Blog Trollers Begone!

This post is somewhat off-topic, in that it’s not about biking, but about blogging. From time to time, I get emails from people who offer to contribute a guest post. Here are my thoughts on the matter.

Over the years Bike Noob has been running, I’ve even accepted some of these offers. Sometimes, the resulting post has been all right. It deals with biking in a manner that I hadn’t yet addressed here, and the link wasn’t obnoxious. A few times, the post has be excellent. Much of the time though, the writer is not a cyclist and contributes something on the level of an eHow post — so simplistic as to be potentially insulting to Bike Noob readers.

I wouldn’t even mention this, except that over the last three days, I’ve gotten three such offers. Here’s the problem: the wording of the offers is so similar, I wonder if they’re coming from the same place, just under different names. The pitch goes something like, “I am looking for blog sites to post guest articles. The article will be 100 percent Copyscape protected (a plagiarism checker), and will run about 500 words. The article will be published only on your site, and informative to your readers.” The pitch also requests a link back to the writer’s own blog, or business, or some gizmo they’re associated with.

If it’s about cycling, I’ll carefully consider the request. I’ll vet the writer, either by visiting his or her blog and evaluating the quality of the writing, or I’ll ask a few questions about their cycling experience. For the overt link hunters, I’ll send a polite “thanks, but no thanks” reply.

I blog because I like to write about my experiences, and I hope that my experiences might ring a bell with my readers. The feedback I get indicates that this is so. I do accept guest posts, and if you’ve read this blog for a bit, you’re already familiar with Don Blount and Jeff Hemmel, two cyclists who have contributed their own guest posts for about three years. But the stuff Don and Jeff write about is in the same vein as I write about, and it’s for the interest and entertainment of our readers — not an attempt to market one’s own (perhaps non-bike related) business.

So guest post trollers, be gone! If guest posts appear here, it will be because they have something to contribute that will interest my readers (I hope). In fact, you’ll be seeing at least one guest post in the next couple of weeks from someone we haven’t heard from before. Stay tuned.

On the Bike, Behind the Wheel

A friend of mine had a close call the other morning. She was backing her car out of her driveway, and nearly hit a cyclist.

The incident was unsettling to my friend, of course. “There’s nothing worse than being hit by a car with a ‘Be Kind to Cyclists’ bumper sticker,” she said.

Now, in defense of my friend, she had trouble seeing the cyclist, who was dressed in gray on an overcast morning. “If she’d been dressed in something a little brighter, I would have seen her sooner,” she said. But she added that if she had hit the cyclist, it would have been her fault, and not the woman on the bike’s.

Her story hit a chord with me. Recently, I was driving down a twisty, hilly two-lane road near my neighborhood. Speeds there easily hit 65 mph, although the posted speed limit is 55. I avoid the road on my bike, because I consider it too dangerous, although my club will ride on it for a short distance during one of our regular routes to the west. But we’re on a stretch only about a hundred yards long, and we turn off onto a residential street.

As I drove down that same stretch of road, I noticed another cyclist coming toward me. He was alone. He was riding the same route we do, and I knew he was going to turn onto the residential street. But for a moment, I found myself debating what to do. I could speed up, and get to the intersection before he did, thus asserting my dominance as a motorized vehicle, or I could slow down, and let him turn safely in front of me.

I’m ashamed that I even considered speeding up.

I slowed the car, much to the dismay of the driver behind me. The cyclist made his turn, and I continued on.

When we’re on our bikes, situations like that are no-brainers. We expect the oncoming car to slow, although we’re careful enough to have an alternative move in our minds if they shouldn’t. And when riding down a residential street, we expect drivers to look carefully for us as they back out of their driveways.

It’s not so simple, is it? There seems to be a difference in mentality when we’re behind the wheel as opposed to on the bike. If anyone should be at their safest around bikes when we’re in our cars, it should be us. Wake up calls like the one that happened to my friend and I are good reminders to be ever vigilant while driving. And they’re reminders that when we’re on our bikes, we should take nothing for granted.

Thankful for Cycling

“Oh, I need this,” cooed Pat, as we headed out from home on a Sunday morning ride.

“This” was a bike ride. We’d just gotten home late last night from four days on the road for Thanksgiving. It was great. We stayed with our son and daughter-in-law and our brand new grandson — our first grandchild. So, we had lots of time for family bonding, lots of time sitting around watching their 70-inch TV screen (some action scenes made Pat nauseous), and lots of time eating more than we should have. It was great.

I got out for a couple of walks. The first day we were there, I set out to circle a large soccer-baseball complex near their house, and found that there was no quick way to do it. I wound up walking about four miles, and in the unseasonably mild Minnesota weather, I was soaked through with sweat when I got home.

Saturday’s weather was more seasonal. I walked a little over a mile to see a bald eagle nest near their house, and was treated to the sight of two eagles — one that flew about 50 yards from tree to tree while I looked on. I was a lot more bundled up for this walk, with temperatures in the low to mid 20s (-3C) and a biting wind. But it was better than the previous day, when we went to the movies. While we walked from the parking lot to the theater, the 25 mph wind cut through our jackets, and without hats or ear protection, we were really cold.

Now, I know hearty northerners ride in these conditions. On my walk to the eagles’ nest, a cyclists passed me, bundled up in a heavy parka, thermal cycling tights, thick gloves, and a skull cap. Tough guy, I thought. But we’ve lived in Austin for 12 years now, and our blood must have thinned out. My personal cycling cutoff is at 40 degrees (4C), and I’m mighty chilly even at that temperature.

So our ride this morning was a pleasure. Even with a brisk south wind, we pedaled easily over to the Veloway and did some laps. Good crowd out there today. Pat has been dealing with some work-related challenges, and she was glad to get on the bike, because ideas and solutions seem to come to her much more readily while cycling than while poring over a computer screen in the home office. As they did today. When I peeled away from her a couple of blocks from the house to continue my ride, she was already eager to get back to try out some things that came to her on the ride.

I tackled some local hills, and found that the pounds I tacked on over the holiday made themselves felt. Okay, I slipped from my careful eating campaign, and I’ll have to renew my efforts in that regard. But to ride in a short-sleeved jersey and shorts on a 65-70 degree (20C) day in November is something I’m thankful for at this time of year.

Pre-Thanksgiving Intervals

I got home early today. The university is closed Wednesday so students can travel home for Thanksgiving, but students being students, many of them lighted out today. Heck, I’m aware of a few who took off after classes last Thursday. Anyway, with only five students showing up for my afternoon lab, and finishing their tasks within an hour, I got an early start on vacation, too.

I decided to take advantage of unseasonably warm weather to get in a bike ride. We’re traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday as well, so this will be my last chance to ride until Sunday. Before setting out, I took a few minutes to dig my headlight out of the bike stuff box and mount it on the bike. I don’t ride in the dark as a rule, but the long shadows of late afternoon make a front light as useful as a tail light.

My ride would only be about an hour, just a few laps at the Veloway. I often get over there on late Tuesday afternoons, and try to get in a little speed work. It’s the only time during the week that I really try to ride fast. Today, it occurred to me that I should try the intervals my friend Joe was doing when I ran into him a couple of weeks ago.

His intervals aren’t rigidly structured. Two minutes all out, two minutes easy. I did a warmup lap, then noted the time on my bike computer, stood on the pedals, and pushed hard.

After about a minute, I was ready for this interval to end. Not only was I going reasonably hard, but in this section of the Veloway, the track is a slight upgrade. I kept pedaling against the resistance, and finally saw two minutes click by.

Not being an experienced intervalist, I suspect I really mucked up the easy part of the ride by not riding easy enough. I caught myself powering through a curve, and reined it in. After another minute ticked off — in what seemed like a much shorter period of time — I stomped on it again.

The intervals were good. I felt powerful throughout the ride, although I’m sure I didn’t do the fast parts nearly as fast as Joe does. I know I didn’t keep up the effort as long as he does, either. Three laps on the Veloway, plus riding from and to my house, comes out to about 15 miles. I do it in less than an hour.

It was dusky enough that I could see the beam of my headlight hit the pavement ahead of me on the way home. While I’ve often stated on these pages that I’m not much for training, I also know that to get faster, you have to ride faster. I have no aspirations of joining the A ride in my club, but I’d like to be able to open it up halfway through a Sunday ride and still have some stuff in reserve for the trip home. Maybe doing this unstructured structured riding once a week will help me toward that end.

I’m also feeling a bit smug about the ride, because it left me feeling as though I can save a little space for all the food I’ll be eating over the next three or four days. My wife and I are traveling north to see our new grandchild, all of 10 weeks old — and no, I’m not taking my bike along with me, even through Minnesota is also enjoying some relatively mild weather for this time of year. Sometimes, you just have to deal with things that are more important than biking. See you Sunday!

Noob Mistake: Not Replenishing Protein

There’s a plethora of material out there, both online and in print, about nutrition and exercise. For the most part, I have ignored it. That’s because I’m a procrastinator. I just don’t get around to reading up on stuff I know I should be up on.

Take tiredness after long rides. It’s a particular problem for me, one I’ve written about before. I just could never figure out why, after a couple of hours in the saddle, I would crash on my bed for a long nap. Those naps were more trouble than they were worth, because they threw off my sleep schedule for the next 24 hours, and I had a lot of trouble readjusting my internal clock.

My routine after a long ride is to settle in at a coffee shop or restaurant or even the living room at home, and have a large drink of something. Usually, it’s iced tea. That takes care of the liquids I lose on a ride through sweating, but doesn’t do much to refuel my body.

I remember riding once with an acquaintance — an experienced cyclist — who couldn’t wait to get some food after we’d finished the ride. “I have to have some protein within a half hour of the ride,” he said. I chalked it up to his personal idiosyncrasy.

Turns out, he was right on the money.

When you take a long bike ride, you’re using up branched chain amino acids. When these essential nutrients are depleted, that leads to the doubling of tryptophan, another amino acid. Once it’s in the brain, tryptophan converts to serotonin, which makes us drowsy.

That drowsiness can set in during the ride itself, as fatigue. If you overtrain, you’ve probably experienced it. But if you maintain adequate levels of branched chain amino acids, you should be able to ward off fatigue. So as my friend does, try to get some quality protein into your system immediately after a ride.

Where do you find quality proteins? Meat, dairy products, and legumes. That might be why cyclists are adopting chocolate milk as a recovery drink.

Today, after two and a half hours riding over rolling hills, I whipped up a ham sandwich right after getting out of the shower. Sure enough, although I felt my eyes get a little heavy while sitting in my chair watching football, I soon snapped out of it. Any other day, minus the sandwich, I would have been crashed on my bed.

It’s a simple solution, but one I’ve bypassed for far too long. I guess I’m still a noob.

Bicycle Injury Study

This blog is aimed primarily at road bikers, and based on the comments and feedback I get from readers, most fit that description. However, I think it’s also safe to say that lots of road bikers don’t stick exclusively to road riding. They might engage in other types of riding, too, such as commuting or utility biking.

That kind of riding is usually done on city streets, and transportation cycling garners a small share of overall trips — as low as one to three percent in the United States, Canada, the U.K. and Australia. One reason often cited for this is safety. Bicyclists tend to be injured more often in countries where transportation cycling is less common.

Examples of cycle tracks in Holland.

A study done in 2008-09 in Canada has gotten some renewed attention here. It’s called the “BICE” study — for “Bicyclists’ Injuries and the Cycling Environment.” The study — of 690 bicyclists who had been hurt in bike crashes — found that the kind of infrastructure available for cyclists is associated with the risk of injuries from bike crashes.

The highest risk infrastructure was a city street with no bike lane and with parked cars. Other high-risk features included train or streetcar tracks, downhill grades, and construction.

Lower-risk features included off-street bike paths, major streets with bike lanes and no parked cars, and residential street bike routes. But the safest bit of cycling infrastructure was the “cycle track.” That’s a segregated bike lane adjacent to a street. They’re not seen much in the United States, but are quite common in the Netherlands.The authors of the study suggest that transportation planners can use the results to help pick cycling structure that will improve safety, and thereby, promote transportation cycling.

The University of British Columbia has a synopsis of the study on its “Cycling in Cities” website, and a complete version of the study can be found as it was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

How is safe cycling infrastructure being incorporated into your area?


Noob Mistake: Never Resting

Riding hard is fine — as long as you build some rest into your training schedule.

During the summer months, I find it easy to hop on the bike and for at least part of my ride — if not the whole thing — really push it. After all, if I’m going to become a better cyclist, I have to push myself, don’t I?

The trouble with that thinking is that it piles too much stress on the body, and instead of being a way to improve, the rider who always pushes it can easily become fatigued and ride slower, not faster.

But even when I’m pushing it during the summer, I build rest days into my schedule. Partly, that’s dictated by work. Sometimes, I just can’t get home early enough to get in a quick 15-20 miles.

Mainly, though, it’s a self-imposed layoff. I usually bike four days a week, so I have some rest days built into my schedule. If I do manage to ride a lot during the summer, I still won’t go more than five days in a week. I have found that at my age, rest is vitally important.

Endurance coach Joe Friel points out that fatigue keeps your body from breaking down entirely. It forces you to rest. But newer riders who are trying to get fast to keep up with the A riders in their group, or who push themselves six or even seven days a week run the risk of overtraining  — when they’re putting in a lot of effort, but not showing much in the way of improvement. They could even be getting worse.

So you’ve got to rest from time to time. Friel recommends three days doing a low intensity exercise, such as swimming. If you decide to ride, stay away from other riders, so you don’t give into the urge to race. If those three days of light work don’t help, get off the bike altogether and rest. Sleep. Sit around. It’ll do you good.

Now that winter is approaching, most of us will be doing a lot less cycling, although some of us will set up the trainer and go hard at it several days a week during the off season. Calmate! Take it easy. Work on building your endurance for the upcoming riding season. There’s no need to approach that with a sense of urgency.

Experienced riders know this. It’s the noobs who push too hard. Now’s the time to build some much-needed rest and rebuilding into your routine. You’ll be better for it when spring comes along, and you decide to get in shape for that first big organized ride. With enough rest, you’ll be able to build up to it quickly.

New Personal Mileage Record

I reached 4,000 miles for the year last week.

It’s not the first time I’ve ridden that far — I finished 2010 with 4,100 miles. But it came more than a month sooner this year, and I’m guessing I’ll finish around 4,500 for the year this time around.

It sounds like a monumental achievement. It’s not. In fact, finishing the year with over 4,000 miles is relatively painless. Consider: There are 52 weeks in a year. If you ride 100 miles a week, you’ll have gone 5,200 miles in a year.

Now, living where I do, I have an advantage over many of this blog’s readers. Just this morning, for example, I rode in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey — no base layer, no arm warmers, none of that stuff. Temperatures were in the mid-70s (low 20sC) and the biggest problem I had to contend with was the stiff wind from the southeast. So I have a better shot at racking up 100-mile weeks throughout the year than most.

I don’t do it, of course. Stuff happens, like my ridiculous month of October this year. But even with a setback like that, I find that if I make an effort to stick to some sort of routine, I can get in the miles I need.

I try to ride Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Tuesday ride will likely be around 15 miles — just an hour on the bike after work. With the return to Standard time, that might be cut out soon. My Friday route is about 20 miles, Saturday 25-28, and Sunday 30-50. Add those all up, and it gives me about 100 miles, give or take. Realistically, it’s more like 85-90. Still, that’ll get you over 4,000 for the year.

I don’t set a mileage target at the beginning of the year. I just let the miles pile up as they will. This year, I dabbled with the idea of doing a metric century ride every month, not to add to my total mileage, but to increase my tolerance for longer distances. That lasted four months, then I lapsed back to a 30-45 miler for my long ride of the week.

I suspect next year’s riding will be a lot like this year’s. No big plans, just steady pedaling. And if I find I wind up with even more miles than this year, well, it’ll just be something that happens.

The Big H

About four years ago, I went in for a colonoscopy. My doc said it was time, what with my age and all.

The buttologist had some good news: “No polyps,” he said. “But you’ve got hemorrhoids.”

Yeah…well, I didn’t need him to tell me that. I’ve had them on and off for years. They haven’t really increased since I’ve been biking, but they’re more noticeable.

Sometimes, I’ll finish a ride, and in just a few minutes I’m ready to grab the good ‘ol Preparation H. That works very well, by the way. But within a few days, I have to go for it again.

I wonder if biking has anything to do with it?

Not directly, apparently. I consulted the usual well-regarded online sources of medical info (Web MD, Mayo Clinic, etc.), and they all say one of the causes of hemorrhoids can be sitting for long periods of time. But the only kind of sitting they cite is sitting on the toilet. Sitting on a bike saddle isn’t mentioned — nor are other sitting activities, like sitting in an office chair, or a fishing boat, or at a card table. It’s the sitting that puts pressure on the veins that swell, causing hemorrhoids. I supposed sitting on a bike for several hours at a time would have an effect.

The medicos also recommend getting up and walking around periodically, to take the strain off the buttosky. Does standing to pedal count? I’m sure that stopping for a rest once in a while would work.

Well, it’s not something I’m going to get all worked up about. In my case, it’s not much of a problem, and as long as that Prep H is in the medicine cabinet, I’m good.

I wonder, though — does this sensitive subject affect any Bike Noob readers? Are you having more serious symptoms than I am? How are you dealing with it — if at all?

Back to Normal

“It’s a glorious day for bike ride,” exclaimed Mrs. Noob, as she walked back into the house after her Sunday morning jaunt.

I acknowledged her comment, but sitting in my robe drinking coffee and reading the New York Times on my iPad, I wasn’t in a position to dash out on my own and embark on my version of the ride. I had driven down to Austin from Dallas the night before, and I was savoring the extra hour of sleep I got from the time change, and the joy of not having to get up early for a Sunday club ride. Most of the clubbers were at a team time trial 40 miles south of here, anyway — one that I had not entered.

But she was right. Early November in Austin, and the temperature was hovering around 70 degrees (21C), the sun was out, and the wind was moderate. I got my stuff together to head out on the bike.

I decided to go to Creedmoor, since that was the route I had done two weeks ago when my wife had to sag me home because of a recurring flat. Because of the later than usual start, I knew I had to be prepared for heavy traffic around Interstate 35, but I expected the rest of the ride to be uneventful.

I was right about the traffic. I have to take the lane on Slaughter when passing under the Interstate, and even though I rode as far to the right as practicable, several bike-hating drivers laid on their horns. The ones that baffle me are the ones two lanes over, who aren’t even affected by my presence. Several versions of a speech I could give them, along the lines of, “What’s your problem, pal?” went through my head over the next few miles — from polite, reasoned discussions to profanity-laden tirades.

But it was too nice a day to spend a lot of time on that topic. I was alone on country roads by now, and when I reached the turnaround at the store in Creedmoor — 16.7 miles out — I was pleased to see that I’d reached it in just about one hour, for a 16.7 mph average speed. Since the route home was more uphill than down, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold that average. But I was just enjoying myself today. I was pedaling steadily, with seemingly little effort, and still riding at a good speed.

On the way back, I realized that part of the reason I’d done so well on the way out was that I had a helping wind. Now, I was into the wind, and although it wasn’t strong, I did have to pedal harder against it. That just added to the interest of the ride. Negotiating the traffic at I-35 wasn’t as tough as on the way out, and the climb up the backside of Davis Hill felt easier than usual. That could be to the fact that, being in Dallas, I hadn’t done my usual rides on Friday or Saturday, and so was still fresh.

In the end, nothing earth-shaking. I rode 36 miles in a little less than two-and-a-half hours — average speed 15.0. I showered, made a sandwich, sat down to watch some football, and immediately felt myself falling asleep. I headed for the bedroom, and three hours later, woke up to find that the big chore of the day — mowing the back yard — wasn’t going to get done.

After a sub-standard October, this was a great way for me to get back in the swing of things. I expect I can resume a regular riding routine that will only be broken by Thanksgiving weekend. It feels good to be back to normal on the bike again.