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.

Cycling vs. Domesticity

Guest poster Don Blount has some time management issues, and they’re causing trouble with his family life.

BlountOnBikingIn the history of the world a good conversation never began with the words: “We need to talk.”

But that is essentially what my wife said to me recently.

“And it is about your biking,” she added.

Uh oh. I wondered if I had gotten grease on the carpet.

“I don’t want you to stop riding,” she said. “But you’re spending a lot of time away from home on weekends riding. It’s not the days you have club rides. It’s the days that you don’t have club rides,” she said. “And quite frankly, when the kids ask ‘Where’s Daddy?’ I’m tired of telling them, ‘He’s on his bike.’ “

And of course she was right.

The problem was not the time I spent on Saturday club rides, it was the time I spent on solo weekend rides.

But some background first.

At home, I have two daughters, ages 7 and 10. And of course, I work a job that requires more than 40 hours a week.

I ride about four days a week and go to the gym twice a week. During the weekday, I workout or ride before work. On weekends, well that’s where the problem occurs.

Club rides begin at 8 a.m. during this time of the year. Those ride starts are often a good 45-minute drive or longer from my home. So on those days I am out of the house about 7 a.m. And depending on the length of the ride, I am often not home until well after 1 p.m. By the time I get all of my gear put away and myself cleaned up and fed, it could be well past 3 or 4 p.m.

But that’s only two, maybe three times a month if it is a month such as this one with five Saturdays. I usually clear those dates with my wife to ensure they do not conflict with family plans.

However, on weekends when there is no club ride, I still get out to ride. And although I leave from home instead of driving to a starting point I have often been getting out later than 7 a.m. Sometimes I do not get out until after 10 a.m. Three or four hours out during that time of the day when I have been away a long time the previous weekend does not create for good parenting or husbanding.

It is something that empty nesters do not have to contend with but a working man with a wife and kids at home does.

Fortunately, it is a correctable problem. I do not have to stop riding or even cut back my time on the bike. I just have to better manage my time. The easiest solution is to get out earlier on the non-club ride days. I am confident I can do that.

And I am confident that if I do not then I will be sat down for another talk.

The Weight Loss Battle

BlountOnBikingGuest blogger Don Blount is serious about dropping some poundage.

WEIGHT_04-15-13One hundred ninety-six pounds (89 kilograms). That is what the scale showed as my weight on April 15, the morning I went in to see my doctor for a troublesome right shoulder. I mentioned previously that my doctor is also a cyclist. For him, the longer a ride is and the more climbing it has, the better. My doctor, who is in his mid-50s, weighs 136 pounds (62 kilos). I kid him that he is the size of a seventh-grade boy.

And each time I see him we discuss my riding, climbing and eventually my weight. And I always pledge to lose some. And I do. I have lost as much as five pounds. The only problem is I usually to gain it back.

I watch what I eat. I eat no red meat, only poultry and fish. And I don’t snack between meals. But it seemed that no matter how hard I tried I could not lose a significant amount of weight or keep it off. So I was kind of resigned to remaining in that low-to-mid 190 pound (86 kilo) range.

That is until that doctor’s visit. For some reason I left vowing to lose weight and to keep it off. Maybe it was because I was tired of struggling up hills. Maybe it was because I was tired of my little doctor chiding me. I don’t really know.

During the first two weeks I lost four pounds. I was pleased and prepared for the long, hard slog.

Then a friend, a former work colleague, announced that he had lost 74 pounds (33.5 kilos) over two years. When I asked him how he said: “Just what you used to always tell me, diet and exercise. There are no shortcuts.”

And as a throwaway line he mentioned that he also used myfitnesspal, a calorie-counting app. He suggested I check it out.

And I did.

WEIGHT_07-31-13One hundred seventy-eight pounds (81 kilos). That is what my scale showed on July 31. A weight loss thus far of 18 pounds (8.2 kilos).

What did I do differently? In short, I used the calorie-counting app to see exactly what I was eating. Quite frankly, I had no idea of the calorie content of some of the foods I ate. And although I worked out regularly, I often ate more calories than I burned. (Let me know if you want more detail and I will send it to you.)

And although these calorie counts are only estimates, they served as a good guideline for me to follow what I ate. For me, it became a daily goal – Win the day. To burn more calories than I consumed. It later became a guideline. Eat 2,000-2,500 calories a day and be active.

I made sure to consistently go to the gym and to consistently ride my bike.

From April 15 to July 31 I rode 1,802 miles (2,900 kilometers). That is 460 miles (740 kilometers) more than I rode during that same period last year.

I rode 505 miles (813 kilometers) in May, 543 miles (874 kilometers) in June and more than 573 miles (922 kilometers) in July.

Weighing less is better both in everyday life and for biking. I now look forward to rides I would not have considered just a year ago. (And don’t tell the hills but I no longer consider them evil, at least most of them.)

And although I am not yet at my final goal I am already thinking of how to stay at this smaller size.

As my doctor says: What comes off, stays off.


Guest poster Don Blount has been musing about the names cyclists call each other.

BlountOnBikingIt seems that my bike club is full of nicknames.

They are so numerous that I cannot remember many, but here are a few:

You could start with Fearless Frank, FF for short. He rides down hill like a man without fear. His epitaph should be: He never touched his brakes.

Then there is Ex Trez, the former club treasurer. This guy is 70 years old but rides like he is 40 years younger.

CB or Cherry Boy, a retired farmer, whose family grew or grows cherries.

Leadbutt for obvious reasons, I think.

Lonerider, who often puts in megamiles on his own. He also disappears from club rides as he goes off to do his own thing.

Grasshoppa – I am not sure about this one.

The Good Dr. Carl, not to be confused with the Evil Dr. Carl.

The Anti-Gravity Girls, two strong women riders whose name says it all about their climbing abilities.

Rocket. I have been told that he was fairly fast back in the day. He claims that he still is, even at 206 pounds.

And Capt. Hawk, sometimes shortened to just Hawk. He is a former Navy and airlines pilot. He said he was given his nickname during his Naval days when while flying a mission looking for enemy ships that a crewmember remarked that he looked like a hawk looking for prey.

That nickname stuck. He said the only people who called him by his given name “David” were his wife, always a sign of trouble, and people who did not know him real well.

That’s the thing about these nicknames — everyone who has one, likes it.

One of the funniest conversations I have heard  while out on a group ride happened when we met someone who followed our Yahoo group conversation.

One rider proudly introduced himself: “I’m Cherry boy,” he said. “Hi, I’m Leadbutt,” said the other. I was just flummoxed.

And if you are wondering, I am occasionally referred to as “The Editor. That is after all, what I do in my day job, but that has not really stuck — nor am I hankering for a nickname that would stick.

Hawk said that to have a nickname, you have to do something really memorable or boneheaded. I usually manage to avoid both (knock on wood).

What about your club? Is it full of nicknames too?

Keep It Simple, Newbie!

Guest poster Don Blount has a new biker in the family, and he’s learned that sometimes, “Keep it simple” is the best tip he can give.

BlountOnBikingMy sister-in-law Gina, who lives in Ohio, recently took up road bike riding. She bought a Giant Avail 1, a slick aluminum frame bike designed for women.

She has already managed to get out for a few solo rides and was planning to join in on a group ride soon.

We have talked and texted a lot about biking since.

Our conversations have reminded me a lot of when I purchased my bike in August 2008. I wanted to know anything and everything I could about cycling. And yet, it seemed that I repeatedly received the same answer from more experienced riders: “Just ride and enjoy it.”

And although Gina and I have discussed quite a few things I now find myself saying to her: “Just ride and enjoy it.”

I see now that it is easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of cycling whether it be cycling cadence, breathing, what to carry in your jersey pockets or saddlebag. Particularly when you are as inquisitive as Gina, and I guess I would fall into that category as well. But many things about cycling you learn in time.

The most important thing is to just enjoy your time on the bike no matter what type of riding you do.

There are plenty of things that will be learned in time.

Don Blount's sister-inlaw, Gina, practices fixing a flat tire. The supervisor at right was no help but would not move out of the photo.

Don Blount’s sister-inlaw, Gina, practices fixing a flat tire. The supervisor at right was no help but would not move out of the photo.

I did share a few things with her during her recent visit to Stockton. I told her to carry a spare tube, an inflator whether it be a C02 cartridge or pump (I carry both). And I also recommended she to learn how to change a flat on the road. To that end I had her practice by changing the tube on my bike’s rear wheel.

Finally, I suggested she wipe down and inspect her tires after each ride and to wipe down the chain too. By inspecting the tires you can see the wear and remove any objects embedded in the tires before they have a chance to penetrate the tube and cause a flat. Wiping down the chain removes dirt and grime the chain picks up while on the road. Removing it helps the drivetrain run more smoothly and helps reduce wear on those parts.

For that matter, our flat-fixing lesson came in handy. Less than a week later as Gina prepared to go out for a ride, she discovered that she had a flat front tire. “Let’s just say it took a little longer than when I did it with you,” she said in a text. Unfortunately, by the time she had the tire repaired it was too dark to ride.

She said the lesson she learned was to check the bike well before it is time to ride.

Dem Bones — Saris Bones, That Is

Guest poster Don Blount reviews a popular bike rack.

BlountOnBikingI recently traded in a 1988 Toyota Camry for a 2010 Mini Cooper.

The Camry had seen better days as it had more than 239,000 miles on it.

When I am asked why I selected this new car I respond one of two ways: 1) It is my mid-life crisis car or 2) It fits my bike rack. Bike_On_Car2  Click images to embiggen.

And in truth when I looked at the vehicle I took along a tape measure to check whether the width of the bumper would accommodate my Saris Bones 2 trunk mount bike rack.

I purchased this bike rack three years ago, after I joined a bike club. A number of the club rides began in the foothills, a good 40-minute drive from my home.

Quite frankly, I tired of taking both wheels off of my bike and then loading both the frame and the bike into the car.

I did not want to deal with a trunk hitch nor did I want to spend a ton of money on a rack. And when I began looking for a bike rack I discovered the Saris. Saris2-2

It was the look that initially caught my attention. I liked the arc shape of the injected molded, arms and how the bike is carried away from the car where it won’t scratch the paint. It also holds the bikes on two different levels so they do not bump into each other, damaging their finish.       Bike_Away_From_Car2

Although it is categorized as a trunk-mounted bike rack, the rack actually rests on the vehicle’s bumper. Bumper2

It took me some effort to set the rack up the first few times but I eventually was able to get it ready to go in about 10-15 minutes.

The rack has a 70-pound limit – 35 pounds per bike. I found that it holds my bike securely and the anti-sway bar prevents it from swinging while the car is in motion.

The rack’s rubberized feet and coated hooks are gentle enough to not mar the car’s paint.

I added to the rack a Yakima trunk mount security strap. The strap has some sort of cable in it for reinforcement. One end of the strap loops around the bike rack while the other end goes in the trunk.

The space between at the top of the hatch of the new vehicle was too narrow to secure the rack’s original hook; I had to replace those with hatch hugger straps. These go inside of the hatch instead of hook onto the edge of the hatch. Hatch_Huggers2-2

Folds_For_Storage2The Saris Bones 2 retails for about $140 but it can be purchased on sale for about $125, maybe even less at a good bargain. I paid $117 for mine and $17 for the strap in 2010. Prices have not moved a whole lot since then. The company also says the rack carries a lifetime warranty. It also folds for easy storage.

Quality Time on the Bike

Guest poster Don Blount has been working on improving his biking.

BlountOnBiking Time on the bike.

Ask any serious cyclist how to improve and that will likely be the essence of the answer you will receive.

It makes sense, as to improve at anything you have to spend time doing it.

However, I would qualify that statement by saying that to improve as a cyclist you have to spend quality time on the bike.

I worked hard at that last year in my attempt to become a better overall rider and to become a better climber

Now I doubt I will ever be a climber others will look up to, neither my body type nor skill set is made for climbing. (That is a topic for another post.) However, given those limiters, I want to become as proficient as possible.

Although it is early in the year and I only have a bit over 500 miles through mid-February, I am in better shape now than I have been at this point during the past five years I have been riding.

I would attribute that to riding more purposefully both this year and last.

I am not regimentally structured but I make sure to work in a variety of rides – fartlek (random change of pace), intervals, long rides, tempo rides, hills and recovery rides. I even scheduled a late February metric century, something that I would have never considered in the past. But I realize that organized rides are good landmarks and motivators for me as I am less likely to lag through my training when I have a ride scheduled.

In retrospect, I do not think I was solely riding junk miles but I was not working in a manner to help myself improve. And when I saw that if I hurt more during my solo rides that I would hurt less on group rides or in the hills, then follow through became easy.

Does this mean that a rider should go out and beat him or herself up at every opportunity? Of course not. It means look at your goals and then set up your training so that you can reach them. Whether you want to be able to ride 30-flat miles (48 kilometers) in two hours or do100 miles (160 kilometers) with lots of climbing.

As you get stronger, you will enjoy hearing  someone say to you: “Wow, you are sure riding strong today.”


Large Scale Shops, Small Scale Shops

Guest poster Don Blount wonders which one you prefer?

On a recent Sunday I took my bike to a local store of Performance Bike, the national bicycle company, for a derailleur adjustment.

It is one of two bike shops in my area that I use.

The other, the Bicycle Café, is a small mom and pop shop in nearby Lodi, Calif. I actually prefer this shop, although I use Performance nearly as much.

It’s the difference between a large scale national brand and a small scale local retailer.

It is fair to say Performance serves a general market. The staff there is friendly and helpful. The bike mechanics regularly share knowledge and since my bike is a Performance-brand Scattante CFR Comp I get priority when I come in. (Free adjustments for life!)

The products I purchase are warrantied so that if I do not like them or they do not perform as advertised, they are returnable – no questions asked.

But the staff turns over quickly and sometimes I have to hunt to find a familiar face.

The three-year-old Bicycle Café serves a more specialized market. When I first walked in, the bikes there had names that were totally foreign to me like Campagnolo, Orbea, Time and Guru. That is not too surprising because I was still relatively new to biking.

But this is a place where they make you feel at home. I know the owners, met their kids and see them at a variety of cycling-related functions.

The staff, which has also had some turnover, is helpful and friendly and has never let me know how little I know about biking and how much they do. They too aid me in my search for products and knowledge. Service is impeccable including pickup and drop off of my bike for service. They set up group rides and are actively involved in the cycling community. And the owner is knowledgeable, an encyclopedia of biking information and skills – he builds frames among other things. And I trust him without question when it comes to handling my bike. And I can go there and hang out to talk biking just for the sake of talking about biking.

One of the few things that can be offsetting here is price. Some of their prices are out of my price range. But there aren’t many places I can go where they would allow me to hold a $7,000 bike frame. And it is located a bit out of my usual circle of travel, so it has to be a destination trip.

But I enjoy going to the Bicycle Café when I can, what I thought was a chichi place is quite warm and comfortable. Performance can’t be the same thing — too big, too much volume. But I am still tied to both places by service and bikes. And I will continue to use both as it works for me.