Monthly Archives: January 2008

Faster #3 – Ride with the fast guys

or girls…

This is probably the most common suggestion that riders give when asked how to get faster. I know that I got it, and it led me to head out on a lunch ride with some co-workers. At the time, I’d been riding for about a season, and had only done a small amount of riding with other people.

The “slow warm up” consisted of a 20MPH ride on a slight uphill, and then continued through a flat section. I spent the first 20 minutes dropping off the back, chasing, dropping off the back, chasing, and soon after that…

well, I’m sure you all know what happened then.

So, what is the training benefit of something like that? To do that, I’ll correlate it with some of the better approaches to training.

Riding with the fast guys is like doing intervals. Poorly. It can definitely make you faster, but the pain/reward ratio is higher than a lot of other approaches.

Speed Improvement:Low/Medium
Coolness Factor: Nil. Being dropped is not cool
Cost effectiveness: Low, for the amount of pain you endure


Faster #2 – Light Wheels

This time, we’ll talk about whether lighter wheels make you faster.  

This last summer, I upgrade from a set of Bontrager Race X Lite wheels (which run about 1900 grams) to a custom set from OddsAndEndos (which run around 1500 grams). That’s about 400 grams difference, which is about 0.9 lb.

The lighter weight will have two effects.

First, it’s going to give me less weight to climb. With me at about 165 pounds during the season and the bike overall weighing about 20 pounds, that means a drop of a pound will make me 184/185 or about 0.5% faster on climbs. On a 10 minute climb, that would be a savings of about 3 seconds.

Not really worth it for faster climbing (and you can probably guess what I’m going to say about light bikes in a future post)

So, what’s the big deal about lighter wheels? Well, it’s because they have a lighter rotational mass.

Whenever you start from a stop, you have to accelerate the bike and spin up all the rotating components of the bike. Because rotational inertia is proportional to the distance of the weight from the center of rotation, the weight of the rims + tires have the biggest effect. So, if you make them lighter, it takes less effort to do that.

This is especially important if you’re riding in pacelines or groups. Light wheels can reduce the amount of effort it takes to close gaps or grab onto the back of a paceline considerably, and those little efforts tire you out at a lot. If you ride by yourself at more of a constant speed, you probably aren’t doing as much accelerating, but it’s still a nice thing to do.

There are a few downsides of light wheels.

First, the lighter the wheel, the more expensive it is. My lighter wheels only cost about $500, but if you want to, you can easily spend $2000+ on a carbon wheelset.

Second, lightness may mean less durability, especially if you go for the really light stuff.

And finally, lighter wheels are a bit harder to control. Because there is less rotational inertia, it’s harder to hold a constant speed in a paceline, and the lower inertia also means that a given amount of force into the bars generates more lean angle. I notice this most on fast descents – I have to pay much more attention to keep the line that I want.

Speed Improvement: Medium to high (it may allow you to ride with a faster group where you couldn’t before)
Coolness factor: High
Cost effectiveness: Pretty good, if you look for some nice custom wheels.
Bonus benefit: You get to decide what hubs, spokes, colors, etc. if you go the custom route, and custom wheels are often tensioned better than machine-built wheels.

The ultimate food for long rides…

Phatty’s fictional post on how to be popular – fictional because of his delusion of popularity – reminded me of something that happened the last time that I did RSVP.

I was riding with a group of guys that work at the same large software company that I do (yes, *that* large software company).

The second day of RSVP starts in Bellingham, goes north and across the border into Canada, and wends its way north. After a while, it runs into the Fraser river in Fort Langley, where you will catch the Albion ferry to get to the other side. On the way to the ferry, there’s a small market, which Steve (not his real name) had been talking up for hours.

I’m not typically one to eat a lot on long rides, but the Steve’s Rhapsodic descriptions of the effectiveness of the macaroni and cheese as a mid-ride meal swayed me, so I bought a small server and headed outside with the others to eat. Steve decided not only to have the mac & cheese, but also to have a piece of chicken.

After a few minutes, he appeared outside with a large container of macaroni and cheese, a container of water, and a large roast chicken, which he bought “because it was cheaper that way”.

Initially, he was exposed to a considerable amount of teasing, but by the time we got back on our bikes 15 minutes later, the bulk of the chicken had been consumed by the four of us.

And, on that day at least, he was right about the mac and cheese.


Faster #1 – Aero bars

I’ve wanted to write more, but I’ve kept getting involved in big articles, and running out of steam partway through them.

Instead of that, I’m going to write a series of short articles about whether something will make you faster or not.

First up: Aero bars

Drag reduction is important in going faster, and aero bars definitely do it. So, put the bars on your bike, and you’ll go faster…

Well, not so fast (ha ha!). You have to get used to the aero bar position, which requires flexibility that many cyclists lack, and you’ll need to learn to ride on them smoothly. And you have to put up with the derision of many road cyclists.

The reason is simple. Road cyclists are jerks. No, wait, that’s not it. Road cyclists often ride around either in packs or in peletons, and in either case aero bars are dangerous because neither brakes nor direction are as well controlled. Not to mention that you don’t get much benefit from them in a pack, because you don’t spend that much time in the wind.

So, road cyclists may look down on you. Exceptions to this are as follows:

  1. You ride in time trials.
  2. You are a triathlete (all triathletes are considered a bit strange by road cyclists)


Speed improvement: high
Coolness factor: low (most cyclists) high (time trailists)

Nutrition Tips

My triathlete friend Chris wrote a nice post a while back with some nutrition tips. It covers a lot of the same topics that I’ve been meaning to write about, so I’m going to use his post as a starting point.

Carbohydrates and athletes

Philosophically, my nutrition is very close to what Chris advocates – I eat one way for my normal diet, and eat differently around my workouts. As Chris notes, simple carbs are fine during exercise, but should be limited other times. The difference is because of the difference in the body’s needs during the two periods, and the explanation is going to be long and have a few sidetrips, but I’ll get there in the end.

Basically, your body has mechanisms intended to regulate your blood sugar so that it stays in certain ranges. Your brain, muscles, and other systems are constantly pulling carbohydrate out of your blood, and your digestive system is providing carbs back into the blood. Since mammals don’t necessarily eat all the time, there are a couple of systems to smooth things out.

First of all, your liver stores a fair amount of glycogen, and it will release it to the blood as needed. It will also make you hungry. If you are exercising hard, however, you will get appetite suppression, and eventually, you will run out of liver glycogen. At that point, your body goes into a survival mode – it can synthesize enough glycogen to keep your brain going, but not support exercise at the same time.

This is the dreaded “bonk”, and the confusion that you get as part of a bonk is because you don’t have enough sugar in your brain. The amount of time it takes to bonk depends on how hard you’re exercising (higher intensity requires more carbs), your level of fitness (high trained individuals burn fewer carbs at a given intensity), and how full you muscle and liver glycogen tanks are. So, some people can ride 3 hours without bonking, and others might sometimes bonk after 75 minutes. Be especially observant with kids, as they don’t tend to eat as well or as often – my daughter bonked (or came close to it) on a bike ride last summer about 15 miles in because she hadn’t eaten much recently. I always carry a couple of gels in my seat pack for those situations, and that made her happier quickly (though not happy, as it takes days to recover from a bonk).

So, anyway, that’s why having a supply of carbs during exercise is a good idea, but as Chris notes, you don’t need much – perhaps 150-250 cal per hour.

If there is excess blood sugar, it will go to muscle and liver glycogen. If those are full, the liver will convert them to fat and save them for a rainy day. That mechanism has served mammals pretty well historically, but it evolved for the typical mammalian diet, and a situation where food is scarce. It has a few problems with refined carbs.

Or, not really with the refined carbs, but with the stuff that has been refined out. You can eat foods that are high and sugar – such as fruit – but the absorption will be slowed down by the fiber in the food. Similarly, if your meal is a mixture of carbs, protein, and fat, the protein and fat will slow down the absorption of the carbs, and you will get a slow trickle of nutritents, which will keep you satisfied for a longer period of time.

If you eat the refined stuff – sugar, white flour, white rice – you blood sugar goes up pretty fast, and your body will likely have to store some of it in fat, and your blood sugar will go back down.  So, that’s why the whole foods are better from a carb perspective – they keep you full longer. Not to mention their other health benefits.

During exercise, things are different – your liver and muscle glycogen aren’t full, and the small amounts that you should eat during exercise will go to keep those sources full.


It’s important to get protein and carbs very soon after exercise, to refill the liver and muscle glycogen stores and start any needed repair. If you don’t, your body will work to refill your glycogen stores by converting protein to glycogen. It gets this protein from your muscles, which would be bad. I have much less muscle soreness with carbs/protein drinks during and after exercise.

I’ve had great results with Endurox, and there are other recovery drinks out there. Low-fat chocolate milk is pretty good if you tolerate the lactose well.

The other huge advantage of a recovery drink is that it moderates your blood sugar, and you don’t get super-hungry after the workout, and then overeat.


Finally, you need to think about maintaining your sodium stores. If you are eating fairly well, you probably aren’t taking in a lot of sodium, and you can easily burn through all of that sodium after a few hours of continuous exercise. Your sports drink may not provide enough sodium, so you may need to consider supplementation



2007 Summary

Last year I did a quick summary.

And here’s this year’s data:


2090 miles

Elevation Gain:

105,446 ft

Average Speed:

14.7 mph




143 hours

Heart Beats:

969109 beats

That’s about 500 miles shorter than what I rode last year, but given that I haven’t ridden much in the past 8 weeks, that’s not surprising. This doesn’t contain any time on the trainer or the rain bike as I’m too lazy to track anything that doesn’t show up automatically on my polar HRM.

It’s interesting to note that did nearly the identical amount of climbing as last year despite having ridden about 20% fewer miles. I guess that means I rode a lot more hills (and RAMROD had something to do with it).

My plans for next year:

  • Work on my core strength. I backed off on that mid-july and my back has been bothering me.
  • Play some soccer. I like cycling, but I need something that’s weight bearing and team based.
  • Try to get into RAMDOD again
  • Think about doing STP one-day, so I don’t have to remember it as a sucky sucky day
  • Lead a few rides for cascade – I want to do an organized ride up Stevens Pass, and Zoo Hill.

A ride

Today, I went on a ride. The first ride since I got hurt.

I have been on the bike since then. But, it was a very controlled ride, on my rain bike, where I found that my “leave it on the trainer” approach to maintenance didn’t do anything to make the “broken-when-they-made-it” Shimano RSX drivetrain on my 30 lb LeMond Tourmalet work better, and in fact it meant that I broke a rear spoke and my bottom bracket started creaking.

And my body hurt, so after about 45 minutes I limped back in both the mechanical and physical sense.

Redmond cycle replaced the spoke, chain, and did some tuning up, and I did some more PT, so today I went on a real ride. Sure, the bike still weighs a ton and has rims made of lead, but I did somewhere around 25 miles without overworking my body.