My training philosophy

It’s often said that if a person has $500 to spend on getting faster on the bike, that money is best spent not on equipment, but on coaching. A number of my teammates can attest to this.

I’ve worked with two local coaches, both of whom taught me a lot. The actual process of adhering to a predefined training program was a challenge for me, though. Despite my coaches’ flexibility and laid-back approaches, I felt like my training program was too much like a syllabus, with homework assignments, quizzes, and a final exam.

So, here’s what I’ve found works for me: I set meaningful goals, I focus on a two or three key workouts per week, and I just have fun riding my bike. Every once in a while I force myself out for one of those key workouts when I don’t feel like riding, but for the most part, I make sure not to overdraw on my motivation.

I’ll write more on those subjects – meaningful goals, key workouts, and having fun – in future posts. I’ll also expand on motivation and what in particular motivates me this season.

Updating the wheel quiver

As I do every winter, I’m contemplating my equipment selections for the coming season. I sold almost all my race bikes last year and replaced them with new ones, so those are staying put. It’s wheels I’m thinking about this year.

Last year, I had two primary road wheelsets and one MTB wheelset. My road wheels were both equipped with PowerTap SL hubs. One set had Flashpoint FP60 rims – these were used exclusively on my TT bike. The other set had Sun Venus rims – these were my training and racing wheels. The TT wheels had Michelin Pro Lite tires, while the RR wheels had Continental Grand Prix 4000s. I switched to tubeless Hutchinson Fusion 2s at the end of the season, which proved comfortable and dependable.

My MTB wheels were a set of SUNringle’ Black Flags – a nice, light XC wheelset. I rode them primarily with a Kenda Small Block 8 tire up front and a Maxxis Crossmark out back.

Here’s my tentative plan for 2009:

Training/road races
PowerTap Pro+ rear hub, SUNringle’ City Flea front hub
Sun Venus rims (28 hole)
Wheelsmith AE15 ovalized spokes
Hutchinson Fusion 2 tubeless tires

PowerTap Pro+ rear hub, SUNringle’ City Flea front hub
Sun Vista Cruiser tubular rims (28 hole)
Wheelsmith AE15 ovalized spokes
Continental Competition tubular tires (700×22)

Time Trials (same as last season)
PowerTap SL rear hub (with ANT+ firmware upgrade), SUNringle’ City Flea front hub
Flashpoint FP60 rims (24 hole)
Wheelsmith XL15 spokes
Michelin Pro Lite clincher tires (700×23)

MTB training
SUNringle’ Disc O Flea
Kenda Small Block 8 front tire, Maxxis Crossmark rear tire (both 26×2.1″)

MTB racing
SUNringle’ Black Flag wheelset
NoTubes “The Crow” tubeless tires

Birth of a handmade cyclocross bike

“Didn’t you just get a new ‘cross bike?”
“Isn’t the ‘cross season over?”
“How many ‘cross races did you actually do this year?”

Yes, yes, and two. So why am I getting a new bike? Well, when an award-winning builder offers a sweetheart price on a custom bike that’s going to be shown at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, I’m not the sort of fella to say “meh”. Besides, I ride my ‘cross bike a lot, especially in the spring when the roads are too messy for the road bike (unlike Katy). And I’m just a sucker for a pretty bike.

My new bike is being built by Drew Guldalian, owner of Engin Cycles. Drew’s 29er hardtail, which featured a prototype set of Hayes Stroker Gram brakes, won “Best Mountain Bike” at this year’s NAHBS. He posts a web gallery of every frameset he builds. Here’s the first picture of mine.
It may not look much like a bike right now, but if the final product ends up looking something like the bike Drew built for himself, I’ll be a very satisfied customer.

More on winter training

Holy smokes. Thanks to Tom Held’s mention on his Off the Couch blog, my last post got ten times the usual number of views. I promised a follow-up, so here goes.

Let’s start with a little humor. Craft is a manufacturer of some of the nicest cycling apparel money can buy. I especially like their cold-weather base layers. World Cycling Productions is a Minnesota-based company that sells high-end cycling apparel and accessories. They also have a somewhat unique part numbering system with the potential for some awkward results. You may have to enlarge the image in order to appreciate its full hilarity.

So, back to the subject of winter riding. One aspect I haven’t really figured out yet is tires. Cycleicious recently did a post about studded tires. I’ve never had a set, but they sound like they could open up some riding opportunities when the roads are covered in snow and ice. Here in Milwaukee, the main roads get plowed first, followed by the side streets (where we’re more likely to ride). As a result, car traffic often packs the snow down before the plows get a chance to remove it. That ice is pretty much un-ridable with standard tires. If studded tires are as effective as they sound, that would be an awesome triumph of bike technology over winter weather. Alternatively, one of my intrepid coworkers choses to put big, fat downhill tires on his mountain bike. He claims that the big footprint and aggressive lugs allow him to ride pretty much anything offroad. So depending on where you like to ride, studded tires or big, fat knobbies might be the key to more outdoor miles in the winter.

A few other equipment notes:

  • Changing a flat is never fun, but it can be impossible in the cold. Do whatever you can to prevent flats. Wider, knobbier, heavy duty tires and puncture-resistant tubes add weight, but it’s a price worth paying. Tubeless tires might be another solution, but I’m not sure how well their sealant performs in sub-freezing conditions.
  • Road slush has quite an affinity for chains and cables. As it accumulates, shifting performance deteriorates (or disappears) and drivetrain resistance increases. A singlespeed bike is less vulnerable to these effects.
  • Similarly, road slush can render rim brakes almost inoperative. Disc brakes, on the other hand, are pretty impervious.
  • Fenders are a key ingredient to pleasant winter riding. They keep your body relatively clean and dry, and they protect your bike from salty, corrosive slush. Full-coverage fenders should be an absolute requirement on winter group rides.

A lot of cyclists I know choose to cross-country ski in the winter. Personally, I prefer snowshoeing. The equipment is cheaper, there’s far less maintenance, they don’t require groomed trails, there’s almost no learning curve, and the motion (especially in deep snow) is more like pedalling. Both sports offer a great workout and a welcome change of pace from riding. They’re a great alternative to the indoor trainer on days when it’s just not possible to ride outside.

Winter Riding

I’ve read a number of great articles lately on the subject of winter riding. All have been helpful and inspiring. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned over the course of ten or so Wisconsin winters.

Grow some hair. A beard is nature’s balaclava. Granted, most people are unable to grow one due to gender, age, or spousal disapproval. Let me tell you, though, a week or two of growth goes a long way towards keeping your cheeks and chin warm. Leg hair can be a big help, too, creating an insulating layer of warm air between your skin and your tights. Again, social mores and marital harmony may rule this out.

Get a hardshell jacket. For years, I piled on layers of undershirts and jerseys as the temperature dropped. I stayed reasonably warm, but felt a bit sausage-like under the compression of all those layers. This year, I bought a waterproof, windproof jacket (the Showers Pass Elite 2.0). Unlike a winter jersey, it has Velcro cuffs, pit zips, a vented back, and an elastic drawcord in the collar. As a result, I’m able to make mid-ride adjustments so that I’m never too cold or too hot. I can ride comfortably at temperatures between 20 to 40 degrees Farenheit with just my jacket, a short-sleeve jersey, and a long-sleeve base layer.

Don’t sacrifice circulation for insulation. As I mentioned above, I used to over-swaddle myself for winter rides. I’ve since learned that looser is warmer. Loose clothes allow warm, dry air to circulate against your skin, keeping you from getting cold and clammy. This applies to upper-body and lower-body layers, and especially to hands and feet.

Get some good lights. Around here, what little daylight we get during the winter is often lessened by clouds. A good set of blinky lights will make you more visible during the day, and a good set of rechargable lights will enable you to ride all night long (if that’s your kind of thing). I’m a big fan of DiNotte’s LED light systems. I have a 600L on my handlebar, a 200L on my helmet, and a 140R taillight.

Build a great indoor setup. I bet you thought this was some tough-guy article about riding outdoors all year long. Well, riding outside is usually better than riding inside, but not when death by snowplow is a possibility. The secret to endurable indoor riding is a good setup. For that, I recommend a fan, a big TV, lots of race videos and action movies, and a power meter (to keep you honest). Company can also be a big help. My wife’s treadmill is right next to my rollers. Instead of watching TV or a movie from the couch, we’ll head down to the basement and spend our tube time working out. It’s surprising how quickly a two-hour indoor ride can go by with the right distractions and a minimum of fuss.

Down with cyclists!

I serve on the Milwaukee Bicycle Steering Committee (love that name) as a representative of the bicycle industry. In our meeting last week, an interesting conversation broke out with regard to people’s perceptions of cyclists. Initially, I proposed that we should regard anyone on a bike as a “cyclist” regardless of the clothing they wear or the type and value of their bike. However, after some discussion, I changed my position. In the interest of getting more people on bikes, I think it might be better to do away with the whole “cyclist” designation. To me, a “cyclist” is someone for whom riding a bike is a lifestyle – a part of their identity. Other people may occasionally ride, but under that definition, they’re not “cyclists”.

Here’s the problem. This distinction creates an in-or-out situation. Those who are “in” look for ways to distinguish themselves from those who are “out”, employing all the usual techniques we remember from high school – clothes, language, rules, etc. That creates barriers for those who are out. They’ll feel like they have to have the right bike and the right clothes in order to gain acceptance. Becoming a cyclist will require effort and investment to do correctly. Consequently, they’re likely not to bother.

Look at it this way. We don’t consciously regard some people as “drivers” and other people as “non-drivers”. Those of us who do drive don’t make an effort to identify ourselves as drivers. We simply interact with each other knowing that most people drive cars. It’s no big deal. It’s just a part of life.

That’s how it should be with bikes. Just about anyone can ride a bike, most people own a bike, and everyone who does ride could ride more. By removing barriers and distinctions, we would make it easier for people to just hop on and ride. Who knows where they’ll go from there?

Night Rider

I went out tonight for my second ride on my new mountain bike, accompanied by Russell and his buddy, Bubba. Filled with new-bike exuberance, I committed the cardinal sin of night riding – embarking without fully-charged batteries. Consequently, both my handlebar light and my helmet light were running low by mid-ride. That I could have dealt with, but falling and tearing a 3″ hole in my jacket was a downer. Durn trees. Fortunately, Russell and Bubba didn’t seem to mind waiting for a spastic roadie. And riding the Tosa trails with someone who actually knows them was a blast.

UPDATE – I nearly forgot to mention the funniest part of the ride. At one point, while riding the new Harley trails north of Capitol Drive, we came upon a very startled beaver. Under the light of our three headlamps, he frantically scurried across a layer of ice that had formed on the near bank of the Menomonee river. Naturally, the river wasn’t completely frozen over, so he inevitably broke through the ice, to our great amusement and his probable relief.