Cycling efficiency …ūü§Ē

I’m a deep thinker ūüėā

I have been thinking about this for awhile now.

I am preparing for several long, challenging events¬†this year ranging in length from 100-150 kms. It’s important to pace myself, conserve energy whenever possible, and cycle efficiently.

What does that mean? Cycle efficiently ūü§Ē

The French have a word for beautiful pedalling:¬†souplesse. And it‚Äôs not just elegant, it‚Äôs usually more efficient too. However, it‚Äôs not the only consideration and pedalling efficiency is often guided by personal and physiological preference ‚Äď what¬†feels¬†right is probably the most efficient.

Over the years, it has meant different things to me. I frequently train in Stanley Park, completing several laps around the road. Each lap is approximately 10 km and includes a 2 km climb, a 2 km descent, and 6 km of flat, and rolling terrain. Each lap provides an opportunity to practice climbing, descending, and sprinting skills.

This is what I think about, and work on, while circling the park with the goal of maintaining a consistent pace, and reducing lap times.

  • Pedal in circles. What does that mean? Well, it means engaging all legs muscles throughout¬†the entire pedal stroke – quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. ¬†This sounds easy enough but requires concerted practice. Even after decades of cycling, I continue to practice, making the movement¬†from the the top and back a powerful, seamless motion.

Best done on an indoor trainer for obvious safety reasons, single-legged drills are one of the most effective ways of improving your pedalling. After a warm-up, select a medium gear/resistance that is easy to turn smoothly at 90-100rpm without causing muscle fatigue.

  • Maintain a high cadence. There was a time when I thought I needed to push large gears to go fast, and have some of the largest chainrings ever made to prove it. Boy, was I wrong. It took me a long time to realize that if I pedal faster in a lower gear I not only go¬†faster, but with less effort.

Higher cadences often yield better efficiency ‚Äď look at Chris Froome‚Äôs unnaturally high looking cadence and it does no harm to practice riding at a higher RPM.

  • Pedal while descending. I used to stop pedalling, and rest when descending. Why not? I had worked hard getting to the top, and deserved a break. Right? Wrong! I learned if I shifted into a higher gear, and continued pedalling, even with modest effort, I descended faster, and still recovered.
  • Get on¬†the handlebar drops while¬†descending. Get out of the wind. Get more aerodynamic. Get on the drops, tuck elbows in, and lower the¬†chest.

The rider’s body accounts for 70 to 80 percent of drag while cycling; the bike, clothing and helmet the remainder. So getting aero on the bike will dramatically improve efficiency.

  • Select the straightest line on the descent. The straighter the line, the faster the descent. When there is no traffic, I have the full width of the 2-lane road, so that I can pick a straighter line, and descend faster with¬†less effort.

Though you may not get a chance for some really great descending too often, chances are your regular riding gives you an opportunity to practice the basics on familiar roads.  Simple things like disciplining yourself to descend on the drops and focus on control and body position should be well drilled on the small stuff before you hit the bigger challenges.

  • Get on¬†the handlebar tops while¬†climbing. When climbing, position hands on the handlebar tops. This opens the chest allowing me¬†to breath more¬†deeply, and positions me¬†back on the saddle which engages the glutes more.

This position can allow you to ride a bit more upright taking more pressure off your back as well as hands. This position should only be used when you are on a straight, open stretch of road, or climb, where you most definitely won’t have to use the brakes quickly as your hands will be further from them. Also, never ride the tops in a group as again your hands are too far from the brake levers.

  • Shift early. Don’t wait until it is too late. Get in a lower gear before the climb begins, not when I’m¬†when already on the hill.
  • Hydrate¬†regularly. Take in fluid, once every lap, and usually before the start of the¬†climb.

That’s what I think about.

Deep eh ūüėā

Chas and I have been out …

I have been training inside a lot this year but Chas and I have been able to accumulate over 1,000 km on the road in preparation for the upcoming Pacific Populaire.

Chas was well prepared for winter riding. First, I put wider profile tires (28 mm) on an old set of Shimano training wheels. The wheel hubs and rims are worn but more than adequate for winter riding. I didn’t worry about getting them wet, and the wider section tires grip better in the wetter conditions. Then I added a small set of fenders that simply snap around the front forks and the rear stays. They help to protect the bike parts, my back, and anyone drafting closely behind from wet and dirty spray. And lastly, I had a bike fit which resulted in several minor adjustments to the saddle height and lateral position as well as a new, flatter saddle. The new saddle reduces the pressure points considerably, and has me sitting more on my sits bones at the back of the saddle.

The bike fit was revealing. I learned that I had lost flexibility in my left hamstring and hip abductor muscles which resulted in uneven weight distribution on the saddle, and a right knee that did not track perfectly perpendicular when pedalling. Despite training in front of a full length mirror when on the spinning bike, I had not noticed. Like many cyclists, I neglect to stretch, particularly during the cycling season. Consequently, I have included a 15-20 minute stretching routine after each and every spinning session for the past 8-10 weeks, and have noticed a significant difference. The knee appears to track correctly, and when on the bike, I tuck into a more aerodynamic position easily.

I plan to ride Chas in the Pacific Populaire. He is built for this type of cycling. His heavier, steel frame, longer wheelbase, and wider section tires make for a more comfortable ride over longer distances. Weather permitting (that means no rain), I’ll switch out the wheel set to my¬†newer Shimano RS61¬†equipped with narrower 25 mm tires. These wheels are faster, roll more smoothly, and quite frankly are a treat to ride.

So, Chas and I have not been idle. Both he and I are better prepared for this century ride than we have been in previous years.

He’s lean. He’s fast. He’s fun! | 5 Day Story Challenge


He’s lean. He’s fast. And, he’s fun.

Why would I want¬†a full-carbon road bike? My racing days are long past. That’s what I kept telling myself. After all, I have several very nice road and mountain bikes. Why would I want a light weight racing bike?

Six years ago, my son got serious about road cycling. At the time, he had a client, a Cat 1 racer, who at the end of each season, sells his bikes at a considerable discount. My son thought this would be a relatively inexpensive way to get started. So, that is how he acquired his first of several full carbon bikes.

He had the bike fitted and made several upgrades. A shorter¬†stem, narrower carbon bars, and a new chain. One day, he asked if I would like to try it. Reluctantly, I took it for a spin around the neighbourhood. After all, why would I want a carbon bike? Well, I’m told I had a smile on my face the whole time. I could not get over how quickly the bike accelerated, how easily it climbed, how fast it went, and how confident I felt. I hadn’t had so much fun on a bike since I was a kid.

I wanted¬†one ūüėČ

That’s how it began. The next season, I asked my son if his client had another bike he wanted to sell. He did. I knew he would. A 2011 full-carbon R2 model¬†with a Dura-Ace group, and an older set of training wheels that had seen several seasons.

I bought it ūüėÄ

IMG_3830Since then, I have made several upgrades – a shorter stem, new saddle, carbon bars, compact cranks, carbon Dura-Ace pedals, carbon cages, 23 mm tires, and Dura-Ace C24 wheels. Some of these components were gifts. Everyone knew what to get me for birthdays and Christmas. And, they were all purchased on-line.¬†I was surprised how easily and inexpensively you can purchase components on-line but that’s a topic for another post.

Lou: “I’m lighter and faster than ever.”

IMG_3832Right from the start, the bike had a name.

Lou O_o

Lou means famous warrior. And, 18 kings of France had this name. How appropriate. A battler. A fighter. A leader. He was going to help me battle long steep climbs, keep pace with fast paced groups, and lead the way for years to come.

Lou: “I’m the head guy, right?”

I’ve learned a lot from Lou. I’ve learned I’m not done. There is a lot of cycling left in me. I’ve learned you’re never too old to have fun on a bike. I’ve learned I’m faster, and fitter than I realized. I’ve learned there is always room for improvement. And, I’ve learned fast is fun.

Lou: “I told you so.”

It’s good to hang out with a younger crowd. Chas and Thatch are great rides but they are different. Slower. Heavier. Lou is young. More up to date. Lighter. And, faster. He makes me feel half my age ūüėÄ

Chas: “You’re ungrateful. If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be cycling¬†today, wouldn’t even be able to ride a bike like Lou. You seem to have forgotten that cyclists have won the TDF on bikes just like me. Give me some credit.”

Lou and I have shared some great times. We ride several organized centuries each year, and many “recreational” long rides. We never do less than 50 km together, and frequently enjoy 100-150 km scenic rides with like minded friends and family.

Today, Lou and I did a solo ride along the river road – my usual¬†early Sunday morning 50 km ride. It was wet. Rain was not forecast until later in the day, and I didn’t wear my rain gear. Grrrrrr ….

No matter. We had a great ride ūüėé

Lou: “I look good wet!”

IMG_3833 IMG_3835 IMG_3839 IMG_3843


Becky of¬†Restart Urgently Needed¬†nominated me for this challenge. She wanted to hear more about my bikes she said. Thank you Becky¬†ūüôā¬†I have to write 5 posts¬†about my bikes and, with each post, nominate another blogger to accept the challenge.


With the first post, I nominate Ellie (A Writer’s Caravan) for the 5 day story challenge because I would love to read how music has shaped her life. And, I want to hear more of her music.


With the second post, I nominate Bri (Bike Like Crazy) for the 5 day story challenge because I would love to read more about cycling in cold, and snow. Bri is an inspiration to all cyclists.


So now what?


Look what I found during yesterday’s ride. Creatures in the park.

Last week I completed an 8 week cardiovascular training program prescribed by the American College of Sports Medicine. It was a focused and intense effort. Clearly, my fitness level has improved. So, what is next? What do I do to maintain, or even improve,  this fitness level? What new goals do I have?

I believe in having short term goals. New goals every 1-2 months. They keep me focused and motivated. Without them, I am too easily¬†distracted. This month, I plan to complete the Pacific Populaire, the first century ride of the season in these parts. My heart, lungs and legs are ready. My butt, not so much. I have not completed enough longer rides to think I am ready. This month, I need to complete several long rides to toughen¬†my butt. Each weekend, I plan to ride progressively longer distances – 50, 65, and 75 km rides. I’ll keep up the spinning workouts several times a week. I can get a lot done in a relatively short period of time. And, I’ll keep up with strengthening routine several times a week as well. The squats and planks have made a significant difference. This weekend I added a few more core exercises and, once I week, I do a session of core only exercises for 30-45 minutes.

So that’s the plan. More of the same, except with more time outside on the road bikes.

So, what do these creatures have to do with March’s training plan? Well, training is my ¬†antidote. The way I fight off the perils of a sedentary, urban life. The way I quell those self destructive thoughts. The way I silence self-talk. The way I find answers. And, the way I quiet those creatures within.

I am “Excellent” !!!


I am “excellent”!

Yesterday, following a spinning workout, my Suunto M5 wrist-coach advised “Fitness level ‘excellent’ reached”.

I have just completed an 8 week conditioning program prescribed by the American College of Sports Medicine. The workouts are integrated with my Suunto M5 Heart Rate Monitor which tells me when and how hard to workout. Suunto also provides an on-line workout tracker (Movescount) that seamlessly uploads workouts from the M5 and summarizes the workouts graphically. This is a nice touch providing monthly summaries by duration, average heart rate and calories burned.

The program identifies six (6) fitness levels –¬†very poor, poor, fair, good, very good and, excellent. You place yourself into one of these categories based on your activity level. At Christmas, I estimated I was “very good” for my age and began an 8 week program to become “excellent”. During this period, the workouts gradually became longer, more difficult and more frequent.¬†They varied in length between 60-90 minutes including a warm-up, cool-down and post-ride stretching.

It has been an intense, highly-focused 8 weeks. I have completed 43 workouts, burned 17,000 calories and, pedalled for over 54 hours. Most of this time was on a spinning bike at the club although, I was able to get out on the road bike 5 times and recorded these rides as a workout.

I completed these workouts without the benefit of drafting, music or a spinning class leader to motivate me. These were 30 hours on the spinning bike facing a floor-to-ceiling mirror with only the Keiser computer and my M5 Suunto watch for company. I purposely decided to train this way thinking, if I could do this alone without external motivation of any kind, it would make me mentally stronger.

I am excellent!

This past week, I have been giving thought to what “excellent” feels like. It does feel different. I have experienced physical changes and, psychological ones¬†as well.

My body has changed. It is firmer. Everywhere. My legs are more toned with noticeable muscular definition. My butt is smaller (I suspect the squats had a lot to do with that). My core, arms and shoulders are leaner. Even my face has a different look. I have not lost weight but it appears to have been redistributed leaving me with a slightly more athletic look.

I bound effortlessly up 5 flights of stairs two at a time every day. I climb 5% grades faster and more easily. I maintain a consistent pace on 3 hour rides without tiring. I walk taller with my shoulders back and stride more freely.  And, I sleep more soundly for 8 hours on most nights.

My clothes fit differently. The pant legs are looser, the waist hasn’t changed and, my¬†shirt buttons¬†pull a little. This is not what I expected. After burning 17,000 calories I expected to lose some weight, particularly around the waist. I am disappointed and¬†remain¬†3-5 pounds heavier than my ideal weight.

My mental outlook has changed as well. I am more positive, more confident. My thoughts are clearly focused on the now and the inner chatter has lessened leaving me with fewer questions and more answers.

Excellent feels good.

But “excellent” does not mean perfect. There is room for improvement. There always is. Excellent, at least in this context, simply means I have above average cardiovascular health for my age.

Can I continue to improve? Can I get stronger? More flexible? Lose weight? Cycle faster? No doubt.

So, what’s next? Well, my wrist-caoch is not letting up. I checked the prescribed 7-day training schedule and it has me continuing to train at the same intensity 5 days out of the next 7. Also, the first century ride of the season, the Pacific Populaire, is March 29. I have completed this ride for the past several years and would like to do it again but beat last year’s time.

That’s the new goal.





For my efforts …

This is what you receive for all your effort.  A pin.  A highly coveted pin.  Six or more hours on the road, countless hours of training and what do you get in return?  A pin.  And, of course the satisfaction of completing a magnificent ride with people of like mind.  There are no t-shirts, water bottles or cycling jerseys given away.  There are no winners and, no losers.  There are no podium presentations, no yellow jersey to slip on and no media coverage.  Finishing is reward enough.

Randonneuring is a long-distance cycling sport with its origins in audax cycling where riders complete 200+ km courses, passing through control points strategically located along the route.  Every year, the BC Randonneuring Cycling Club organizes the Pacific Populaire (100 km) and Canada Day Populaire (147 km), in an attempt to grow the sport in the province.  Throughout the year, they also schedule a number of regular audax events of various lengths Р200, 300, 400, 600 and 1,000 km.

I have yet to attempt a longer event but am considering one¬†later in the year. ¬†In September there is a 200 km ride called the “Fall Flatlander”. ¬†If I can complete 147 km in the heat, I think I can finish 200 km in the cooler fall weather.

I am recruiting team members now.  Interested?

Some thoughts on completing the 2014 Canada Day Populaire

First, let me clarify.  A populaire is not a race although, these days, you see more carbon bikes and road racing teams participating than in the past.  Many competitive cyclists use these events to train for Gran Fondos and other road races.  The difference is that with a populaire, there are control stops where cyclists stop, get their cards stamped, hydrate and go to the bathroom.  Yesterdays ride had 3 control stops; one at 50 km, 1 at 75 km and another at 100 km.  The roads are not closed.  You share them with other traffic although, the route is on quiet rural, scenic roads.

I was pleased with my result. ¬†I beat last years time averaging a 25 kph pace over 150 km (I got lost twice and added 3 years to Canada’s age – it is only 147 years since Confederation) that included a substantial amount of climbing – ¬†a 7 km climb up Sumas Mountain and, over the last 50 kph, a lot of shorter but very steep climbs. ¬†On the flats, I would average 30-40 km, depending on the wind and who I was riding with.

I was disappointed I couldn’t ride the Roberts. ¬†It was built for this type of longer event. ¬†The steel frame, compact crankset and the Selle Italia saddle would have made the climbs a little easier and the ride more comfortable, particularly at the end. ¬†I didn’t mind riding the Garneau but it is a racing bike and, consequently, I raced a lot of the time.

Yesterday was unusually hot (33 degrees Celsius) and I may have gone out too fast.  The first 125 km I felt strong, often at the front pulling but the last 25 km, particularly the last 10, were difficult.  I bonked.  That has never happened to me before.  Despite all the preparation and hydration during the ride, I experienced cramping for the first time.  And, blisters on my feet that made every pedal stroke excruciating.  The last 8-10 km were painful and, my pace dropped substantially.  Fortunately, I was with 2 other riders, a guy who was experiencing a similar problem and, a younger woman who pulled us along.  Without her help, I may have stopped several times.

I did this ride alone finding¬†groups of riders along the way that were maintaining a similar pace. ¬†I didn’t stay with any one group. ¬†I would either fall off the pace with some or want to go faster than others.

The only time I was ever passed was when I was alone on the road and, it would be a group that would come along side.  Solo riders never passed me.  And, I was never passed on any of the climbs.  I must be stronger.  I can remember a time, not so long ago, when I would get discouraged by younger, lighter riders speeding past me on a climb.  I still get passed but not yesterday.

Next year, I want to do the ride with a group.  It is much easier to maintain a sustained pace with a group of 5-7 cyclists than it is on your own.  I am recruiting a team beginning today.

Kit and fuel …

The weather man is calling for a sunny, hot day for the 2014 Canada Populaire.  Clear blue skies with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius.  Hot.

I am going to wear one of my favourite Louis Garneau kits.

The full zip jersey has 5 pockets at the back. ¬†The full length zipper will allow me to completely unzip the top if I am too hot. ¬†It is made of a wicking material that draws perspiration away from the body but, at the same time, blocks the wind. ¬†A terrific material. ¬†And, the 5 pockets will make it easier to carry more fuel. ¬†There is a pocket for my iPhone. ¬†I want to take pictures along the way. ¬†3 pockets are deep and intended for gels and bars. ¬†I will load each with an endurance GoToob filled with my homemade gel and a Cliff Bar. ¬†And, the 5th pocket is intended for used packaging so I don’t litter the road along the way.

The black compression bibs are particularly comfortable and, since they are relatively new, the padding is still in good shape for this long ride. ¬†I also have some chamois cream to apply. ¬†I don’t usually use it. ¬†Chaffing is not usually a problem. ¬†But because it is a longer ride than normal and hot, I apply it to the shorts and my bottom.

Fuel is key for a long ride like this. ¬†Everyone is different but I have found that if I continually hydrate and refuel throughout the day, I last longer and perform better. ¬†Every 20-30 minutes I sip on water and have some gel or bar, averaging 1 bar and/or 1/2 of a GoToob every hour in addition to 1/2 – 1 full bottle of water. ¬†I have to make myself do this. ¬†There is a tendency to keep cycling but, if I leave it, I’ll “bonk” after 2-3 hours.

LG Quartz helmet.  Check.  Sunscreen.  Check.  Lip balm.  Check.  Maratona Dles Dolomites white gloves and matching ankle socks (a gift).  Check.

All that is left is to make the gels. I’ll do this last thing tonight because I have an early 5:30 am start tomorrow.

Oh ya.  One more thing.  I am thinking of shaving my legs.  I have never done it before and, have always wanted to try.

What do you think?


Prepping the bike (and me) …


Today, I spent time¬†with final preparations for Tuesday’s Canada Day Populaire (147 km). I am busy tomorrow and may not have the time. ¬†Besides, I like to check things carefully and early, just in case I need to visit the bike shop.

This is the checklist –

  1. Cleaned and Pledged frame and components.
  2. Cleaned the tires, rims and brake pads.  I actually use car tire cleaner and polish on the tires.
  3. Check bag for flat tire repair making certain I have a spare tube, tire irons, an H2O cartridge (2) and, a multi-tool. ¬†I am using the largest bad I have. ¬†It has extra room for my wallet, Cliff Bars and Gel tubes so I don’t need to stuff everything in the jersey pockets at the start.
  4. Apply leather guard to the saddle.  It protects from the rain, keeps the leather soft and puts a shine on it.
  5. Cleaned and lubricated the chain.  This is a weekly ritual, regardless of the mileage or weather conditions.
  6. Tightened all bolts and screws Рstem, bars, derailleurs, brakes, seat post , saddle mount and cable fasteners.  I hate rattles.
  7. Inflated the tires (100 psi for this set).  I usually inflate the front 5 psi less for better traction on descents.
  8. Adjusted brake cables making certain there is the same tension in each.
  9. Reset the wheel diameter on the computer.  Gotta get that speed and distance correct.

This didn’t take long. ¬†And, it is nothing unusual. ¬†I do this every week or two with each of the bikes. ¬†The Roberts¬†was already in excellent condition. ¬†45 minutes at most. ¬†And then, I did a 35 km ride to test the bike and, my legs. ¬†The ride included two 2 km climbs and a mixture of flat and rolling sections. ¬†Despite the long hike yesterday, my legs felt fresh as I sprinted up the hills maintaining a consistence, easy cadence throughout.

The bike is ready. ¬†I am ready. ¬†I just have to make 3 endurance gels, pack a few Cliff Bars and fill my water bottle. ¬†And, oh ya, select a kit to wear. ¬†I’ll leave that until tomorrow once I have a better understanding of the weather. ¬†Red and white would be appropriate for Canada Day.

It’s ride time.

An easy 65 km ride …

I cycled more than 525 km in the past 2 weeks, a combination of long difficult rides, climbing and sprints.

I am planning to do the Canada Day Populaire again this year, a 147 km ride in the scenic Fraser Valley.  I did the ride last year and really enjoyed it.  This year, I am better prepared.  I have put in more miles and, have a bike particularly suited to randonneur type events, the Roberts Рa steel frame touring bike equipped with an Ultegra compact crankset.

I wanted to do a tempo ride yesterday in preparation for the July 1 event. ¬†I rode the Roberts out to Steveston and back, a 65 km round trip on flat, rural roads for the most part. ¬†There is a 4 km climb at the end, there is always a long climb at the end of a long ride. ¬†Why is that? ¬†I didn’t want to work too hard ¬†It was more like a recovery ride. ¬†The entire ride, I used the small chainring, maintaining a relatively high cadence averaging 25-30 kph.

I had not been on the Roberts for a couple of weeks. ¬†I had forgotten what a comfortable ride it is. ¬†The steel frame, although it may be heavy, is very forgiving, absorbing the bumps ¬†better than the Garneau’s carbon frame. ¬†Last year, I rode the Garneau. ¬†This year, I am planning to ride the Roberts. ¬†It is not quite as fast, but it is easier on the body over a long period of time.

But I digress. ¬†I want to discuss the compact crankset. ¬†I enjoy riding on the smaller chainring. ¬†I seem to have gears that I can’t find on a standard crankset. ¬†I spin faster and more easily but do not lose a lot of speed. ¬†And, climbing is easier as well. ¬†Again, I select a larger cog on the back and spin faster, and more easily, up the hill.

I first discovered the compact crankset on a rental bike in Maui a couple of years ago. ¬†We rented bikes to do the West Maui Loop, a 100 km ride that circumvents the west volcano. The north end of the loop has several challenging climbs so the bike shops equip their bikes with compacts instead of either the standard or triple cranksets. ¬†I have been riding with the compact crankset since rebuilding the Roberts this winter and don’t know why I haven’t done it sooner. ¬†In fact, I am considering putting one on the Garneau as well.

The compact option is more popular today not only with recreational cyclists but with the pros as well. ¬†I’d like to know your thoughts. ¬†Do you ride with a compact? ¬†Do you like it as much as I do?

Here is an article outlining 10 reasons to consider compact cranks that may change your mind if you have never considered changing your cranks.