Standing while on the drops …

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Yesterday I took The New Road to the hill for some repeat climbs. There was a 25 kph wind from the north-west. Since the road jig-jags north, then east, north again, east, and finally south to the hill, I was treated to a hurting wind both on the way out, and on the return ride. Not all of the time. Just when I was heading north or west.

I ride on the drops a lot here. I am either battling a headwind or pedalling fast on the smooth, rolling roads. Yesterday, I noticed how comfortable I have become standing on the pedals when on the drops. I can remember a time when this was not the case. When I felt I might lose my balance, and fall. That’s not the case any longer. I stand to pick up the pace. I stand when climbing small hills. And, I stand just because it feels goods. I feel in harmony with the bike. Every muscle in my body is focused on delivering power to the pedals.

I rode for over 2 hours yesterday at a pace ranging from 15-45 kph. Most of that time, I was on the drops. I would only switch to the hoods or tops to give myself a break. Relax the back. Or, when I would slow to admire a view, take in water, chew on a Cliff Bar.

The drops are my preferred position, and I began questioning why.

I think it boils down to conditioning. In some ways. First, you need to be flexible enough to reach the drops comfortably. Flexible not only in the lower back but hamstrings as well. And secondly, you have to be strong enough to stay in this powerful position for extended periods. Strong in the legs. Strong in the butt. Strong in the back. And, strong in the arms and shoulders. Otherwise, the position is uncomfortable, even dangerous. And this strength isn’t the result of time in the gym. It’s the result of hours in the saddle, pushing yourself to higher speeds, and taking on longer, steeper climbs.

When standing while on the drops, I am acutely aware of how much my core is engaged. It’s as if the core is the power source, radiating strength to the legs, butt, shoulders and arms. It’s the “Powerhouse”. When all of these muscles are working in unison, I am powerful, balanced, and confident.

I’m dancing on the pedals.

Cottage time …

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WindowCam (June 25, 2015)

Cottage time is different time.

Everything slows down. There is no rush. I get up and go to bed with the sun. There is no TV to intrude. I have stopped wearing a watch. It has no purpose. There are no meetings, or scheduled events. I eat when I am hungry, not on a schedule. Projects that might take a day or two, may take a week. And, it doesn’t matter.

I notice I walk more slowly, and more relaxed. My shoulders are down and my arms swing freely. I sleep longer, from 10 PM to 7 AM without exception. I work more slowly, but more thoroughly. I am seldom frustrated, or angry with anything. I take pleasure preparing food. And, eating.

The only time I move quickly is when I’m on the bike, and even then I am not working as hard as I might.

No, cottage time is different time. Even Chas and Lou are more relaxed. They rest in the big room with a view of the water and never badger me for a ride. Don’t get me wrong. They love rolling on these roads. It’s just they are content not to be working hard all of the time.

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One of the roads on the today’s ride (June 26, 2015)

Chas: “Lou. Lou! Wake up. We found a great ride for you today. You’ll love it. It’s a 45 km time trial. Flat. Smooth. Scenic. Quiet. Hardly any cars. And, no need to stop. You’ll love it. Big Guy was so excited. He can’t wait to take you out.”

Lou: “Ya? I’m ready. Rested. I wonder if I can still keep my balance?”

Chas: “The roads cut through farm land to the big lake and then along the water for 10-12 km. You’ll love it. We went fast. You will be much faster. Get ready. You are going to have to work hard.”

Lou: “Finally.”

A ride on the flats …

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After all of the climbing yesterday, I wanted a flatter, easier ride today. After stopping at the club to fill my bottles, I headed south to the river delta, and west along the north arm of the Fraser River. It is a 20 km ride out, and 20 km back hugging the scenic shoreline. Flat, yes. Easy, no. Why is it when I have a headwind going out, I also have one coming back? Aren’t there tailwinds any more? The ride was a grind like a 40 km climb. But this post is not about the flat terrain. It is about the flat sections on the top of my carbon handlebars.

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This style of bar has 3 purposes:

  1. They are designed to be more aerodynamic. If this is the case, it is minimal because the rider’s body is immediately behind the bars.
  2. The oval like cross section strengthens the carbon composite. This makes sense. You may gain a little weight with the larger cross section but the bar can withstand more force, particularly when sprinting.
  3. The flat sections are more comfortable when holding onto the tops of the bars. This is particularly helpful during long climbs as it opens the chest making it easier to breath rhythmically and deeply.

I had forgotten how much I like riding with my hands on the tops of these bars. They fit into my palms like a glove, and are the perfect width for me. I rode on the tops most of yesterday, and today. Even when I am not climbing, it is more comfortable than being on the hoods, or on the drops. When I’m battling a wind, or want speed, I’ll get on the drops trying to become more aerodynamic. When I’m negotiating tight, fast turns, I prefer to be on the hoods so that I can quickly brake if necessary. In fact, I like the variety these three positions provide, but I prefer the tops and had forgotten how comfortable it was.

You can tell I ride on the tops a lot. You can see the bar tape is dirtier there than on the drops. Some would say I need to replace the bar tape, or at least clean it. I keep this bike pristine. I clean the chain before most every ride, and wash the bike weekly. More frequently when necessary. But I never touch the tape.  It’s like a right of passage. It’s confirmation that I work hard on the bike, and I’m proud of that.

Call me daft 🙂

What do you mean “Pedalling in circles”?

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She asked “What do you mean pedalling in circles? I have no choice but to pedal in circles”.

She is right, of course. Unfortunately, some of us take cycling lingo for granted.

I spent 54 hours on a spinning bike over the past 2 months completing a customized training program with nothing to look at other than myself (I was facing a full length mirror), a cycle computer and my heart rate monitor. The workouts got progressively more difficult, analogous to 10-15 km climbs up steeper and steeper grades. My thoughts quickly turned to my pedal stroke. What could I do to complete this workout? What could I do to make my pedal stroke more efficient and, consequently, less tiring?

The answer was quite simple. Pedal in circles. Make use of all the leg muscles throughout the pedal stroke, not just on the down stroke. When climbing, at the top of the stroke, the heel lowers to engage the ankle, calve and hamstring muscles more. This is natural. The body knows what to do.

Now that I am out on the roads bikes more, I notice that I “pedal in circles” most of the time without even thinking about it. Two months of spinning indoors has done that. I find I climb seated most of the time and tackle steep inclines more easily. On the weekend I road a new route and encountered a short but very, very steep climb. A cliff. When it first came into view, I thought I may have to walk up. Surprisingly, I geared down and completed the kilometre climb without having to get out of the saddle and, much more easily than I expected.

If you don’t know what “pedalling in circles” feels like, try pedalling with one leg for a minute or two. This is a technique used by cyclists wanting to improve their stroke. You’ll find you cannot pedal unless you push down and pull up, engaging all the leg muscles to get back to the top of the stroke. I warm-up on the spinning bike using this technique. One minute with the left leg, one minute both legs and, one minute right leg for 10-15 minutes. I do this in a low gear and a high cadence just to get the feel of the stroke in preparation for the workout.

So, I said to her “engage all of your legs muscles during the pedal stroke and you will tire less quickly and, climb more easily”.

Bolsover | What I have learned

“I went to the [cottage] because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau

I was first introduced to Henry David Thoreau at university and, readily identified with some of his thinking.  I liked solitude.  I enjoyed walking in the woods.  And, I wanted to pursue a simpler life.

As an adult, I have very often visited the cottage alone.  I do it deliberately.  I enjoy the peace and quiet.  The solitude.  And, I enjoy listening to my inner voice, a voice that too often is suppressed when busy with making a living, providing for a family and listening to others.  Time alone makes space for this voice.  The cottage has been my cabin in the woods.

The cottage has always been a place for me to regain focus.  A place to open new doors.  It is where I retreated to plan, repair a broken heart, study for final exams and examine new ideas.

This visit, like many before, has been part holiday, part work.  I came this time with two objectives.  First, and perhaps foremost, I wanted to examine the possibility of selling the property.  I have been thinking about this for 10 years and have teetered back and forth, not making a decision one way or the other.  I wanted to finally decide so I could make plan.  Move forward.  Second, I wanted to cycle daily without the usual daily distractions, increase the work load and focus on technique.  I wanted to train for a fall audax.

I live simply at the cottage.  I eat simply, mostly local, fresh vegetables.  Read a lot.  Cycle a lot.  Repair whatever is in need of repair.  Clean a lot.  The floors.  The windows.  The linen.  I sleep a lot.  And, I watch the sun rise and set on the water, sharing breakfast and dinner with this ever changing specatacle.  It is mesmerizing.

This trip is almost over.  I have a few more rides to look forward to but am beginning the fourth, and last, week at the cottage.  It is time to reflect on what I have learned.

  1. Although sometimes inconvenient, travelling with a bike is rewarding.  The bike has enabled me to explore routes I may not otherwise see and travel at a pace that I not only see but hear, feel and smell the experience and, at a pace I can meet and talk with others along the road.  Cycling engages all of my senses and I experience the surroundings differently than by car, foot or boat.  I know more about the Bolsover area today than I ever have.
  2. Cycling into a headwind is not easy.  I expected to work on speed given the relatively flat terrain.  Not so.  I had wind most days.  I learned that by gearing down, dropping down on the bars and maintaining a high cadence I cut through the wind without becoming excessively tired or discouraged.
  3. The Roberts steel frame is ideally suited to the rougher, country roads.  Steel is more forgiving and the longer wheelbase absorbs bumps better.
  4. It is important to travel with a complete kit, to expect a variety of weather conditions.  Heat.  Cold.  Sun.  Cloud.  Wind.  Rain.  I came prepared with a wind/rain jacket, bibs, jerseys, leg & arm warmers, booties, wool socks and sunglasses with interchangeable lens (dark brown, yellow and rose).  I needed all of it.
  5. I thrive on a simpler diet.  Fresh, local vegetables and fruit.  No sweats.  Very little dairy.  Very little bread.  No meat.  I enjoy cooking and carefully planned meals – lentil soup, vegetable salads, breakfast cereal, pasta, veggie burgers, frittatas …  It is a calorie reduced diet but I never felt cravings.  I didn’t snack during the day or evening.  I ate 3 balanced, nutritious meals a day, slept well and had a lot of energy for cycling.
  6. Solo training builds both physical and mental strength.  I got much stronger because of the wind.  I had no opportunity to draft and relax.  My pedalling technique improved, became more efficient.  And, the only reason I missed a workout was because of rain.  Rainy days became rest days.  There were a few more than I would have liked but I never avoided a ride because I was tired or unenthusiastic.
  7. I may be late to the party but I learned that current technology enables me to access the internet wherever I have a cell phone signal.  This allowed me to work and post on this blog without having to leave the cottage.  This has opened the door for many other possibilities, many other trips I have considered.
  8. And, perhaps most importantly, after spending almost a month alone at the cottage, I realize I can never sell it.  It is as much a part of me as the Roberts bike and, because of my lengthy history here, can never be replaced.

These findings are not earth shattering.  They are not new or, profound.  But they will shape the days ahead.

I will welcome headwinds.  I am comfortable in a more aerodynamic position for long periods of time.  I will keep my weight down knowing that a reduced-calorie, natural, meatless diet actually makes me feel better and more energetic. I will travel more with my bike knowing that I will see more, enjoy myself more, easily stay in touch with my family, post to this blog and, actually work effectively.  And, I will return to the cottage.  Next time for an extended period of time.  The summer months.  Time to have family visits.  Time to get on the water more.  And, time to finish the utility room.

And, a lot of time to enjoy my early-morning rides.

“An early-morning [cycle] is a blessing for the whole day.” – Henry David Thoreau

Bolsover | Day # 10

A cold front slid in overnight.  It’s cold.  9 Celsius.  But sunny.  After a quick breakfast, I was anxious to get on the road.  Rain is expected again tomorrow and I want to increase my work load this week.

The cold called for a long sleeve base layer, arm warmers, leg warmers, a shell and a cycling hat.  The first 10 km I maintained a good pace but my hands were cold.  Oh how I wish I had brought my fingered gloves.  Once I was warmed up it wasn’t too bad.  I selected a route that kept me in the sun 75% of the time.  I was feeling pretty cocky maintaining a steady 30 kph pace until I turned east for the 10 km home stretch.  Where did that come from?  A headwind.  And, not a little one.  There were sections of road where I could barely maintain 15 kph.  Ugh!  It felt like a long climb.

I have improved my headwind riding skills.  I noticed a headwind doesn’t bother me a much as it did in the past.  My pedal stroke has improved as a consequence.  I notice that it is more “circular” not just into the wind or climbing but all of the time.  And, I am more comfortable on the drops.  It seems I am down there most of the time these days.  I even climb on the drops.  It never felt comfortable before but it does now, particularly when climbing into the wind.

I read a lot here. I have already finished 2 novels.  There is no TV and no one to talk to.  I got to thinking.  I have always enjoyed ready but do it seldom except when I am at the cottage.  I purchased a large screen TV some years ago and it consumes way too much of my time when I am at home.  I don’t miss it.  I keep up to date with all the news thanks to CBC Radio.  I don’t miss the morning weather reports.  My cell phone app is actually better and more accurate.  I can refer to it anytime.  And, there is no need for a traffic report here.  There is never more than one other car on the road in these parts.  So, when I return, I am going to make reading a priority.  I have a stack of unread books waiting for me.  Novels.  Biographies. And, a selection of how-to books.  How to make a kayak.  Something I have always wanted to do.  Maybe that is what I will do this winter when the days get short and wet.  It would sure beat sitting in front of the TV.

The forecast has improved.  It is calling for clearing in the afternoon and sun.  t looks like I will get a ride in.