Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Long Distance Cycling book review

long distance cycling Seattle to Portland road biking century
My daughter and me on the STP
A year ago, a normal cycling distance for me was less than 20 miles.  Now my average ride is 50 miles and some go over 100 miles.  This change started when I decided to ride the Seattle to Portland (STP) with my daughter.  Now I had never ridden 100 miles in a day before, much less 100 miles two days in a row!  I knew I needed to train so that I could enjoy the ride, so the first step I took was to go to my local bike shop, Oakdale Bike Shop, and connect with their group rides.  These rides helped out a great deal with my fitness by pushing me faster and farther than I had been riding in the past.  However, at a typical distance of 30 mile the rides were still shorter than what I needed to give me the confidence I wanted to take to Seattle.

Some of my fellow group riders had done long distance rides and were able to give me some input.  But a lot of the advice amounted to "just get out and ride and you will be fine!"  My problem was then and is now that I don't have the time to go 200-300 miles a week every week and I also hoped that it wouldn't take that kind of riding just to be able to enjoy the STP!

So I went online and found several sites that gave tips on prepping for century rides or even for the STP itself.  Most of these sites fell into the category of the "quick list of things" you can do.  You know, like "10 tips from an STP veteran", which gave some helpful tips to prepare and ride the STP but didn't answer many of my questions on how to train, what to eat, and most importantly, how to make sure I would still be able to sit on my bike saddle on day two of the ride! I needed more in depth coverage of what it takes to train for and ride a century ride.

long distance cycling training book
I found this kind of help in the book "The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling" by Edmund Burke and Ed Pavelka.  In the book they cover topics in more detail than on any web site. It starts with discussions of how to build a training plan targeted to the type of ride you plan to do.  A good discussion of training intensity and heart rate zones leads to an understanding that you are better off with rides of varying intensities to build your base endurance, climbing power and sprinting ability.  It is important that not every ride should be ridden at full intensity.  Your endurance is better built by riding in heart rate zones 1 and 2.  The authors go on to discuss over-training and how it can set you back in your preparations.  A cursory review of gear is included that is helpful in getting to know what is out there and what it is called so you can at least converse with other cyclists about their favorite gear.

They go on from there to talk about different types of long distance rides and give specific suggestions on training plans, gear, clothing, food and mental preparations.  I found this section useful to read as it helped me prepare for the rides with greater confidence and not feel that I had to take everything with me!

The remainder of the book covers details about various topics. These include a section on Danger Zones, which are the things that can end your ride.  Also covered are saddle sores, general body issues and dealing with the elements.  Following the suggestions included in these sections allowed me to complete the 200 miles of the STP with no saddle soreness and feeling well enough to ride the bike from the finish line over to my daughter's house. My Selle SMP Lite 209 saddle certainly helped out with that accomplishment!

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to take on a long distance event.  Following the information in the book will make your ride much more enjoyable.

Two other books that you might consider on the topic of cycling training are:"Cycling Past 50 (Ageless Athlete)" by Joe Friel and "Fast after Fifty" also by Joe Friel.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

We speak of cycling computers, iPhones and Strava surfing

Training on a road bike involves a lot of time on the bike, but if it's not on Strava then it didn't happen! Right?!?  So it would seem in today's connected road when friends have uploaded the ride to Strava before I even get home from it!  You can either dismiss this as a fetish, or join in the game yourself and get a cycling computer so you too can upload to Strava.  Most people use Garmin cycling computers to do this.  But, to get the decent Garmin 010-01369-00 Edge 520 Bundle Bike GPS with its bundled heart rate sensor and speed and cadence sensor will set you back $400.  If you have the money this is a great way to go.  If, on the other hand your wallet is still hurting from the purchase of the new bike, pedals, shoes, clothing, and other accessories you may want to look at some cheaper alternatives.

One alternative is to use your smart phone.  Applications are available for both iPhone and Android phones that will track your rides.  iPhone has Strava, Cyclemeter, MapMyRide and RideWithGPS while Android has Strava, MapMyRide and Runtastic Road Bike.  I have not used all of these apps so you will need to go elsewhere for reviews of these apps.  This approach has great merit, after all, you have this wonderful computer in your smart phone with a big display and you are carrying it with you anyway since none of us can go anywhere without our phones anymore!  There are two main problems.  If you want to see what you are doing while you are the ride you have to mount the phone on your handlebars in harms way and you have to run the display which along with the GPS will run the battery down quite quickly. Two to three hours is not uncommon for a max battery life with this approach.  Okay if you are going out for a short spin, but unworkable if you are riding a century.

Cateye Strada smart cycling computer
Cateye Strada Smart
There is another alternative.  That is to use a display that communicates by Bluetooth with your phone.  The phone will also communicate by Bluetooth with the heart rate sensor and speed and cadence sensor.  You still run an app on the phone, but the display is off and the phone is safely tucked in your jersey pocket or saddle bag.  I have tried two such devices out on my bike: The Cateye Strada Smart is running $176 as a bundle with  heart rate sensor and speed and cadence sensor on Amazon as I write this post.  The Wahoo RFLKT+ runs $129 without sensors on Amazon right now.  The Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor  and Wahoo Blue SC Speed & Cadence Sensor  can be found at costs of about $60 each.

So which of the two is better?  I performed an unintentionally long test on the Cateye earlier this year.  I really like it.... except that it was very buggy to use.  Most of the issues were related to the Cateye Cycling app that you need to use with the display unit.  This is why I tested for so long, since it was software related and I was working with customer service at Cateye I was hoping that they could get it fixed and they did fix most of the problems.  But one issue remained for me that finally killed the deal.  On every ride over 26 miles the display would lose its connection to the phone and I would have to pull out the phone, open the app and re-sync the Strada Smart with the phone.  This was frustrating so I gave up and moved on.
Wahoo RFLKT+

Wahoo RFLKT+ and RFLKT offer the same type of display for you smart phone technology that the Cateye Strada Smart does, but they are open source and work with more than one phone app.  The good part about that is that if one app doesn't do it for you then another might work better.  The bad part about that is the lack of consistency from one app to the next.  Strava works well, but offers very limited screens for the displays and has no plans to offer screen customization.  The Wahoo app offer great customization of the screens and works well except for a problem when on rides longer than 70 miles.  The app will stop and you will have to restart a new ride to continue.  RideWithGPS had the best compromise.  Limited customization of the screens, reliable operations and turn by turn navigation.

The device I have is the RFLT+ which includes the ability to pair with ANT+ sensors (on iOS devices only) and has temperature and barometric altitude readings.  It pairs pretty easily and consistently with the Bluetooth sensors and the phone.  The display is easily readable and the mount works well.  There are three mounting options that come with the unit.  I am using the infront of bar flyout mount and it has worked well for me.  Just make sure it is locked in place before taking off.  Some people have had it fall off because they didn't properly latch it.  The only real long term issue is the battery is a less common C2450 button battery and the life can be 2 months or less.  Replacing the battery is not something done on the fly either, there are four tiny screws requiring a jewelers phillips head screwdriver and a rubber o-ring to deal with.  Fortunately, if the battery goes dead while you are on the ride the data is not lost as it is still tracked by your phone even though you can't see it on the display.

If your phone battery dies then you lose it all!  Now, I have used this to track several century rides.  To do so I use a tubular backup battery for the phone with a short Amazon basics cable to connect the battery to the phone.  I can get close to the 100 miles without it, but not quite all the way there.  With the battery I can end the century with plenty of juice left.  The nice thing about the battery is that it is light, automatically controls the charging to conserve itself, and has LED flashlight builtin.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Selle SMP Lite 209 saddle makes the miles go by!

On road bikes the saddle makes a huge difference in how you feel during and after a long ride.  A bad seat can wear you out and leave you in misery.  Bike manufacturers tend to equip their bikes with cheap saddles for the bike shop showroom floor.  These uncomfortable saddles save them money but leave us riders wanting something better!  How do you choose a new saddle other than to keep buying saddles and riding them until you find one that works?  Well, if you have a great local bike shop like Oakdale Bike Shop they will have some quality saddles like Selle SMP saddles and they will have some demo saddles that you can try out before you buy!

Before trying the Sella SMP saddles I read quite a few saddle reviews and came to like the concept behind the SMP design.  It is unique in the full length cut out and the turned down beak with a raised rear.  The sides of the seat may look uncomfortable, but Selle SMP has put a great deal of study in to matching the seat to the load carrying parts of your backside.  What are these load carrying parts your ask?  The actual part of the pelvis that we sit on is the ischiopubic ramus.  Steve Hogg has a great discussion about this in his bike fitting blog on SMP saddles so I won't go into it any further here.  The big takeaway from Steve's post is that while you can get a better idea of which seat will be the right width by measuring your 'sitbone' separation width or even waist size the final determination will be made by riding on the saddle.

I reviewed his advice and went into the LBS wanting to try a Glider seat.  It seemed to be the best match based on the waist measurement chart by SMP. It seemed to work alright and was a definite improvement over the OEM seat that came with my Giant Defy Advanced One.  Still, I thought that it could be better and these seats are expensive so I tried another seat, the Lite 209.  The shape of the seat worked better for me and I thought the padding worked will for me.  As a result I ended up choosing the Selle SMP Lite 209 for my saddle.  I have done several century rides since making the choice, including the Seattle to Portland ride, and have no regrets or sore rear ends afterwards!

It did take some effort to get it adjusted correctly.  The SMP seats have a unique profile shape with a down sloping beak and a dip in the middle on the two separate rails.  The rear of the seat kicks up higher than a normal seat as well.  This shape means that you cannot go by the traditional seat adjustment advice of setting the seat level to the ground.  This would result in the front actually angling up and not be very comfortable.  My current adjustment has a 10 mm drop from the back of the seat to the front of the seat as shown in the picture.  Getting the drop right can be a challenge with the typical toothed saddle clamp.  I found it a challenge to fine tune the angle, either ending up with it too high or too low in the front.  I intend to do some slight tuning of the drop in the coming weeks and will be trying out what I hope will solve this problem.  I will be cutting out a shim from an aluminum beer can to fit between the two part of the seat post clamp.  The can wall is thin and soft enough to deform when clamped, yet should allow me to make smaller adjustments that the teeth of the clamp.  I will let you know how this turns out!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Backpacking Blue Canyon Lake, Deadman Lake and Leavitt Peak.

Deadman Lake
Last weekend involved a nice hike up Leavitt Peak from Deadman Lake on the west side.  It was a challenging hike of 9 miles round trip with about half of it involving cross country hiking and climbing up a ridge.  Deadman Lake is starkly beautiful and well above tree line.  After the hike a wonderful trail gate repast of delicious foods and some beer filled our bellies. Then we ended up hiking backup from the cars at Sonora pass to Blue Canyon Lake to spend the night.

The views were smoky due to the Butte Fire, which was burning quite heavily that weekend.  It was a cloudy night and a new moon.  The darkness was deep and the silence at the lake was amazing.  At time it felt like being in an isolation cell with no light and no sound, but in a good way.  Then in the morning the reflections on the lake were beautiful and birds were flying all around us, including two ducks floating on the lake.  This lake is only 2 miles and 1200 feet of elevation gain from Sonora Pass highway.  A nice, quick escape from civilization!