to shave his legs, being recognized as a "full-fledged member of this particular society" is probably the biggest reason to do it.  It's an unspoken rule - but understood.
A wonderful example of what cyclists do for one another can be seen in Chris Horner's actions in July of 2008 at the Cascade Classic.  With over a mile to the finish (uphill), Chris helped another cyclist - from another team - who had crashed, totaling his bike.  Rather than leave the young man to walk the final stretch (possibly missing the time-cut), Horner said, "get on," and pedaled both the cyclist and his bike to the top!  (Click Here for more pictures.)

Cycling is a wonderful sport and creates comradery at every level.  Top Pros help each other out all the time - it's inherent to the nature of the sport: drafting, rotating pacelines, pointing out holes in the road.  This kind of community is just one of the reasons cycling is the Best Sport Ever.

-Peter Kay

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Doing Too Much, Too Quickly

As I type this the weather forecast for next week looks to be sunny and in the mid 60’s all week (unless you’re reading this from New England in which case. . .ha ha ha). Now, with the harsh winter we’ve been having so far you may be tempted to call in sick next week and get in a bunch of hours. And while it may be fine to put in a bigger week next week, you should be careful to avoid overdoing it. If you have been riding between 6-8 hours and all of a sudden you put in a 16 hour week, you will probably have physical and mental fatigue that can affect your training for the next month.

That doesn’t just go for this coming week either. Any gains in fitness are going to come gradually.  Don’t expect to go from little fitness to peak shape within a couple weeks or even a month. The reason why pro riders have been training hard since November is because they need to gradually ramp up their fitness level over time.

A good way to do this is by taking a 3 week on, 1 week off approach to training. This is where you gradually increase your training for three weeks, and then take a rest week. The rest week is extremely important as it allows your body to repair the muscle that you broke down while riding hard. More importantly it allows you to mentally recover from going hard (there’s that mental word again, where’s he going with this?).

Now, during a rest week you should not take the entire week off, sit on the couch, and eat potato chips. Go out and ride easy, when you feel like it.  If you feel like you have to put in a couple of efforts, go ahead and do so. The rest week is more important for the mental break (seriously. . . again?). When you start back on your three weeks of “on” you want to come back in gradually. Let’s say you can average 10 hours per week riding. If your first week you do 8 hours, followed by 10, then a bigger 12 hour week you will see those gradual increases in fitness.

Now, time to get to this mental thing I keep talking about (yay, finally!).  Cycling can be a very hard sport, but that is why many of us love to ride. We are constantly pushing ourselves, but because there is no impact to our bodies like with running, we can go a lot longer and harder without realizing how fatigued we really become. Many times you’ll see riders brag about how they rode 4 hours when it’s in the mid 30’s in January... but a few months later they decide not to ride because it’s 68 outside and they thought it would be 72.

Over the course of months of riding we are far more likely to feel mental fatigue much sooner than the real physical fatigue sets on. This will lead to decreased motivation and you’ll find yourself skipping rides; overall your fitness level will start to decline. By taking some rest every once in a while you’ll “recharge your batteries.” Your muscles will recover and you’ll want to get back on the bike again.

Train hard. Rest harder!

Boyd Johnson
High performance wheels and accessories
main: (864)715-9753

Riding the Wind (and Making Choices)

No, this isn't a blog about sailing (although that makes me think about Bill Murray as Bob strapped to a mast and yelling, "I'm sailing!") or about the 1925 Monkey Trials (that's Inherit the Wind) or about Bob Seger (that's "Against the Wind"). This about two aspects of late winter/early spring riding that challenges serious cyclists—wind and choices about what rides to do.

Three things can add challenge to a ride—riding companions, terrain, and the wind. I enjoy being challenged by friends and the terrain, but I hate the wind. This past Saturday, I chose to join the GE (Great Escape) ride from Spartanburg and once again didn't ride the UWBL (Upstate Winter Bike League) in Greenville. The UWBL is excellent in my opinion as a training series, and I have been dedicated to that ride for many years, missing none of them the past two years in a row. But this year, the weather and other conflicts have made doing the whole series impossible.

So this past Saturday, with February zipping by, I was faced with riding options that offered about the same saddle time, 3 hours, and the potential for intense efforts. But I have been logging a good deal of 50-60-mile rides, several of which have been painful so far this season (to see my training this year: Click Here). To be honest, I need to start riding longer on Saturdays, and soon adding climbs, and I need to start stressing myself over two days on the weekends with long Saturdays (80-100 miles) followed by calmer but long Sundays (50-60-plus miles).

My compromise was to ride the GE ride in Spartanburg with extra miles before and after added by riding from my house on the bicycle:

Deciding what rides I do always includes some compromises, including how I ride at the rides I join. Now the wind and the ride yesterday (12 February 2011).

One difference for me riding at UWBL and a local eRide is my role in the pack. I can stay close to the front at UWBL rides, but I can't really drive the pace, rarely offering a meek pull in hopes of saving face. At the GE ride, I take pulls and contribute to the fun. In both settings, I am riding with a significant number of cyclists stronger than me, which is incredibly important to my training.

Yesterday, the GE ride was hard—as it always is—a nice mix of race-intense sections and an eye toward keeping the front pack relatively large (we even do a store stop and regroup). But the wind added another dimension of pain that riders need to think about seriously. So here are some tips and thoughts about riding in the wind:

• Windy rides are significantly impacted and harder about 75% of the time. New riders may expect head winds to be tough, but all riders should be aware that side winds are more brutal. Watch the Pro Tour riders getting splintered by wind—it's always side wind.

• If you have a heart rate monitor or power meter, note those instead of MPH when riding in the wind to gauge your efforts.
• Windy group rides are exponentially HARDER than usual group rides. The group dynamics are changed by the wind because FEWER people can work at the front, and MORE riders fight to stay off the front and out of the wind. The change in dynamics creates overlapped wheels and exhausted riders losing touch with their bike handling in an effort to hang on.

• The side winds create some basic rules that should be followed. (a) When the wind is from the RIGHT, rotate pace lines clockwise (advance out of the wind, drop back against the wind), (b) When the wind is from the LEFT, rotate pace lines counter-clockwise (advance out of the wind, drop back against the wind), and (c) AVOID the urge to shift the entire pack either to the yellow (middle) or white lines—especially DANGEROUS are winds from the right since larger packs will move to the middle of the road and endanger everyone when traffic comes from behind.

• Stressful rides should be monitored for HYDRATION. Stressed muscles perform and recover better when hydrated, meaning to drink well before, during, and after. As in cold weather, the wind can make us jittery and less likely to take our hands off the bars to drink, but we must and we do so safely. Also, during the stressful lead-up to the season, be sure to dedicate yourself to a stretching program that also aids the recovery of those muscles.

• Expect to be overextended on windy rides more quickly than usual, and thus, be dedicated to SAFETY first. Exhausted riders are dangerous to themselves and others.
As March approaches. . .expect the wind while making your choices about what rides to join and how to ride once you get there.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University
twitter: @plthomasEdD

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Know Your Place!"

After reading Paul's last blog entry, I'm reminded of a time I was on a group ride some years ago and heard someone shout, "know you place!"

It was an angry sentiment - a more experienced cyclist yelling at an inexperienced rider who had just committed one of the "cardinal sins" of pack riding:  by changing lines dramatically, he had cut someone off, causing a crash in the back of the group.

What caused the accident was fairly simple - a guy pushed himself well beyond his capabilities, and in exhaustion, he began making poor choices.  In this case, the newbie had ridden as hard as he could up the left side of the group, from the back, passing everyone in the group, in order to get a better placement in the peloton (having always heard that the best and safest place in the pack is near the front).  He had gotten about as far to the front as he could (or dared to go), and then dove sideways into the group to seek shelter from the wind.

Unfortunately, I see this happen all the time: a guy rides up the left side of the road, passing everyone, but in doing so, he burns himself out.  By the time he actually gets to the front, he cannot hold his place there.  He burns all of his energy flying up the yellow line (or over it), jumps onto the front, and blows up.  Then everyone around is forced to work around him as he is shuffled to the rear again (if not off the back entirely).

The result of this newbie's move years ago - diving into the group, bumping someone's front wheel as you can imagine - was like a bomb going off; cyclists swerving and veering off the road like bits of shrapnel in every direction.

This rider had inadvertently overlapped his rear wheel with the front wheel of another rider.  But here's the thing:  that cyclist (the one whose front wheel was hit) did not go down!  He was a strong athlete with good bike handling skills and many years of experience.  He flexed his line and adjusted his speed to take the blow.

The trouble arose farther back.

Reactions to changes in speed are exponential:  when the First person slows a fraction, the Second must slow twice as much.  The Third must slow twice as much as the Second (thus four times as much as the First), and so on and so forth.  The person on the back is forced to slam on the brakes, then sprint to catch back up to speed.

We call this the accordion effect (sometimes the slinky effect - same idea, but "accordion" also references sound... and in truth, this action is most like particles of air in sound waves or compression waves).  It's most obvious when slowing for a turn, but it happens on hills just as often, and it can even happen on a flat, uninterrupted road during which someone hesitates to drink from a water bottle!

So by abruptly ducking into the group, the newbie had caused a chain reaction that ended in disaster several riders back.... but the cause was undeniable.

Fortunately, no one was severely injured (bruises, scrapes, scratched components), but the new guy got a good tongue lashing from the stronger cyclists up front.  "Know your place," one had said, and though it was sharp and unforgiving - he brought up a good point.

All too often, people breeze through advice columns and forget to read why.  Why do cyclists ride in the front of a group?  Who is up there and why are they up there?  What makes a peloton work and what makes it collapse?

Just as every rider should choose (or create) a group ride based on abilities (being completely honest with oneself), every rider should also choose a place in the pack based on personal experience and comfort.

If you are just hoping to hang on - go to the middle:  there will be fewer and smaller surges, fewer gaps, and plenty of draft.  If you are a strong, steady rider who can set pace - ride on or near the front.  If you are planning to lead the ride - please be near the front at almost all times (it's hard for the caboose to steer the train).

The point is:  "know thyself."  Be honest with your capabilities and comforts.  Yes, you cannot grow without pushing yourself sometimes, but a group ride is not the best place to go well beyond your limits.  Consider everyone's safety first.  In truth, you will gain more by sitting in and working on pack-skills than by killing yourself, blowing up, and riding home alone.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Beginner's Dilemma. . .Becoming a Group Rider

Cycling in and around Spartanburg, SC is hard to beat. I have been riding here for about 27 years or so, and over the past decade, we have evolved into a cycling community that offers 4-5 organized rides a week for 52 weeks a year, including night rides when standard time leaves most of us in the dark after work.

In a previous blog, I recounted the not-so-good ol' days of being a beginning cyclist, and I still marvel at why I bothered to keep at this.

Cycling is expensive—just to have the equipment needed to begin—and the performance curve between riding alone and riding with a group of experienced riders is huge. I often think about a few instances when I have been on fast organized group rides with a friend who has been a very successful triathlete (including the Hawaii IronMan). He is clearly a superior athlete to I, but I have finished in the front pack of those rides with him left behind on a few occasions. While this is the source of some enjoyable ribbing, it speaks volumes to the unique characteristics of group cycling that rises above pure ability and even experience.

So what is a beginner to do?

(1) Research the sport of cycling by talking with a bicycle shop, contacting the local club, and cruising the internet for sites dedicated to the sport at many levels. Information about the expectations of riders and the costs of the sport can help prevent many issues beginners face.

(2) Begin working on your fitness independent of cycling. Cycling has adopted athletes from many sports; runners often come our way after the pavement takes its toll. A moderate to high level of general fitness helps off-set the cycling-specific learning curve tremendously—but there is a caveat. Many elite athletes believe they can simply jump in with elite cyclists, which can create problems associated with riding etiquette and bicycle handling. People at all levels of fitness should respect an initial period of acclimating to the sport.

(3) Seek one riding partner to start your cycling experiences. Consider asking a local experienced cyclist to ride with you before or after organized rides as part of her/his warm-up or cool-down to help you adjust to riding on the road and with another rider.

(4) Identify or create beginner rides. Everyone should find a friendly group as a stepping stone to more aggressive and intense group riding. If no beginner rides are available, contact the local bicycle shop or club and ask about starting one. Bicycle shops should be creating new riders and should be eager to support a growing cycling community.

(5) Look for cycling coaches. Many of us who can afford to enter cycling can benefit from professional help. The Upstate of SC has many experienced and talented cycling-specific coaches who can help with fitness, bicycle fit, and learning to ride at many different levels.

(6) Experiment with more advanced rides. Here is likely the most important advice that is complicated. Everyone should eventually join a ride that is more advanced than the rider. But the new rider is responsible for a few important things—(a) contact the ride leader and inform her/him of your beginner status along with acknowledging that you know you are extending yourself, (b) know the course if at all possible, (c) have tools and your cell phone so you are entirely self-sufficient, and (d) ask the ride leader to keep you in mind for regroups, but reassure the ride leader that if either you or the group decides that the ride is over your head, that you will graciously abandon the ride and be able to finish safely.

(7) Know what the guidelines for a posted ride entail. Please consider reading carefully all posted rides and even talk to the ride leaders about what those rides entail. (See this set of guidelines I have recently recommended: CLICK HERE). In short, anyone who joins a posted ride should be prepared to honor the ride posted and the guidance offered by the leader(s).

(8) Consider joining the social aspects of group rides even when you aren't always on the group rides. While you are starting out, you may choose to ride alone parallel to a standing ride while also joining the group for food and drink afterwards. Here, you have a chance to meet, get advice, and lay the foundation for entering the group ride soon.

Cycling is hard, and for beginners, it can seem insular and heartless (well, we are heartless). But cycling communities are generally inviting and even eager to help new riders join in. Both new riders and the established riding community have to be patient, however, during the time needed for all new riders to get into good enough shape to be hammered and dropped so we can talk about it over a beer and a burrito.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why We are Here

Why do we do the things we do?  What is it that compels us to ride as much as we do, to create seemingly impassable goals, and to work tirelessly over many months to better ourselves?

Sifting through hundreds of emails over the last few days, getting to know some of you through quips and comments, I began to realize how strikingly similar we all are.  Each of us has our own reasons for the journey.  Some are riding the Assaults for the first time, "just to see if they can do it."  Some are riding on behalf of a friend or a loved one who is seriously ill - or a cause like Globalbike, the Vera Bradley Foundation, or the Chem-Way Charitable Crew (as I often do).

Some of us tackle this event for the sheer fun of it - meeting new people, enjoying the beautiful countryside, and basking in the warm sunny weather (hopefully!).  Some of us want to beat our old times - set a new Personal Record (which may have been set when we were 20 years younger!); prove to ourselves that, "We've still got it!"

And, I'll bet some of us just ride the Assaults out of habit: Michael Davis (31 times), Richard White (21 times), Tim Sprouse (22 times), Robert Scofield (21 times), Paul Thomas (15 times)... and the list of veterans goes on and on!

But there was a recurring theme in all of the emails I have been getting... regardless of the goal - each of us has a GOAL - this thing in front us, pushing us forward.  Preparing and training, reading and learning, reworking our schedules, making sacrifices, we all make choices based on how it will effect our achievement of  this goal:
"I saw the brownies on the counter-top all day... but I resisted!"
"[Have to be careful of that] second helping of tortilla soup.  Now I have to start building some serious base miles and climbing!"
"I forced myself to ride today, even though I wasn't in the mood..."
"Now I have to start hitting the hills!"

It's the thing that motivates us; a "carrot on a stick," so to speak - off in the distance, but always in front of us, egging us onward.  We register now - in February - in order to commit ourselves and our free time to the long term training necessary to get to the finish.  It's a test of willpower and of inner-strength - even more than physical strength!  It's something that takes months to build up to - so it takes dedication and stubbornness.

We prepare, we practice, and we give up those things that (deep down inside, we know) aren't good for us.  We pedal on days where the weather isn't so good, or work didn't go well, or we just don't feel like it...
We push ourselves because that feeling of accomplishment is never disappointing.

The countless hours on the bike add up to something, and that is why we train for the Assaults.

Of course, this still doesn't answer the question, "Why do we ride?"  There are marathons out there; triathlons and cliffs to climb.  So why have we chosen this, the most excellent sport? be continued...
Although it was written for runners, I found a great deal similarities and useful information in Running: The Sacred Art, and plan to discuss that next time!
(and yes, the forward is written by Kristin Armstrong - Lance's ex-wife).


Equipment Preparation (part II): Selection for the Big Day

As you know, the equipment you choose can have a big impact on your ride at Mt. Mitchell. The first thing you want to do (highlighted in my previous post) is to have reliable equipment. You can have the lightest bike in the world, but if it doesn’t make it to the finish then you won’t be able to finish the ride.

Mitchell is an odd event in that it combines two needs for equipment, aerodynamics for the ride to Marion and then lightweight from Marion to the top. If you are riding in the Marion ride, you should be focused more on equipment that has a little more aero advantage (or making your existing ride a little more aero). One way to easily do this is to have a snug fitting jersey. It may not seem like a loose jersey will have a big effect, but all that fabric catching the wind can add minutes to your time over the course of the ride.

A larger upgrade to a bike, and often considered the most beneficial part to upgrade, is the wheels. Carbon wheels are everywhere nowadays. It used to be that you would just see the Pros racing with carbon wheels, everybody else could just dream about them. Now you’ll see people putting nice carbon wheels on their bike just to go ride the bike path (ok, it’s not so common around here, but down in South Florida, everybody trains on A1A with really nice carbon wheels). The benefit to carbon wheels is the material is much lighter than alloy and so you can have a deeper rim without adding weight to your bike.

For Mitchell, you have that added 25 miles of climbing at the end to contend with. This is where you want to lighten your bike (and maybe your body too) to make it easier to climb. With that being said, last year I used a set of 20mm tubular carbon wheels. They were extremely lightweight at just over 1,000 grams, and they were great on the climb. But for the first 75 miles I felt like I had to pedal more often, the rims were so light that they just didn’t carry the inertia very well. By the time the climb started I had expended a bunch of unnecessary energy that could have been saved. This year I will be going with a wheelset that will be a little more aerodynamic to help conserve energy for the first 75 miles. True, it will be a very slight disadvantage on the climb, but if I arrive at the climb having expended less energy overall I’ll have a better ride.
For wheels you can choose to go the tubular or clincher route. There are hundreds of pages of information about the difference between tubular tires and clincher tires out there. Opinions on which is the better choice seem to contradict themselves based upon who you talk to. Some of the facts are:
  • A tubular wheelset will overall be lighter, although some of the carbon clinchers are getting to be very light nowadays.
  • It is much easier to install and change out a tube vs. having to glue on a whole new tire.
  • Repairing a flat tire with a clincher is something that can be done during the event.
  • Tubulars do tend to flat less
For myself, I usually tend to race only on tubular wheels and train on clinchers. I like the lighter weight of a tubular wheelset and the feel of a nice tubular tire. I am willing to take the risk of not flatting during the event even though for Mitchell we won’t have a wheel car behind us like in races. As I stated before the 20mm tubular wheelset was great for climbing last year, but not great for the flat section leading to Marion. This year I would be riding a little deeper of a wheelset (probably a 38mm tubular or 50mm tubular). Of course, it is nice to be the owner of a company that makes wheels. . .so I will probably be running a prototype of a new wheelset we are working on.

- Boyd Johnson