Your Extremities

After Saturday’s ride, I tweeted that just the addition of toe warmers really made a difference in on-bike comfort.  But there may have been more to it than that.

Our ride started at a temperature of about  40ºF (4ºC), which in the past has been the coldest temperature I will ride in.  I made sure to bring all the usual items you’d expect to bring for a chilly day: full-length leg warmers, a long-sleeved, brushed jersey, etc., but in addition to the toe covers, I also brought my full-fingered cycling gloves and liners.

Way back when I used to backpack, I used polypropylene glove liners under ragg wool gloves.  The combination kept my hands toasty warm.  I’ve discovered that the liners work just as well under my full-fingered gloves, which aren’t cycling gloves at all — they’re a pair of winter golf gloves.  And they’re not all that different from the cool weather cycling gloves you’ll find on the rack at a place like Performance.  I never worry about cold hands anymore.

I had more than just toe warmers on my feet — I used the polypro socks beneath my wool cycling socks.  It’s another great combination, until the temperature gets below about 45 — then I need something more.  That’s where the toe warmers come in.

I also took along a cool weather headband.  This one is also slightly brushed on the inside, and is shaped to completely cover the ears.  One thing about my ears — they’re hard to miss.  I do have to make sure they’re covered, or they’ll get cold quickly.

The headband doesn’t solve the entire problem though.  Forty percent of your body’s heat loss is through the head, so it’s important to keep your head covered.  A helmet doesn’t count.  My helmet has huge vents, and the head can get chilly if I don’t take measures.  I forgot on this ride, and could really feel the cool breeze across my noggin once we headed out.  Luckily, on this day the temperature rose quickly, so it wasn’t an issue.  Normally, I would wear a polyester doo-rag under the helmet.  Another item that works is a lightweight cycling cap.  Or, one could just tape over the vents on the helmet, like the late Sheldon Brown used to do.  One thing I’ve found is that if I keep my ears warm, a head covering isn’t that important, or if I keep my head covered, I can get by without anything on my ears.

Although the ride started in much cooler temperatures than I prefer to ride in, I was comfortable throughout.  The next day, under much the same conditions, I was cozy all over again.  Do yourself a favor when riding in the cold winter temps this year. Take care of your extremities, and the rest of you will be happy for it.


Zone 2 Training

After last weekend’s hill training with Austin Cycle Camp, I was looking forward to the last of their free November sessions.  This one was scheduled to take place in Cedar Park, northwest of Austin.

Their web site didn’t indicate what kind of training would be involved, but on Friday evening, I got a confirmation email from AC2 (Austin Cycle Camp) that said we should bring heart rate monitors, because we would be doing heart rate training.  Hmm.  I’ve got one, but its strap was broken, so it wouldn’t be of any use to me.  The email indicated that there would be a limited number available, so I figured I’d get to the location early and try to get one.

The morning was chilly.  I even had thoughts of forgetting it and crawling back into a warm bed.  But a check of the online weather sites revealed that they were predicting a temperature of about 40ºF (4ºC) by the time we were to start, so I loaded up on cold weather gear and drove up there.

It turned out that the reason for the heart rate monitors was to make sure we stayed in Zone 2 — the easy training zone.  Coach Dave even set the HRM he lent me to indicate not heartbeats per minute, but percent of maximum heart rate.  We were to start out in Zone 1 — 55 to 70 percent of max — then after a short warmup ride, head out on the highway and maintain a Zone 2 effort — 70 to 85 percent.

As Dave predicted, the group (about 15 people turned out) spread out quickly on the highway.  Those in better condition could maintain a higher speed in Zone 2 than those who were more casual riders.  We were to go for 20 minutes, then turn back.

Gently rolling hills along the route made maintaining a Zone 2 effort difficult.  The coaches encouraged us to keep pedaling, even if on a downhill.  Going uphill, we had to shift down to very easy gears to keep from going above 85 percent.

Back at the start, after a little less than an hour in the saddle, Dave told us that the effort we had just put out was where we should be for most of our winter training.  With no major organized rides or races on the horizon, the emphasis should be on building or maintaining a base.  That will improve your aerobic capacity, and teach your body to burn fat instead of glycogen.

I had done slow training rides before, but always had trouble maintaining an easy pace for a full hour.  There’s always the temptation to attack this favorite hill, or carve that upcoming turn.  But it turned out that even at a sedate Zone 2 pace, we weren’t really lollygagging.  My average speed for the session was over 16 mph — about what it is when I’m out on my normal neighborhood rides.

So now that I know what Zone 2 feels like, I’ll be riding it more often.  I’ll reserve one ride a week to turn on the afterburners — you have to remember what it feels like to go fast — but otherwise, I’ll be the guy pedaling in a fast cadence who just glides along the street.

Doing Everything Wrong

Maybe it was Thanksgiving.  Yeah, that’s it.  I took several days off the bike as we went out of town to visit my sister-in-law for Turkey Day.  Now, that’s not unusual — the several days off the bike part, that is — because lately I’ve been taking several days off the bike each week because of the earlier onset of darkness and work obligations.

However, when we got back to town this afternoon, Pat wanted to get in a short ride.  The clock was approaching 4:30, so we wouldn’t have more than an hour of daylight, and she wanted to swing by a nearby post office to drop an important check in the mail.

The temperature hovered around 54ºF (12ºC), which isn’t far from our recent averages for this time of year.  We scrambled into bike clothes that had worked for us before in this temperature.  Well, actually, we departed a little from what we usually wear.  Pat pulled on her armwarmers, but although she got a windbreaker out of the closet, she decided to leave it lying on a chair.  I wanted to wear a base layer, but also wanted to save what appeared to be the only clean one for tomorrow’s ride, so I wore a summer weight short sleeved jersey under a nice long sleeved jersey.

I searched and searched, but couldn’t find my sunglasses.  I finally decided to skip them, since the sun would be at our backs for the return leg of our ride, and it would be getting dusky anyway.

We headed out, and in minutes realized we had both made mistakes.  Pat wished she had worn her windbreaker.  I wished I had worn a baselayer, a wind vest, and arm warmers.  We were both chilly.  Luckily, the wind was calm.

We got to the post office just in time to meet the departing mail truck, and Pat left the check with the driver.  We headed out on a favorite short neighborhood route, but to get there had to ride a fairly busy connecting road.  The good part is, it was slightly downhill, so we made good time.  The bad part is, by riding relatively fast, the cold penetrated our trunks.  We both started complaining about the chill.  We kept going, though.

We turned a corner, and I realized why I had been uneasy about not searching harder for my sunglasses.  Our route took us directly into the setting sun, which shone at a low angle directly into our faces.  It was blinding.  I rode much of the outbound leg looking down, just a few feet in front of my front wheel.

We got to the turnaround and headed back.  Again, the route was a slight downhill, and we made good time — but we also absorbed a lot of cold air.  I stopped to wait for Pat at a stoplight, and felt a wave of warmth spread across my torso and legs.  It was because I wasn’t cutting the air with the moving bike.  At rest, we were fine.  Moving, we were uncomfortably cold.

On my home computer, I keep a list of cool weather clothing combinations that work for me under a variety of different cool weather conditions.  As soon as we finished our chilly ride, I called it up, wondering where the problem could have been.  After all, I had ridden a number of times this fall in temperatures in the low to mid 50s, and never had I felt this uncomfortable.

Duh.  I turns out I completely misjudged what I needed to wear for today’s conditions.  I needed arm warmers and a wind vest — just as I had determined while riding.  The clothing combination I wore today was good for temperatures 10 degrees higher than we had.

Readers sometimes ask me why I call this blog Bike Noob, when I’ve been riding for several years.  As long as I keep screwing up my rides like I did today — I still consider myself a noob.

Let’s Ban All Drivers From the Roads!

It was Friday evening rush hour.  I was driving home from a full day at work, and was just as glad as everyone else on the road to get a jump on the weekend.

Friday evenings have some weird effect on drivers.  Here’s what I saw just a few blocks from my house:

I turned onto a residential street, and noticed a Saturn sedan on my tail.  I recognized it by sight; it lives two blocks from me.  The high school aged girl driving it was obviously impatient with my speed on the street — I was going 30 in a 30 mph zone. She tailgated me closely. At a fork in the road, I went right. She went left.  I knew our two roads would converge again in moments.  When they did, at a 4-way stop, I was on the right, so had the right of way at the stop sign.  She came up on the left, and tried to jump out ahead of me. I wouldn’t let her, and took my rightful turn.  I’m sure she’ll make a note of my car in her s__t list, after I held her up from getting home by … oh, I dunno … maybe five seconds.

A half hour later, I was making a run for take-out food.  At a stoplight, I was in the right lane, a big black Tahoe or something on my left.  I guess the driver was trying to signal me at the light, but because we were side-by-side, I didn’t see her wave at me, or see her turn signal.The Tahoe must have needed to make a right turn real bad, because when the light changed, the driver jumped ahead, shot me a dirty look, signaled her turn, and nearly cut me off.  I eased up and let her go. Then, just as she reached the street where she was going to turn, she had second thoughts.  She signaled left, swerved into the left lane, then shot across to a left turn lane at the next corner, and did a U-turn.

Both these incidents happened in less time than it takes to read about them.  I just shrugged my shoulders and mentioned to my wife when I got home that drivers were a bit loony tonight.  That was it.

Now suppose those two drivers were on bikes instead of behind the wheels of cars?

When bikes jump in front of cars at stop signs, motorists get pissed.  When cyclists drive erratically, motorists write to the newspaper, or call the local talk show blowhard, and bitch about those rotten bikers and how they all oughta get off their bikes and drive cars the way God intended.

Now suppose every time a biker experiences bad driving by a motorist, he or she writes the same newspaper or calls the same talk show?

Nah. Their letters wouldn’t be published, and the call screener wouldn’t let ’em on the air.

Training With a Group

Saturday morning, in what is truly a departure for me and my style of riding, I signed up for a training workshop.  It was going to take place near my house, so it was convenient, and it was going to do hills, which I need lots of help on.  So I rolled out of my driveway at 8:30 and 15 minutes later was with a group of like-minded cyclists near the Austin Veloway, waiting for the fun to begin.

Waiting to get started.

Austin Cycle Camp is putting on free workshops every Saturday in November.  I missed the first two, because of lousy planning on my part, and was anxious to see what these 90-minute sessions involved.  In all, 26 people showed up.  The AC2 (Austin Cycle Camp) coaches divided us into two groups, and explained what was in store for us.

My group started with long hills.  Actually, just one long hill, and it just happened to be one with which I am intimately familiar, since it’s part of the Mopac route I ride all the time.  The hill is about three-tenths of a mile long, not too steep, but it can kick a cyclist’s butt.  Coach Trey told us we were to pick a base cadence and maintain it all the way to the top.  Okay, not too tough.  I figured I could hold 80 rpm easily enough.

Not so easy.  About 100 yards from the top, I fell to about 77, and just couldn’t get it any higher.  I cruised around a corner to regroup with Trey and some of the other cyclists.  He told us to do it again — three times in all — and increase our cadence each time.

When we regrouped after the third climb, everyone was glad of the chance for a breather.  The other group had been working on short, steep hills, and they joined us so we could switch places and coaches.

Now, Coach Dave took us a short distance away, down an easy hill to a turnaround, where we stopped to hear what he had planned for us. It was all about cadence again, but this time, we were to start in a low, comfortable gear and ride that same gear to the top.  Looking back at the hill we had just come down, I wasn’t impressed. It was nowhere near the really steep hills Austin is famous for.  But Dave said this exercise would be a good training session.

Okay, quick pedal to the top, turn around, come back down.  Now, he said, do the hill one gear higher.  And each time, we had to shift up one more gear.  Six times in all. Then he had us do the last climb out of the saddle.

I don’t think anyone was beaten by the drills.  As one rider noticed, “Nobody threw up.” But I found them to be very useful. These are streets right in my neighborhood, and the session gave me several ideas for making my rides around here more challenging.  I already do hill repeats just a few blocks from where our workout was — but I’ll be doing them differently from now on, shifting up each time, maintaining cadence.  It’s a more structured kind of training than I usually go in for, but I know it’ll help.  And there’s one more free clinic to go this month — I’ll be there next Saturday.


Causes of Bike Crashes

I recently came across data from two different sources that sheds some light on the causes of bicycle crashes.  The first is a report from the Twin Cities Bike Club of Minnesota.  The second is a report prepared by the city of Fort Collins, Colorado.  While the two sets of data covered different time periods and were compiled in different ways, they are interesting to look at.

The Twin Cities Bike Club has a Safety Committee that compiles records of all of its members’ bike crashes throughout the year.  The most recent data is from 2009.  In all, 34 crashes were reported,  and they fell into three categories:

Falling from a bike, 23; bike-bike collisions, 5; and bike-car collisions, 6.

The falls ran the gamut of causes, from silly to unfortunate.  My favorite: “Rider was drinking from camelback with one hand and braking with the other while negotiating a curve, went down.”  Other falls happened because of trouble with pedals and cleats, skidding on wet pavement, going off a paved bike trail, and handlebar grips coming loose.

Falls aren’t a laughing matter, though.  Falls can hurt.

In Fort Collins, the city’s report didn’t count falls from bikes.  It focused solely on car-bike crashes, with an eye to making the city’s streets safer for commuters.  It covers police reports filed between Jan. 1, 2007-June 30, 2009.  In all, 354 bike-car crashes were studied.  The conclusion:  Both motorists and cyclists share the blame.

The biggest cause of bike-car crashes may be considered somewhat of a surprise: Bikes traveling against traffic and ending up in a broadside collision with a car.  These kinds of crashes accounted for more than half of the fatal or severe injury crashes, and 60 percent of all crashes, in the report.  A broadside is a crash when a bike hits a car on a perpendicular road.

A broadside crash in the making.

Those of us who ride regularly might be surprised to learn that most of the broadsides happened when the bike was riding against traffic.  Part of the reason might be that Fort Collins, a city of about 140,000 people, is home to Colorado State University, which enrolls 26,300 students.  Many of these students commute to campus by bike.  The city’s bike coordinator says the crash data shows that university students could benefit from bicycle education efforts.

Other car-bike crashes included the overtaking, or “right hook” crash, where a car passes a bike, then turns right.  Those were 13 percent of the crashes.  Sideswipes, where bikes and cars were going in either the same or opposite directions, accounted for seven percent.

The Twin Cities crash data is less clear about the causes of bike-car crashes.  Only one seemed to fit the “right hook” description, and none apparently were broadsides.  Inattention by cyclists was the evident cause of some crashes: A rider was hit in a right turn lane, and another rider crashed into the back of a school bus when the bus suddenly stopped for railroad tracks.

So, what do we learn from these very different reports?  Both bikers and motorists have lots of room for improvement.  Clearly, if you ride predictably and obey the rules of the road, your chances of tangling with a car diminish.  But you must be alert and attentive all the while you are on your bike.  It’s not just the cars that can knock you down.  It’s yourself, too.

Are You Old School?

I was talking with a cycling friend of mine who lives across country from me, and I mentioned that I grabbed a Clif bar at the halfway point in my long weekend ride.

“I never eat that stuff,” he said.  “I prefer real food.  I guess I’m just old school.”

I chuckled.  He does eat real food during rides.  He often sticks a banana in one of his jersey pockets, and if he needs to eat on one of his long rides, he’ll find a convenience store and get a small submarine sandwich.  No gels or shot bloks for him.  But I wouldn’t call him old school.  He’s got a nifty carbon fiber bike that cost the same as three of mine. However, some other biking acquaintances might qualify, in one way or another.

Some Tour de France riders in days of yore. Yes, the guy on the right is holding up a cigarette to the rider next to him. Now that's old school.

There’s the guy with the steel 10-speed that is pretty much the same today as it was 25 years ago.  He sees no reason to upgrade to a more contemporary ride.  In fact, he thinks more than 10 speeds is ridiculous.  He tells me he rarely uses more than five different gears during a typical ride.

Another friend rides a more recent aluminum framed bike, but goes without any of the current accessories.  You won’t find him entering data from his Garmin into his home computer — he doesn’t have a Garmin.  He doesn’t even have a basic cycling computer.  Heart rate monitor? Forget it.  If he wants to know his pedaling cadence, he counts his pedal strokes for six seconds and multiplies by 10.

Another acquaintance looks forward to this time of year, because the wind picks up and the temperatures go down.  He trains in the wind the way most of us train on hills.  And he has no problem keeping warm and comfortable on his bike — he wears a nice long sleeved wool jersey.

What else constitutes “old school” cycling?  I once saw someone wipe his tire with his bare hand — after riding through broken glass.  Do guys who train on single speeds or fixed gear bikes qualify as old school?

I’m happy with my current setup, and have no plans to revert to the accoutrements of bygone days.  Well, maybe I’d like one of those wool jerseys.

Are you old school?  In what way?