The Grey Goose and the Blustery Day

Winnie-the-Pooh-Piglet-Blustery-Day-Kite

I just came in from outside. Leaves and bits of newspaper are skimming along, pushed by a steady 30 mph wind. I’m not riding outside today. Looks like Turner Classic Movies and a 90 minute spin on the rollers.

Frankly, my dear, keep pedaling

Frankly, my dear, you must continue pedaling

I was out yesterday in blustery conditions. After riding indoors all winter, any wind resistance at all is something of a novelty – never mind a headwind. These past three weeks I’ve been adjusting to wind in it’s various manifestations and permutations: headwinds, crosswinds, tail winds, breezes, gales and grabby winds that let go just as I’m leaning the wrong way.

Until the trees leaf out, this will be our lot. And so, with a grim suddenness one realizes that the joy of pushing 350 watts on the indoor trainer is gone [sorry, I can’t help myself] with the wind.

Every year we go through the same adaptation, and I don’t know why this always surprises me. I look down at the Garmin and say to myself, I SHOULD BE GOING FASTER. Only I’m not. These thoughts crossed my mind aboard the Grey Goose yesterday as I was flogged by a stiff headwind that repeatedly beat me down to 13 mph. One of the truisms of cycling is that, if you keep at it, you will get stronger. If you intentionally point your bike toward more difficulty, you’ll get stronger faster. Keep it up long enough, and you’ll find those days that are simply effortless.

After I turned out of the headwind and began churning up our local CAT 5, the road swung around to the northwest, and I picked up a 25 mph tailwind. I bombed the descent at 46 mph and averaged somewhere around 27 mph through three miles of undulating rollers. Picking up the bike path for the run home, I was rather happily spent, and in possession of another sacred bit of cycling truth:

Always, always plan for your tailwind to come at the end of the ride.

Can I get an amen?

Riding in the Rain

It's more fun in the rain

Are you feeling the love?

Say the ‘R’ word in a group of cyclists and the enthusiasm for the ride is punctured: deflating right before your eyes. It’s one thing to be caught out, and quite a different thing to head out in anticipation of getting soaked. Riding in the rain by choice requires a mindset of determination seasoned with a liberal dose of junior high lunchroom humor. No one really likes water squishing in their cycling shoes – at least no one I’ve ever met. Riding in the rain demands we find another word than like. LIKE has nothing to do with it. Maybe it has more to do with love.

The sun was in and out of the clouds, with a strong probability of rain when I rolled out this morning. For the first hour I rolled along in my happy place, as the sun disappeared altogether and the clouds descended. The first drop spattered on the screen of my Garmin – rather appropriately poetic when you stop and think about it. My usual first thought is to hope that it will hold off for a while more, or miss me altogether.  Instead, the rain increased in intensity and the temp dropped to 39 degrees.

002There’s a point of sogginess where it ceases to matter. Wet is wet…there’s no more dryness to be compromised.  Accept the situation and the fun begins. This is when the aforementioned humor manifests itself: riding through puddles on purpose, singing disco songs at the top of my voice, experimenting with the distance and trajectory of snot rockets. Though drenched, I was warm, and commenced to enjoy the effort that kept me that way.  As I drew closer to home, the thought of a post ride espresso began to exert it’s influence over me, and drew me on with an invisible caffeinated string.

Now, I live in a small town where almost everyone you talk to thinks cycling is riding motorcycles. The folks behind the counter at the coffee shop are not quite sure why I dress the way I do, and regarded me with greater than usual suspicion as I wandered in looking every inch a drowned rat. I happily ordered a double shot with a blast of whipped cream and sat down while people stared at me while pretending not to. The coffee warmed me quickly and I found myself a bit giddy.

What a silly, miserable, glorious, wet, fun thing to have done. It’s not about like at all. It’s about love of the bike, and the many moods that make the ride what it is.

Pactimo Brand Ambassador

ba-logo15I just received word that I’ve been accepted as a 2015 Pactimo brand Ambassador. Before I get into what it means for you, a few words about my experience with Pactimo clothing.

I was introduced to Pactimo two seasons ago at the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour. After 431 miles and 30K of climbing I wanted the jersey. I was impressed with the quality and fit, so I ordered two pair of their raptor bibs. Last season I rode more than 4000 miles in those bibs in every conceivable condition. With other high end bibs I’d be throwing them away at the end of the season…not so with these. I used them through the winter on the trainer, and they still have excellent compression. No blown seams. No blown out chamois. No kidding.

A three pass Montana day in my Pactimo’s

I’ve used their long sleeve and tank base layers, arm warmers and leg warmers. My personal gripe with other brands of leg warmers is that they can loose their shape after a few days of use. Mine are still going strong into their second season.

Once the 2015 Ambassador program gets rolling, I’ll be able to offer introductory discounts for Pactimo products. I should have the particulars during the month of April. Feel free to contact me through this blog – and if you like what you’re reading, sign up to be notified of future posts.

In the mean time, get those base miles in. The weather is relenting in northern Minnesota, which means it should be down right balmy anywhere south of Alaska. So get out there, be safe, find your inspiration and enjoy the best sport in the world.

Tour of the Tundra

felt2Cycling in Minnesota doesn’t generally get [ahem] rolling until sometime in April. Imagine my excitement to find that the warmish weather that triggered my first outside ride of 2015 would continue unchecked for seven solid days. 40’s gave way to 50’s, and then to 60’s. The slush didn’t stand a chance.

I originally conceived of the Tour of the Tundra as a private indoor challenge. This time of the year motivation to train indoors becomes sparse. Thin. Scant. Meager. Mean. Insubstantial. So I make up grand sounding events to trick myself into sauntering downstairs in slippers and bike shorts. Once there, I will spy my bike shoes waiting for me, and the probability that I will exercise increases ten fold. As long as I stay upstairs I’m a goner.

But then it got warm, and the Tour of the Tundra moved outdoors.

Each ride found me returning in my happy cycling funk – sweaty in my cool weather clothing, with signs of color returning to my face. My bike was spattered with red Iron Range mud from shady roads that were still melting out…and my clothing from snot rockets necessitated by cool breezes. After my usual awkwardness of remembering again how everything works, I found myself feeling pretty collected on the bike. And so I resolved to work in a longer ride to cap my week, and as it turns out, the end of the warm weather.

After studying the weather reports from three sources I concluded that (a) the wind would be from the south, and (b) I would therefore ride north. Which I did. I also schemed a detour that would add 18 miles by including some of my favorite hills. I suspected that the weather was beginning to change as I descended an 11% grade at 40 mph, and was struck by a rather pushy crosswind. Grabbing the top tube with my knees and gritting my teeth,  I hung on to the bottom in a more or less straight trajectory. I noticed a few more odd puffs of wind before rolling into my first stop at 40 miles.

windy-bike-rideRolling out after my banana break, I continued to enjoy my quick pace for about 3 more minutes: at which time the wind changed. The first gust came from the north and slowed me from 23 mph to about 11 in a matter of seconds. It was like riding into a parked car. I’ve come to know [and dread] those times when the wind is so strong you can hear nothing else while on the bike. As I fought a 20-30 mph headwind and the occasional mashing gust, I heard nothing but wind and a song droning in my head. You know…one that you’d rather not hear. The more you wish it would go away, the louder it gets:

 Don’t worry [don’t worry] bout a thing, cause every little thing’s gonna be all right!

Normally, I like Bob Marley. But the same line repeated hundreds of times? I put my head down and resigned myself to the situation. I yelled unpleasant things with each blast, but kept pedaling while watching my average speed slowly drop. All the while: every little thing’s gonna be all right. And it would be…in about 28 miles. If you keep going you get to the end, and may stop. It’s a philosophy that works for a lot of things.

When I stopped, the final stage of the Tour of the Tundra had come to an end. All told it was 224.6 miles.

Today it was 36 degrees with a bit of sleet.

First Outdoor Ride 2015

1stride2015After years of being below average, I’m ecstatic to report that northern Minnesota is above average for this time of the year. We have a week of 50’s and sun ahead of us, and that can only mean one thing: riding outdoors.

I’m grateful for all the distractions I use to make riding indoors more bearable. DVD’s of Colorado, old race footage and structured workouts are all well and good…BUT…no one rides indoors unless there’s no other option. We can all go to Couchlandria, or we can do time in our subterranean sweat caves and be ready to do some miles when THE DAY arrives. Today was the day.

My ride ride was noteworthy not only because it was the first ride of the season, but also the first ride on my new Felt AR1 frame. Over the winter I stripped the parts off the Black Pearl and built up the Felt. Mind you, theoretically I was getting a faster bike that was also relatively comfy – at least, as comfy as an aero race bike can be. The weight savings of a 900 gram frame was easy enough to see on the scale, but you don’t know about the rest until you actually get on the road. Riding on rollers only gives a vague approximation of a bike’s character. You must carry your doubt and misgivings until that DAY OF RECKONING. The pavement always tells the truth.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

AR1All my doubts, second guesses and misgivings melted away in the March sun as I pedaled 43 miles along the Mississippi River. The ride quality is comparable to my Trek Madone, though the Felt is stiffer. Out of the saddle climbing is immediately rewarding…you can feel the bike surge beneath you. The efficiency and aero qualities were also apparent in how quickly the bike comes up to speed. I had no problem holding 23 mph on the flats, but once in the drops the potential of this frame began to emerge. It was almost magical.

To give you a little background, Felt has been leading the industry with it’s aerodynamic road bikes for the better part of three years. Several larger manufacturers have given chase, but the AR1 frame continues to take first place in the wind tunnel. The longer reach invited me to stretch out in a flatter position to take advantage of the Felt’s wind cheating character. Coming back into a headwind with several gentle rises I had no trouble averaging 18 mph.

But most importantly: we’re riding outdoors.

This week of gorgeous weather happens to coincide with my self-imposed Tour of the Tundra – which was originally conceived to be an indoor high mileage week on the trainer. Looks like I’ll be doing it mostly outdoors. Though I wouldn’t bet on this run of weather to continue for too long, I’m taking what we’re getting. Getting our noses into the wind is down right intoxicating.

The 2015 season is under way.

You Know it’s Cold When…

I hardly have reason to complain in this year’s gee-I-wish-winter-was-over rant. My in-law’s from the Boston area are increasing their snow total from 82 to 96 inches this weekend, and it’s all come in two weeks. By comparison, we’ve had very little snow…15 inches, to be exact. The nordic trails opened just last week, but with our snow came bitter cold. Along with big boots and parkas that look like sleeping bags with sleeves, you know it’s cold in Northern Minnesota when you see people opening doors without removing their hands from pockets. This calls for a little explaining.

It’s a technique whereby we lean into a door leading into a retail establishment, for example, so as to open it. [Leaning into an automatic door can be embarrassing and dangerous, and the reader is encouraged to know the difference] With hands tucked into jacket pockets and elbows at the sides, you use your shoulder to push said door open. It avoids both touching bare metal and having to mess with putting on your gloves. This strategy is only effective with doors that open inward.

You’ve been warned.

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The Grey Goose Before the Bits Were Added

Several of my cycling friends have purchased fat bikes so they can better cope during the winter months. You must ride slowly because the huge tires will set to bouncing if you put much effort into pedaling, and besides, if you rode very fast you’d be frostbitten in no time…or at least severely hypothermic. To me this seems like a losing proposition: a lot to ask for a few minutes outdoors. I’d rather put money into my road bike.

My wife has grown skeptical of my line of reasoning when she hears me say that I’ll just take the money I would’ve spent if I had bought [insert item], and spend it on [insert item]. So when I told her the good news that I’m not going to waste money on one of those stupid fat bikes, but instead upgrade my road frame, she rolled her eyes. The cold makes us say and do desperate things, I guess.

After I explained that I had sold some bike parts and a few other things, she graciously gave her approval. I reckon, though, that I best find a replacement for the word UPGRADE. Whenever that word leaves my mouth I almost always get THE LOOK over the top of the glasses: Oh, I see. No explanation of weight saved or aerodynamic drag reduced cuts the mustard. The word hangs in the air between us as if the cheese, rather than the mustard, had been cut.

But she is a good sport – immensely supportive of my riding. She proved it again by coming up with a name for the new bike: the Grey Goose.  It’s a poetic nod to avian migratory habits in this part of the country and the soft and flowing lines of an aero frame.

014And so, I dwell in the basement during these cold months…grunting and sweating on my trainer, albeit on a new frame. I have plenty of time to adapt to a lower, more aggressive position while I prepare for the coming season. With my hands out of my pockets, clad in bib shorts, and with Elmer Fudd hat and jacket hanging in the upstairs closet, I spin and weave my bicycle dreams. The hours go by fast enough – even by indoor standards. The added benefit is that I can conveniently atone for my nutritional sins…including tonight’s double helping of creme brule.

On this Valentine’s day, thanks sweetie. I couldn’t have done it without you. Can I tell you about the reduced aerodynamic drag coefficient sometime?

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The Cycling Man Cave of the Basement Dweller

 

 

The Clydesdale Chronicles: 2014 Cycling Season in Review

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Beginning the 30 mile descent from Big Hole Pass

I’m grinding up my third pass of the day, and its mile 88 of 121. After getting beat up by a stiff headwind for six miles, the group broke up as we reached the comparative shelter of the first switchbacks. Each one of us withdrew into our own private world of sweat and effort. I drift to the back because I am large. I am a helmeted draft horse in spandex: I’m a Clydesdale.

Everywhere I ride I’m the biggest guy. My 62 cm bike dwarfs other machines. It’s been suggested that I might take up basketball, or apple picking, or some other sport for tall people, but I have an aversion to running and standing on ladders. In the cycling world I’m an oddity, but one thing I know: folks love to draft behind me because it’s like riding behind a semi…you can feel the suction. I pedal, they coast.

I’ve come to accept my station in the cycling world.  It’s not that I can’t climb – hauling around my body weight makes me pretty strong. Its just that I climb slower than my 150 pound colleagues. The places where I go fast are on the flats, in a headwind and on rolling terrain. My lot is to deliver the climbers to their climbs with fresh legs. Giddyup.

The bike is on the trainer, the cycling clothing washed and put away, the Christmas tree is up, it’s snowing outside, and….

It’s time for my 2014 cycling season in review – beginning with my top 10 list:

10top1. My first 20 mph century ride: Some days are special, some are special-er. After putting together a 21 mph avg on the level, I managed to hold it together for the last 65 miles of rolling terrain with no help from the wind.

2. Seven flats and a set of tires in seven days: I’m not certain whether Montana roads are more abrasive, or what. After the last ride of my Montana trip, I packed up my bike and noticed…you guessed it…a flat rear tire. I’ve not had another one for the rest of the season.

wpid-att_1405999183576_photo-4.jpg.jpeg3. Going to the Sun Road: One of the classic rides in America, GTSR climbs 3600 feet from MacDonald Creek to Logan Pass – averaging 200 feet per mile. We dropped down the east side to Siyeh [pronounced si-yee] Bend and climbed back to Logan Pass. You get to pass through tunnels and alongside waterfalls. On the descent I went through the water falling from Weeping Wall. You can read more about this ride here.

4. A Solid Training Plan: Nothing like it. During the winter I did 12 weeks of weight training and then moved to an indoor trainer for my workouts. I trained with power for the first time, and there’s no going back! Heart rate fluctuates with conditioning, and is not an accurate measurement of effort by itself. 280 watts, on the other hand, is 280 watts every day of the week – even on Leap year. Kudos to TrainerRoad for their indoor training plans.

firstday20145. First Early Season Ride: With 20″ of snow left on the ground we finally got our day in late March – where it was 38 degrees and brilliantly sunny. After 4 months riding indoors it was what I imagine getting out of prison must be like. Hope springs, and you just know it won’t be long before we ride in shorts. Of course, the reprieve was was followed by another three weeks of 40 degree rain – dubbed by the locals as a Norwegian Monsoon. [That’s right, no umbrella drinks]

6. Bananas: It’s time to pay my yearly homage to the miracle fruit and wrapper, all in one. What has the power to energize, inspire and otherwise lift you higher? The banana. Don’t leave home without one…they cure most everything.

7. Wisconsin: The land of cheese-eating Trolls is a cycling paradise, and I spent the better part of two weeks training there with my cycling compadre Mike. The Little Bedder motel in Mt Horeb is our base of operations, and comes complete with a property manager who likes to dress up like Audrey Hepburn. Truly. I wouldn’t joke about something like this. I left my garlic press behind in September, and hope to find it when we return this June.

8. A Century a Week Keeps the Doctor Away: Want to go faster, go longer, and ride stronger every day? More than anything else, the weekly century delivers the goods. At first you suffer, but then you kinda get used to it – and then almost look forward to it. You will become a two wheeled Godzilla.

9. MS 150: This was my charity ride for the year. We rolled the first day in torrential rain, and I got pretty borderline hypothermic. I wore every stitch of clothing and never got better than almost warm. The second day was brilliant sun and a tailwind, to boot. A worthy cause, and a supremely fun way to generate love through pedal strokes.

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Lost Trail Pass

10. Big Rides: There’s nothing that quite outdoes the scope of an epic ride. At this year’s Cycling House Tour de Montana we followed a 93 mile ride along the Bitter Root range with a 121 mile jaunt with three passes [mentioned above] and 7100 feet of climbing. Elapsed time was 9 hours 13 minutes. Other contenders included the Wright Stuff Century with 6800 feet of climbing, and our Minnesota home grown Headwaters Tour with 113 miles and 5200 feet of climbing. In these big rides you cross a line where you realize you’ve found something very special. Free your mind, and your legs will follow: long rides are cleansing.

11. 6000 miles: that’s over 31 million feet. 31,680,000 and some change, to be exact. Thirty one million feet of headwinds, tailwinds, rain and sun – each foot another reason why I love this sport.

The 2014 Season by The Numbers

005I consumed 13 quarts of Hammer Gel and 43 bananas on the bike. I slurped 104 servings of Hammer Perpetuem – a remarkably effective gooey food product the consistency of pancake batter. Along the way I wore out 2 chains, 2 cassettes, 2 sets of cables, and a crankset. I used up 4 rolls of bar tape, 2 sets of tires, 11 tubes and a pair of handlebars. My carbon bars developed stress cracks from two previous crashes in 2013, and began to delaminate. SCARY MOVIE. And, by the way, the number of crashes this year? NONE. Okay, there was one when I forgot to unclip and fell over. There was blood.

My longest day of climbing was 7821 feet, longest ride 121 miles, and fastest speed 51 mph. All this over 6000.6 miles and 206, 470 feet climbed. That’s 1400 something more miles than last year, and almost 60,000 feet more climbing. I spent 332 hours and 10 minutes on the bike over the course of 134 rides – 18 of them a century or longer. My average speed for the year was 17.8 mph.

What does this mean?

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The Espresso Group

I’m looking at the Black Pearl across the living room carpet leaning up against the wall. Two days after finishing up the season I’m already lonesome for her. And, by the way, what was the point of all this? From a purely practical perspective all this pedaling doesn’t really produce anything. On the other hand, most of us don’t ride for pragmatic reasons: we ride because we love it. No, it doesn’t pay the rent…but it pays other dividends.

There’s an exquisite freedom to the road. We’re free to let our thoughts roam further than our legs can take us. We’re free to make our ride quiet and contemplative, or to thunder along at top speed with a shout. There’s a reckless joy in fast descents – coupled with disciplined form that makes rolling  40+ mph on an inch of rubber both possible and safe.

Occasionally I get to see cycling through the eyes of someone new to the sport…someone who tells the truth. Riding with a friend training for his first race, after 15 miles he remarked, this is hard. Cycling is a game of motivation. Some days we spend a fair bit of time and energy talking ourselves into getting on the bike – all the while holding out hope that we’ll find something special. I’m a chronic doubter, even though I’ve been proven wrong so often. John “Robot” Lewis who writes for the Red Kite Project says,

Can we all just agree that motivation is priceless? I have been riding bikes my whole life, and the motivation to ride hard or far or even just continuously has sometimes been stronger than others. The alchemical recipe that produces the drive to ride consists of momentum, fun, fitness, weather, inspiration, friends, opportunity and possibly some other things I’m overlooking. Mysteriously, sometimes when I have both opportunity and fitness in spades, I am still woefully short of the motivation to capitalize.

I don’t understand it.

As for myself, strangely enough, I found some motivation. I had a novel idea when the cold and ice of Northern MN drove me indoors. Instead of getting fat, how about trying to carry some form through the winter? Instead of eating and thinking about training, why couldn’t I train and think about how I eat? Adding a trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the spring to my ride schedule provided enough motivation [er, fear of embarrassing myself] to get me to put together my winter training schedule. It also helps that my riding buddies have taken on races or events that they’re equally scared to suck at. Self preservation is a wonderful motivator, and so I’m grinding away on the cycleops, spinning on the rollers, and working the strength routine. What keeps me going is the possibility of hitting the road in late March ready to ride centuries.

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Lunch break Tour de Montana

Dream Season

Indoor training is fueled by next season’s dreams. On the schedule already are a week of hill training in WI, the Habitat 5oo, and the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour. An after Easter trip to the Blue Ridge or Tucson is taking form, as is a possible Trip to the Cascades with Cycling House. I want to ride a 22 mph century and push my season climbing total to 300,000 feet.

After Christmas I’m going for a comprehensive bike fit to fine tune my position on the bike. Gone are the tall stack of spacers on the headset – a lot has changed in my strength and flexibility in the last two years. After all the feedback I’ve gotten about my time trialing ability, I’m saving up for an aero racing frame to make me go faster. The Trek is going to be modified and re-purposed to become my gravel bike. But at the end of the day, it’s not about speed as much as the journey. To that end, I wish you well on yours. Here’s to unexpected joy, childlike faith when the road is challenging, the peace that keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously, and the profound touch of God that keeps it all real.

The New Steed

The New Steed