I’m baaaack! On the road again

I’m baaack! On the road again.

I know it’s the wrong song, but it my head I sound like Aerosmith singing “Back in the Saddle”.

60 degrees in early March in Chicago, weekend — I’m riding! Get that bike out of the basement; dust off my helmet and the riding glasses; and let’s see whether all this riding on rollers is going to pay off.

First of all, no amount of indoor training can truly prepare you for the road. No matter how fit and strong you think you are, the road is hard. When you’re going 20+ miles per hour and spinning at 80+ RPM in your largest chainring, it is likely not the months of off-season training paying off, it’s the wind in your back. Unfortunately, you only realize this when you turn around and that wind hits you in the face.

Second, it still is early March in Chicago. Going out in shorts and a short sleeved jersey with just a t-shirt underneath may not have been the best idea. When the sun is behind clouds and that wind is in your face, it is bloody cold.

And lastly, I missed my kung-fu movies and definitely did not miss suburban drivers and unchained dogs.

But nothing can take away the joy of actually being outside, on the road, watching the empty brown fields and bare trees fly by. And, all joking aside, the off-season training really does pay off. Even on this first ride of the year, you feel stronger and better prepared than you would have been otherwise. You can actually enjoy the ride as opposed to struggling through it and cursing all those rich winter-time foods.

So here’s to a great start of another riding season.



What are rollers. Exercise takes over

Is it too late to talk about Christmas presents?

My Christmas present, the one I got myself, has kept me so busy, I’ve hardly had time for anything else in the evenings. No, I’m not talking about the new Call of Duty game (even the Black Ops have more or less fallen by the way side) or the American Idol DVD box set (as if I would watch it). What I got for myself was a set of Travel Trac Inertial Rollers.

If you’ve never seen or heard of rollers, they are like a treadmill for your bike. Unlike your traditional bike trainers, which lock in the rear wheel and keep the bike stationary and supported, the rollers don’t secure your bike. The back wheel goes in between the 2 rear rollers, the front wheel — on top of the front roller. That’s it. It is up to you to keep yourself upright and balanced. Since the rollers use centrifugal force to keep you upright, the faster you pedal, the easier it is to keep your balance. Your speed and / or your cadence is beginning to drop, you begin to drop, too.

Most rollers don’t provide any resistance, but this specific set has adjustable inertial resistance, which comes pretty close to giving you the feel of riding on a real road.

Another advantage of rollers is that they force you to maintain proper form while riding: perfectly smooth, even and balanced. One rough move and you can fly off the side, which is something that I did a few times at the beginning. The first few times on the rollers were a nerve-wracking experience: holding onto the handlebars for dear life, afraid to so much as shift gears lest I lose my balance. But now, after using them regularly for almost 2 moths, I feel like I’ve got it: balance and control are not a problem anymore.

And the results are amazing. I feel stronger and better on a bike than ever. Can’t wait to see how this will translate into performance on the open road.


You get what you pay for

Store brand cough medicine vs. Robitussin.  Store brand cereal vs. Cheerios.  Emerson vs. Sony.  You don’t have to pay a lot to get a lot.  Pay less and get a product that’s just as good as its higher priced competitor.  In a lot of cases that works.  $3 for 8 bars of Irish Spring soap or $11 for a bar of L’Occitane?  I’m going for Irish Spring.

But when it comes to cycling, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” holds a lot of truth.

When I got my road bike, it came with a set of Continental tires.  Not knowing much about it, I thought them pretty good, until I started getting one punctured tube after another.  Accepting that as an inherit danger of road cycling, I had gotten very good at changing tubes by the road side and at spending money on tubes and CO2 cartridges.  Not a big deal except that instead of focusing on enjoying my rides I was focusing on spotting and avoiding sharp road debris.  All great until one day I went through 3 tubes during one 50-mile ride.  So instead of buying more tubes, I went shopping for new tires.

Today I ride on a set of Hutchinson Fusion 3 tires.  They are not cheap, retailing in some cases for $60 per tire, especially when compared to the original Continentals, which sell for about $15 each.  But they are well worth it.  Being Kevlar reinforced, these tires are puncture resistant and they have given me many flat-free and worry-free miles.

So while the old saying may not always apply when comparing brands of cereal, in cycling I hold it to be true.  Every little bit more that you spend will make your rides a little bit more pleasant.

Of course, now I have probably jinxed myself and will get a flat on my next ride.

Disclaimer: unless you’re a pro racer, I still think that 1500-dollar Zipp discs (that’s $1500 for each wheel) are nothing more than a ridiculous indulgence, more so when you only ride on your local bike path.

If your heart not in it, you not working hard enough

The other day I was talking with a coworker about riding and he said that he likes to push himself and go as fast as he can. To which I replied, but how do you know that that is all you can do?

Recently I started riding with a heart monitor and it was an eye opener. Your speed alone doesn’t tell you anything about how hard you’re working. If you’re going 20+ miles per hour but your heart rate is in 130s and you are not channeling Lance and you don’t have a contract with a pro-cycling team, then chances are that you are either going downhill or have a good wind at your back or both. In either case, there’s plenty of room for you to go even faster.

It’s in those moments (climbing into headwind) when you struggle to stay above 14 miles per hour and your heart rate is breaking 170 that you’re really working your behind off.

Otherwise, you’re in that casual fat-burning mode. There’s nothing more with that, but you can always be doing more, going harder.

Give heart rate monitor a try. And if you don’t have one, there are other ways to gauge your heart exertion. If you gasping for breath, can’t speak more than 1 – 2 words at a time and your heart is thumping wildly in your heart, your heart rate is somewhere around your peak.

How to train for a century

I’m thinking about attempting a century (100-mile ride) later this summer. Selene Yeager, writing for the Bicycling magazine, has some useful advice on how to prepare to ride one of those.

Out of the 3 types of rides that Selene is describing, the Speed Ride is the hardest one for me. Talk about fitting an intense workout in 1 hour. The first one I tried literally kicked my butt. My glutes were twitching when I got off the bike.

The jury is still out on whether I will ride a century after all. But I think Selene’s training program will be good to follow.

How I was rescued by Performance Bicycle team

Just want to say many thanks to the wonderful folks at the Performance Bicycle store in Schaumburg, IL for rescuing my behind or rather my tire yesterday.

I was out on the road, about 10 miles from my home when I suddenly felt that something was wrong with my back wheel.  I found a pretty good sized bubble in the back tire.  Never having experienced that before, I didn’t know what caused it.  I changed the tube, but even with a new tube, the bubble was there, smaller but still there.

Realizing that I was less than 1 mile away from the Performance Bike store, I rode down there.  Luckily, I had 20 bucks on me.  I explained the situation to Bob in the service center.  He had the exact same tire in stock, which I believe lists for about 30 bucks.  They applied whatever discounts they could find, even replaced the tire for me and got me out of the door all for $18.

Again, many thanks for saving me a 10 mile walk of shame of home.

March – First Day of Spring

What a weird weather! Where did all this snow come from? And where has it all gone?

After a week of wonderfully warm weather, when every pore of my body was itching to ride, and which instead I spent running around at work, I woke up on Saturday to two inches of snow — this winter’s last hoorah. Life is not fair.

Sunday. Sunday morning clearly couldn’t decide what to do next. Dump more snow? Send some rain? Just stay gloomy? Or, maybe, just maybe, let the sun come out and warm things up. I could hardly believe my luck when the sun came out and immediately started melting all that white stuff. By 1 PM I was out on the road.

To loosely translated the great Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, “the cold and the sun — a beautiful day”. It was cold enough to still have to wear some Under Armour and long pants, yet warm enough to unzip my jacket and enjoy the ride. But, holly Batman!, what a wind.

Lessons learned and reconfirmed.

If it is very windy, it is better to start riding against the wind, at least for me. Then you will enjoy the return part of the ride so much better. But if you do that, push yourself to ride “there”, to your turning point, longer. Don’t think that if you’re going for a 2-hour ride, you’ll ride 1 hour there and 1 hour back. It took me 38 minutes to get “there” and only 20 minutes to get back.

And if you happen to start off riding with the wind, don’t get carried away. Keep in mind that the return trip is going to be so much harder.

When there’s an event at Sears Arena, stay the hell away from the area. The normally deserted streets around the arena turn into a zoo filled with cars waiting to turn into the parking lot, hapless area residents who are used to cutting through there and are cut in the mayhem of event goers and blocked streets, and police cruisers calmly watching over it all. A lone bicycle trying to navigate it all causes much confusion and uncertainty for drivers and parking lot attendants.

If you’re like me and practice the stop-and-go policy (stopping or slowing down at a red light, making sure it’s safe to proceed and crossing on red), it may be better to stop completely and wait for the light to turn green, if there’s a police cruiser sitting at the same light. I’m not sure what he would have done were I to cross on red, but I decided that it wasn’t worth finding out.

It seems that Hoffman Estates has installed some awfully sensitive sensors on traffic lights at some obscure streets. On these little streets with little traffic, when in a car, I end up waiting quite a bit for the light to turn green. On a bicycle, however, the lights were turning green almost as soon as I’d cross the white line. Not sure what was going on, but I appreciated not having to stop for too long.

And lastly, a note to self, get some new tape for the handlebar. You look bad with loose tape flapping in the wind.

My first ride of 2010

A new issue of the Bicycling magazine is here.  Great!  Just bloody great!  There’s a happy smiling male model atop an expensive road bike on the cover.  He’s wearing shorts and a short sleeved jersey.  While in Chicago it’s 20 degrees outside.  (That’s 6 below zero, for you in the rest of the world that’s outside of the United States.  )  And I haven’t been on a bike in 3 months.  Bloody hell!  Talk about teasing and temptation.

To add to the injury, last night, at a local bar, I bump into an IT Director from one of my clients and somehow our conversation turns to cycling.  The client turns out to be an avid cyclist and we talk about different rides and routes we like to take.  The good thing is I may have found a riding partner.  The bad thing — my whole body itches for the feel of spandex and a bike under me.

So today, on Saturday, the sun is shining bright, it’s about 30 degrees outside and almost no wind.  I’m going out for a ride!

But not much of a ride.  Come on, I was idle for 3 months.  There are still patches of snow and ice on the ground, so a mountain bike is the obvious choice.  A nice under layer of Under Armour clothing, padded bike pants, gloves and a tuque — I’m ready for my first ride of 2010.

I’m not gonna talk about the particulars of cold air penetrating to the depth of my being and beyond.  I won’t discuss the exhilaration of plowing through the snow and mud and being the first to leave tire tracks through dirt fields.  It was all great.  What matter is that I have my first set of miles logged for 2010.  And they were not ridden in my basement.  So eat that, Mr. IT Director on his way to China right now.  While you’re up there stuck inside of a plane, I was down here tearing through the snow, ice and mud.

Here’s to many more rides of 2010.

Kindness of strangers

This happened to me just this morning on my morning ride.  Somewhere on my way back, about 5 miles from home, I ran over some sharp rocks or something.  I only noticed that something was amiss when the bike started feeling weird.  At the next light I stopped to check and, sure enough, the back tire was soft.  Without a spare tube, I had no choice but to start walking.

Walking in road cycling shoes with clips is not the best experience.  You sound like a horse, every step resounding with unbending plastic sole of the shoes and clips clanking on the asphalt.

One group of riders went by, asked if I had a tube with me and, learning that I didn’t, just rode on.  A police cruiser, not sure from what village, came by.  This one even had a bike rack on the back of the car and a bike of his own on it.  I thought that, seeing a guy walking his bike along the road, he would stop and offer to help, but the cruiser just went on.  Same for a few vehicles that came by, even a couple of pickups carrying bikes in the back.

All of a sudden, after about a mile, just about when I gave up on the idea of being rescued by a passer-by, a man rode up on a bike of his own.  He asked if I had a flat and offered to help.  He had a spare tube and all the tools needed.  In a few minutes he had me all set and on my way.

Thank you for helping me out.  And thank you for restoring my faith in the kindness of strangers.

On the importance of proper tire pressure

You’ve probably heard it said that inflating your tires to the tire pressure recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle will improve your gas mileage and save you money on gas. If you are like me, you probably thought that while it kind of made sense, the difference in gas mileage is likely to be not noticeable. Well, I’ve become a convert, thanks to the friendly folk at the Bike Garage in East Dundee.

Like a lot of the stories, it all began with me.

When I first picked up my road bike, I thought that the tires on it were kind of soft. I didn’t think much of that, thinking that they were inflated to the proper pressure by the folks at Performance Bicycle and was riding like that for a while. One day, getting ready for a ride, I thought that the front tire was softer than usual, so I decided to pump it up a bit. I opened the valve and, seeing a push valve for the first time in my life and not having a proper pump for it, very quickly ended up letting all of the air out and no pump that would work with it.

I drove with the bike in the car to Bike Garage and asked to inflate my tire. The guy at the garage told me to use his hand pump that was standing in the corner. I fiddled with it for a bit and had to swallow my pride and admit complete ignorance. He showed me what to do and said that I should inflate the tire to 110 – 120 PSI. 110?! I didn’t believe him. I spent a few minutes looking at my tire and, sure enough, it said “max pressure 120 PSI”.

Wow! What a difference that made. The tire became rock hard, which, of course, made the ride less soft: I started to feel every bump on the road. But it also made the ride so much faster. Without exerting any extra effort, it added about 5 mph to my speed. Put a little more effort in and I really started moving.

So, next time you hear someone talk about proper tire pressure, believe them — it does make a huge difference.