Tri-curious…

Last Wednesday, I read Fatty’s plan for racing Leadville without, in his words, having trained for it, and wrote a comment on how he seemed to revel in doing things he wasn’t really prepared for.

And I realized that because of my plans (or lack thereof) for this summer, I’ve been pretty normal. Just yesterday I passed up the chance to ride 80 miles in the mountains in 95 degree heat.

So, I was thinking that, and came across a reference to the Lake Sammamish sprint triathlon. Hmm… The cycling part seems pretty quaint – it’s 12 miles on east lake sam, which has one “hill” on it (“hill” means that beginning cyclists would call it that but serious cyclists wouldn’t). We did a hard 25-30 Thursday night, so I think I can do 12 miles on the bike. I’ve been playing indoor soccer once a week and playing some pickup games at lunch, so that seemed do-able (though running is not my favorite activity). Which leads the swimming.

Back when I was 9, I was on swim team, and we swam a lot, usually starting with 1000 yards as a warmup. Though I only swam for a few years, I did it long enough to develop a reasonable amount of efficiency. I haven’t swam much in the last – well, let’s just say it’s been quite a while – mostly because I wear contacts, don’t like the hassle of taking them out, and couldn’t tell if anybody else was in the lane if I did.

But there are people who swim with contacts in, and there are some fairly big goggles out there, so Friday morning I took my swimsuit to the Pro club, bought some new goggles, and hit the pool. 15 minutes of swimming told me a few things – first, I could still swim breaststroke pretty well, second, the goggles could be tight enough not to leak (though they may not be tight enough for flip turns), and third, my freestyle breathing needs some work.

So I signed up for the race.

Today I headed back to the pool, and swam somewhere around 700 yards, with me timing myself on some 100 yard segments. I can do 100 freestyle in about 2 minutes (world record 47.05), and 100 breaststroke in about 2:30 to 2:40 (world record 58.91). The breaststroke time is taking is pretty easy without pushing off at the walls, so I should be able to swim the 400 yards in something under 10 minutes. 10 minutes of swimming seemed pretty trivial today, so I think I’m ready there, though I’ll hit the pool Wednesday morning to get a little more practice.

Today, I picked up some triathlon shorts, bought some “body glide” (chamois butt’r doesn’t do well in water), and bought some running shoes. My time expectations are:

Swim: < 10 minutes

Bike: 18 mph average would give me 40 minutes, which seems like a nice floor. If my legs are good (and they may be tired from the swim), 20 MPH seems pretty easy, which would bump the time down to 36 minutes. So, somewhere in that range.

Run: I have no clue on what I can do here. My guess is that my lungs can write a check that my legs can’t cash, ‘specially after quick ride on the bike, but I don’t think I’ll spend more than 30 minutes on the run, and am expecting to be somewhere around 24 minutes.

So, take those times and add some time for transition, and my prediction is 75 minutes overall.


Group ride denizens

  • AeroBee (aero bars on group ride)
  • The cat (“hang in there baby”)
  • Airfoil (aka “Joe”)
  • Do (domestique)
  • The blocker (gets in your way)
  • Kit (“team kit”)
  • The poacher (?)
  • The passer (passes at strange places)
  • John Doe (who is that guy at the back of the paceline)
  • LSP (long slow puller)
  • Roller Killer (too fast on rollers)
  • Swervo (Swair-vo). Constant oscillation
  • Launcher (works up in paceline, then rides off the front)
  • Coaster (hard/coast/hard/coast)
  • Sir Speedy (speeds up 5mph on the front of the paceline)
  •  

 


Seattle Century 2008

Skipping Flying Wheels because of a prior commitment (missing your wife’s graduation for her doctorate is not really an option), and missing RAMROD because of injuries and a severe lack of training dedication, I needed to find a century to do this year. I came across the Seattle Century, which looked interesting because it had a 50 mile route that looked good for the wife and offspring, who had expressed interest in such a ride.

It must be a great ride, because it’s “Seattle’s premier century ride with gorgeous 50 and 100 mile route options and unrivalled amenities.” At least, that’s what the website says…

There are a limited number of ways of stringing together long rides on the eastside, so I was curious what choices they had made. The detailed map isn’t very, lacking things like useful landmarks. Though I am excited about going to “Lake Samish State Park”, and the chance to ride through Bellvue. But, that’s all okay because the actual route isn’t the route we rode on.

The elevation profile is an absolute work of fiction. There is a 200 foot climb on the Sammamish river trail somewhere between Bothel and Marymoor, Novelty Hill Road climbs less than 200 feet (rather than close to 500), etc.

But, it fits into our schedule, supposedly has good food, so we pay the $60 each and sign up for it.

Sunday dawns damply, and as we travel over the Albert D. Rosselini floating bridge, it gets considerably damper. We get to Magnuson, get our packets, I put on my arm and leg warmers, and wish that I’d brought my vest.

We head out on the Burke on our trip to Marymoor. My goal is to spin (105+) and keep my heart rate below 120 or so to save myself for the rest of the ride. I end up riding at the front pretty much the whole way to Marymoor, but it’s my pace so I’m happy. My feet are wet, I’m cold, and I’m wondering why the ride booklet had us riding on Woodinville-Redmond road instead of the trail. We took the trail.

We get to Marymoor, and they send us south at the T (instead of heading towards the Tennis courts), and then left along the shoulder into the main entrance. “?” We head east to try to find the food stop (I skipped the Bothel one), and find it near the Velodrome. I’d like to get water, but they’re refilling their water jugs with a decidedly-not-food-grade hose (why do rides keep making this mistake?), so I skip the water. I also pass over the bins of fried chicken. “?”

I head out the east side of Marymoor, and we head south. I figure that we’ll climb up 187th, and there are flaggers there to guide us. At the type my riding group typically heads north, but this ride has us turning right, and more flaggers to help us turn left on 196th. Interesting – we never ride on this, I wonder why. For about 10 seconds.

Pave (“paveh”)

Or, more specifically, the semi-famous Red Brick Road. Yes, it’s not real cobblestone, but it’s a 1.3 mile test of fastener tightness, and I don’t understand the point of putting it on this kind of ride. I survive that, get to Avondale, and head up Novelty. My legs feel decent, and at the top we need to turn left on Trilogy to head north (at least they avoided the Novelty descent at the east end…). I know this because I read it, but the Dan henry marking is only about 40 feet back from the intersection, so if you don’t know that you see the mark and then need to get across two lanes to get into the left turn lane.

A brief digression to rant about road markings (aka Dan Henrys).

With the exception of the year at RSVP when the chalk markings (they weren’t allowed to paint that year) washed away, all the rides I’ve been on around here have had good markings. Good markings are:

  1. Easy to see
  2. Unambiguous
  3. Predictable
  4. Comforting

Practically, this means that you can see the markings easily, they give you enough warning before a turn, and you know you’re on the right track afterwards. Extra points for putting “don’t go here” marks if you miss a turn and reassurance ones in situations where it’s not clear.

The markings here fall down on all of those, which means it’s often hard at times to know if you’re on track. I came across at least 5 cases people were stopped trying to figure out the markings and I had to use my “local knowledge” to help them. Markings are ride 101.

Okay, so we get into Duvall (after I stop to help somebody get the tire back on the rim) and climb up Cherry Hill to the next stop. Nice mini-stop, and they have sandwich makings. I had a nice salty piece of ham and grabbed a few cookies. I’ve done this loop in the other direction, and this one is not quite as steep but still not too nice. We go up, we go down, I help point people in the right direction, and we head south on 202. 30 seconds after I get on the road a paceline goes by 3 MPH faster than I am riding. Score!

I hop on the back, and we roll all the way to carnation and beyond. I don’t get to the front to help out, but not for lack of trying. There’s a nice 5MPH headwind so the 20 or so we’re going is a lot harder than usual. We get to the next rest stop, and pull in. The theme foods are pie and ice cream. Not what I want right now – what I want is a nice piece of fried chicken, but I have to settle for some stale pretzels, and yet another bottle of accelerade (mountain berry).

This is pretty typical of rides – you’ll see something that sounds good at one point and then it doesn’t show up later. You’ll be four hours into a really hot ride, and the rest stop offers… fruit, and cookies.

I follow a large group out, and I end up paceline with a tandem and another single to fall city. I feel sorry for the tandem because they’re clearly working hard, so we take turns jumping in front to give them a bit of break. I wonder why we’re heading down 203, but traffic isn’t too bad and we get to fall city – only to find that the left out of the stop was supposed to be a straight. We spend time looking at the map, and end up taking Preston-fall city road towards Preston. After 15 minutes we come across other riders, and roll into Preston. Still no chicken – I fill one bottle with accelerade and my second with water as I’m feeling a little bit dehydrated. I’ve been taking a salt tablet at every stop, and so far it’s working great.  One of the ride people tells us that there’s a change in the route from the booklet – one of the route changes didn’t make it into the booklet.

We roll out of Preston on a road that heads West, parallel to I-90. Until the road turns under I-90, and the Dan Henrys point onto the onramp. Bicycles are allowed on interstates in Washington where there are no alternate routes, and I ride the shoulder on a nice long downhill into Issaquah. It’s okay, except that there is a fair bit of junk on the road and there are those big rumble strips, so you have to pay a lot of attention. Not a place where you want to mess up at 30MPH.

Right as I pull off the exit, I run into two other riders, and I ride a bit faster than them through Issaquah. The Dan Henrys point up a totally gratuitous climb (tip to course setters – climbs that you don’t have to take are find at 30 miles. They aren’t at 70+ miles, on a general ride). I opt to skip it, and head north to get to Newport way. Stuck at a left two guys pull up. One I’ve seen off and on, and the other is a guy on a hybrid with hand-made fenders. The guy on the hybrid and I complain about the routing and the markings as we ride up Newport. The guy I’m riding with looks familiar, and I notice he’s riding a fixie with a hand-made fender on it, and is using platform pedals. I also find out that he works in Seattle, doesn’t own a car, and commutes from Issaquah. Can you figure out who it was?

Along the way, we pass painted out markings leading to the left.

Right at the base of Zoo hill.

Not sure how they got as far as marking a course up the zoo…

We head up Newport towards Eastgate. On the way we meet the 50-mile riders as the come across the bridge over I-90, which means they rode up the trail above the school. Through the switchbacks. The ones that are really tight, and often wet.

Really, really bad decision. The ride under the freeway and up the route we took is so much better. I found out from my wife later that multiple people had fallen in the switchbacks.

Now, we need to get to the Mercer Island trail entrance on Lake Washington Blvd. There are three ways I’d send people.

You can descend all the way on Newport to Factoria way, turn left, and take the bike trail to coal creek. You then have a bit of traffic to deal with at the interchange, so it’s not my choice for 50 mile riders.

You can descend partway down Newport, then work your way through neighborhoods to get over to SE 36th. This is a nice route, but has the most turns and it’s possible to get lost.

Or, you can take the bike route down to SE38th, and take it all the way to Factoria.

With this ride, I’d probably take the last one. It’s the simplest, and it feels the most direct.

Instead, the riders are routed all the way to the end of Newport and then right on Factoria way, taking the riders through heavy traffic. Another bad choice.

We head out onto Mercer Island. The routing is a bit strange, and I end up missing the food stop. I ride over to the other side, and stop at Leschi grocer to get some water.

Finally, we head north towards the last climb up to the arboretum. This is a steep climb, but it’s usually not that busy. But, instead of heading up Lake WA Blvd, we head north on 36th, which then means we have to ride the really steep Madison. In traffic. Another bad choice.

The ride back to Sand Point is uneventful, except for waiting for the bridge at Montlake.

I finish in 5:55:50 with 91.9 miles on my polar. I lost a few miles in carnation, but I don’t think it was 8 miles, so the ride may be a bit short. I don’t care as the 100 mile mark isn’t really my goal.

The ride shows 3250 feet of climbing, which puts it pretty much on par with Flying Wheels. My average is 15.5, which is okay given my current state of fitness and riding alone for most of it. Polar claims 3798 calories. My legs are tired, but I don’t feel bad at all.

Dinner is pretty good. Nice rolls, grilled asparagus, salad, and a choice of grilled chicken *** or salmon. And beer if you want it. We leave with a goodie bag with beer and some other stuff (the offspring gets root beer).

So, it’s not a ride I can recommend. Poor markings, lots of bad routing choices.

When I get home I take a quick trip online to check, and find out that I was indeed riding with local cycling notable Kent Peterson, co-creator of the Mountain Populaire I’ve written about. Kent, it was a pleasure to ride with you, and your blog offers a position of honor next to Fatty’s.


Faster #9 – Recovery Nutrition…

You may have heard mention of limiting the amount of food that you take in while riding to 200-250 cal/hour (or in that range – it varies based on who you are and how hard you are riding). Because that’s considerably less than the amount you are expending (in many cases – if you are riding slowly and are quite fit, you may be able to take in enough food to meet your needs), even if you are getting carbs/protein from food during the ride, you will be typically finish your ride with depleted glycogen stores and low blood sugar.

Right after exercise, your body is better at absorbing and using carbohydrates and protein – that’s the whole purpose of recovery nutrition. This degrades over time, and after perhaps 2 hours or so you’re getting back to your normal absorption rate.

If you don’t get adequate recovery carbs/protein, your body will tear down your muscle tissue to get carbs to replenish your muscle glycogen. This will make your muscles hurt more and reduce any strength gains you might have made.

While you exercise, you also get appetite suppression. This lasts for a litle while after you exercise (about 30 minutes for me), and if you can get some recovery food, you can get your blood sugar up and avoid that “eat everything in sight” syndrome. If you are riding to lose weight, that can be important.

Now, the matter of what to eat. All the research I’ve read says that real food is just as good as recovery drinks. My experience is that recovery drinks have some real advantages. First, they are quick to prepare and consistent from time to time. Second, because they are liquid, they are absorbed faster than solid food (you don’t have to wait for them to break down). The obvious disadvantage is price, and the fact that you have to remember to bring them with you.

I’ve tried doing recovery with plain food. It may be that I’m not getting the right food, or it may be that my timing is too late (I sometimes drive home after a ride and don’t get home until at least 30 minutes after I’m done), or it may be something else, but I would often feel like I was missing something. Since starting on Endurox, I don’t get that any more, and it seems to have a significant impact both on how sore my legs are and how much energy I have later in the day.

Whether you need to worry about recovery depends on how you ride. Very generally, if you are a trained rider riding at moderate rates and eating along the way, you may be getting the majority of your energy from fat and the food you take in may be enough to keep your blood sugar up. Or, if you are only riding for an hour it’s probably not an issue. On the other hand, if you are riding 2 hours or more, don’t get many calories during your ride, or are riding at a speed that burns more carbs, or if you are training multiple days in a row, recovery nutrition can make a significant difference.

Food for fitness (Carmichael) is a decent reference on food and training in general.


7 Hills 2008

The 7 Hills of Kirkland marks the unofficial real start of the riding season for me. It takes me over hills that are close to my house that I’ve ridden a lot, and has a decent potential for pain. Last year I did the Metric Century (58 miles (yes, I know…)) and felt pretty strong, and that was the plan this year.

Until I cracked my rib.

I went out last Thursday and did some steep hills, and the pain was bearable but I was only at about 70% on breathing before it hurt. I decided to do the 7 Hills variant (well, actually, I decided to do the first few hills, knowing that it was easy to head back if I didn’t feel up to it). Usually, I start with a group of friends and ride with them on the first few hills (or, more rarely, for the whole ride), mostly because they carry a lot more mileage than I do, but this year I decided to get dropped at the starting line and rode by myself, leaving at around 7:20.

I chanced riding in a jersey, shorts, arm & leg warmers despite the temp in the low 50s, because of the amount of climbing. I climbed fairly slowly up Market, and up Juanita, flew down Holmes Pt Drive, and came to the first real hill, Seminary (#3). Seminary has a steep section at the beginning, and then it levels off and people speed up, generally too fast. I rode to keep my heartrate down below my lactate threshold for most of the hill, only speeding up for the last part of the ride. I passed a bunch of people who hit it too hard at the bottom.

A screaming descent down Juanita drive to the North took me onto the trail, and to the base of Norway (one of the 3 hardest hills). I rode the first half conservatively, and then the second half a bit harder, talking with a rider who was doing the century. We crested, descended, and then traversed across to the first food stop. That involves hill #4, which I guess technically is a hill but seems pretty minor compared to all the others. A quick stop for a bagel, a nature break, and a salt pill, and I was on my way.

We work our way over to the top of Brickyard, and then descended down. I was able to hold a full aero position (something I couldn’t do on Thursday), and was going fast enough to not worry about cars needing to pass me. We worked our way around, and got to Winery.

Winery is reckoned by many to be the hardest hill. I think Seminary is harder because it doesn’t let you rest much, while winery is more rolling. I took the first pitch conservatively, and then took the second pitch harder as there were some people catching me. I recovered on the last pitch, listening to the strains of the 7 hills bagpiper as I reached the top of the hill (the bagpiper is a guy who donates his time (7 hills is a fundraising ride) every year, and if you’re riding the short course, you know that that worst is over.

I skipped the food stop, avoided some people turning left (please don’t ride through turns with two tandems side by side, it tends to make it hard for other riders), and then dropped down the hill onto Willows road. This is one of the “ride fast home” sections that my evening group often takes, and it’s good for a paceline. To triathletes took off faster than I wanted to go, so I just rode a comfortable pace (probably 20ish – I deliberately had my computer on altitude so I wouldn’t ride too fast). After 5 minutes or so, another rider eased by and he pulled the rest of the way, and we rode to the base of Old Redmond road for the last time. He took off (better legs than me), and I rode the steep pitch at a moderate pace, and then rode all out to the top. That put me on the descent on 116th (another one of my favorites)(where I passed the guy I worked with on Willows), the descent on Northup, and then the pull back to Kirkland.

I decided to air things out back to Kirkland, and was at a steady (and painful) 22-23 on the flats. About half a mile from the finish, I slowed down, and the faster guy passed me (he had chased and caught up), and we rode to the finish.

Which was pretty much deserted – probably 20 riders total. Most of the stronger riders were on the metric or the century, so I drank my Endurox, had some strawberry shortcake, and bought a $5 T-shirt before riding home.

Total time was 2:28, with an average speed of 15.4MPH. Not bad for me and my current training state.

And I finished feeling good, so it was a nice enjoyable ride.


Faster #8 – Cadence

Armstrong had a fast cadence, and he won a millon Tours de France, so we should all ride at a high cadence, right?

If you ask 10 cyclists about the importance of cadence, you’ll get 3 different answers and 7 blank looks. Cadence is confusing, but the basic fact is that riding at a higher cadence is faster, except when it isn’t.

High Cadence is Faster

So, you went out on that hilly century to ride with some friends. You felt good and fast on the hills, but by mile 50 your legs were burning, and you could barely make it up the later hills.

Power is the product of force – how hard you push on the pedals – and cadence – how fast your turn the pedals. Drop down a gear or two, push 20% easier and spin 20% faster, and you get up the hill at the same speed.

But you save your legs. If you’ve ever weightlifted, you know that a 20% difference in weight can make a huge difference in how many repetitions you can complete. The same effect is at work on your bike – spin instead of mashing, and you can climb 7 hills before your legs give out instead of 5.

It’s also true that riding at a higher cadence helps you develop a better pedal stroke, which recruits more muscles and uses them over a longer period of rotation, lessening the peak force for a given amount of power.

And it helps you accelerate faster when you need it.

Higher Cadence is Slower

When you spin, you put more load on your heart and less on your muscles. All things being equal, for a given amount of power, spinning faster will take more aerobic capacity, so you’ll be more out of breath on that climb.

And, if you spin all the time, you can develop a great aerobic system, but you don’t stress your leg muscles, and they don’t get stronger.

A Proper Balance

For a given individual in a specific state of training and a particular ride, there’s a “fastest cadence”. It’s the one where you use up your leg strength right as you finish the race. Ths could easily be faster than your current cadence, and it’s therefore worthwhile spending some time working on cadence.

My Cadence Story

When I got serious at cycling a few years ago, my average cadence was in the 80s, and I decided to work on getting better at it. By just trying to spin faster, I got myself up to a top cadence of around 100RPM, but I wasn’t very comfortable of it.

Then when I did the Carmichael training a couple of years ago, they specified specific cadence drills to do. I did them that summer, and over the past few seasons. My max on-bike cadence is now up into the mid 140s, and I can high 120+ pretty easily. My average is a little bit higher, but not a ton higher, partly because I spend a lot of time on low-cadence muscle tension work on climbs.

The Drill

On a flat or slight uphill with medium resistance, slowly increase your cadence over a period of 30 seconds until you hit your maximum comfortable cadence. Hold that for 30 seconds, and then slow down over the next 30 seconds. Slow down a bit if you start to bounce. Do 3-4 repetitions of this.  

Initially, two things will happen. First of all, you’re going to feel a bit out of control. That’s because your muscles aren’t used to spinning that fast and you need to “rewire” your brain to make them work at that speed. Second, you are going to get really out of breath because you aren’t very efficient at that speed yet.

Once that starts to feel a little more natural, increase the time at which you hold the top cadence to 60 seconds. Do this once or perhaps twice a week, but you don’t really need to overdo it.

I also find it useful to do one-legged pedalling drills, where you clip out one side and do a fixed number of revs (20-30 is a decent place to start) on one foot, then that same number on both feet, and then the other foot, etc. Do this one the flat and in a quiet area, or do it on a trainer, as they feel really weird.

I can hit the low 120s fairly easily now on the bike, 130 with some effort, and I saw 140 with a slight downhill a while back (though I was bouncing a bit at that speed). On the recumbant exercise bike at the club where I work out I’ve hit 160 for short periods.


The unbearable suckiness of trainers

During the winter, you have few choices:

  • You can focus your training on keeping the couch from floating away, and watch much of your fitness vanish.
  • You can ride in the cold, rain, wind, and snow
  • You can do another sport
  • Or you can ride inside

Riding inside is the choice of many, and it’s been a common choice for me, with my bike mounted on a Kurt Kinetic trainer. Some people say that riding on a trainer is tiring. Some people say it’s tedious. I think that is unfair. Riding on a trainer is not tiring, not tedious, but an experience that sucks the soul right out of you. Even with music, a book, or a DVD, 40 minutes is about all I can take. Even WiiSports did not lessen the suckitude. 

Plus, there’s the hassle of getting the bike on the trainer, tightening the tension adjustment, and putting up with the noise. The one thing that I hate is the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

Another indoor option is rollers. Rollers are pricier than trainers for a given quality level (or, perhaps, cheap rollers suck more than cheap trainers), have a reputation for being hard to ride and easy to ride off of, and being difficult to stand or sprint on successfully.

So, I thought about rollers, but for $350 plus $150 bucks for the resistance unit seems a lot considering the limitations. That’s for the Kreitler rollers, and yes, there are cheaper ones, but word is that they don’t work very well.

Last year at the Seattle bike expo, we saw a few riders demoing a new style of suspended rollers from InsideRide. And this year, I got around to ordering a set of their E-Motion rollers. Despite the price, which is in the $800 range, but just how much is too much to get your soul back?

First up was a bit of delayed gratification, as there was a 6-week backlog for the rollers. And then, due to their being shipped on FedEx (who are congenitally unable to understand the realities of home delivery) they got a nice tour on of the Puget Sound area on a truck for a few days before my generous wife picked them up for me.

Here’s what you get when you open the box.

Their unique features are:

  • Inline skate wheel bumpers on the ends of the front roller (keep you from riding off the sides)
  • Roller bars in front of and in back of the rear rollers (keep you from riding off the front on back)
  • Rollers suspended in the main frame on rubber bungee cords

Perhaps that “keep you from” should really be “reduce the incidence of…”

You adjust the distance between the front and back rollers to fit on your bike (using the included wrench), and you’re set. They include a good set of instructions on how you should start, which worked well for me, except for the part of not clipping in. I did a couple of sessions in tennis shoes on top of my SPD-SLs, and thought that I had enough to worry about already without keeping my feet on the pedals.

As of now, I’ve probably ridden 3 hours on the rollers, It’s definitely a lot more like riding outside – the bike moves around a lot, and you need to pay more attention. It feels really weird at first, but as the instructions note, that goes away after a while. And while it is possible to stand up in a normal way, it feels really weird to have the bike oscillate forwards and backwards when you sit back down. You still have the “endless 2% hill” feeling because of the constant resistance – I had no idea how much I look forward to small undulations – but overall it’s pretty good. And quiet enough that I can keep the TV volume down, a big benefit since the guest room is underneath our bedroom and I sometimes like to ride early on the weekends.

My tip – it’s a lot easier to start if you have a horizontal surface on which to put your hand. You can start with slowly supporting yourself, and then slowly lift your hand. I found that easier than a doorway, though there are times when you’d like to have support on both sides.

So, what are the cons? Here’s my list:

  • Price. Unless you’re riding a bike in the $3K range, they’re probably more than you want to spend.
  • Resistance range. The resistance unit goes up really high, but even on zero, there’s a fair bit of resistance. You can reduce that by removing the belt to the resistance unit – which I did accidentally one time – but it would be nice if zero really meant zero. And I’d like the lowest to be a little lower, because riding at low intensities – such as a recovery ride – are going to have you riding fairly slowly, which gives you less stability.
  • The resistance adjustment is possible to hit with your cleats, and you may end up riding on 1 when you really want to be riding on 0.
  • The rollers are big and non-foldable. However, the back roller bumper is perfectly positioned to hold the unit upright when you lean it against a wall, and I happen to have a perfect slot in which to store them – as soon as I clean all the junk out of it.
  • There is no first aid kit. I have some scratches on my left forearm from falling into a shelf, and bruise on my right shoulder from a tip over. Both happened when I was stopping – no issues while I was riding.

Over time, I hope to be able to work up to this, without too much of this.

Ff you can afford them, they’re great. If you want another opinion, go read Fatty’s review.


Faster #7 – Heart Rate Monitors

Lots of the cool guys have heart rate monitors. Should you get one?

I’m going to assume that you are doing a set of structured workouts.

So, if you’re doing that, you need to set your training zones. You can do that by taking a percentage that you determine use 220-age or one of the other formulas, and then train based on that.

But there are a few problems with that. First of all, none of the formulas to determine max hr are of much use, as there are wide variances of maximum heart rate across the population.

But even if that formula does work for you, it’s a poor way to set ranges.

Basically, one of your goals is to push your anaerobic threshold to a higher percentage of your maximum heart rate. To do this, you may need to work out near your anaerobic threshold.

The problem is that that threshold is a moving target. A range set based on a maximum will likely be too high when you are untrained, and too low when you are well trained.

The right way to set ranges is to use a field test, like the Carmichael one. That will gve you better ranges, and a good way to track your progress over time.

The other big benefit of heart rate monitors is to get you to slow down. Most riders spend too much time working out right around their anaerobic threshold, which is bad.

Summary

Heart rate monitors are a great tool. Unfortunately, they can be a bit pricey, especially the ones that can upload your data to a computer.

 


Faster #6 – Cadence drills

To travel at a given speed, you need to put out a given amount of power. You can either do that by pedalling slowly and putting a lot of pressure on the pedals, or by pedalling faster and putting less pressure on the pedals.

Since the more pressure you put on the pedals, the faster your legs get tired, it’s preferable to pedal faster. Within reason.

First of all, there is a limit to how fast you can comfortably pedal. And second, spinning generally stresses your aerobic system more, so you can run out of breath more easily.

So high cadence isn’t somewhere you always want to go, but it’s a useful tool to have in your arsenal. And if you can ride smoothly at a high cadence, you will be able to ride smoothly at a lower cadence, which is a good thing.

You may have come across suggestions to aim for riding at 90 RPM. I’m going to make a different suggestion. If you are willing to work at it now and then, you can expand your RPM range all the way up to 120 RPM, and beyond.

To make good progress, you need to do focused drills that will work on your speed. Here’s the one that I like to do:

  1. Start at a comfortable cadence and a middle amount of pressure
  2. Over 30 seconds, gradually increase your cadence until you reach the point where your stroke becomes jerky or you start bouncing
  3. Back off the cadence slightly until you are smooth again
  4. Continue for 30 seconds
  5. Slow back down to your original cadence

Repeat this a couple of times, and you’re done for the day. The next time you get back to it, extend step 4 to a minute, and then ultimately aim for 2 minutes. You are retraining your neuromusclar system, and it will take a bit of time to do so, but over time you’ll smooth out again. Initially you will be a bit inefficient at this, so you might get out of breath. You can deal with this by going into a slightly easier gear, and over time it will get easier.

On normal rides, spend some time at a higher-than-normal cadence, but don’t try to push up your whole limits.

You don’t need a computer that supports cadence to do this, but it does help. With doing these now and then, I pushed my top cadence from 105 RPM up to 120 RPM, and on a ride last year I held 145 RPM for about a minute while pulling at the front of a paceline on a slightly downhill.

Rating: Good stuff. Will make you faster, but most importantly, will make you smoother and impress you’re riding buddies.

 


Faster #5 – Specificity

Initially, you just start riding. Perhaps you’re doing it for fitness, or to lose weight, or just for recreation. And then, at some point, you decide that you want to get a bit more serious, so you start riding a bit faster, riding a bit farther.

And then you plateau. You’re riding harder, but not getting any better.

The problem is that you’re riding “sorta hard”.

A bit of digression into training theory…

The purpose of training is to impose training stress on your body. The stress triggers your body to get better during recovery. But when you’re riding sorta hard, you aren’t riding hard enough to put a real training stress on your body. That’s why you plateau.

The way to get beyond this is to add specificity into your training. Rather than trying to work on all aspects of your riding – on all the energy systems that go into being fast – you work on them one at the time.

Or, in other words, your training is *specific* rather than being general. You might be doing:

  • Intervals, to stress your anaerobic system hard
  • Long steady rides to build up your aerobic system
  • Tempo work to push up your aerobic threshold
  • Muscle tension to improve your strength

And, you’ll be sure that you’re recovered so that you can get the full benefit from the hard workouts.

The disadvantage? Well, you have to have focus, and you have to work to fit the workout you want into group rides (if you go on group rides)

Speed Improvement: High
Coolness Factor: Low (this isn’t very sexy stuff)
Cost effectiveness: Epic. At most, you need a book, but you can get by with what you read on the internets.

Verdict: One of the best ways to improve your speed, if you can stick to it.