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Gym Lifecycle vs. The Real Thing January 3, 2014

Posted by Bill in Conditioning.
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lifecycle versus bicycleFive years ago I moved away from easy access to safe riding on the American River Bike Trail. To close the fitness gap, I moved my time onto a Lifecycle at the local gym, and while I did maintain my fitness level, I’ve been wondering about the actual transfer of that fitness to actual riding. Today, my first day back on two wheels in quite a long while, I made a few surprising discoveries. Did it transfer? It depends on which part of me you ask.

Overall, the gym machine indeed kept me from turning to trail mush. I can still sustain a good speed over several miles with a low heart rate. On flat ground, though, it became apparent that the two exercise modes are not created equal. While large muscle groups did more than fine, within each group were discreet areas that were not as well-conditioned as the rest, so I experienced micro-area fatigue particularly in the adductors (groin muscles) and hamstrings.

The adductor issue I attribute to the Lifecyle being a fixed entity, with no demands on me to control the lateral dynamics of a bicycle. This fatigue was relieved by on and off-bike stretching at several mile intervals. It’s likely the hamstring issue is related due to the complexity of motion of muscles that cross two joints (hip & knee), but that’s harder to pin down knowing the Lifecycle geometry does not accurately reproduce the riding position. This is not intended as a criticism of the Lifecyle workout at all, as comfort is an important aspect of getting one’s tired ass into the gym three days a week. Lifecycle recumbents are really comfy, and that feature makes a big difference in getting the needed time in.

Now the really AWESOME part of what the gym experience produced for me was in climbing. CLIMBING. Part of the gym cycle workout is increasing peddle resistance over time to maintain a target heart rate. I set out early on to keep my heart at 75-80% of max BPM over the course of an hour. That gets harder to do as one builds muscular aerobic capacity, so you have to push harder to sustain the target HR. In case you think that sounds awful, rest assured that it is very satisfying, as the beta endorphin kick feels really good and you generally feel better and stronger all the time once you get into the groove with your workouts.

The biking payoff, though, is the development of pushing strength. A slope between Sunset and Hazel Avenues has always left me winded at the top, and today it was a total piece of cake with minimal downshifting. I arrived at the top with significantly more speed and feeling quite studly. Unless you’re able to sustain hour-long climbs several times per week and methodically build capacity (not possible for most recreational riders) the gym machine is the common person’s route to building significant climbing power.

So while I know I have to climb onto the bike to maintain performance biking fitness and strength, my gym time has proven to be a mostly successful (and somewhat grudging) substitute. There will never be anything like a body in motion, at speed, to fully answer the question, “What’s the point of being fit?” But if you need to artificially sustain that fitness to keep two-wheeled magic in your life, the gym can help you stay there and maybe even build your performance capacity.


ARP bicycle etiquette – a rant July 16, 2012

Posted by Bill in Reflection.
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no biking signIf you’re reading this, you aren’t the reason for this post.  However, readers here may care to share the rant, as it’s a common frustration for all of us.

Riding ability runs the extreme gamut on the AR Parkway.  That six-foot-wide strip of asphalt is shared by three year-olds with training wheels, professional-level teams, and everyone in between.  Yesterday I experienced the extremes of what one can in the way of riding etiquette.  I had a pace line of four women blow my me, but not before the lead rider called out “Four on your left!”, with each woman behind the lead saying hello as she passed, and the last woman saying “I’m it!”  Contrast this with the tri-biker who blasted past me without a word at the same time we passed a two-abreast set of riders coming in the opposite direction.  Frankly, I’m pretty used to the adolescent rudeness of the tri-narcissists (oops, did I say that?), but their juvenile antics and obvious sense of entitlement is not only an affront to Emily Post.  No, it’s also responsible for some horrific wrecks on the bike path.

In 2011, there were 25 serious accidents that required intervention by emergency services on the ARP.  I’ve come upon a few of these scenes, and all the ones I’ve seen were consequent to high-speed passing.  I’ve seen club pace lines bullying their way down the parkway with no regard to crowded conditions, with serious pileups a not uncommon outcome.

If you’ve accidentally stumbled upon this blog post because you Googled “Triathlete” hoping for news on the latest undetectable testosterone supplement, you’ve probably already mumbled something like “frikkin’ geezer.”  Fine for you, and happy hunting, but this kind of parkway usage has been noticed by county authorities who have had to reduce ranger coverage and enforcement from 25 officers to 12 in the past couple years, and like all agencies are looking for ways to mitigate this kind of liability due to irresponsible public behavior.  If you have the patience, you can read the 28-page report detailing their hand-wringing HERE.

And I end with this, not because it’s enlightening, but only because I can’t not say it:  The ARP bike trail has a 15 MPH posted speed limit.  Yeah, I know a lot of us work out well above that, but what is the spirit of that idea?  Is it because government is by nature fascistic, forever seeking random rules to impose to limit our freedom?  Or could it be that triathletes and bike teams aren’t the only taxpayers out there?  In that report cited above is a mention of the possibility of the need to limit access to certain users due to the inability to adequately enforce existing rules.

Dangerous riders have a choice here.  They can ignore this warning and take what comes in the way of limiting access (speed bumps? parking controls/payments/permits?), or perhaps they can find a shred of empathy amidst their testosterone blur long enough to share the trail safely and considerately that government can pay attention elsewhere in their efforts to protect us from each other.

Looking up for a change July 16, 2012

Posted by Bill in Reflection.
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I’ve always loved this section of the American River Parkway bike trail.  This video doesn’t really capture its beauty, but you can assume that my willingness to hold my phone while riding one-handed in order to share this should count for something.  If you can catch it in the morning when the air is clear and cool, you can see the real deal, complete with river coursing on your left…

ARP July 15, 2012

Like riding a bicycle February 18, 2012

Posted by Bill in Equipment, Reflection.
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After a too long hiatus, the freakishly excellent weather of February got me back onto the trail, and it hasn’t disappointed.

Usually the weather is too wet to enjoy the migratory birds this time of year, but they’re here in huge numbers. Mergansers, shore birds of all kinds, pre-nesting GB herons, the works.

And maybe it’s the luck of the day and this particular crowd, but I’m seeing an interesting flip in the bike equipment sociology/gearology. Lots of (very) gray heads on excellent road gear; an unusually high percentage. Conversely, lots of 40-somethings on their teenagers’ abandoned grunge bikes. You can tell. This is the opposite condition from when I started this blog.

My explanation for this is based on nothing scientific other than the fact that the late-boomer surge is now entering that time of life in which our bodies are dissolving out of neglect, and we have more resources to take care of ourselves than our x-gen counterparts who have been hit hardest by the recession.

At any rate, there’s nothing like a bike to keep this body alive, and it feels no less good after too many weeks away. The deer and squirrels may not be so thrilled with us, but they can share.


Spring on the A. R. Parkway April 9, 2011

Posted by Bill in Photography, Reflection.
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OK, so it was brisk. American River Parkway bike trail

Click on the photo to the right to get the full effect.  An amazing day, with nothing else about it to write about but simply that.

Well, there was the coyote that dashed across the trail in hot pursuit, ears alert, the calm herd of deer by the trail, the 20-30 wild turkeys including fanning toms, the river itself at dramatic springtime flow, and the dense and dramatic clouds that turned my ride from warm to frigid at will.

Add to that the freshly blown trail courtesy of county employees, and you have bicycling paradise.  Having bicycled a bit of SoCal “Class 1” bike trail this past week with its frequent interruptions, dirt wash-outs and traffic diversions (not to mention the awesome poodle count), I return to the parkway with renewed appreciation for was has to be one of the best bike trails anywhere.

Two-wheeled Eco-flashback April 5, 2011

Posted by Bill in Photography, Reflection.
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In 1971, I found myself crouched behind a clump of grasses with my Mamiya Secor 35 mm camera to photograph marine bird life that occupied the Upper Newport Bay in Southern California. upper newport bay

A freshman in college and enrolled in an ecology course taught by master teacher Mark Parrat, I found myself outraged that the Irvine Company had plans to dredge the back bay into a marina/condo development, describing the area as a “dead mud flat.”  In these  pre-social networking days, the hard lifting in ecological conflicts was done by the devoted who would attend planning commission hearings and nag state agencies until the right thing was (occasionally) done.  My camera was pointed at the not-terribly-dead egrets, gulls, sandpipers and great blue herons feeding on the also-not-dead fish fry after hatching in the back bay, still a major fishery for the west coast.

I returned there today to revisit my eco-radicalization after finding online a bike trail serving the perimeter of the bay and UC Irvine while in the area on business (with the bike, of course).  I thought of the grannies, biologists, students, academics, and other activists who opposed the Irvine company, driving the creation of the Upper Newport Bay Preserve in 1975.

upper newport bayI also thought of, and slightly longed for, the angry young man I had been, camera in hand, in awe of the unwillingness of some to see the life I photographed, many years ago.  Slightly less angry now, I remain grateful to those who made the preservation of UNB possible despite phenomenal odds.  The rest of Orange County, CA, stands as testament to the values held by the developers who have had their way with the land, except for Upper Newport Bay, a place now celebrated, and which would only exist in memory and on film but for those heroes in the early 70s.

Sorry you missed this one, Kym October 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in Reflection.
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fall colors on the parkwayAside from ghouls on horseback and the occasional two-wheeled fairy, you wouldn’t have known this glorious fall day was Halloween.  Perfection on the parkway: crisp air, newly rain-scrubbed asphalt, smiles on bicyclists (hokey, but true).  Even the squirrels were behaving, perhaps too busy collecting tree nuts to bother playing grab-ass on the pavement.

A dear friend took her life on October 2 this year, a sudden, middle-aged response to childhood sexual abuse.  Life-long pain does awful things to people, and the toll extends far beyond the reaches of the abuser.  Kym was married to another dear friend and colleague of mine, and their lives were full of love and family.  Kym was a social worker for CPS, passionate about the protection of children.  A motorcyclist and geocacher, she cherished being outdoors on days like this one.  She would have loved today.

I set out on my Halloween ride intending to pull together some writing I owe some folks, to let my mind craft what needs to be said as I rode.  Instead, I could only take in the glorious day that Kym would not be.  I thought about the ripples of sadness caused by her early death, her struggles with her demons, demons that would not be silenced by the love of family and friends.

There is a peace that accompanies fall that leads me to favor this season above all others.  For leaves and most bugs there is the peace that accompanies death, for the rest of life there is a gathering in of energy and a renewed appreciation for just how fragile we are on this planet as the air turns colder.  Kym has found the peace that alluded her for a lifetime, taken from her by a criminal who no doubt suffers as well.

Sorry you missed today, Kym.  It was gorgeous, and so were you.

Bike for Life! July 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Events, Photography, Reflection.
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Welcome to GeezerWheels! If you’re reading this after a visit to the California State Fair, thanks for dropping in to give GeezerWheels a look.  This blog is nothing more than one guy’s reflections on getting on a bike and enjoying time in motion, along with the wonders the American River brings to the life hugging its banks and living in its waters.american river at william pond parkRecent posts here have been photography centered (except for the immediately previous post, thankfully) thanks to the fair, but earlier posts have been been mostly about conditioning and encounters with life on a bike.  Should you have thoughts to add consequent to your own quest to bring bike-pleasure into your life, please join in.

Don’t miss the other resources in the margins of this blog, such as links to great bikes and great bike shops.  Your gear can be as important as your mindset, and it will pay huge dividends to pay close attention to both.

Why bicycling is like sex July 3, 2010

Posted by Bill in Conditioning, Equipment, Reflection, Uncategorized.
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1890 nude on bicycle with glass of wineThis blog originated from my observations about getting older, and efforts to return to a level of fitness from before my lifestyle became anti-exercise.   How to sustain something that would benefit my body over the long haul, to allow me to have a long haul in the first place.  As a educator of humans for many decades, one thought has held true for all: nothing is sustained that isn’t fun or immediately beneficial.  How many NordicTrack machines are taking up space in garages, piled on top of college textbooks we haven’t yet had the nerve to give away?

I also knew I was a slave to chemistry… fun or not, I had to cope with the fact that my body had some cardiovascular growing to do, and that didn’t sound fun.  Here’s the deal:  fitness is a question of how well your body can turn oxygen into useful energy.  The more oxygen you can convert into energy, the fitter you are.  The good news is this: regardless of your age, your body can increase its fitness as a result of your efforts.  The bad news is this: you have to give it a reason to do so.  You have to stress it, make your heart pump faster and harder, to engage the chemical machinery and tissue growth required to make you better able to use oxygen and deliver it to muscle tissue.

The word “effort” in our culture has negative connotations.  “To get good grades, you have to put in effort.”  “Politicians must make an effort to avoid corruption.”  I’d like to shift the paradigm a bit here, hence the title of this post.  Sex requires effort, at least good sex does.  It may even require a bit of planning and careful orchestration of circumstances (right, parents?). Bad sex does not encourage a return to the scene, so most of us put a good deal of energy, effort, into making sure the experience is a good one for all parties involved.

Well, the same thing goes for bicycling.  If you do it well and pay attention to details, it will feel good and you will ache for more.  If you ignore the details or assume someone else (a bike builder, for instance) will take care of them for you, it’s not going to work out and you’ll wind up with a two-wheeled paperweight.  So, think of your conditioning regimen as an act of love-making. Just like with sex, a partner can make your bicycling experience far more rewarding, but a partner is not required for a quality experience.  Regard the following list, and keep the metaphor running:

  • Decide what kind of bicycling feels good to you, but leave yourself open to an evolving/changing sense of what that is.  Quality bike shops such as The Bicycle Business rent performance bikes for test rides.  If you are tentative about dropping the Big Nickle, a few rentals will help you narrow your interests.  Also, top shops also employ very experienced people who have much wisdom in these things.  However, none of those folks would have guided me to my Madone, so don’t take their word as gospel.  Test various rides, get opinions of other riders, and let your imagination be your guide.
  • Find the right setting. Doing it in high traffic areas is not generally satisfying, so find a place to ride where you feel safe and you can pay closer attention to the act of bicycling, to your body’s attempts to communicate its needs to you, and to your surroundings beyond finding the texting driver before he/she finds you.
  • Pace yourself. Listen to your body’s attempts to determine what feels good.  If your body says “go faster!”, do that.  If after riding a half mile your body says “I’m pooped!”, give it a rest.  If the inside of your legs feel tight, get off the bike and rest them and gently massage.  Whether bicycling or lovemaking, pushing into some crazy performance ideal ruins the entire experience.  Setting goals in either activity is certainly useful, but it isn’t the goal that determines the joy you will derive.  It is the journey that will determine the quality of your experience, and it is the quality of the journey that will determine whether you want to embark on another.
  • Pay attention to your attire. Just yesterday I was riding in 90 degree morning air, passing rider after miserable rider (all men) wearing their favorite cotton weekend t-shirt.  They were red in the face, visibly sweating.  Other riders (those clearly not dismayed by those who sneer at the “spandex crowd”) had prepared themselves with moisture-wicking, highly evaporative synthetic clothing, and were obviously comfy.  Also, you are much more attached to your crotch than you think.  Heavily padded riding shorts may feel odd, but if you are riding more than a couple blocks, they are well worth the effort and weirdness.  1890s cyclingI once had someone say, “Oh, you’re one of them,” when she found out I was part of the spandex crowd of bicyclists.  Yep, guilty as charged, and happy with my lot.  120 years ago people were clothed head to toe in cotton or wool from neck to ankle for both cycling and sex.  Let us aspire to more modern expressions of attire in both.
  • Hydrate aggressively. This does not mean stop every half hour at a drinking fountain.  This means drink when you are thirsty, and on a bike this will be every few minutes during a moderate workout.  Not only do you sweat it out, you exhale a great deal of your body’s water.  When your throat feels parched, you are dehydrated, and blood will not move to your extremities and muscles as effectively.  If you are not secure about reaching for a water bottle from a rack in your frame (or if you’re vain about frame appearance like I am), invest in a backpack hydration system such as a bike-specific Camelbak.  Narrow, as your back is part of your cooling system, so the more of your back that’s exposed the cooler you’ll stay.  If you don’t hydrate sufficiently, you will cramp sooner, you will feel artificially fatigued, and your recovery period will be far longer.
  • Focus on the moment. OK, this sounds kind of new-agey, but it’s for real.  Your life is a collection of experiences, and as humans we seek to repeat those experiences that give us pleasure and we avoid those that don’t, despite our best “adult” intentions.  If you think for half a second about addiction, you’ll get my drift.  As you ride, stay in touch with how you feel, and give yourself permission to stop that which doesn’t feel good.  Do not “push through the pain.”  That’s high school football coach bs, and it is a very destructive orientation.  Especially as you are beginning a conditioning regimen and you are learning how your body responds to exercise, experiment with periods of exertion and rest.  While it feels good to exert, it also feels good to rest.  Over time, your periods of exertion will grow and your rest periods will shrink, but it should all continue to feel good.  In time you’ll find the balance of exertion & rest that works for you, and which feels good over an extended period.
  • Check in with your doctor. This is particularly true if you have not exercised for decades, if you have other health issues that would be negatively impacted by sudden exertion, or if you’re at all nervous about beginning exercise.   Older (and not-so-older) riders will feel a bit on the creaky side coming off a period of non-exercise, and  there may be momentary aches and pains as you extend into ranges of motion unfamiliar to your body.  Mostly those little annoyances will pass, but do respond to those that don’t with a little personal TLC.

Serendipitous moments June 22, 2010

Posted by Bill in Photography, Reflection.
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Any photo shoot of a public place can get complicated when people don’t want their pictures taken.  While photographers have the statutory right to collect images in public places, the pleasure of the shoot can be quickly undermined by bad blood and misunderstanding.  To avoid that outcome, I generally attempt to get permission of subjects before they wind up in a photo.

Such permission I sought from this family, who by their excellent choice of picnic sites, wound up in the middle of one of the better angles on the Fair Oaks trestle bridge. 

When I approached them with my usual apologies, not only were they very okay being in the shot, they voiced concern that I might be in need of some of their chipotle barbecue chicken, it being the dinner hour, after all.  I declined, but only because I was rapidly losing my low-angle sunlight and I had more photo stops to make on this stretch of the river.  With shots taken, I was left much enriched by their warmth and hospitality.  Not only did it make my day, I am reminded of their warmth each time I see this image.

On the other side of the balance was the shot I took of a fifty-ish white guy on his road bike as he approached on the bike path.  As he passed, he muttered in as hostile a tone he could muster at 15 mph, “You don’t have my permission!”  That’s cool, and it’s only remarkable because he stands alone in my memory of hundreds of shots taken for this project.   In every other circumstance I was either waved to, smiled at, nodded to, or ignored.  Mostly ignored.  Frankly, he needn’t have worried, as I didn’t use any shots of obviously unhappy people.  They don’t make for good photos for promoting bicycling, so while I didn’t need his permission to publish the shot of him, he did not receive my permission to pollute this blog or the State Fair photo exhibit with his unhappy mug.  Ugly doesn’t sell.  I may dig it out when I do a piece on “grumpy old men on bikes,” but until I do, his dour visage is safe from publication.