Time to Drop Some Poundage

Today’s club ride went out on the Fitzhugh route again. I say again, because we just did it two weeks ago, and we don’t usually repeat a route so soon. But after yesterday’s rain, the weather forecast called for stiff wind from the northwest, so our club president suggested a route that would give us a tailwind on the way home.

I felt good about riding Fitzhugh. Last time, I had little trouble with the rollers that characterize the route, and felt strong for most of the ride. But with only one other B rider showing up, in a group of 24, I figured I’d be hard-pressed to keep the peloton in sight.

We did a good job of sticking with the group until we got into Granada Hills, a neighborhood about three or four miles from the start. As its name implies, it’s not flat. Pretty soon, I saw the last of the pack rounding a corner at the top of a hill and disappearing. By the time Brian (the other B rider) and I got to the intersection with U.S. 290 that marks the end of Granada Hills, they had lost us completely.

That was okay. Fitzhugh is an out-and-back route, and I knew we would meet up with them again as they were on their return leg. But I was a bit concerned about my riding today. I didn’t anywhere near the pep I had the last time, and it was a struggle for me to top the rollers.

We made it out to the intersection of Ranch Road 12, which is the traditional turnaround for B riders. I’ve gone beyond before, and rode out to the A turnaround, but didn’t feel like it today. I was tiring already, and we had to battle the rollers on the way back. On top of it, a light mist was coating our glasses, and it looked like we would be contending with wet conditions on the way back.

Brian and I took turns in the lead on the way back. I was well warmed up by now, even though the temperature was falling, if anything. I found it a little easier to pull myself up the hills. But when we got to the gas station at Fitzhugh and 290, I was glad to stop a bit.

In a couple of minutes, another of our group pulled in. New York John doesn’t like to ride in the rain, and he turned back before the rest of the A group. We set off for home.

John took the lead most of the way. He’s smaller than me, and his bike is lighter. While he pedaled at a good pace, it wasn’t too fast for Brian and I to keep up with. But on one slight uphill stretch, John easily cruised well ahead of us.

Brian has an excuse. He works on offshore oil rigs, and doesn’t get a chance to ride regularly. “When I’m home, I ride every day,” he said. “But it seems like I can’t get any better. I’ve got my pace, and that’s it.”

I, on the other hand, do have a regular riding routine. I haven’t been getting better either, but today bothered me. I just didn’t have the energy to keep up with John. And I had to confront the unhappy reason for that. I’m overweight.

Right now, my weight is more than it’s been all summer.  It’s clear that I finally have to do something about it, because I know from experience that if I were to drop just 10 pounds, I’d be riding better.

So that’s what I’m going to work on. I want to drop 20 pounds by the end of the year. It’ll be difficult, but I think I can do it. I promise I won’t turn this into a weight loss blog, but I will let you know from time to time how I’m doing.

Wool Socks – A Treat For the Feet

It’s autumn now, and temperatures are already getting cold in the northern U.S. Even down here in Texas, we’ll soon be breaking out the arm warmers and the windbreakers and the wool socks.

Except me. I won’t have to break them out, because I’ve been wearing them throughout the summer.

Huh? Wool? In 100-degree heat?

Sure. What I found soon after getting my first pair of wool socks is that they keep you warm in the winter, but cool in the summer. It took me a little convincing, but now if I’m going to be on the bike for a two-hour ride, or longer, I’ll dig through the drawer to get the woolies.

Not only are they comfortable on the feet, the socks have an added benefit. They prevent hot spots on the soles of my feet. That’s a problem I have if I’m wearing my polyester socks and I’ll be in the saddle for awhile on a hot day. Last month when I did the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred, I wore the wool socks, and although I had other kinds of problems, hot spots on my feet weren’t one of them.

Wool, of course, does a great job of wicking moisture from the skin, so even on hot days, your feet won’t get sweaty. That really adds to the comfort.

I liked them so much I got a pair for my wife, and now she’s looking to get some more.

The socks I wear are by Defeet, and are available all over for about $10 or less. They’re relatively thin, but feel thicker than the Coolmax socks I wear other times. Softer, too.

If you’re bothered by hot, achy feet in the summer, do what you probably already do in the winter — go for the wool.

What Does it Feel Like?

I was enjoying a nice ride around the neighborhood with my wife last weekend. We had gone over to the Veloway and were headed home. I would continue on for another 12 miles or so.

We turned off the main drag onto a residential street with a small hill. I stood on the pedals to get a little more oomph and crested the hill easily. She followed, a bit winded.

“What does it feel like?” she asked.

“What does what feel like?”

“When you stand on the pedals. What does it feel like?”

That caught me by surprise. I wasn’t sure what to say. It made me think about a simple bicycling act I do innumerable times on each ride.

“Well, you feel more power to the pedals,” I answered. “You get up to speed faster.”

“I just did it a little bit, and it felt funny,” she said.

Now, Pat has been riding for about five years. She gets out several times a week, and has done some organized rides, including two 50-milers. In fact, she started riding before I did. When I saw that she could ride 50 miles, I figured I could, too, and that started me in biking.

But she once told me she wouldn’t stand on the pedals. She was afraid it would make her lose her balance. So even when she struggles up hills, she does it seated.

“How do you mean, funny?” I asked.

“It’s like, I have trouble pulling up on the pedal,” she said.

“Oh. Well, when you stand, you don’t pull up on the pedals. You get your power by pushing down.”

“Yeah, but that feels jerky. I push down, but then I have trouble pulling up.”

“No, you don’t pull up,” I said. She was really making me think here. “Let’s say you push down on the right pedal. Once you get to the bottom, then you push down on the left pedal. Don’t worry about pulling up.”

I should have mentioned that that’s why it’s called mashing.

That exchange did me good. It made me think about a simple part of cycling. By forcing me to explain that simple act clearly, it helped me crystalize my thoughts on the matter. Better yet, it indicated that Pat is thinking about getting better on the bike. The weather around here is starting to moderate with the onset of fall. Maybe over the next few weeks, she’ll be tackling hills with me — standing on the pedals.

Stoplights — Bike Ride Spoilers

The main club ride today was scheduled to make a run into the city. It would skirt downtown and go north on some well-traveled bike routes.

I’ve done most of this route in the past, but it’s not one of my favorites. The turnaround point is about 25 miles out, and it’s all urban and suburban riding — nothing in the country. I had suggested a country ride to Creedmoor, but at the Starbucks gathering point, some of the other Bs thought tagging along with the A ride would be fun. So we set off in an impressive looking group of 28 riders.

That group strung out and some of us were losing contact with the front pack by about nine miles into the ride. We had had some online discussion about one of the streets, which has been closed on and off over the last few weeks. Some said we needed an alternate route to get around the construction. The club president said he drove that street the afternoon before, and it was open. Unfortunately, he posted that info at 7:15 in the morning, and I didn’t see it.

We got to an intersection with Lamar Blvd., a major north-south artery in town, and watched with downcast faces as the peloton shot across. The red light held up about six of us. It turned out to be a long light. By the time we got rolling again, any trace of the main group was long gone. We found our way up to Barton Springs Blvd., which would take us to the pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River.

At Barton Springs, another red light. Two of us got across the street before the light turned red, but the others got stuck at the intersection. We waited. Then, another red light on our street separated us again. The three of us in front waited. Finally, we got up to the pedestrian bridge. It’s a lower level of the freeway bridge that crosses the river, and is used by both pedestrians and cyclists. On this gorgeous Sunday morning, it was packed. I unclipped from my right pedal so I could put my foot down in an instant if needed, and pushed on only my left pedal to weave through the crowd.

Cross the bridge. Turn left, power up a hill past an uninterrupted row of cars, many of which could block us with opening doors. We kept a careful lookout, but got to the next light with no trouble. Another long stoplight, then we could turn onto a road with a decent shoulder and make some time. Any hope of catching the main group had long since disappeared, and we continued on as a fractured group of six.

But at another turn onto Shoal Creek Blvd., who should we see but New York John. He was waiting for us, because his son-in-law was one of our group.

“What the f***!” he yelled. “I’m waitin’ for my son-in-law, and the whole f****n’ B ride shows up! I t’ought youse was goin’ to Creedmoor! Ten f****n’ minutes I’m waitin’ here! Why the f*** are youse guys so f****n’ slow? Aaagh, now I been dropped! Let’s get f****n’ movin’!”

I love New York John.

He set a quick pace up Shoal Creek, even though there was no way we would catch the As. He might be 65, but he’s slightly built, and rolls his carbon fiber Specialized Roubaix with the best of them. Shoal Creek is a road through residential neighborhoods, and sure enough, stoplights pepper the route. Sure enough, some of us got caught at them.

Stoplights can be your friend. John and the others were stuck at one at Anderson Lane, and we three laggards caught up. About a mile later, we saw a peloton heading toward us. It was the A group.

We did a U-turn, heedless of traffic in the area, and latched onto them. Luckily, they pulled into a convenience store a minute later, and we got to take a much-needed rest.

It was nice to feel the pull of the peloton on the way out. I was in the middle of the pack, chatting with a couple of A riders and our club president. But we had some guests with us today, and they picked up the pace. The group fractured again. This time, the club president stayed back with us. He got caught by another stoplight, too.

By the time we reached Mount Bonnell, it was just Buddy, Jan and me. “We don’t have to climb Bonnell,” I said. “We can stay on this street, which is plenty hilly, and meet them a little ways on.”

The club president caught us a mile down the road. “We waited for you at the top,” he said. “It was literally only 50 yards to the top — you could have come with us and bombed down the nice downhill.” We turned into a gas station for a quick break — and the rest of the ride flew by us.

After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the river again, we got onto the frontage road of the Mopac Expressway. Buddy was starting to slow, bothered by cramps in his quads. I stayed back with him, but that noble gesture was driven by self-interest. By now, I was tired, too.

One last stoplight on Escarpment Blvd. I made it through — Buddy didn’t. He pulled into Starbucks a few minutes after I did. We agreed that we’d done well this day — 3500 feet of climbing over about 50 miles. Both of us were pleased with the results, but we agreed that without those pesky stoplights, we would have done a lot better.

Some Bike-Related Reading

Author Jonathan Clements has penned a novel about biking. Well, it’s about money management. Uh…it’s really about a guy’s midlife crisis, with a healthy dose of money management and biking thrown in.

The book is “48 and Counting: A Story of Money, Love and Bicycling.” Clements is a former writer for the Wall Street Journal, who has since moved on, but he’s still writing — and riding. He recounts the story of Max Whitfield, a 48-year-old money manager, who discovers the joy of bike riding. As Max gets more involved in his new pastime, he springs for an expensive road bike, decks himself out in fancy lycra kit, and joins a local club ride, where he is promptly spit out the back. But he keeps coming back, and keeps getting faster.

However, while Max is wrapped up in cycling, he’s neglecting his business. His ambitious assistant plots to grab it. He’s also neglecting his marriage, and a woman he meets by chance starts looking mighty fine. When his life implodes, Max decides to set a new goal for himself. He enters a 40-mile road race.

Although Clements has been a financial journalist, with four earlier books about money, this is his first novel. He had always thought he’d write a novel once he retired, but when his father died after being hit by a car while cycling, Clements decided he’d better write the novel now — because he might not make it to retirement.

His love of cycling is evident throughout the book. Clements rides his road bike in New York City, often near his home on Roosevelt Island. “Down the south end of the island, I have what I consider my personal criterium course,” he said in an email to me. “It’s 0.9 mile around, with a few stop signs you can safely ignore. During the week, I’ll bang out a quick 13 or 14 miles there, going round and round like a crazed rat on a treadmill, and judge the ride by which side of 20 mph I average.”

The weekends find him in Central Park, where cars aren’t allowed on the main six-mile circuit on Saturdays and Sundays. “Again, averaging at least 20 mph is my goal, but that’s much easier in the park because the roads are smoother, there are fewer tight turns and – at the weekend — my aging body has a little longer to wake up before I hit the road,” he told me.

Making the switch from financial columnist to novelist was tougher than Clements thought. “I’ve spent my entire writing career telling people, in simple, plain English, what to do with their money,” he said. “But with ’48 and Counting,’ I wasn’t doling out advice, but telling a story. Making the switch proved surprisingly difficult.”

He pulled it off, though. It’s an entertaining story, one that can be read in one evening, and some of the cycling scenes — the clipless fall, the arrogant hammerheads on the club ride — will be familiar to many. “48 and Counting” is available as a $9.99 paperback through Amazon and as a $3.99 Kindle and Nook e-book. With the onset of autumn, and less genial cycling weather for many of us, some time with the book could be a satisfying substitute for time in the saddle.

That Gunk In Your Water Bottle

Ever been faced with a dirty water bottle? It happened to guest poster Don Blount recently.

I have about eight or nine water bottles. I did not buy them all. Some came with bike-related purchases, and a few were gifts. Most of them are insulated bottles. I like those because they keep beverages colder longer in the hot weather we get in Northern California – I hate drinking water as warm as bathwater. I started with the Polar insulated bottles but later switched to the Camelbak Podium Chill bottle because they are easier to drink from. Just squeeze and the liquid squirts out. The Polar bottles I use in the cooler weather as they are can also accommodate warm beverages.

I have heard or read about neglected bottles turning into science experiments. Fortunately, I had not experienced this until I recently pulled out a bottle that had somehow been put away without being cleaned – blech!

My initial reaction was to pitch it. I didn’t see how this bottle would be useable again.

Instead I poured in some bleach, shook the bottle and let it sit overnight.

And when I looked in it the next day, I discovered that the bleach had done its job.

The dishwasher will be the bottle’s next stop but I am still undecided if I will keep it, knowing what was once inside.

What do you think?

Sitting on the Sit Bones? Maybe Not

Long-time readers of this blog are aware that I have had an ongoing battle with various saddles. It seems that after about an hour’s riding, my butt starts to hurt. I’ve tried several different saddles, and thought I had finally hit upon one that was acceptable — not perfect by any means, but one that seemed to work better for me than most others I’ve tried.

Even with this one though, I have to resort to some tricks to stay comfortable. I stand and pedal every so often. Whenever I coast, I take the weight off my butt. I vary my hand positions on the bars constantly. But when riding Friday, I accidentally scooched into a position that was mahvelous.

The admonition when riding is to sit on the sit bones — the “ischial tuberosities” — that protrude from the pelvis. I’ve always been aware of this saying, and I thought I had always been abiding by it. But this shift of position moved me to the real sit bones. I could tell the difference. Suddenly, my bottom felt at ease — as though it should have been in this spot all along, and should continue there from now on.

Funny thing is, I’m not really on my sit bones. At least, not the sit bones we all think of. It was all cleared up for me when I stumbled onto Steve Hogg’s Bike Fitting Website. Hogg writes extensively about the arcana of a proper bike fit (Reading his articles is a great way to spend a rainy afternoon when you can’t get out for your ride) and you’ll learn a lot by visiting his site.

According to Steve Hogg, we really sit on the pelvic bones just forward of the ischial tuberosities.

He points out that the pelvis is not constructed for us to sit on the ischial tuberosities. Instead, the bones on each side of the base of pelvis curve a little bit lower than the tuberosities protrude. They angle from wide at the rear to narrow at the front, and if the saddle is the right design, they’ll rest right on top of it.

I must have rocked back just enough that these bones rested on the saddle, instead of my perineum. I’ve been crushing my taint all along, and apparently thought that was what we had to put up with when riding a bike.

It seems a lot of cyclists have trouble with finding the right spot. As our frequent guest poster Jeff Hemmel pointed out in a review of the Bontrager Affinity saddle, Bontrager designed its perch to facilitate finding the right spot on the pubic arch.

I spent the rest of Friday’s ride, and Saturday’s, changing my position on the saddle so I could practice getting back to the exact spot I needed to get to. I think I have it down. At any rate, my rides seemed more comfortable to me than they usually are after I’ve put in 15 miles or so.

Now, you might think that if I’m putting my weight a bit forward of where we have always thought it should be that I’d be crushing my softy bits. In my case, the Forte Classic saddle I ride has a cutout, so there’s no pressure there anyway. I’d be interested in trying one of my other saddles that don’t have a cutout to see just what the results would be — but I’m in no hurry to do so. For the time being, I’ll just enjoy my rides.

My Latest Purchase

The other day, I went over to the LBS to drop some coin on an accessory I’ve been putting off getting for far too long. I finally got some replacement cleats for my cycling shoes.

I have a bad habit with cleats — I keep them on much longer than I should. The pair I just got rid of had been worn down to nubs. They’re Shimano SPD-SLs, and the yellow band around the clip had completely worn away. On both cleats.

Oddly, it didn’t seem to affect their usefulness. Either that, or I’d just gotten used to them. In fact, they were still on my shoes last month when I did the epic century ride.

But it being the beginning of the month, we had a little extra in the bank account, so I figured it was a good time to get the much-needed replacements.

It’s been so long since I’ve had new cleats on my shoes, I’d forgotten the difference. All of a sudden, clicking into the pedals became much easier. I could do it by feel again — nudging the pedal forward with my toe, and dropping the cleat right on top of it with a satisfying click! With the old worn ones, I was often moving my foot around, trying to find just the right interface between cleat nub and pedal.

And maybe it’s just the placebo effect, but I think I’ve got a little more power to the pedals now. On a ride the other evening, I easily cranked along in the big ring in a higher gear than normal. (Maybe it’s just that I’d had two days off the bike, so was fully recovered from the weekend rides.)

To make sure these new cleats are around for awhile, and function as well a year from now as they do today, I also sprang for a pair of cleat covers. Sticker shock — these things are now up to $17 a pair! The tab for cleats and covers came to over $51. That’s a good argument for keeping the covers in place whenever my feet are not in the pedals.

Not a big deal, but it’s a bit like washing your car. Suddenly, it seems to run better. Suddenly, I seem to pedal better.

Helpful Apps for Cyclists

A guest post by Matt Powell.

Cycling computers, whether basic speedometers or complex Garmin GPS units, are a must-have for cyclists but smartphones can now perform many of the same functions. Like GPS units and PDAs the not-so-humble smartphone is gradually replacing dedicated gadgets in yet another market.

To get you started here are some of our favourite smartphone apps for cyclists:

CoPilot Live

Google Maps is a perfectly adequate mapping and navigation tool…provided you’ve got a signal. It relies on a data connection to download maps as you go which is something of a hindrance if your cycle route takes you out into the sticks.

Rather than hoping to run back into an area with some glimmer of a signal every cyclist should have a standalone GPS map package.

Not only will it prove life-saving if you manage to get lost, but with an appropriate bracket you can mount a smartphone on your bike handlebars. Particularly helpful when riding a new route as you don’t need to stop at every turn to check a paper map, plus it makes your cockpit look awesome.

Both Android and iPhone have a huge range of GPS apps. There are several free options for each platform, though if you find yourself needing this regularly it’s worth investing in a premium package.

Our pick is CoPilot Live. It’s packed with features (turn-by-turn voice, 2D/3D maps, traffic notifications etc etc), is quick and responsive and relatively inexpensive too. More than you’d normally pay for an app perhaps, but dedicated cycling GPS units run into the hundreds so this is a huge money saver. Oh, and you can use it in your car too.

Google My Tracks

This excellent freebie from Google uses the GPS hardware in your smartphone to track and record your route, providing helpful and/or interesting data on your workout.

As well as displaying the path over Google Maps it’ll also give info on elevation, speed and distance. This information can be viewed and annotated in real time, and once you get home it’s possible to extract it in various formats, which is helpful for logging your training routine or showing friends a great new cycle path you’ve discovered.

This one is Android only but a similar tool available on both iPhone and Android is RunKeeper.

Bike Doctor

Breakdowns are an unavoidable hazard for any cyclist. Sooner or later you’re going to run into some kind of problem, whether it’s a simple flat or more serious crankset and derailleur issues.

Bike Doctor is a computerised database of common problems and solutions for bike repairs, helping guide you step by step through all kinds of issues so you can get rolling again.

Veterans may scoff but this app can still prove useful for experienced cyclists who run into a previously unknown problem, and it’ll only encourage more cyclists to get out there which we can all agree is a good thing.

Cyclemeter

Throw away your bike computer, your smartphone has made it obsolete. Cyclemeter is a biking computer tool which is packed with functions.

It’ll give you time, distance, speed and all the other basics, but there’s an almost obsessive level of information hidden away in here. While riding along you can quickly swipe between screens of maps and stats to access a wealth of data.

It’s a great training tool as well. There are training programs built in and data can be shared with other users, so you can import a friend’s route and attempt to beat their times.

This is an iPhone exclusive right now, Android users might want to check out Move!

Author Bio: Matt Powell is a writer for the consumer information site Broadband Genie, which covers everything from broadband, to the latest iPhone 5 deals. 

Finally — Fall!

It’s been a tough summer around here. Maybe not as bad as last year, when we hit 100 degrees (38C) for 90 days. This year, states in the Midwest farther north of here got clobbered with really hot weather.

So I was looking forward to today’s club ride out on the Fitzhugh route. A cold front was due to pass through our area overnight, and lower temperatures to the bearable range. Now, bear in mind that this is a Texas cold front. While we pride ourselves on doing everything bigger and better in Texas, our cold fronts leave a lot to be desired. When I stuck my head outside to get the paper, it was 70 degrees (21C). For much of the country, 70 is often the high temperature on a fall day. Here, it’s the overnight low after a cold front.

Still, it meant we’d be riding in conditions we haven’t seen since April. I had planned to go the full route, for a 46-mile round trip, but Mrs. Noob was leaving at noon on a business trip out of town, and wanted me back home by then. So I decided to cut my route to the usual “B” rider turnaround, at Ranch Road 12.

A good turnout today, probably because the weather was so benign. In addition to temps we haven’t seen for awhile, there was almost no wind. Yesterday, a stiff wind blew from the north all day, and predictions were for it to continue today as well.

The weather must also have put some zip in the legs of the peloton. I was hard pressed to keep up with them as we pedaled through the neighborhood, on our way out to the country. A couple of B riders fell back right off the bat. I expected they’d catch up later.

On Circle Drive, I saw Buddy and Jan as two dots in the distance. I was pedaling easy, waiting for Brian to catch back on. He had been held up by two stop lights the rest of the group had missed. But when I looked over my shoulder a couple of miles later, I saw nothing. I rode with Rob and a young German exchange student, who I thought would be a fast rider, but who seemed content to hang back with us.

It was on this stretch, about six or eight miles into the ride, that I realized something — I was strong today. I caught Buddy and Jan on Fitzhugh, and when the road started to dip and curve in a nice series of mild downhills, I turned on the juice. The German was the only one who kept up with me. I took the hairpin curve at the low point of the route faster than I ever have before, but the student was unimpressed, and sailed by. Okay, so I wasn’t as strong today as I was trying to convince myself I was. But I got to the turnaround about 16 miles out well ahead of the others.

Jan was the first to catch up. “I’m going to keep going,” she said.

“Do that — the route is even more scenic from here on out,” I replied, feeling a little pang of envy since I had hoped to make that same extended trip as she was doing.

Buddy caught up, and told me Rob had turned around, along with Brian. I had already seen New York John heading back — he went even shorter than we were today.

So it was just me and Buddy on the return trip. I still had lots of energy, and covered lots of ground at 26-28 mph, terrain assisted of course. We got to the Starbucks where the ride had started, and grabbed two seats under an umbrella to stay in the shade. Even by this time, the temperature had only risen to 80 degrees (26C).

Eventually, the first of the A riders came in. As they joined us at the outdoor tables, most of the talk concerned the weather — and just how great it was to ride in conditions like today. I said my goodbyes and headed home, noticing that I wasn’t awash in sweat the way I have been for the last several months.

It was a nice ride in the country, under clear, sunny skies — but moderate conditions. Couldn’t be better. It’s for days like this that I took up cycling.