When I was in my ascendancy as a cyclist, at a certain point, I began chasing numbers. We all did. There was higher speed—both average and max—because chasing velocity is inarguably the pursuit of fun itself. Then came longer rides. There was my first 20-mile ride, 50-mile ride, and of course, my first century—it wasn’t hard to figure out that a longer ride was just more of a good thing. Then, of course, came racing. There was the first race I entered, the first race I finished, then I chased my first placing, the first podium and then, finally, that first win. What came next? Points. I chased upgrade points and then the categories themselves. Along the way I picked up a heart rate monitor and for a while I was focused on seeing ever-climbing max heart rates. And once I learned what it was, each season I pushed my lactate threshold a few beats higher.
The appeal of chasing numbers is obvious enough. I was chasing a better me. When I decided to get serious about my cycling it was because I was nagged by a single, simple question: Of what was I capable? The promise that we may be a diamond in the rough can drive us to train with abandon for years, even decades. Within those numbers I pushed through boundaries as much of mind as body. I was learning that my limits are far less, well, limiting than I once figured.
Cycling, more than any other endeavor, taught me that the person I thought I knew, the identity that I carry day-to-day was as temporal as a rain cloud. For years, every time I thought I’d reached my limit, mere weeks later I’d experience some sort of performance breakthrough that would cause me to reevaluate my core beliefs. And the issue wasn’t that I was only as good as my last strong ride; no, even now I learn new lessons. I’ve seen recently that I can sustain more pain than I thought, I can exercise better judgment than I thought I possessed, that my skills are sharper than I suspected.
There comes a point for many cyclists where the numbers don’t add up. That is, they cease to contribute something meaningful. To use MBA-speak, they don’t add value. Off goes the heart rate monitor and computer. Out goes the training diary. I’ve encountered plenty of riders for whom the reasons why the numbers became an aggravation seemed a mystery. Trust me, it’s not. The ego of a cyclist is as fragile as a Christmas ornament. As soon as the numbers bear bad news, rather than good, the easiest solution is to stick the messenger in a drawer.
I’ve watched friends chase race fitness well past their 50th birthday, and while I think racing can be terrific fun and don’t see anything wrong with a bunch of 50-year-old guys racing a crit, I do fundamentally think of racing as a young buck’s game. At one point recently I contemplated a return to racing—just for fun—but once the accusations that some of the riders on some of the local masters team (sponsored by a biotech company) were doping, my stomach for pinning a number on evaporated. I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but if you’re old enough to be a grandparent and you’re doping to win a master’s race, you’ve lost the plot line. I also suspect that anyone doing that isn’t reading my work, so I should be in the clear with that last statement.
One of my goals for my life is to find a way to thread a middle ground between aging and chasing youth, between sedentary decline and doped-up racing, between passive retirement and head-strong ego. I call that space grace. I’d like to ride my bike as far into old age as possible. In my case, based on family history, that could be well into my 80s. My maternal grandfather rode his coaster-brake cruiser four miles every morning well into his 80s. On the days he felt good, he’d ride his circuit again in the afternoon. This is a man who smoked cigars into his 70s. Now, that said, I’m aware that at a certain point I need to think of my lactate threshold as a place not unlike the loud concerts of my youth. I might get back there once in a while, but it won’t be a weekly event. Not only isn’t it smart, I doubt I’d have the stomach for doing it every day.
Without geeking out too much, one of the concepts that has influenced my thinking lately is the projected lifespan of the average heart. The American Heart Association says that average human heart will beat in the neighborhood of two billion times. Some projections by Dr. Robert Jarvic, the inventor of the artificial heart, hold that it’s even higher, somewhere between 2.3 and 2.9 billion. Riding may drive up my heart rate, but the physiologic adaptation that has occurred as a result has lowered my resting heart rate. Bottom line: the numbers suggest that for cyclists, all that riding is buying us time.
Which brings me to my current relationship to numbers. I still wear a heart-rate monitor. Every ride. And, as many of you know (because you follow me), I use Strava. But I don’t use either of these training tools in the typical way. I don’t use the heart-rate monitor to go hard. I know how to go hard and no number will make me go harder. Going hard was never the issue for me. Going hard too often has often been an issue in the past. Overtraining was one of the reasons I stopped racing. Being overtrained robbed me of the ability to go fast and in so doing, sucked the fun out of racing for me. So these days the heart rate monitor helps me know when I’m going easy, easy enough.
These days, I think of tools like the heart rate monitor and Strava as means to keep me from overtraining. I’m not that disciplined in my training for the most part. I ride. I like doing group rides. There’s usually been a point every spring where I try to log some bigger miles to give me a good foundation for later in the season, but the reality is that I have traditionally logged my biggest miles in the summer. For me, that’s not hard to process: My greatest goal as a cyclist isn’t becoming a better cyclist, it’s to have fun. So in an effort to minimize the number of mistakes my exuberance inclines me toward, in addition to making sure I do easy rides, I also make sure to back off for one week out of each month. I cut both miles and intensity, arguably one of the more lasting lessons from Joe Friel’s book “The Cyclist’s Training Bible.”
As Robot noted in a recent FGR, I was on schedule to hit 8000 miles by the end of 2012, a figure I did hit just before New Year’s Eve. By any standard, it’s a lot of miles, though it wasn’t a goal until early December, when I realized that simply continuing to ride with the frequency that was normal for me would bring me to that total.
I had to ask myself why I even cared and then one night as I clicked around Map My Ride (where I have multiple years of data recorded) the answer popped out. It’s been more than four years since I had a season with that many miles. It’s by no means what I used to record when I was racing, and that’s okay. So why even think about how many miles I’m riding? It’s a tool, just another Allen wrench in the toolbox, one that helps me think about what I want my life to be. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life riding 15 mph, but that I can put in 8000 miles in a year reminds me that I can still develop some real fitness, that my future as a rider doesn’t have to be without a goal or two to chase. Setting goals is how we redefine our limits and while I may not ever climb in the big ring again, my future may hold a few surprises yet.
And that’s enough to keep the training exciting.
I don’t get hung up on mileage anymore. I had a watershed moment about 15 years ago, when I was struggling to maintain 14mph into a head wind. I know I was going 14mph, because I was staring at the small digital display clipped to my stem, and I became angry that I was riding the computer rather than the bike, and I pulled it off its mount and stuck it in my pocket and I have not ridden with a visible computer since.
I do occasionally wonder how far I’ve gone on a given ride, and I’m sure some of my regular riding companions have grown tired of me asking what we’ve done. For a short time, I ran Strava, so I didn’t have to ask, but I got bored with that pretty quickly and returned to blissful ignorance.
But you know, mileage can equal goals, and goals can be motivating, so if you’re obsessed with numbers, I get it. If that’s what gets you on the bike, that’s what you use. I have not yet reached the point of diminishing returns for riding my bike. More is pretty much always better.
My friend Padraig is on the verge of 8,000 miles for the year, which given his life situation is a whole lot of distance. My friend Bryan, who commutes year round in Southern Maine, also puts up a pretty good number. In a small way, I envy them their milestones, but not enough to ruin my rides with data collection. This is what works for me.
So as the year winds down, all I can do is some basic estimation. With organized and disorganized weekend jaunts and commutes all stuck together, I’m going to guess I did somewhere between 2500 and 3000 miles. I could ride more. I could make fewer excuses.
This week’s Group Ride wonders what you did. How many miles or kilometers did you put up? Did you measure them exactly, or did you take a more offhand approach? Will you do more or less next year? Why?
The final day of Press Camp was an unfortunately abbreviated affair for me as I had a plane to catch to get to yet another media event, this one a continent away. I began my final day with one of my most eagerly awaited appointments—the U.S. team behind Ridley. While the brand has interested me for some time, I really haven’t devoted any editorial to them because I simply haven’t had a relationship with anyone who worked for them. This was a chance to begin rectifying that.
While I got a great tour through the entirety of their line, I have to admit that there were two bikes of particular interest to me. Top of my list was the Noah. I’ve found this bike to be one of the more interesting takes on an aero road design in the peloton. This owes, in part, to the integrated F-brake which is incorporated into the fork and seatstays.
There’s little doubt that it improves the aerodynamics of the bike; Ridley claims that the Noah will save you 20 watts over a conventional road frame. That’s a pretty colossal improvement; even 10 watts for me would be appreciable. And welcome.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll reiterate that engineers at several different brands have all told me the same thing: All the real gains to be made in the future won’t be in weight. To the extent that we get faster due to strictly technological advances, they will all come in the realm of aerodynamics. I wasn’t so sure I believed them until I had a rider who wasn’t as strong as me drop me on a flat road while riding his TT bike. I simply couldn’t stay in his draft.
The Noah uses a seat mast, which is a feature I’m not sure I’ll ever come to love, not in any frame. While I respect that this contributes to the frame’s overall aerodynamic slipperosity (new word, you heard it here first), every frame I’ve ever ridden that used a seatmast design was less comfortable than similar frames spec’d with a 27.2mm seat post. Regardless, I hope to ride a Noah some time soon.
Also on display was a new version of the Helium. With a slightly sloping top tube, tubes with squarish profiles and string bean seat stays, this thing could be a cousin to the Cervelo R3. This sense is reinforced now by a redesign in which the seatmast has been replaced by a conventional 27.2mm seat post. Hooray!
The Helium is a simple, clean design unencumbered by superfluous contours that cause so many frames to look like an early ’60s Corvette and weigh nearly as much. As it was put to me, the new Helium finally gives Ridley a truly pro-worthy climbing bike, and one that will be a good deal easier to travel with. I was surprised to learn that one of the big drivers for doing a traditional seatpost on this bike wasn’t ride quality; rather, it was the ability to pack the bike more easily for travel. Go figure.
Also worth mentioning is the new women’s bike, the Liz. It won’t be any woman’s first road bike, but it will be a great bike to upgrade to after that first under-spec’d road bike.
Of all the brands at Press Camp, Knog is one that’s been on my radar, and I could easily have made a request to review some of their stuff, but I was never really certain how their offerings would go over with the RKP readership. Our reviews have skewed toward performance items for serious roadies, but thanks in no small part due to the FGR, we’ve learned that a great many of you ride early, ride late, run errands on your bikes and in short do things that don’t require being the leader of some Strava segment. Oh, and that you’d like to live to see your next ride. As a result, you’ll start seeing some mentions of Knog product here and there. They’ve got a zany, irreverent sensibility—think Greenpeace at a rave—that meshes well with the fact that their products are as green as possible and easier to use than a Coke machine. Let me add that when they decided to call their LED light series the Blinders, that wasn’t hyperbole. I looked directly into one and my retinas are still on strike.
My stop at CycleOps was unforgivably brief. The pending arrival of my airport shuttle had me blowing through their suite like a starving man at a buffet line. I was interested in it all, but didn’t have the time to sit down and really learn much. The most exciting news, so far as I was concerned, was the announcement of the new Joule GPS. So now you can have all the functionality of the Joule bike computer with its ability to allow you to examine your wattage on the fly combined with GPS tracking of your route which may not be that important to you while you’re on the bike, but will be very handy when it comes time to upload your ride to Map My Ride or Strava. You’ll still need to upload the route to two different pieces of software as neither MMR or Strava enable you to examine your performance the way that CycleOps’ Power Center or Training Peaks does, though.
CycleOps has also partnered with Enve to offer high-end wheelsets. For those looking for an aerodynamic set of wheels that will also allow for wattage reading, this partnership offers a terrific solution.
And while you’re not going to care a whit about this in June (why should you?), I saw the CycleOps Virtual Trainer, which combines indoor training with the challenge of real-world training routes. Tacx has had a product that works along these lines, but CycleOps adds a really significant wrinkle to this equation. You have the ability to upload video you’ve recorded (say, via a GoPro camera) along with a GPS route to give you a significantly simulated training experience. The trainer will increase the load to simulate climbs and ease it for descents. The one thing your training won’t fix is that if you got dropped on the ride you shot, you’re still going to get dropped next winter. Oops.
I’ve wanted to attend Press Camp since the event’s inception four years ago. It took a while for both the event and RKP to grow enough that we received an invitation. Honestly, it was even better than I had expected. The event is exceedingly well organized, but that didn’t surprise me. The driving forces behind the event are Lance Camisasca and Chris Zigmont. Camisasca is the former director for the Interbike trade show and Zigmont is the former general manager for Mavic and Pedro’s. Zigmont also ran Mavic’s neutral support program here in North America for many years. He has a talent for providing logistics for herded cats.
It’s worth mentioning how much fun it is to interact with my colleagues. I had the opportunity to meet David Bernstein of the FredCast, Byron from Bike Hugger, as well as spend time with friends like Ben Edwards at peloton and Nick Legan over at Velo.
It’s no secret that the Interbike trade show has been suffering the pains of an entity whose business model is in decline. Suppliers want the show to happen earlier so they can place preseason orders, while retailers want the show to happen later so that they don’t have to take their most important staff out of the store for a week during peak selling season. In metaphoric terms, she wants to get married and he’s not ready to give up his little black book. It’s a relationship destined for the rocks.
Press Camp gives the media access to a bunch of brands that are interested in media coverage; and while you might think that is everybody, not every brand out there cares if Road Bike Action, LAVA or RKP writes a word about them. From the brands’ perch, this is a chance to have the same conversation over and over, which can simplify a day. Surprisingly, the 45 minute sessions go quickly. It’s amazing how little you can cover in 45 minutes, even though it’s a great deal more than you can cover in 15 minutes at Interbike.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Interbike. While I hate Las Vegas the way a teenage girl hates acne, I’ve come to accept that it’s a place anyone can get a reasonable airfare to and even the unemployed can afford a hotel room. I know; I’ve done it. I love the way it brings together a big swath of the industry, though I prefer the way it used to bring together the whole of the industry. But that’s the thing about Press Camp and Dealer Camp: They aren’t so much a response to Interbike as they are a response to the big dealer events hosted by Trek, Specialized and Giant. The success of those dealer events is because of the intimate (sometimes pronounced “captive audience”) setting where dealers don’t just get specs and pricing, but education.
Trade shows were speed dating before speed dating was cool. The problem is that as the bike industry has become more sophisticated, the grocery-store model of strolling aisles has ceased to work for most people. Next time I go, though, I plan to schedule fewer afternoon appointments so that I can actually get out for a ride. It felt silly to leave Park City without having gone for a single ride.
I went into this ride thinking of it as just a fun trip with a few big days thrown in; I really wasn’t comparing it to doing a stage race. My, how things can change.
Yesterday, our ride was to be roughly 60 miles, essentially up one big climb and down the other side. We rolled from Panguitch, Utah, and after less than 10 miles began a climb we believed was roughly 20 miles long and climbing 5000 feet—hors categorie. It’s frustrating to admit, but a pinched nerve in my neck is preventing me from riding as I’d like, and yesterday (this is a double post because the Interwebs were anemic yesterday in Cedar City) I had to stop every few miles to re-set the nerve. By the time I reached the top of the climb, rain had moved in and I began to hear that classic sound of sunflower seeds on glass—sleet.
When the climb topped out just shy of 10,600 feet I thought I’d have an immediate ride down. That wasn’t to be. The great surprise of Utah has been that there are always a series of saddles to roll over before the descent starts. After one really quick drop that took me to just below 10,000 I reached a brake check lane and new the drop was to begin in earnest. I pulled over to take inventory.
Specialized’s Kim Hughes and Cyclingnews editor Daniel Benson had ridden with me (and waited for me) though both chose to get in the van. Daniel even turned back from the top of the climb to check on me. Neither had any interest in that drop.
It was foggy, raining, had too much traffic on a narrow road, the temp was in the 40s, my fingers were going numb and it hurt to look up the road for long.
I can do fast descents. I can do rough pavement. I can do rain. I can do fog. I can do cold. I can do traffic with enormous trucks. I can do narrow roads. To do all of those at once seemed stupid.
With nothing other than pride riding on getting down the mountain, I turned around and went back to the van parked a mile back. As I climbed in I admitted to Daniel, “At a certain point doing that descent became a violation of my values.”
I can’t profess to love my wife and son and do something that sketchy. I’ve wondered about the guys who hit the Hillary Step on Everest at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon—late enough that they should turn around—and still press for the summit. Dying for anything—including a dream—when you’ve got a family depending on you strikes me as supremely selfish. I’ve found transcendence in descents and will swear to their power in my life, but I’ve got people who depend on me.
When I woke this morning I really wasn’t sure how today’s ride would go. The menu included 118-, 100- and 75-mile options. I figured I was a question mark at best and went for the 75 option. The ride was mostly downhill, but had enough variety of terrain to keep me moving around on the bike and essentially pain-free.
As these things go, a little accidental detour makes the adventure complete. Four of us made our way downhill and into the town of Santa Clara. We passed “The Ranch” from the show The Biggest Loser. That I’ve heard of this place amazes me; this isn’t my brand of entertainment.
What I can tell you, aside from the fact that the complex is gorgeous and more construction is underway, is that this place is seriously in the middle of nowhere. There are no late-night walks to the Circle K or watering hole. If you’re off the res here, you’ll be easy to find.
Our ride took us through Veyo and its dormant volcanos. We saw giant slabs of black volcanic rock littering hillsides; it was hard to imagine what kept them from rolling down the slopes. There were red rock formations that conjured quintessential images of Utah. But the strangest, most surprising sight of the day was the orange soil we saw along the road before entering Arizona. This stuff was Crayola orange.
The descent off Utah Hill was 12 miles of letting the bike run with no need to hit the brakes for a turn. Apparently, Strava says I hit 54 in there somewhere. Who knew?
Patty, above, works for a Philly-area shop her brother owns, has since ’86. She’s lively, strong and knows her way around a bike and a paceline. She’s been great company all week. And when two yappy dogs came charging for us from a yard somewhere in the Arizona desert, she dressed them down with a voice of such trumpeted authority they turned around and ran back, and I nearly got dropped I was laughing so hard.
This ride has been win, lose and draw, depending on the hour of the day. But overall, it’s definitely been a win.
I’ve long respected the work of Specialized. They’ve had good products and even some bad ones, but more years than not, they’ve had a good product line. The big takeaway I’ve had from this ride is the incredible quality of their staff. This was my first chance to share time with people who I didn’t know at all (like Nancy LaRocque) and people who I knew largely through reputation (like Chris D’Alusio).
My conversation with D’Alusio, who is Specialized’s Director of Advanced R&D, on Saturday was off-the-record. We each spoke candidly of our experiences but what most struck me was his incredible insight. I need to sit down and interview him. I’ve talked with a lot of bike engineers. I haven’t spoken to any who have as much insight into what makes a particular bike do what it does as he. I’ll leave it at that for now.
It’s plain that Specialized does a ride like this as a way to convey their passion for their work. The cynical might see it as a way to serve up their brand of Kool-Aid. The trick here is that this setting is too intimate to fake passion, or competence. It’s the industry equivalent of a blood test. To me, it’s the corollary for why I like their bikes so much. They do a number of very good products, but the Prevail helmet doesn’t have the power to change the quality of a ride. The Tarmac has that power and has done it.
They are an impressive bunch, that crew. I enjoy spending time with them, in the saddle and out.