Life and Bikes

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Veteran's Ride to Remember

It's been a LONG time since I've updated my blog. A lot has happened in my cycling life: I crashed, I recovered, I bought a new bike, and I've been riding quite a bit. Between a busy work and travel schedule I haven't had any free time to write. However, my muse arrived today in the form of an inspiring Veteran's day ride.

Things started out ominously this morning. I woke up at 6 and peeked out my window to see wet roads and cold temperatures. I gathered my gear anyway and made the 30 mile drive out to Wallis, TX. A fairly strong cold front was in the process of making its way through Texas and the last line of rain cleared out just as I was parking my vehicle. I checked in and pinned my number on my jersey, got my bike and made my way back to the meeting hall. While there I was able to sit down and talk to some of the veterans who had made it out for the ride. It's one thing to read about wounded veterans in the paper or on the nightly news, but it's quite another to hear the stories from the men and women who lived through them. More on that later.

Quite a few riders braved the cold, wet, and windy day to ride.

At 8:00 sharp the riders were lined up and ready to go. Looking around during the usual announcements and invocations, I was amazed at how many riders had braved the cold and the wet conditions to ride today. We set off in waves of 50 and were immediately buffeted by strong headwinds. As I rode along, the crowd began thinning out as the cold and heavy winds took their toll. I noticed quite a few riders forming pace lines to try and conserve as much energy as possible. I opted for the medium distance 42 mile route. I believe most riders attempted the 65 mile "metric century" distance because once the routes split, I saw exactly 2 other riders and zero support vehicles. A few times things were so quiet and empty, I was left wondering if I hadn't missed a turn. The road conditions overall were excellent. Although the roads didn't have generous shoulders, the traffic was so light this was a non-issue. My only complaint was the last 10 miles when the roads transformed to hellacious chip seal that left me wondering if I hadn't been transported to the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. The staff and volunteers did a tremendous job. Everyone was extremely helpful. The rest stops were fully stocked and a BBQ chicken lunch was provided afterwards.

I spent most of my day on the country roads alone.

Although the ride was great, the inspiration came from talking to the Veterans and hearing their stories. The Independence Ride was started to help soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan receive wheel chairs and support when they returned home. I can't think of many causes which are as noble or necessary. The veterans actually ride along with the other cyclists. With some paraplegic ones riding hand cycles while blind ones ride as stokers on tandems. Some of these machines are very impressive and give high end road bikes a run for their money. One hand-trike I saw today was fully decked out complete with Zipp 404 clinchers.

A view of the Brazos River from the route.

It was inspiring to see the veterans riding along side, but what made this ride special was hearing the veterans talk about what cycling means to them. There's a certain freedom cycling provides that touches just about everyone. When you first get on a new bike as an adult, you're immediately transported back to your childhood. The feeling of independence and being able to venture out beyond your usual borders. It's a common ground everyone shares when they get on a bike. Most importantly, the seemingly routine task of riding a bike is just that - a routine task which provides some normality in these veterans' profoundly altered lives. I must say I've ridden in quite a few charity rides, but I don't believe any cause has touched me as deeply as this one.

A short documentary on the ride which is worth watching.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

San Marcos Cycling Weekend - The Short Route

My training for the Sam's Club MS-150 has been coming along nicely. I've been ramping up my mileage, and my fitness has been coming around. However, I was on the verge of falling into a rut. Riding the laps over the same routes again and again was becoming boring. I felt the urge to change things up drastically. I needed some new scenery and some new challenges to test my legs against. I decided that a couple of days riding around San Marcos, Texas would be the perfect way to re-ignite my passion for cycling. San Marcos is located right off I-35 in between San Antonio and Austin in the Center of Texas. There are plenty of hills to the West and some flatter land to the East. San Marcos and its sister city New Braunfels are great cycling destinations. They are fairly small towns surrounded by roads devoid of traffic. My plan was to ride a long, hilly route along River Road on the first day followed by a shorter, flatter recovery ride on the second.

Unfortunately the weather did not want to cooperate. A cold front pushed through and brought with it morning rains. By the time the roads were dry, it was already 3 in the afternoon. Not wanting to push my luck in the dark on unfamiliar roads, I decided to ride the short route on the first day. The majority of the route ran through the relatively flat back roads East of I-35. The route began close to San Marcos at a shopping center. After traveling parallel to I-35 on Hunter Road for about ten miles, I crossed I-35 and was surrounded by farm land bisected by narrow two lane roads. Although the roads didn't have a shoulder (or even center lane dividers) there was so little traffic it made no difference. The weather was in the mid-70's and overcast. The only problem was a strong wind blowing from the North East which made some stretches difficult.

A few sections were a bit challenging, with some short rolling hills that faced directly into the wind. However, the ride was mostly very easy and relaxing. There are few things better than riding down an empty road surrounded by tall trees and nothing but the sound of tires on pavement. Early spring in Texas is a pretty special time. This ride was proof of just how great it can be.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

March Madness

March has come and gone and I'm a happy man. The white blanket that suffocated the Northeast for much of winter has disappeared. Daylight savings keeps the sun high in the sky. Just like the wildflowers stretching across the landscape, I've been taking full advantage of spring time sun and mild temperatures. Since I began tracking my mileage with my Garmin Edge, this has been my most best month of cycling. For the first time in quite a while, I managed to log over 300 miles on my bike. The majority of those I rode in the last two weeks thanks to longer days, so I'm even excited to see if I can improve upon it in April.

What's made March even sweeter is the completion of one of my SMART goals for 2010. I've twice ridden my home route of 16 miles in under 54 minutes. The last time, I managed to maintain an average speed of 18.1 mph which shattered my goal of 17.8 mph. Obviously speed isn't the best metric to measuring cycling performance. And I've deduced that very mild winds were the biggest reason I was able to record such a strong time. Nevertheless, I'm pleased that my hard work is showing measurable improvements.

Since I began recording my metrics with the Garmin, I've seen my average speed increase by over 2 mph. My cadence has increased by over 10 rpm, and I've increased the amount of climbing I do by over 2,000 feet. Not too shabby, given my relatively flat surroundings. All in all, this has been my best month of cycling, but I'm very excited to see what the rest of 2010 has in store for me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cyclists vs. Motorists: Lance Weighs In

It's a debate that's raged on for quite some time. Motorists feel impeded by cyclists. Cyclists feel harassed by motorists and denied their rightful place on the road. Last year a California physician was found guilty of assault when he suddenly stopped his car, causing two cyclists he had been arguing with to crash into him. Each day memorial pages to fallen cyclists and graphic accounts of crashes pop up on message boards. Once in a while, these clashes find their way into the mainstream media.

Quite a few people know who Tony Kornheiser is. He's a daily face of ESPN on Pardon the Interruption, he was a popular columnist for the Washington Post for many years, and he has his own show on ESPN Radio 980 in Washington D.C. Earlier last week, you may have heard his anti-cyclist rantings that have been making their way across the internet (if you haven't click here). Basically, his comments boiled down to the idea that cyclists don't belong on the road and suggest that people run over cyclists who are riding on the street.

Almost instantly, the story began spreading throughout the internet. The story began spreading on discussion boards, people were tweeting and starting Facebook groups protesting it. Eventually the story even reached Lance Armstrong, who appropriately took Kornheiser to task via Twitter and urged his followers to complain to ESPN 980 about Kornheiser's comments. After being berated for a few days Kornheiser made a standard apology and attempted to get in touch with Armstrong via a mutual friend, Sally Jenkins who helped Lance write his autobiography. As expected when confronted with one of the greatest athletes of all time, Kornheiser was fervently apologetic. But the most important outcome was Armstrong's discussion on the cyclists versus motorist debate which is one of the most eloquent I've ever heard. The folks at Vigilant Velo, a cycling safety advocacy website have published the entire interview.

Thanks to for posting the full interview.

Why do motorists pick on cyclists so much? Is it because cyclists are easy targets? I know that most of the time when I've experienced harassment from drivers has come when I was riding alone. On group rides and when other riders are around, drivers seem to mind their manners. Perhaps it's the anonymity of the situation that allows a driver to take his or her frustration out on a cyclist? After a harsh expletive or beep of the horn, a simple push of the accelerator is all that's required to make that cyclist a distant memory. Whatever, the reason, it's important to remember that we're all equal and deserve respect from one another. Is getting to the next stop sign ten seconds earlier worth endangering the life of another person?

But the responsibility doesn't rest solely with motorists. Whenever a cyclist puts his tires on the road, he becomes a vehicle with the same responsibilities and duties as any car or 18-wheeler. As such, the onus lies on us to use the roads responsibly. It's important for us to obey all stop signs and traffic lights. Yet on any weekend, it's common to see cyclists running stop signs. It's important to remember that as much as we hate being harassed by cars, uncourteous cyclists can be an equal inconvenience. Extending courtesies such as riding single file and utilizing low traffic routes and times when possible help ease tensions. A friendly wave when a driver allows you the right of way can go a long way toward giving all cyclists a better name. The more respect cyclists and motorists show one another, the safer the roadways will be for us all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


This past weekend, I had a fantastic weekend getaway in Dallas. One of the highlights of my weekend was the Sunday "Coffee Shop" ride with the folks from Mad Duck Cyclery in Grapevine. It was a fun route with some challenging hills and very friendly cyclists. Riding on a new group ride is a great experience. It exposes you to new challenges and helps you meet new people. However, one big disadvantage is the fact that everything's foreign to you. I wanted to ride with a faster paced group, but the A group is a drop ride. While I'm no stranger to getting dropped, getting dropped and lost in foreign territory was something I didn't want to experience. I stuck with the B group and had a great time. But the not being familiar with the route would come back to bite me later in the ride.

About five miles into the ride, everyone was warmed up and we were moving at a fairly decent pace. The entire route was on pristine pavement with very few imperfections. Suddenly we hit a stretch of road that was in very bad shape. The pavement was riddled with cracks which seemed to be growing larger with each pedal stroke. I was on the back right of double paceline. Suddenly the rider in front of me pointed to the pavement and swerved right. I looked and saw a huge pothole. The thought of bunny hopping it dashed through my head, but by that time it was too late. All I could do was brace for impact. I took a hard hit, and instinctively slowed waiting for two flat tires to cash the checks I had just written them. Surprisingly no flat ever came and I rode on without further issue. I was even able to ride another 23 trouble-free miles the next day around White Rock Lake.

A pothole put a mighty dent in the braking track of my Shimano RS-10 wheels.

It wasn't until I was loading my bike into my car that I saw the damage that pothole had caused. The aluminum braking track of my clincher rim now has a huge dent in it. Surprisingly the bead is holding the tire just fine, but the tire now shows a wobble that wasn't there before. The wobble isn't bad enough to notice on fast descents, but is enough to rub against my rear brake. I'm hoping beyond hope that the wheel is simply out of true and my local bike store can bring it back to arrow straight performance. The Shimano RS-10's I've been using have been a decent wheel set, but are not known for tremendous performance. Many riders complain of having to frequently true them. I'm hoping this is simply my time. If however this is the final straw for my wheels, I've already decided the Easton EA90 Aero wheel set will be my next purchase. Tomorrow's trip to my bike store will tell the final tale.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Problems With Heart Rate

For a long time, heart rate measurements have defined athlete's training programs. The basic premise is fairly sound - the harder your muscles work, the more oxygen muscles need, the faster the heart must beat to supply that oxygen. Athletes divide their heart rate into specific "zones" based on how close they are to a tested maximum heart rate. Maintaining your heart rate at specific zones increases aerobic capacity and fitness. It's a very well established and researched method that has helped countless athletes for many years. However, the longer you spend training with heart rate measurements, the more frustrating it can be.

The strength of heart rate training is its simplicity. A quality heart rate monitor is an inexpensive investment, usually in the range of $30-$100. The system is easy to understand. Once you find your maximum heart rate via a real-life test, it's easy to set up zones at various percentages of your heart rate. Moving between these zones or maintaining long periods of time in a given zone helps an athlete improve his or her endurance. There are volumes of established workouts to allow athletes to gain endurance or power based on heart rate zones.

The biggest problem centers around the variability of heart rate. From day to day and hour to hour physiological and environmental factors can produce drastic changes in heart rate. Anyone who's felt their heart beat race after quickly downing a cup of coffee can attest to this. A few months ago, an article in the New York Times examined the heart rate differences between morning and afternoon workouts. To compound this issue, these changes in heart rate may or may not correspond to changes in effort levels.

I've experienced this first hand myself. On Monday and Tuesday I went on two separate training rides. Both rides were 16 miles, along identical routes, with similar efforts, same time of day, same weather conditions. There were marked differences in my heart rate. On Monday, my heart rate averaged 171 bpm with a max of 195 - much higher than my usual heart rate. On Tuesday, my average was 166 bpm with a max of 175, much closer to my usual.

Equivalent conditions and efforts, but vasty different heart rates...

The only difference I can recall between the two rides is nutrition. On Monday breakfast consisted of two Nutri-Grain bars, definitely not the best cycling fuel. Tuesday, I was able to eat my usual meal of a bagel, yogurt, and plenty of water. That simple difference is the most likely explanation for the difference in heart rate I experienced.

So what's a cyclist to do? First of all, remain flexible with the data you're receiving. Understand that heart rate can and does fluctuate and be willing to compensate. If your heart rate is above normal, but your perceived effort level feels ok, understand that what your heart rate monitor is telling you may not be the entire story. Secondly, keep data on your rides. Careful notes about weather conditions, diet, sleep patterns, and perceived exertion can help explain anomalies in heart rate. If you're committed to training via heart rate, some notes about each ride are well worth your time and can help you understand patterns in your heart rate.

The best alternative, and the one I've committed myself to is power measurement. Rather than relying on a heart rate measurement to estimate effort levels, a power meter uses a strain gauge to measure real-time effort exerted at the crank arm or rear wheel. The data takes into account gradient, wind, and other factors which can increase effort but are often hidden in heart rate measurements. It's worth noting that heart rate also plays a role in power measurement, but isn't affected by the variability as much as stand alone heart rate training.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Warmth for Early Season Cycling

I've been sitting on this post for quite a while. I've continued putting it off and putting it off. For some sick, twisted reason my subconscious decided that if I didn't recognize it perhaps it would disappear. Well I've finally come to grips with it and the first step was admitting it - winter is here to stay. That feels so much better. So far I've been hit by something like 10 feet of snow. I tried to get south back to Texas only to find that Old Man Winter followed me blanketing Dallas with five inches. Now I'm bracing for another "snow hurricane" about to hit the Eastern Seaboard on Thursday. So I'm over it. I've resigned myself to accept this new ice age and deal with the fact that if I want to ride, I'll be surrounded by white stuff. But that doesn't mean I can't be warm while riding, right? Over the past few months I've gathered some experience riding in weather in the mid 30's to 40's. Hopefully my experiences can help others cope with frigid spring days if we ever emerge from this winter of our discontent...

The first is pure common sense. If your brain tells you not to ride, you probably shouldn't. Dedication is important, but winter weather can produce very hazardous conditions. Snow and ice can be treacherous not only for you, but also for drivers around you. The cars crawling past you at 35 miles an hour may seem to be driving carefully, but they're one patch of black ice away from losing control. Even after the snow melts, sand patches can pose a serious threat to cyclists. If it seems too dangerous to ride, it probably is. Take the opportunity to do some cross training - hit the weights, run on a treadmill, set up rollers or trainer.

The boy scout motto of "Be Prepared" is great advice for anyone braving cold weather. The old test of stepping outside before deciding what to wear doesn't always hold water. Take into account the fact that you're going to be moving quickly through cold air and dress accordingly. It is always better to dress warmly and peel off a layer or two than to go out underdressed.

Which brings me to another tip - layers are vital for any cold weather athletic activity. It may be cumbersome to don several light layers, but it's vital for comfort. The weather will likely not be the same in the morning as it is in the afternoon. Once you're body is warmed up mid-ride you will probably not want to be wearing the same clothes as you were when you first set out. Layers allow you to quickly adapt to changing weather and ride conditions and stay comfortable no matter what mother nature throws at you. A comfortable rider is a strong rider.

But there's no sense in layering sweats and polo shirts - invest in quality clothing. My winter wardrobe consists of arm warmers, leg or knee warmers, baselayer, bibs, jersey wind vest, skull cap, and shoe covers. Sounds like a lot, but as mentioned above as the temperatures start rising, it's easy to shed any of these layers and stuff them in a jersey pocket. If you have the option to buy windproof clothing, such as warmers or bibs, it is a worthwhile upgrade. Modern technical fabrics do a great job of wicking sweat away from your body, keeping you dry and warm.

As you ride and start warming up you might be tempted to start shedding layers, but you might want to reconsider. Remember that warm muscles perform better than cold ones. The old rule I adhere to is that if the temperature is below 67 Fahrenheit, it's worth wearing arm and knee warmers. This goes double for the extremities since the body tends to sacrifice blood supply to the hands and feet to keep the core warm. Shoe covers are a very helpful accessory and a thin pair of gloves can really help keep your fingers comfortable. Of course this all depends on your cold tolerance. As a transplanted Texan, mine is quite low.

Those are my basic clothing strategies which have sheltered me through a bitter winter. Hopefully they can help you brave the cold out on your early spring training rides.