Strava Revisited

Okay, I have no integrity whatsoever. After bashing Strava several times on this blog, I am now immersed in the ride tracking program — big time.

Why the sudden change in feeling? Well, it’s all because of a new phone. I’ve never had a smartphone before. All my mobile phones were very basic. So when my wife and I sprang for new phones over the weekend, I knew I would want to try out some apps. And for a cyclist, what better app to try out than Strava?

Honestly, I thought I would use it to take the place of my Bike Journal entries, where I keep tabs online of my rides. Strava catalogs much the same information — distance, average speed, maximum speed — but it gives you much more.

For starters, the GPS feature records the route you ride in a map. And if you want, you can trace the route you took by following a little blue dot around the route. I’ve already used it on a couple of my friends’ Strava pages to see what kind of variations they ride on the basic neighborhood route that everyone around here rides. And it’s already given me some good ideas.

My regular route through Circle  C Ranch. It was fun to see how my friends ride essentially the same route, but with little variations of their own.

My regular route through Circle C Ranch. I enjoyed seeing how my friends ride essentially the same route, but with little variations of their own. (Click pix for bigger.)

Of course, the big thing everyone who has ever heard of Strava is familiar with is the King of the Mountain and Queen of the Mountain titles that go to the fastest rider on a particular segment. No King of the Mountains for me yet. I suppose I could do as others do, and chart a short section of a bigger route, then claim a KOM because no one else would have ridden it yet — but that’s meaningless, and I’m not about to do something like that. This week.

You can also create a segment on your own, but after today’s ride I found that I might not need to. I rode a popular neighborhood route of about 18-21 miles, depending upon the variation taken on a given day, and when I accessed the Strava record, I found the route had 20 different segments.

Some of them are worthless to me. They’re short little chunks of road, not even .3 miles long. But other segments are parts of the route I have always paid particular attention to anyway. Now, I have a record of how fast I went to compare with future efforts, and also to compare against other riders I might know.

Basic data from today's ride.

Basic data from today’s ride.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I did well on some of the segments. One, that tracks a full lap of the Veloway (3 miles), had me clocked at 10 minutes, 4 seconds. I typically ride it at around 10:30. I have done it as fast as 9:30 in years gone by. Now, I can keep that figure in mind (Strava has already declared it a PR, or Personal Record, for me) and try to better it in future trips around the Veloway.

So, if you’re on Strava yourself, and want to chuckle at some slow times, visit my page. We’ll see if I get a little faster in the coming months. Even if I don’t, it’s going to be fun to compare routes and times with myself and my friends.

Thinking About Hills

Anyone who has read Bike Noob knows I’m not much of a hill climber. In fact, if anything, my hill-climbing ability has decreased in the past couple of years — I’m getting older, you know. Yeah, that’s it. (All right — I still haven’t managed to get my weight down to that level where hills are doable — but I think I’ll stick with the age angle.)

But it’s spring, believe it or not (It must be — we’re under our second wind advisory in a week! It was tough out there today!), and as we point toward our nice weather riding (It will come again, I promise), a lot of us will add hills to our training regimens.

Yes, even I climb hills in training. But the hills I climb close to home aren’t anything like the really challenging hills we’ll face on some of our targeted rides.

One that I think I’ll try to handle — maybe in the fall, after I’ve had lots of time to train for it — is Fulton Ranch Road. It’s not too far from Austin, and has been part of the 100-mile version of the Livestrong Ride here. It’s got a grade that I think is just within my abilities, but the problem is, it’s a lot longer than most of the hills around here. To whet your appetite for some warm-weather climbing, here’s a YouTube video of the hill.

But Fulton Ranch Road pales in comparison to the real monster. That’s the Westernport Wall in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Its 31 percent grade — that’s 31 percent! – is steep enough that the road is closed to motor traffic. But bikers are welcome to take a stab at it. And to make matters worse, the Wall is only part of the story. It comes in the middle of a triathlon! If you can get to the top of the Wall without clipping out and walking, you get a brick with your name incribed added to the rough and uneven surface of the road.

Makes my .4-mile jaunt up Convict Hill look like a walk in the park. Maybe by the end of summer, it will be!

A Look Back at January

Guest poster Don Blount is back (he’s been blogging here more often than I have lately) with a look at his January biking miles, and how they’re helping him build for the coming year.

BlountOnBikingI finished January with 606 miles (975 kilometers), my highest monthly total ever.

My previous high was set in July; I rode 573 miles (922 km) that month.

Winter is when we get the bulk of our rain in Northern California. However, this winter has been dry. So dry, in fact, that we went more than 50 days without any rain and when it finally rained to break that streak, it was a fairly insignificant amount.

However, those dry days provided plenty of opportunities to ride outdoors.

And I took advantage of that.

For the past nine months I have been riding about four to five days a week. I continued that in January while also adding quite a few longer rides, of about 50 miles (80 km) a week.

To put this in perspective here are my previous January mileage totals: 2013 – 260 miles (418 km); 2012 – 291 (468); 2011 – 313 (503); 2010 – 220 (354).

Another change I have made these past few months is riding for time instead of distance. Instead of planning a 40-mile ride (64 km), I will plan a 2 ½-hour ride with the distance dependent on the pace.

And also, I have changed how I use my bike. I ride for fitness and performance. It is part of my cardio activity for staying healthy but I also ride to become a stronger rider. That change may be just semantics or attitude. But it has worked for me.

A bike mechanic once told me that it was more important to focus on the time you spent in the saddle instead of the distance. Distance will build as you put in the time he said (and no, he did not look like the Ancient Mariner).

I did not understand what he meant then but I do now as I go about preparing for rides I have planned for later this year. The only way to prepare for longer rides is to spend time in the saddle. Some of those rides I am targeting will require about 12 hours of saddle time. The longest ride I have done was a full century that took 6 hours 39 minutes.

I feel comfortable and confident spending time in the saddle, I just need to continue building.

In January, my long rides were three to four hours. They will be getting longer this month. I already have planned a ride that I am told will take six hours, it is 87 miles (140 km) with 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) of and a metric century too.

I do not expect to ride 600 miles (965 km) every month, but I take satisfaction in getting off to a good start in building a strong foundation for the year.


The Hills, Revisited

Guest poster Don Blount is back again, this time regarding his never-ending battle with the hills.

BlountOnBikingNo mea culpas from me. No apologies either. I previously have called hills evil and I am not backing down from that statement.

Well, at least not until they apologize for throwing so much hate in my direction.

Hills, and their partner Gravity, worked against me greatly.

They made climbing torture and frequently stripped me of my dignity. You ever tried to look cool pushing a bike up a hill while wearing cycling shoes?

But of late, climbing has become much easier.

I can comfortably do rides that I could not handle a few months ago. I can look at the scenery and even talk to other riders at times. I can do rides I would not have attempted previously.

This is not because of any change in the hills as they have made no concessions. It is because I lost a boatload of weight and improved my fitness.

Now that I can ride in the hills, I have plenty of climbing planned.

On Jan. 2, I was part of a group of six who rode a route that is part of the Amgen Tour of California . We started in Danville , rode to the summit of Mt. Diablo , descended down the other side of the mountain to Walnut Creek for lunch. We then rode back up to a junction a few miles from the summit before returning to our starting point.

In total, the ride was 49.44 miles (79.56 kilometers) with 6,138 feet (about 1,871 meters) of climbing in 3 hours 57 minutes.

Summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park near Danville, Calif.

Summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park near Danville, Calif.

And it was something I would not have attempted a year ago.

But as I do these rides, I keep in mind that Hills and Gravity are tricky. They are just waiting for the right moment to ambush me. It could be on an extended climb or a climb with a steep grade or even a series of rollers. I am not letting my guard down. I plan to continue working at riding and climbing.

And I keep in mind what I was told by Bennie, a member of my bike club. He would know about climbing as much as anyone. A few years ago he climbed a million feet in a year. He consistently tells me: It gets better the more you climb BUT NOT EASIER.

Looking Back to Look Forward

Guest poster Don Blount is gearing up for a banner year.

BlountOnBikingLast year ended up being a big cycling year for me. I rode more than 5,400 miles (8,690 kilometers), climbed 111,960 feet (34,125meters), completed a metric century, full century and lost 28 pounds (12.7 kilograms).

It did not start out as if it would be anything special. The first 3 ½ months of the year, I only rode 995 miles (1,609 kilometers) and I weighed 196 pounds (about 89 kilograms).

It was after an April 15 visit to my doctor, who also rides and climbs like a billy goat, that I became determined to lose weight in order to become a better climber.

During the last 7 ½ months of 2012, I rode 4,500 miles (7,242). I tackled rides that I never would have attempted before. In short, I became an overall better cyclist.

That would be looking back.

Looking forward I have a number of riding challenges ahead. 

Approaching the summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park newar Danville, Calif.

Approaching the summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park newar Danville, Calif.

For organized rides, I have planned, so far, a metric century in February. Next are two full centuries, one in April; the other in May. I will ride one with my sister-in-law from Ohio , who started riding last year. It will be her first century and I am delighted she picked me to ride it with her. We are calling it the “In-law Century.”

I am also registered to do the Tour of the California Alps – Death Ride. It is 129 miles (207.6 kilometers), 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes. It is July 12, the day before my 53rd birthday.

And I am targeting my first double century in October.

My training rides will be used to build toward each event, so I will get in enough mileage, variety, challenges and fun.

Setting a schedule may seem rigid for some but it works for me in helping to plan my riding around my family, work and other obligations. I have never had a riding schedule before. This is a long way from looking at the bike club riding calendar and thinking “maybe I can do this ride.”

It is shaping up to be an interesting and challenging cycling year.

Small Ring Ride Revisited

As part of my effort to put less effort into my cycling this year, I headed out to Dripping Springs for a Sunday morning ride. Riding the rural roads around here is not necessarily an effortless effort, however, because of all the hills on the route. Only one is truly challenging, and that comes early in the ride, but plenty more are scattered along our route.

Earlier this week, Debra had posted that she and her husband would be riding there. When I arrived at the park where the ride starts, I saw Debra, by herself. She was talking with Jerry, another of the club regulars. I made three. That was it.

Debra said she had hardly ridden since the start of the year, and Jerry echoed her concerns. When we rolled away from the park, it was at a painfully easy pace. And as the miles went by, it looked like neither of them was going to do anything to speed things up.

But that played into my strategy for training. I found myself almost exclusively in the small chainring. I could select a range of gears that kept me close to Jerry, and often ahead of Debra. Both were riding high-end carbon fiber bikes today, the combined weight of which was still probably lighter than my own bike. I’m exaggerating, but not by much.

Jerry is a very strong cyclist, who had a nasty experience last spring when he fell during a group ride and broke his leg. He shies away from riding in groups now, and is very content to meander through the countryside with the likes of us.

I decided I would try to do the whole ride in the small chainring. I’d done that before, in training rides around Austin’s Veloway, but I had never tried it on the road before. For the most part, it worked out well.

From time to time, I took the lead in our small group, and before I knew it, I was well out ahead of them. A couple of times, I stopped by the roadside to wait for them to catch up. Once, Jerry decided he was a bit chilly, and stomped it to get the blood flowing.

For me to catch Jerry under those conditions required more than the small ring — so I cheated. I did switch to the big ring, just long enough to rein Jerry in, or to catch him as he waited at the side of the road.

In a few other spots, the route offers some downhill stretches that one just must ride all out, in the big ring. I did with gusto.

But when it was all over, I had spent at least 75 percent of the ride in the small ring. My average speed over the 27-mile course — 12.2 mph — indicated that this was not a hammerfest. But as another training ride to build my base, it worked out very well indeed.

Rediscovering Zone 2

Took a ride with a friend the other day. It wasn’t meant to be anything big, just using streets in our neighborhood, catching up about Christmas and whatnot, and just enjoying our time out. The day was on the chilly side, but sunny. The wind was there, but wasn’t a factor.

As we left one subdivision to enter another, I glanced down at my bike computer. It was blank. I had forgotten to start it when we began our ride after meeting up at a local coffee house. My computer will go to sleep if it’s idle for five minutes, and I have to click a button to make sure it starts registering when I start up again.

At first, I was angry at myself — I’ve made that mistake before. But then, I looked back at our ride up to that point, and decided I really didn’t need the computer’s data for the day anyway. We had covered about eight miles by then, and I know our average speed was probably in the 12 mph area. I wasn’t working any harder than I do when I ride with my wife. I was in Zone 2.

Zone 2 is familiar to riders who use heart rate monitors. It describes the space between 70-85 percent of maximum heart rate. Three years ago, I was in a riding clinic where we were ordered to ride only in Zone 2. The coach said that since we weren’t training for any races, but were just building a base, this was the kind of riding we should be doing during the winter months anyway. Besides, Zone 2 is where your body learns to burn fat.

We were out for about an hour and a half — 20 miles, give or take. During that whole time, the only effort we put out was on the few short uphills we encountered. In fact, my friend suggested we attack some hills, since our riding had been — well — boring up until that point. But on the hills, she decided it was time to end the ride and head home, so we didn’t even get in any meaningful hill work.

But that evening, I could tell I had done some good riding. My weight was down a bit, I didn’t feel bloated after dinner, and I was ready for a good night’s deep sleep. Zone 2 might not test your abilities as a cyclist, but it does good things for your future riding. I enjoyed it so much, I’m going to make a real effort to spend most of my winter in Zone 2. Or at least the next two months’ worth.

Turning Those Pedals — Or, Cadence

Long-time readers of Bike Noob might recall that I used to have a bike computer that measured cadence. When it broke, I didn’t replace it with another cadence unit — I decided I didn’t really need that information.

One thing I found out when I did ride with that unit was that I naturally cruised at a cadence of between 82-85 rpm. Most of the cycling literature I had read indicated that you want to be up around 90 rpm. I did do a cadence workout once a week where I struggled to stay above 90 for a 15-mile ride. I believe that effort did help me, but I also think that because I was working hard on those rides, I was a little bit fitter than I am today.

But as I discovered that I was falling into a biking rut, which I mentioned briefly last month, I decided that one way to break out of it was to vary my workouts — not ride at the same speed under the same conditions all the time. And sure enough, once I started doing that, I also started to pay attention to how fast I was turning the pedals.

I realized that I had let my previous cadence efforts go by the wayside. I started doing some fartlek training again, and made sure that on the fast sections, that I upped my cadence. I don’t have anything to measure it by, and I distrust my efforts to count the number of revolutions in a 10-second section, then multiply by six — I just don’t think that’s accurate, at least when I do it.

Then, when out on a longer weekend ride, I shifted down one gear into something a tidge easier. That also allowed me to increase my cadence, and get used to spinning without necessarily working harder. And I discovered that I like the higher revs. I’m in comfort zone now that must be the result of my earlier cadence workouts. It’s almost certainly closer to 90 that 80 now.

One benefit of increased cadence is that if you have to shift to a harder gear, it’s easier to spin the pedals, because you’ve been training at higher rpm’s anyway. I’ll never be speed demon, but it’s nice to know that when I do have to accelerate, I can do it without having to gasp for breath a mile down the road.

So I think I’ll continue to make cadence a regular part of my biking routine. Not measuring it to any degree of accuracy, but just paying attention to how fast I’m spinning at certain points in my ride. My rides will be easier, my pace will be just as good, if not better, and I’ll be building endurance.

How about you? Does cadence have any role in your riding or training?

Use It Or Lose It

Not riding much lately, and I can really feel it. Not as fast, way less endurance.One of the side effects my kitchen remodeling project is having — besides disrupting our meals and our household routines — is its effect on my cycling. Often, when I would expect to head out for an hour or so, I’ve had to scrap the ride to be at home when the carpenters or painters were in. Although my wife runs her business from our home office, she spends time nearly every day out of the house, making sales calls or running events. My riding has effectively been cut back to Saturdays and Sundays only.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be a big deal, but on Saturday’s ride, I could really feel it. I chose a neighborhood route that would net about 19-20 miles. It’s mostly a flat route, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Whenever I did try to put some effort into my pedaling, nothing happened. On the Veloway, where I push it in a couple of sections, I was halfway through those sections before I realized I wasn’t pushing.

A glance at my bike computer showed my average speed for the route was well below my usual. And to top it all off, a feeling of tiredness washed over me. I couldn’t wait to wrap up the ride and head home.

My poor performance could be ascribed to a variety of causes. My diet lately is terrible, since we’re getting take out for dinner every night. My weight hasn’t suffered as much as I thought it would — I’ve gained three pounds — but the food isn’t doing much to build my reserves. My hours have been thrown off because of the remodeling project, and I’ve been getting about an hour’s less sleep than I should. And finally, as I alluded to a few posts ago, I’m just not riding as much.

The lesson is: Use it or lose it. The falloff in my riding has caused me to lose my certain level of performance. Not that I’m fast or anything — I’m not, as regular readers of this blog know well — but to feel that I’m putting out more effort on gentle hills, and climb them even slower, hurts.

What’s the cure? That’s easy — ride. I got out early for my Sunday morning ride. This was done solo, because I had to be home earlier than the club ride would get me there. It was much hillier than the Saturday ride. And you know what? I attacked the hills with verve. I shifted one gear higher on the flats, and got up out of the saddle to get a good start.

The good news is — even with a period of sub-par performance, getting back to normal is fairly easy to do. I’m looking forward to better riding in the weeks to come.

October Washout

Well, here we are at the end of October, and I have this feeling that my biking efforts are falling short.

October ends in just a few days. I probably won’t get in another ride before the end of the month, so I’ll wind up with a total of 184 miles for the month.


To be fair, there are reasons for my woeful performance this month. First, we’ve had a lot of rain. In fact, we had quite a thunderstorm in the early morning hours today, and I wound up canceling my participation in our club ride. In fact, the whole club ride was canceled, with several people getting in rides as the day wore on and the roads dried out. I went out about 2:30 this afternoon and did a 17-mile ride just on area streets.

The rain has been welcome. It’s eased our drought somewhat, although a PR type for the local water authority reminded everyone this week that a green lawn does not equate to an end to the drought. I’ll take as much rain as we can get, even if it does interfere with my cycling.

Then, there’s a tendency to ride fewer miles than usual. Last week, I was on my own instead of riding with the club, so I cobbled together a nice ride, but it was only 24 miles — well short of the 30 miles plus I expect to do on Sundays.

I notice, looking back at my riding log, that I have ridden 30 miles or more just once this month — and that was the first ride of the month. And that was for exactly 30 miles.

I also find myself riding only on weekends. I got in a Tuesday ride just once. Otherwise, it’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday — and one week, I didn’t even get in a Friday ride. Mileage is generally down — not just on my Sunday rides. Instead of rides in the 20-plus range, I’ve contented myself on a couple of occasions with rides of only 12 or 13 miles.

It’s easy to blame the weather. As I mentioned in my last post, our remodeling project has cut into riding time, too. But I think the main reason I’m riding less is that my body is telling me it wants a rest.

I’m not the greatest a pacing my rides. I typically don’t follow a fast workout with an easy neighborhood ride, or a long ride with a short one. The pace on most of my rides is roughly the same. That can wear down a fella.

So, I guess I’ll chalk October up as a rest month. Next weekend, I’ll try to build in some more miles to my schedule, depending upon how crowded my schedule is. Then we’ll see if it’s been the weather to blame — or myself.