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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.


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.

When 2+2>4 June 5, 2008

Posted by Bill in Conditioning, Reflection.
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For a time, this image provided a handy metaphor:

one bike by the river

But life has its way of providing undeserved wonders, and metaphors are transformed…

As fitness gurus will advise, there is nothing like a training partner to enhance the effectiveness and longevity of a commitment to fitness and wellness through exercise. We are a social species, after all, and we look to our peers for support and approval. There is also nothing like a life partner to enhance the meaning and experience of everything, including wellness and deep living.

This post is dedicated to that new shiny butt I am blessed to chase…

chasing D

Wheels for All September 16, 2007

Posted by Bill in Conditioning, Equipment.
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On this blog I’ve written a bit around the edges of the topic of accessibility, as the focus has been more about conditioning and returning to cycling as older riders. Honestly though, life’s unkind cuts aren’t reserved for those who have been fortunate enough to attain a stage of life with the word “age” attached to it… middle-aged, old-aged, etc. Bleah.

I admit to this omission as one of those belonging to that group I know as the Temporarily Able-Bodied, a group to which most of us belong, a group for which none of us carry a card. However, thanks to the demand by all riders that they be given access to speed produced by action of muscle and bone, the techno-gods of bikedom have created a fascinating and beautiful array of machines designed to accommodate virtually any mode of mobility we humans can bring to the roadways.

This post will begin with a couple featured machines and links to resources, and my intention is to add more over time. My hope is that other contributors will offer their links, images and experiences with these machines so this post can grow into a page of descriptive resources. The American River Parkway bike trail carries a fascinating array of these machines, and the opportunity to understand more about them, for the benefit of Geezers and non-Geezers alike, is most appealing. The bike trail calls to all of us equally… find your place.

Empty parkway

Probably most common among the alternative machines is the recumbent foot-pedal bike. That configuration is mentioned elsewhere on this site as a way to deal with spinal issues created by the head-first racing tuck or even the stress on joints and derrières produced by easy chair postures on comfort bikes. Steering controls, wheel sizes, fairings, and frame configurations vary widely between manufacturers, the possible options mind-numbing. Click on the photo below for a link to an outfit that can help out…

recumbent bikes

Always with an eye for pretty curves, the next category of bikes completely grabs my attention whether it’s at a triathlon or just cruising the parkway. The gentleman shown below gave me a generous tour of his handcycle, describing them as ideal for those riders with lower extremity, balance, knee or hip issues. These production bicycles come in various sizes and are further adjustable to the size of the rider. They also seem to come with the secret to the best upper-body physiques to grace the parkway. The rider below also suggested a great handcycle resource, linked to his picture. It’ll take you to the index page of bike-on.com:


If you’ve been infected with race passion, you won’t want to miss a good drool over this machine, also available through the bike-on.com website. It’s the Schmicking S3 Race Tour Ultralight Handcycle, available on a custom basis, configured to your specific seating/power-production specs. From what I’ve seen at the triathlons, they can be equipped with the usual wallet-sucking performance gear such as carbon race wheels. Click on the image to go to its page on the bike-on.com website:

Schmicking Ultralight


Drafting Youth July 22, 2007

Posted by Bill in Conditioning.
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The title of this post has too many connotations in our war-weary land, but it is a bicycling metaphor I’m after here, so my apologies to those brought to this site with other topics in mind.

bike trail

A good workout has many emotional/psychological levels or spaces, and sustaining and enjoying workouts can be a full-time mental exploration of those spaces, particularly in the first weeks and months of kneeling before the Gods of Aerobia and praying for the endorphin blessing.

There are choices to make. Do I worry about my speed, or do I just pedal comfortably? Do I resent the super-fit team riders whose rear aspects become way too familiar, or do I look to them for inspiration? This vocal committee in our heads can present a very energetic struggle, or it can be virtually silent and existential. One choice I have made in this ongoing conversation has served me well, and its pleasures were brought to me once again today.

In the course of any workout, there is no average speed and no typical motivation among riders. Passing is very equal opportunity, and age and gender are not great predictors of workout speed. However, age is a somewhat better speed indicator, as young people generally have not endured a thirty year hiatus off the bike. And as people of any age or gender work to establish a more fit physiology for their futures, growth happens slowly as tissues grow and the chemistry changes, so everyone is on some path, our bodies obeying some quiet natural curve of change. In other words, older riders get passed a lot. How to cope with grace?

As anyone who has ever appreciated a coach can tell you, it is impossible to drive yourself to your full potential, to find a level of performance beyond what you believe your capacity to be. We generally aren’t even aware that we hold such beliefs while we are in the midst of exertion. In fact, we usually tend to find a level of comfort beyond which we don’t tend to venture, at least for very long periods of time. Younger cyclists present us with an opportunity.

Today I was passed by a woman who was pedaling an extremely consistent 20 mph pace, using an efficiency of pedaling motion and posture I admired extremely. My first thought was, “Whoa, what a machine.” I was in the latter third of my mileage, so I was less than inclined to fall in with her, but did so nonetheless, keeping a hundred feet or so behind. After a mile or so I was aware that I was at my maximum output, and that output moved past my maximum after about three. Hearing my hamstrings warning of “cramps a’comin’!” I backed off, grabbed a few gulps of water between pants, and watched her disappear down the trail. Awesome.

I have enjoyed this service before from other younger riders, and I yet to have the pleasure of thanking them for their pace. Without their lead, I would not have felt the limits I’m working to push past. Occasionally I am aware I am providing the same service to others – I pass riders only to sense them falling in with me for awhile, some distance back. I would never imagine that we’re not competitive out there – we all want to be faster than everyone else – but in practice it’s a pretty decent cooperative community of coaches. I’ll use this blog to thank my coaches in print – thanks for the inspiration and leadership, and for all you teach.

Eppie’s Great Race July 22, 2007

Posted by Bill in Conditioning, Events.
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TVO logo

For the last 34 years, Eppie Johnson of Sacramento restaurant fame has hosted Eppie’s Great Race, primarily as a promotional gimmick to publicize his business, but in recent years as simply a matter of pride and tradition. It has become a significant fund raiser for Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreation Services, so it feels pretty good to part with the dough it takes to join in the fun of a great Sacramento institution.

Being a part of this event was incredibly good for the three people you see pictured below, Team Valley Oak. This was the first “race” for all of us, and the preparation for the event was perhaps more fun and inspiring than the race itself. Team Valley Oak is comprised of Bill, Lisa and Robb, all educators in Davis.



Despite the kamikaze canoe and mid-rapid collision and dunking, dumping Robb in the American River and costing Team Valley Oak a couple hundred places in the finish, it was an incredibly satisfying day, culminating months of preparation and conditioning for the team.robb_eppies

Also part of the team was our all-important support team, pictured below. In an event with insufficient parking for some two thousand competitors, drivers and support become vital for an event that really works. Gillian, Leo & Karen made  it all happen in a way that kept it fun and manageable.

Team Valley Oak

I’ve listed this in the conditioning category, as having a goal for performance is key to the fun and evidence of a payoff for getting into shape. Some intellectually-contrived goal of “being in shape” and “living longer” is rarely enough to get us moving. But having a race to run… now there’s a goal you can taste.All of Team Valley Oak

Regardless of all, this race was a blast. These people look happy for a reason.

Observations for Older Riders July 7, 2007

Posted by Bill in Conditioning, Equipment.
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Hey Guys,

And I am speaking to guys out there. I’m pretty certain that most women don’t go after hurting themselves when they try to get back into shape, unlike the guys. An observation I’ve made, and this is based on my unscientific visual poll of the bike trail population, is that I see the same women (ages 40-80 I’m talking about) week after week, walking or biking the parkway jogging/bike trail. Conversely, I see a very high turnover in the male population in the same age group. I’ve given this some thought during my time on the trail, and I’d like to hear from you if you have any comments on why this might be the case.

1. Men have swallowed, hook line & sinker, the PE coach advice “No pain, no gain.” This is garbage, but it’s a macho credo, and you’ll do yourself a huge favor if you drop it now. Pain is pain, and intelligent beings that we are, we will not come back for second helpings. Your body and creative mind will provide you with reasons a-plenty for not getting back on the bike, pumping and panting like John Belushi in an ultramarathon. Learn from the women… ride with a friend, exert to a level that allows you to talk, and take yourself out for good coffee afterwards. I saw a workout line of four older guys today, and they were having a blast. They had a good pace going, they had good bikes and proper clothing with helmets, and they were talking, not panting. So stop the torture, find some friends, and commit yourself to FUN.

2. You have worked hard to get this out of shape, now go get yourself a good bike and the right clothes. Taking Junior’s thirty-year-old Schwinn out of the storage shed out back and duct taping the handle bars will not leave you wanting more. Bikes are like people: they wear out as entire entity, and as the whole machine conspires to fail, with all its tired pieces in one grand groaning concert, you will not be left with a good experience seducing you back for more. And if you think all bikes with two wheels are equal, you would be misinformed. Ride a bunch of them, and don’t stop with the rides at Target and WalMart. Check out REI, City Bicycle Works (Sacramento), Carmichael Cycle, or anyplace else that’s handy, and listen to all the advice. Don’t be afraid to throw some real money into this. The co-pays for a heart attack run into the thousands, so why not take a goodly chunk of that to avoid the co-pay in the first place? Also, if you’ve dropped a thousand bucks on a bike, the phrase, “Honey, I’ve spent so much money on this bike I have to get out on it again if I’m going to get my money’s worth” works a whole lot better than if you bought the $79 special at Target. What do you get by spending more? Lighter weight (often by far), better bearings, stronger alloys, dependable machinery, UV-resistant plastics, and service. That last item should be in lights, as you’ll get blank stares from Target employees along with the suggestion you take your bike to a mechanic at, say, one of the stores mentioned above. Modern bikes are complicated. Shop and compare carefully.

Also, if your back and neck are fussy, but you want a speedy experience, consider the vast array of recumbent bicycles. This link takes you to a discussion of them. The parkway has a mess of them, so don’t despair if you don’t want to do the full-tuck racing thing. Click on the pic to visit a place in PA that sells ’em…

recumbent bikes

3. Clothes! You will not find an easy chair on wheels, so pad your butt. Heavily. This is not the place to skimp. That twenty bucks difference in riding pants with heavier padding will be your best investment ever. If your crotch begins to chafe, head back to the bike store and ask for advice. Consider the following: saddle upgrades, underwear (high-tech is good) adjustment, padding lubricants, etc. If you do serious mileage, you are bound to chafe your crotch somewhere, and magic goo known as chamois butter can help a great deal. A favorite of many is made by Assos of Switzerland. Pricey, but what’s your crotch worth, anyhow?

Also, as you get more devoted to the aerobic experience, you will find that you need to get rid of heat. Cotton will kill you because it resists evaporation and you will not be able to cool off. Put yourself into as much lightweight high-tech polyester as you can stand (logos, while cool, are not required) because it will wick moisture away from your body and cool you very effectively as long as you’re moving.

4. If you are into tools and are handy with them, have fun with your bike. Take a bike maintenance class (REI has them periodically) , and make yourself the bike guru for the neighborhood. Keep your bike pristine, pet your chain and dérailleur regularly with good lubricants, and have an old-fashioned mechanical relationship with it.

The Burn June 28, 2007

Posted by Bill in Conditioning.
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We are told to “ride through the burn.” Maybe, if you’re near the end of a race or you’re riding just ahead of a mother grizzly with her eye on your butt, but not if you’re trying to enjoy yourself and convince yourself to come back for more. The burn of fatigued muscles is their way of telling you they’re not exactly enjoying aerobic bliss. In fact, they’re running out of oxygen, and you need to listen and give ’em some space.

My workouts run about 20-25 miles, and I accidentally discovered that if I hop off at about 2-3 miles after I start my workout, or about the time I first feel that initial workout fatigue, and slow stretch the four major leg muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, adductors/groin & gluts) – no bouncing or yanking – I effectively stop the burn, my leg muscles feel better than fresh, and I can finish the workout without another stop if I choose. Early on I found myself stretching at 5-6 mile intervals, or whenever I felt the burn. I was out there to enjoy the feeling of the trail, not to pass people (or so I lied to myself).

Relax, enjoy, stretch, and hydrate. Who cares if I pass you on the trail while you stretch? With a little pleasant patience, you’ll be yelling “Passing!” from behind me in no time.

Celebrate health and sweat! June 28, 2007

Posted by Bill in Conditioning.
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Some of us on two pedal-driven wheels have been around the track a few times, but speed still rules. For me AARP stands for Animal-Aggressive Racing Position.

I ride the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California, and life is grand. Profession, family-raising and Germanic (or is it Scottish?) work-ethic guilt got in the way of maintaining my healthy body, something I enjoyed in my twenties and thirties. Then I got old, or so it felt – where’d that come from? With 55 staring me in the face, sweet, red Bianchi Campione beckoned, and off we went. I just have to do this! It was work! Then about six weeks into my “work,” my hour-long workouts on the parkway ushered me into endorphin bliss, as if someone threw a switch. Awesome. Now, just try to keep me away.

People my age are all over the place zipping around on fast, usually vintage, bikes. We should all be on faster, new bikes, hunkered down, eatin’ bugs, racing each other with grins on our faces. I see a lot of my baby-boomer age mates out there huffin’ & puffin’, making it all look like work. Hang in there! There is gold on that there trail, and it’s not just the gift of longevity, it’s sweet, sweet aerobic-endorphin bliss awaiting you, just around the conditioning corner.

This blog is for those of us of a certain age to share our secrets and discoveries about getting fit and having a blast on fast bikes. Biking is for everybody, but the joy of speed on a light, human-powered machine is a taste acquired and pleasure earned by the few (million?!) willing to pull on the padded pants, tuck in and take off.