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.

Deep breath…

Deep breath.


Sit up.

Knee hurts.

Left shoulder hurts.

No pain on the clavicle. That’s good.

Sit for a little.

Scoot left, off the trail, take off the helmet, gloves, sunglasses.

Move around experimentally. Ouch. Is the kid okay?


I’ve been under the weather for a week or so – skipping the Tuesday and Thursday night rides – and I really wanted to get out on Sunday. I did shopping in the morning, and then headed out for an easy 20 or so. An easy 20 because I came really close to skipping the riding and working on a storage project.

The easiest 20 starting at my house runs down to Marymoor park, up the Sammamish River Trail to Woodinville and back. It was about 50 degrees, so I went with a light underlayer, jersey, vest, and leg warmers. Yeah, and shorts, socks, shoes, and my full-finger gloves, with arm warmers and hat in my pockets.

I took it easy on the way up, because I didn’t know how I’d feel, and because there was a headwind. Oh, and because Sunday afternoon is a high use time, so the trail is not a place to try to make time.

I got to Woodinville, took a break and stretched (my right knee is still not healed), and turned around back. The tailwind (and I have to mention that there really was a tailwind, as I swear that this trail often manages to have headwinds both ways). I’m spinning along at an easy 16-18 when I can.

About 3 miles south of Woodinville, I come up behind a jogger with a cyclist riding next to her. The cyclist is weaving around a bunch, and I’m waiting for an opportunity to pass, when she sees me and pulls ahead of the runner. I start to ease by when the jogger makes a U-turn directly across the trail right in front of me. I move left and hit the brakes and barely miss her. I ask her to PLEASE look before she cuts across the trail, and ride on.

You may wonder at this point why I didn’t say anything to her to tell her I was there before I started to pass…

My experience is that that is usually a waste of breath. If there is somebody who is moving in a predictable manner on the right side of the lane, I’ve found that it’s safer for me to pass at the far left than to say something, as saying something sometimes cause them to move out of their path. “On your left” has been particularly bad in this respect.

If I come on a group or up to riders that look unpredictable, I might say “passing”, but at that point I’m already down to their speed and I really need them to move for me to pass safely.

So, anyway, I have a bit of a jolt of adrenalin, and I keep riding south, on into Redmond. This part is typically more busy, so I drop down to an honest 15 MPH. As I approach the underpass at NE 90th st, I move left a bit (since it’s dark underneath), I see single image of the front triangle of a small bike, and WHAM, I’m on the ground.

“Are you okay?”

The voice is young, and when I turn and look I guess that she’s about 8.  

“I’m not sure yet”

I look up to see another cyclist on his cell phone talking to the Redmond emergency dispatchers. An adult comes to my side, and I ask “is the kid okay?” The woman says that he has a bloody nose but he looks otherwise uninjured, and tells me that the kid’s mom is on her way.  

The EMTs show up about 7 minutes later. I thank the rider who called and the other people who stopped and move father off to the side.

“Do you know where you are?”

I understand the question – he wants to know if I am oriented – but the needlessly precise part of my mind says “Is this redmond, or is this king county here?”. I look both ways down the trail, and settle on “Redmond”, which makes him happy. I tell him my shoulder hurts, and he’s a bit surprised to find out that my collarbone is not broken (I was pleasantly surprised to find that out myself). They do a quick exam of my other body parts – my gloves look unscathed, as does my helmet.

At this point, I’m starting to shiver – partly because the adrenalin is wearing off, and partly because I’m dressed to ride, not to stand around sweaty in the shade. I look over and see the boy – he’s about 11 years old, lots of blood on his face, but he looks okay. His mom approaches me, introduces herself, and offers to take me to where my car is.

She goes to get in her car, the EMTs send me to the jump seat and put my bike in the back doors. They drive out to 90th, drop me off, and the boy’s mother takes me home. She apologizes, tells me that she tells her son to make sure to look, and I tell her that I have a 13 year old and sometimes they need a more intense experience to internalize that sort of advice.

We get back to my house, she gives me her number and I take the bike and hoist it up to the spot on the wall where it lives with my right arm.

That was a mistake….


So, what’s the damage?

Well, physically, I did a number on my shoulder, but I don’t think I broke anything (going to the Dr this morning to be sure). Left knee is swolen but doesn’t hurt too much. Abrasians on both elbows, both sides, and some rather nice brusing on my butt. I think I have a bit of a bruise on the left side of my head, but I’m not sure because I had a migraine after I got home and it’s hard to tell the two apart.

As for the bike…

Well, the fork is rather convincingly disconnected from the frame. The front brakes are misaligned but I don’t know if anything’s bent or broken. A quick look at the rest of the frame didn’t show anything obvious, but I may have missed something. It’s going to go into the Trek dealer for the full test because you don’t mess with damage in carbon fiber frames.

The front wheel seemed undamaged when I looked at it.

That’s my first crash. I’m happy that it was so minor.


Getting Faster – Training philosophy

When people first start riding, they rarely have any training philosophy other than “just go out and ride”. And initially, that’s enough – the mere act of riding at all puts a fair amount of training stress on your system, and you therefore improve.

But as you start to ride more, you’ll get to the point where your body has adapted to the way that you are training. Or, to put it another way, the workouts that you are doing aren’t putting sufficient stress (or, more specifically, the right kind of stress) on your body, so you get stuck.

At this point, most people try to ride more/harder, which can achieve some gains, but you will rapidly reach the point of diminishing returns.

To make further gains, you need to switch to training that can stress your body in specific ways, so that you can improve in those individual ways. Together, those improvements will make you faster.

Carmichael Field Test Protocol

The Carmichael Field Test can be used to get a decent estimate of your lactate threshold, and then used to set your training ranges. The course consists of two 3 mile time trials with a recovery period between them.

WARNING: There’s a lot of pain to be had here, ‘specially if you do it right. But I found the zones I got from the test to be very useful, and well correlated with my “seat of the pants” estimate of LTH

The steps are as follows:

  1. Find a 3 mile course. Ideally, it will have good pavement, no hills, and no turns or stops. Good luck on that part – my guess is that you will have a bit of trouble doing that. So, if you can avoid big hills and any stops, that will work well. My course is an out and back.
  2. Ideally, you have a HR monitor that can give you an average for a session. If not, you can kinda/sorta approximate with a direct reading one.
  3. Make sure you are well rested.
  4. Don’t eat anything within 2 hours of the test, but have 16 oz of a good sports drink about 45 minutes before the test.
  5. Warm up thoroughly. You need something more than 10-20 minutes – whatever it takes you to get nicely warmed up. For me, that’s about 30 minutes. You also need 2-3 very high intensity efforts of a minute or so to get yourself ready. If you don’t do this, you will find that it takes you half of the first effort to get warmed up.
  6. Begin from a standing start in a reasonable gear.
  7. Don’t start too quickly. You should take about a minute to get up to perhaps 90% effort, and then ramp up slowly after that until you get to max effort
  8. Your cadence should be 90-95RPM, and you should have a steady breathing pace.
  9. Your speed should be one at which you can barely maintain it for the entire time period.
  10. Force the pace

At the end of the 3 miles, collect the time and the average heart rate for the first effort. Recover for 10 minutes at low intensity, and then repeat.

Cool down at the end.

After you’ve done this a few times, you’ll get better at holding a max effort for the whole time.

One you get this, you can set your zones, based on the “average average” of the HR. Include the whole effort, including the part at the beginning.

35 or younger 36 or older
Recovery 50% to 70%
Endurance 91% 86%
Tempo 97% 96%

Okay, so to take myself as an example. My average HR from the field test was 164 BPM. And I’m an old dude, so I use the right column.

My recovery HR is 72-115 BPM.

Endurance sets a limit rather than a range – it’s basically anywhere underneath the limit. So, my limit is 164 * 0.86 = 141. For tempo it’s 164 * 0.96 = 158 BPM. For both of those, you add 4 BPM to get the upper limit of the range (Carmichael say 2-4 BPM, but my experience is that I can hold a 4BPM range fairly easy but it’s a lot harder to keep it within 2BPM). That gives me the following ranges:

Recovery: 72-115 BPM
Endurance: 141-145 BPM
Tempo: 158-162 BPM

I’ll talk about what these are in the future…

Floyd and innocence…

Phatty wrote a post about the recent Floyd Landis verdict, and I thought I’d expand a bit on his theme.

Doping and cycling is a complex subject. I’m not naive enough to think that cyclists don’t dope.

But the question is not whether Floyd doped. The question is whether he can be judged to have doped under the applicable rules. In other words, the question is not one of right or wrong. The question is one of legality.

From my perpective, just as the athletes have rules that they are expected to follow, the officials also have rules that they need to follow.

And, in this case, they didn’t do it. I think that unless the officials follow the rules, they don’t have a case.

Getting faster

Post 1 of several

It’s a pretty common question…

“I’ve been riding for a while now, and I’m the slowest in my group. How do I get faster?”

There’s no simple answer to this question, because getting faster isn’t one thing, it’s a whole lot of things.

 In this series, I’ll write about what those things are.



Popliteus is:

  1. The last european book craze
  2. The right-hand-man of Alexander the Great
  3. The cause of pain and anguish for RiderX

Back in June I was on a ride in Issaquah, on a road that features two things:

1) A “bypass the light” right lane (of 3) that can only go straight at a light

2) A bike lane that stops very soon before that point.

So, I was out riding, and got stuck at that light, with a very impatient car behind me (which, I presume, was occupied by an impatient car, and not possessed in a real-life version of Christine). The light change, I stood up, and go ready to do a bit of a sprint, and then realized that I was about 4 gears higher than I wanted to be. So, in a bit of adolescent bravado that I tell myself I am no longer prone to but, let’s be fair, still shows up now and then, I decide to just go for it.

Which, over the span of the next 15 seconds or so, resulted in two things. First, a fairly pathetic acceleration rate, and second, a strange feeling behind my right knee.

Which I didn’t really think much of – I finished the ride and went home.

A week or so later, the strange feeling had resolved itself, and I was out on a group ride, stood up to sprint up a short hill, and now the leg was hurting a bunch.

Which led to an up and down journey, where I would alternatively take it easy and heal, and then do something stupid, eventually culminating in RAMROD, where the knee and my lack of training perfectly meshed together for it to hurt a lot.

But, then I knew I had to be more serious about healing whatever was wrong, so I did the ice thing, I did the stretching thing, I did the ibuoprofen thing. I went out and rode some steeps before the Summits of Bothel and felt okay, and then SOB was cold and wet and we skipped it.

The only ride I cared about was the mountain populaire (held on Sept 9th), where I hoped to do better than last year. And by “do better”, I mean climb a little faster and not feel so wiped at the end.

So, last Thursday I decided to ride a little harder to make sure I was up to the Sunday ride, and while the knee felt a little weird, it didn’t hurt. And then, near the end of the ride, I decided to chase another rider as he sprinted up a short hill. Which told me what I need to know.

I skipped the populaire and went on a flat 30 miler around the lake Sunday, during which my knee was pretty achy.

Which led me into see a PT on Monday, where I had lots of tests done, the painful area poked and prodded, and learned a new word. I have a problem with my Poplieus, a short muscle on the back of the knee.

 After a couple of weeks of stretching and healing, we’ll start on PT.