New Year’s Goals

Forget resolutions. I usually break mine within a week, anyway. Instead, I’m going to recap 2009 through my biker’s eyes, and look ahead to 2010.

2009 stats:

  • Total miles: 3,053
  • Avg. speed:14.9
  • Highest avg. speed on a single ride: 17.2 mph
  • Highest maximum speed on a single ride: 39.2 mph
  • Longest single ride: 77 miles
  • Avg. ride distance: 21.6

2009 Recap:

The highlight of the year is total distance ridden. I topped 3,000 miles for the year, 375 miles more than last year. That would be like adding a 13th month of riding to my 2008 totals, so I’m pleased that I got more saddle time in. I didn’t do a century in 2009. As you’ll recall, the first day of the MS 150 was cancelled, and the second day was 77 miles. That was the longest ride distance I had all year. Many of the stats are down a fraction from last year. Average speed fell from 15.1 to 14.9, highest avg. speed fell from 17.65 to 17.2. But my avg. ride distance is up, from 20.6 to 21.6 miles per ride. If I step back and put it all into perspective, 2009 was nothing to crow about. But if I look a little deeper, I know that my stamina is up, my hill climbing has improved, and I feel better about my ability on the bike. I’m more at home in the saddle.

2010 Goals:

I don’t have a lot, which is probably wise. The ones I do have will challenge me both on and off the bike:

  • Ride the MS 150 Houston-to-Austin, this time completing both days.
  • Ride the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls, Texas, next August.
  • Learn bike maintenance, and diligently maintain my bikes.
  • Expand my riding horizons by riding new routes in new areas.
  • Get my weight below 200 pounds.

I’m embarrassed about that last goal. Last year at this time, I indicated that I would work on dropping 30 pounds. But I finished the year at almost exactly the same weight as I finished last year with, so I obviously didn’t take the goal seriously. But the other day, I tried on a pair of trousers I got as a Christmas gift, and was stunned to find they didn’t fit in the waist. Two months ago, they would have.

The third and fourth goals are not specific or measurable, but they’re personal goals, and I’ll know if I’ve met them to my satisfaction.

Now, we’ll see how life cooperates, and whether it throws any roadblocks in my way. I’ll be helping my wife start a new business, and I have some things coming up in my own work that will make 2010 challenging. But I suppose all of us face challenges with each coming year. Here’s hoping you are able to surmount yours.

Off-season training

Here we are with just a few days left in 2009. For many of us, the weather outside is frightful. For those of us in milder climes, we can still get out and do some riding. But I think it’s fair to say that this is a down time for cyclists generally — we’re looking ahead to our goals for the New Year.

So, how should we spend our riding time this winter? There are lots of online and print resources available, and it’s tempting to curl up with a book that lays out training schedules of “easy” “pace” and “brisk” days. However, most of us are here because we’re still relatively new to biking, and maybe we’re not pointing toward a major competitive event anytime soon. We just want to maintain fitness and be ready to pounce when the nice weather returns in Spring.

The web site Pez Cycling News features a regular column on training, and is looking at this very question. But Pez is a web site about racing, for the most part, and its tips are geared to the faster, stronger riders among us. However, a current column by cycling coach Matt McNamara offers some ideas for recreational riders about off-season training.

In a nutshell, it’s this: LSD. That’s Long, Slow Distance (not to be confused with the other thing). Athletes have used this training method for years, and it works well for runners and other endurance types — not just bikers. To train with LSD, you’re encouraged to do a lot of distance riding at an “easy” pace. “Easy” would be below lactate threshold (that is, you’re not huffing and puffing).

How much easy riding? Follow the Pareto Principle: 80/20. Eighty percent at low intensity work, 20 percent at high intensity. Some training regimens get more specific, with 77 percent at low intensity, or “easy” pace, 3 percent at “pace,” or the speed at which you would ride your target ride at (say, a century), and 20 percent at “brisk” pace, or high intensity, where you really push yourself.

So much easy riding can be problematical, when we’d all like to push it a bit on all of our rides — maybe attack that hill, or pound a long straightaway. Elite athletes have the same problem. They might think they’re training at a 77-3-20 mix, but when their heart rates are monitored, they’re really doing 65-21-14.

When recreational riders make the same mistake, they wind up falling into what some researchers call the “black hole” of training, where every workout is done at roughly the same level of intensity. That leads to no improvement.

So when you’re out there this winter (or on your indoor trainers) remember to take it easy. You might have to force yourself to keep it down, but long, slow distance mixed with a little tough work will yield results. And if we’re all going to make New Year’s resolutions to get better, this might be the best way to do it.

Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

It Ain’t Pretty, But I Like It

Guest poster Don Blount takes a new road, and finds that just going somewhere you haven’t gone before is its own reward.

It was an early morning and I was trying to get a ride in before going to work. I took one of my usual routes, this one being about 16 miles. I approached the turnaround point, which is located at a boat park at the top of a hill. It’s a pleasant place for fishermen, families who want to picnic as well as the many boaters who dock their boats or set sail from there.

It’s a dawn to dusk park with free entry for bikers and pedestrians. The guards usually just wave me through without a second glance.

But this day, I didn’t head up to the park.

Instead I took a right turn down an access road that I’ve passed many times but had never traveled before. I suspected it was on the other side of the waterway but had no idea what else was over there.

The short hill taxed my legs only a little, and as I crested the hill and began following the road I had a number of different perceptions. I found the road was bumpy and not smooth sailing at all for a road bike. I slowed down so as to not rattle the fillings out of my teeth.

It was a mostly undeveloped area, some marsh and quite a few people, most of them fishermen. I saw a motorboat heading out but couldn’t get to my camera quickly enough to get a photo.

I found myself going slowly because of the road surface and really taking in more of the scenery because it was all so unfamiliar. I think I only went about two miles on this road because I had a deadline and had to get back home.

But I found that I enjoyed it.

When I have more time I’ll go back and go farther, not for the conditioning of the ride or even for its beauty but for the variety that it brings.

Does anyone else have a route that isn’t necessarily a great biking route but one you enjoy for another reason?

Tryptophan and Biking

It’s close upon us — the big Christmas dinner, usually featuring turkey with all the trimmings. And we all know what turkey brings to our bloodstream: tryptophan. That’s an amino acid that flows through your blood vessels to the brain, where it’s converted to serotonin, which is blamed for inducing the post-feast drowsiness that results in nap time after dinner.

But maybe you’ve had the experience of finishing a long and/or strenuous bike ride. It might be nothing out of the ordinary given your level of fitness. Still, a little while after the ride, a wave of drowsiness comes over you. You make your way to the bedroom and flop. And you’re out cold for two or three hours.

Tryptophan.

It turns out that the poor turkey gets a bum rap for our sleepiness after dinner. Tryptophan is found in most proteins, so it’s not the turkey. It’s the amount of protein we ingest.

What does that have to do with feeling tired after a ride? During strenuous exercise, your muscles use branch chain amino acids for fuel. Tryptophan competes with branch chain amino acids to get into the brain, and since you’re burning the BCAA’s, the tryptophan wins. That can produce fatigue during exercise, not after.

That’s why we munch on energy bars and gulp exercise drinks during rides. The muscles use the carbs as fuel, and in turn that cuts down the amount of tryptophan that can make it to the brain.

My ride the other day was a perfect example. I rode 25 miles, a distance I’m used to, although I don’t do it more than twice a week, and I felt pretty good. I carried one water bottle, and it was nearly drained when I pulled up to the house after the ride. But sure enough, while watching TV after my shower, I dozed off. I awoke just long enough to get to bed and zonk out for two hours.

During the ride, my body was using fatty acids — including tryptophan — for fuel. I just drank water, so I wasn’t doing anything to inhibit the tryptophan from getting to the brain. If I had brought an energy bar, I’m certain I would have stayed awake longer.

So if you’re going to do any riding over the Christmas weekend, keep these hints in mind:

  • Don’t fast before you ride. Fasting raises blood-fat levels, and makes it easier for the effects of tryptophan to be felt.
  • Don’t eat fatty foods for 12 hours before your ride. Fatty foods create the necessary condition for tryptophan to move through the bloodstream.
  • Do eat a carbohydrate meal two hours or so before your ride. That will reduce your blood-ft levels.
  • Do drink a sports drink every 10 minutes or so during your ride — and depending on how long you’re out there, take in some carbohydrate foods, too.

Following these steps not only will ward off fatigue during your ride, but keep you from napping — and missing Christmas activities with family or friends — once the ride is done.

Bike Noob will take a short break over Christmas, and we’ll be back next weekend. I wish the blessings of the season on everyone.

Buying New or Buying Used?

The past two posts about buying stuff has triggered a lot of response, not just in the comments but in emails to yours truly. I hope there’s enough interest out there to put up with one more shopping post — when do you buy used gear? And what kind of used gear do you buy? (It just occurred to me that we’re spending a lot of time talking about shopping — and the readership of this blog is overwhelmingly male. Flame comments from the ladies are expected, and probably deserved.)

I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever bought used gear. Only one item sticks in my mind — my San Marco Ponza saddle. That came from my friend David. I bought it for two reasons: He was letting me try it out, and I was close to pulling the trigger on it anyway — I like it — and I had a minor fall that scuffed the side of the saddle. He would have taken it back, but I go by the “you break it, you buy it” ethic.

I inherited a jersey from my wife. She bought a man’s cut jersey, and even though it was a size larger than she normally takes, a man’s cut doesn’t fit a woman’s curves. But she only wore it once before tossing it in my lap one afternoon.

Our old friends at eBay sell all sorts of used bicycling gear, including clothing — including pre-owned shorts(!). I think I’d draw the line there.

Craig’s List is another option for used gear. You can buy used shorts here, too. I was amused by the disclaimer in this ad:

Giordana mesh-top bibs, size Medium
I have used these bibs no more than three or four times.
I am a professional cook and bought them at a smaller weight. I have since gained too much and they no longer fit.
It is not gross to buy used cycling bibs. These have been kept clean, washed after every use and stored in a dry area.
For the bargain hunter looking for great, virtually unused bibs, these are the ones.
Italian quality, good style, great fit, comfortable pad.

Hmm. If I took a medium, I’d give him a call … no I wouldn’t.

Based on your comments, it looks like most of you avoid buying used clothing. But a number of you indicated you do buy some things used. Regardless if it’s a use bike or a used derailleur, it’s probably wise to give it a thorough inspection before agreeing to the purchase. That’s a lot more likely if you buy used from someone locally, as opposed to an online purchase.

What things? And what attracted you to the used item when, with a little astute shopping, you might have been able to get the same thing new at a deep discount?

Good Deals on Bike Stuff

The previous post on bike expenditures got me thinking: What’s the best way to save money on bike stuff?

This may not be the best time of year to write on this topic, being the prime shopping season and all, but maybe it is. Maybe, if we’re going to make some last minute biking purchases, we can get the greatest cost-benefit out of them. Or maybe we can build up some strategies to save money in the new year.

Jeff Hemmel’s idea to use eBay seems to have paid off well for him. He bought two pairs of Peal Izumi Slice Ultrasensor shorts, which usually retail for $100, for $40 and $44. He also used eBay to dispose of some things, like his old cycling computer, and then bought a new computer — a Trek Incite — for $50.

A quick check of eBay with a search for “cycling” turned up a plethora of biking swag. Everything from complete bicycles — new and used — to frames, to lights, jerseys, and accessories. As always with eBay, it pays to know what’s out there, so you can size up potential deals. And being adept at watching wanted items, and pouncing in the last few seconds of the auction, is a skill every eBayer must learn. I haven’t bought bike stuff from eBay yet, but I’ve had good experiences buying golf equipment there, so I’ll have to give it a try in the new year.

Jeff also got what I consider a great deal on tires. In fact, several of you mentioned these folks back in September, when I polled you on your favorite tires. England’s Pro Bike Kit has THE deals on Continental tires, the premium ones — GP 4000s and Gatorskins. You can often find the GP 4000s for around $36 and if you’re a sharp-eyed shopper, you can get Gatorskins for about $31 (I paid $53 at my LBS for one of those). Pro Bike Kit usually ships free to the US, so you’re not making up in shipping costs what you saved on retail price.

Don Blount watches for sales, although he told me he did drive an hour to a Pearl Izumi outlet store to buy some bib shorts. I wonder if the cost of driving that far offset the savings on the shorts? Unfortunately, the closest PI outlet to me is in Fort Worth — a four-hour drive away.

I tend to make impulse purchases when I’m in bike stores, so I wind up paying retail. We have two brick and mortar Performance stores in town, and I’ve had good luck with purchases there, but I found that their in-store stock is nowhere near what the online store offers. And you can get better deals from them online.

How do you save money when shopping for bike stuff? Any tips to share with our readers?