There are 2 types of cyclists: those who hate to ride outdoors in the winter and those who hate to ride indoors in the winter. While there are many good excuses to be found on both sides there are many more bad excuses. The truth is that virtually no one should be riding exclusively indoors or outdoors during the winter. There are benefits to riding indoors, even for those with the most flexible schedules, living in areas where the weather nearly always allows for outdoor riding and there are benefits to riding outdoors even for those with jobs that make outdoor riding impossible in certain months or who live in areas with extreme cold, wind, snow and ice in the winter.Read More
Our bodies are always changing. Having good data about how we are changing can help us make appropriate adjustments to our training and nutrition. Using a "smart scale" can help us get that data, but like a lot a lot of data, it's often misunderstood and misused.Read More
You train hard and smart. You do everything you can to recover. You eat well. You buy the right equipment and you take good care of it. You practice your skills and tactics. You get to the race fit and fresh. You warm up. You follow your plan. You win. Right? Well, sometimes, but most often, that isn't how the story plays out.
Bike racing is a tough sport mentally, and to be honest there are far more athletes out there who have the physical potential to be successful than those who have the necessary mental attributes. To be a successful bike racer, you have to go into every race with the belief that you can win. This takes a lot of confidence. In a way, it requires that you ignore the odds. These are the odds that tell you that even when you are the strongest rider in the race; even if your preparation has been flawless; even if you have the best equipment, the best team and the smartest tactics, you will probably lose most of the time. A successful bike racer ignores those odds and goes into every race with a plan. Not a plan to finish, not look bad, or get some upgrade points but a plan to win.
But there is also another side of this coin. How do you respond to failure? What happens when you did everything right and you still didn't win? Better yet, what happens when you crash? What happens when you get sick at the worst possible time? What happens when you get injured? What happens when you miss your start time? What happens when you get a flat tire and never catch back on? What happens when you make a split-second tactical error that ends your race? What happens when you burn out physically and mentally? What happens when you don't even want to look at your bike anymore?
Let me pause and say that I find it difficult to offer advice in this area because I am not great at it myself. Whenever I have an athlete who crashes, gets injured or sick, feels burnt out or disappointed, it affects me. I struggle to find the right words to say to them and I struggle to stay positive. The downside of doing something you love for a living is that it's impossible not to care.
Perhaps though, not caring should not be the goal. It's OK to feel bad. It's OK to be disappointed, sad, angry, jealous or robbed of your goals. Saying "look on the bright side" or "think of what it means just to be there" isn't helpful. Whatever it is you are feeling, let yourself feel it. What is important is what you do about it. What do you do with that anger, sadness and disappointment? Do you give up? Do you quit? Or do you find a way to turn those feelings into fuel you can use to reach your next goal?
"It is not the critic who counts. ... The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly ... who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt, 1910
The point is simple: keep moving forward. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep putting yourself out there. Keep trying and keep failing. At the end of the day, the most successful athletes are not the ones that did their training perfectly. They aren't the ones with the nicest equipment. They are not the ones who were lucky enough to never get sick or injured or crash or have a mechanical. They aren't the ones with the best genetics. They aren't even the ones who worked the hardest. They are the ones who rolled with the punches. The ones who adapted to the challenges of living in the real world and having real problems. They are the ones who turned their weaknesses into strengths. They are the ones who turned their failures into success.
Colin Sandberg is the owner and head coach of Backbone Performance, LLC. He is a Cat. 1 roadracer, a USA Cycling Level II coach and a UCI Director Sportif. He is also headcoach at Young Medalists High Performance and race director forTeam YoungMedalists. If you have questions or comments, feel free to use the comments section or email us. Thanks for reading!
If you think that endurance rides are a waste of time, you're probably doing them wrongRead More
Forecasts for the winter of 2015/2016 call for warmer than average temperatures. Don't make the mistake of trying to maintain your high end fitness at the expense of a good base.Read More
OK, it has to be said. My writing in this blog hasn't exactly been prolific over the last year. If you know me you are probably aware that I have a 1 year old baby at home who I take care of most of the time. To say that it's been a huge challenge to be a good parent and husband while keeping my business alive, taking care of my current athletes and bringing in new athletes as well as trying to make time for a little of my own training... well, that would be an understatement. At the same time, I recognize that many of you have 2, 3, 4 or more children. I recognize that many of you work 60+ hours a week, sometimes working weekend and night shifts, sometimes performing demanding physical labor and sometimes traveling all over the world across many time zones and never being able to rely on a consistent schedule. I recognize that many of you don't have the benefit of a wonderful supportive spouse who can take care of the children and the household when you are away; someone who can carry the bulk of the financial burden so you can follow your dreams; someone who loves you unconditionally and forgives you for sometimes being home late, exhausted, irritable and drained. Because I am acutely aware of these challenges that so many of you face, this blog, my first in almost 8 months, is not about me. It's about you. This is my attempt to summarize my admiration and awe of you and of the way you are able to so gracefully balance the various aspects of your life.
"You can't have too much of everything" - Ahmad Badawi
The above is a quote that I use to talk about the importance of balance in life with my junior athletes. It shouldn't need to be said that there are only so many hours in the day and most people don't have time to do everything the way the really want to do it, so compromises must be made.
How much is enough time at work? 8 hours/day? 7 hours/day? Many would argue that Americans work more hours than we need to, but still, there is only so much you can reduce your hours before you no longer have a job. On top of that, you have to tack on your commuting time... probably at least 30 minutes per day and for many people closer to 2 hours!
How much is enough sleep? Many elite athletes feel they need at least 9 hours of sleep to recover properly from training. Studies have shown that mental function starts to decline below 8 hours/night and decline steeply below 7 hours/night.
How much is enough family time? I suppose there could be many interpretations of what "family time" means but I would argue that most people need at least an hour per day with their spouse and/or children. Single people might not have those obligations but they still have dates and social outings with friends. Those that love you will understand that you can't always be there but it's unreasonable to expect people to stick around forever when you are perpetually absent. Not to mention, when it comes to children, they grow fast and you don't get to go back and make up for lost time when it's convenient
How much time do you need to take care of your household? (by household I am including indoor and outdoor chores as well as car and bike maintenance) Again, I would guess at least an hour, right? You can neglect this stuff but you will regret it when you start getting sick because of it
How much time do you need to train? 2 hours/day? 1 hour/day? Remember too that you also have to factor in all of the small activities that go along with that training such as changing into your workout clothes, driving to the group ride or the park or the gym, pumping tires, taking a shower afterwards, preparing a recovery drink, downloading your workout file and putting your comments on Training Peaks (of course)
How much time do you need to prepare your meals, eat them and clean up after yourself? It's generally healthier to prepare your own food but that involves driving to the supermarket, buying groceries, cooking and cleaning. You might be able to save a little time by going out or ordering take out, but this will be generally more expensive and less healthy. I'm sure it varies a lot but if you are like me, you probably spend at least 3 hours a day between grocery shopping, food preparation, eating your meals and cleaning up.
At this point we are already at 21-30 hours per day of activities and we haven't even included any miscellaneous activities like paying bills, taking showers, answering emails, going to the bathroom or gasp! relaxing. Bottom line is this. Something has to give. For competitive people (like most people that probably read this) that is a tough pill to swallow. Personally I'm not willing to accept the idea of being an average cyclist, an average coach, an average husband or an average father. I can probably live with being an average house cleaner or lawn mower...
This is the point where I would normally give you some tips and strategies for dealing with this problem, but in this case I can't say much. In fact I am pretty lucky. For the last 11 years, I've had a schedule that was flexible where I could almost always find time to train, sleep, spend time with loved ones or whatever. Even now, I have one child and a lot of help. I work from home. I have a supportive wife, a nanny that comes for a few hours a day 3 days a week. My family and my in-laws are close by. I shouldn't complain and I won't complain because the fact is, if I had to deal with the challenges that many of you have, I don't think I could do it. Without naming names, here are some of examples of some of the amazing people I currently coach or have coached in the past:
- A lawyer who works at least 60 hours/week but also manages to ride his bike every day and play golf with his 14 year old son every Sunday
- A woman finishing her medical residency (think 100 hour weeks) while training for olympic distance triathlons
- A chef who owns a chain of restaurants where he works long days and nights and never has a free weekend, but trains to race the Leadville 100 MTB race
- The president of an asbestos removal and demolition company who sponsors an elite cycling team while training for Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200 mile endurance race
- A college student who takes extra credits so he can graduate a semester early in order to travel to Europe to race professionally
- A woman who is the deputy director of a major agency in the city government and a board member in a number of local charities and advocacy organizations who rides her bike to work every day and comes out to mix things up with the men on the fastest group rides in the area
- An eye doctor trying to open an additional clinic while keeping his current office going AND training for road cycling, mountain biking, triathlon and XTerra with the goal of making the 2016 Rio summer olympics
- The owner of a real estate development company AND a chain of bike shops who is reigning 2015 Masters National Cyclocross champion
To all of these people and so many more that I have had the pleasure of working with I say "Thank You". Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for proving that it can be done.
If there is one thing that I've learned about balance it's that balance is a struggle you never win. The ones who are successful are the ones that keep struggling. The ones who aren't successful are the ones that stop trying. Sometimes they just stop riding. Sometimes they get divorced. Sometimes they quit their jobs. And just to clarify, there are lots of legitimate reasons why people stop riding, get divorced and quit their jobs but simply giving up should never be one of them. There is no magic bullet. Is doesn't get any easier or less stressful. You always have to make compromises and sacrifices and you never achieve perfection. You just keep trying. You keep struggling. And you are better because of that struggle.
Colin Sandberg is the owner and head coach of Backbone Performance, LLC. He is a Cat. 1 roadracer, a USA Cycling Level II coach and a UCI Director Sportif. He is also head coach at Young Medalists High Performance and race director for Team Young Medalists. If you have questions or comments, feel free to use the comments section or email us. Thanks for reading!
I was just going through the files on my computer and I realized that I had this video on bike cleaning that my intern, Zach Houlik helped me make last summer. This is an instructional video on basic bike cleaning, not an extreme bike cleaning/rebuild that may be necessary if your bike if you were riding in severe conditions.
- Garden hose
- Bucket of soapy water
- Clean rag for drying bike
- Dirty rag for cleaning drivetrain parts
- Chain lube
Optional (but recommended) Tools
- Goof Off
Note: at the end of the video I say "Don't use WD40 to lube your bike" and I need to add a disclaimer. I was referring to basic WD40, not the excellent line of bike cleaning products that WD40 now makes.
If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.
Colin Sandberg is the owner and head coach of Backbone Performance, LLC. He is a Cat. 1 road racer, a USA Cycling Level II coach and a UCI Director Sportif. He is also head coach at Young Medalists High Performance and race director for Team Young Medalists. If you have questions or comments, feel free to use the comments section or email us. Thanks for reading!
It it were a few years ago, I would have been out riding in the 15 degree weather last Saturday. A few years older now, I instead was sitting indoors, sipping my coffee and watching Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in the comfort of my living room with my 3 month old daughter on my lap. I am glad I did, and not just because I was able to stay warm and comfortable. I also got to witness live the race finish that everyone is is still talking about on Monday morning.
With 40 kilometers left to go in the race, Etixx-QuickStep had put Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Stijn Vandenbergh in a 4 man breakaway with Team Sky's Ian Stannard. With 3 out of 4 in the winning move, victory seemed certain for Patrick Lefevre's team, it was only a matter of how and by how much. The situation seemed very similar to the famous 2001 Paris Roubaix where the Domo-Farm Frites team (also managed by Lefevre) finished 1-2-3 and destroyed what would be George Hincapie's best ever chance at victory in that race and coined the term "Domo-Nation". Ironically, Servais Knaven, the winner that year, now works for Team Sky. I was also reminded of US Postal's director Johan Bruyneel saying after the race, "When it's 3 on 1, you lose. Every time."
What played out in the last 5 kilometers was the perfect storm of tactical mistakes, bad luck and less than peak fitness on the part of the Etixx team and brilliance on the part of Stannard. At 4.7k to go, Etixx forced Stannard, who had been sitting on, to finally take a pull. As soon as he did, Boonen, who had skipped a few pulls in order to rest up, put in a massive attack. This is team tactics 101. When you have 3 on 1, one guy attacks, you force the other guy to chase... if he brings it back the next guy attacks... you force the odd man out to chase again... rinse & repeat until you have one guy off the front. At this point, you can still force the other guy to pull since you have a man off the front. When he is worn down enough you can attack again, putting a second guy off the front. Now it's 1 on 1 but with 2 guys off the front you can still force the other guy to pull and tire himself out enough for you to either beat him in a sprint or attack again. If everything plays out as it should, your team should finish 1-2-3.
Unfortunately for Etixx, it didn't play out exactly like that. Here's a timeline of what happened:
4.6k to go: Boonen attacks. Stannard is at the front after having just taken a pull. He puts his head down and chases Boonen.
3.4k to go: Stannard, with Terpstra and Vandenbergh in tow, reels Boonen back in. Immediately upon making contact, Terpstra attacks with Vandenbergh on his wheel. Stannard is again forced to chase (of course) but this time when he jumps, Boonen (after just having raced a kilo) is unable to hold Stannard's wheel and he has to dig deep to stay with him.
3.0k to go: Stannard (with Boonen just behind him) re-connects with Terpstra and Vandenbergh.
2.9k to go: Stannard attacks the trio and opens up a gap. Vandenbergh gives it all he's got but the gap holds.
2.6k to go: Vandenbergh pulls off and then falls off the pace. Terpstra pulls through.
2.2k to go: Terpstra is able to reconnect with Stannard but he drops Boonen (who has been hanging on for dear life) in the process. At this point, it might be tempting to think that Etixx has completely lost their numerical advantage, but it's important to remember that Terpstra, with Boonen just behind him, has no obligation to pull through. Stannard continues to drive the pace until 250m to go. Boonen never falls more than a couple seconds behind.
275m to go: Terpstra opens up his sprint to the left, but with a slightly uphill finish and dead legs, he doesn't get much of a jump on Stannard.
50m to go: Terpstra, in seeing that Stannard is still on his right hip, swings to the right to try and force him to come around on the left. Of course, he can't take him all the way into the barriers without being relegated. Stannard has room to come around just in time to take his second consecutive win in this race.
(For a great 5 minute summary of the entire race, check out Cosmo Catalano's "How the Race was Won")
Most of the commentary I have seen has been pretty critical of the whole Etixx team, saying that they got cocky, and blinded by their desire to sweep the podium, they underestimated Stannard. While I don't believe that this criticism is wholly unwarranted, I do think that some of it is a bit harsh.
Let's examine the alternatives:
Alternative 1: Etixx should not have let Stannard sit on. The idea here is that the 3 Etixx riders should have forced Stannard to do his fair share of pulls in the break. On Stannard's part, it's probably a smart move to sit on as long as he can. He knew that Etixx would eventually start attacking and the odds were already stacked against him. If Etixx didn't like this, they could try to "ride him off the back". This means that the third rider in the group would let a gap open up and force Stannard to come around and close it. At this point, the 3rd rider would jump on Stannard's wheel and let him tow him back up. This tactic would most likely have either dropped Stannard (though probably at the expense of one of the Etixx riders) or at least forced him to concede to taking his pulls. Another tactic that could presumably have had the same effect would have been for Etixx to have started their attacks sooner in the race instead of waiting until the last 5k.
Here is the problem: there was a group of riders just behind led by Sep VanMarcke (Lotto-Jumbo) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) with Phillipe Gilbert (BMC) stuck in no-mans-land. Although VanMarcke eventually finished a minute and a half behind, his group was hovering at 20-25 seconds for most of the last 40k. If Etixx had started trying to ride Stannard off the back, that gap could have easily evaporated. In a post-race interview, Lefevre defended his team's tactics, saying that VanMarcke was the strongest rider in the race and his team could not afford to play games. In fact, the only reason VanMarcke wasn't in the lead group was because he had flatted at the key moment of the race. Whether Lefevre was right about VanMarcke or he was simply making excuses for his team's disappointing result, one can't deny that the odds are much better with 3 out of 4 than 4 out of 8.
Alternative 2: Etixx should not have gone on the attack at all. After the race, Boonen said that this would have been his team's best strategy. After all, he was the best sprinter in the group he should have been able to beat Stannard head to head. Boonen could have let his teammates drive the pace all the way to the line and then sprint with 150m to go. This was exactly what worked for Boonen when he won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in 2014
Of course, the situation was quite different in last year's KBK. Yes, QuickStep had 5 out of 10 riders in the final breakaway, but the Belkin team also had 3. This means that they would most likely have been able to neutralize any QuickStep 1-2 attacks. Leading Boonen out was the only real option. Second, Moreno Hofland (Belkin) finished a very close second to Boonen in that race. It's always a gamble to let the race come down to a sprint. QuickStep got lucky that time but it would not have taken much for it to have gone the other way. Finally, it's worth noting that in that race, Boonen's teammates finished in 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th in the 10 man final group. To wait until the finish and then lead Boonen out for the sprint would have meant giving up all hope of sweeping the podium. Hindsight being 20/20, 1st, 3rd and 4th is a lot better than 2nd, 3rd and 4th, but you can't blame Lefevre for kicking his chops at the thought of another glorious sweep, can you?
Alternative 3: Terpstra or Vanderbergh should have attacked instead of Boonen. Perhaps one of them could have held off Stannard better than Boonen did, but even if they didn't, Boonen would have been fresh for the the sprint.
Of all of the options, this one seems to me like it would have been the best, but you still run into some of the same problems. Both Terpstra and Vanderbergh had been working hard and were close to their limit. Most likely, Vanderbergh would not have been able to put in a serious attack, so it would have to have been Terpstra. Stannard was able to catch Terpstra when he counter-attacked Boonen's move, so in all likelihood he would have reeled in an earlier Terpstra attack as well, even if Terpstra had been a little fresher. If we assume that Vanderbergh was too tired to make a good attack, that again leaves Boonen. While Boonen vs. Stannard in the final sprint would have been a much better match for Etixx, there are no guarantees and if Boonen were a little tired, the race could still have gone to Stannard.
The truth is that looking at the end of Saturday's race should teach us a few valuable lessons about racing:
1. It's a lot easier to "Monday morning quarterback it" than to have to make those decisions in the heat of the moment. It's important to realize that back in 2001, all the racers had radios. A clear headed director sportif sitting in his car with access to the exact time splits, would presumably have more chance of making the right call. It's not so easy to do this when you are suffering, excited about the possibility of winning (and in this case, possibly sweeping the podium) and nervous about blowing it. After all, being the favorite carries a lot of weight with it. Now, these guys are all professionals., which means that they should be able to think (and act) under pressure. They wouldn't be where they are if they couldn't. In my opinion, the decisions that were made on the road weren't as bad as many of the critics in the cycling press (not to mention social media) would imply. They just turned out to be wrong.
2. No one could have anticipated how strong Stannard would be. It would be a mistake to focus only on the mistakes of the Etixx guys and not at all on how incredibly good Stannard was. Despite the fact that he was sitting on for most of the last 40k, he was able to pull back Boonen's attack, then pull back Terpstra's attack, then put in his own attack, then stay in the wind for almost 3k riding hard enough to hold off Boonen, then win the sprint. This is not even to mention that he had the clairvoyance to attack at the absolute perfect time.
3. Omloop is traditionally the first big race of the season in Belgium. While it's always interested to see who is riding well and who isn't, it doesn't really mean all that much in the long run. It is essentially a "tune-up" race. It's worth noting that no one has won Omloop and then one of the "Monument" races since Musseuw in 2000. In fact, the Etixx team redeemed itself the very next day with Cavendish's win at KBK. The lesson to be learned is that even the pros need to race with their teams a bit before they are able to operate as a well-oiled machine.
4. In my opinion, the biggest error for Etixx was simply that Terpstra started his sprint too early. If he had forced Stannard to start the sprint or at least waited longer, I think that he would have won and we wouldn't even be talking about this. The lesson: practice your sprints. It's only 10-20 seconds of the race, but it can end up be the most important 20 seconds. I advise my athletes to practice sprinting in different gears, starting from different speeds, on uphills, on downhills, by themselves, with one partner and with a large group. A sprint will very rarely be perfect but the more you practice, the more chance you have that it will be good enough. And as is often the case in life, good enough is all you need.
Colin Sandberg is the owner and head coach of Backbone Performance, LLC. He is a Cat. 1 road racer, a USA Cycling Level II coach and a UCI Director Sportif. He is also head coach at Young Medalists High Performance and race director for Team Young Medalists. If you have questions or comments, feel free to use the comments section or email us. Thanks for reading!
Being that we're currently in single digit temperatures here in Pennsylvania and bracing for up to a foot of new snow (and we're counting ourselves lucky compared to those in New England), I thought that this post might be timely.
The end of winter is in sight and the racing season is right around the corner, but there are times when it seems like it couldn't be further away. Many of us look at our training and shake our heads, thinking that there is no way we can actually do this, short of getting on a plane and flying to San Diego, Miami or Mallorca. But alas, all is not lost! In fact, there are many benefits of living somewhere with a real winter. Aside from toughness and grit, one of the biggest benefits is that training in winter forces us to be flexible and creative. Here are a few tips to help you through these dark, cold and snowy days.
1. Look at the weather forecast and play the "shell game". In a word, plan. If you know that there will be one or two days when you won't be able to train outside, move your workouts around in order to get your long outdoor rides in when you can. Of course, this doesn't help much when there is 2 feet of snow on the ground and the mercury never rises above 20 degrees, but it does help when your ability to ride outdoors changes from day to day, as it often does towards the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring.
2. Embrace the snow and ice. Sure, it's not great for riding a road bike, but it is for skiing, skating, snowshoeing and fat biking. Be creative and try something that you don't normally have the chance to do. Don't worry too much about it not being exactly what your training says. There will be plenty of time to ride your bike later in the year so go out and enjoy the outdoors in a different way.
3. Add variety to your indoor training. Replacing a 2 hour outdoor endurance ride with 2 hours of endurance indoors on the trainer sounds miserable to me. But if you replace a 2 hour endurance ride with 2 hours of structured intervals, 2 hours indoors might not seem so bad. This doesn't mean that you have to add any intensity. Variety can be added to a workout just by changing up your cadence every 5 minutes or adding some fast cadence or one legged drills to your workout. You might also consider switching back and forth between the trainer and the rollers.
4. Misery loves company. Whether you're indoors or outdoors, having a training partner or a group to train with can help you out. If you're on the road on a cold day, having other riders to hide behind may keep you from getting too cold. Training with others also adds a sense of accountability and possibly a little competitiveness to the workout. Though competitiveness may backfire at times by encouraging us to go a little harder than we should be, most of us give our best efforts when our pride is on the line.
5. Be patient and hang in there. It may feel like winter will never end, but it will. Maybe you'll have to ride indoors for a couple more weeks. Maybe you'll have to keep freezing your butt off outside, or find other non-cycling aerobic activities to try. It's not perfect, but it never is. Of course, no race will ever play out exactly the way you expect it to and the ability to adapt and respond to changing circumstances is not something you're born with. You have to practice it.
Colin Sandberg is the owner and head coach of Backbone Performance, LLC. He is a Cat. 1 road racer, a USA Cycling Level II coach and a UCI Director Sportif. He is also head coach at Young Medalists High Performance and race director for Team Young Medalists. If you have questions or comments, feel free to use the comments section or email us. Thanks for reading!
When athletes say "I don't have many options for cross training", I tell them they aren't thinking hard enough. This is a list of many, but by no means all of the options out there that may help you take a break from the bike, stay fit, prevent future injuries, correct imbalances and provide the first layer in the foundation for a successful next season.Read More
The sad truth is that many good cyclists are not very good all around athletes. We are able to do one thing really well but little of anything else. Yet if we can ride a 100 miles without any problems but can't bring groceries in from the car without injury, we might be heading for disaster. Taking a step back and learning to become a more versatile athlete will help set the foundation for a successful winter and ultimately a better next season.Read More
The downside of good fitness is that it can lead to an over-inflated sense of control. Sometimes I feel like a broken record when I tell athletes "Don't force it. You can't impose your will on the race single-handedly. Keep your head up. Look for opportunities and do your best to take advantage of them." When we feel good we are excited to translate that fitness into results. Blinded by our own desire to succeed, we don't always pay attention to what is actually going on in the race. This is like an investor dumping all their money into stocks that they like without any regard to the movements of the market. Now, Warren Buffet or George Soros can probably dump millions of dollars into a stock and make it's value go up... but then again, they didn't get to be where they are by being reckless.
Don't Force It
The peloton is like the ocean. A surfer doesn't know exactly when the next wave will come or how big it will be, but he knows that it will come. If he is patient and pays attention to the tide and the rhythms or the ocean, he will be able to time it right and ride the wave. Just like the ocean, the peloton has it's own rhythms. Hills, tight turns, attacks and riders pushing the pace cause the pack to string out. Non technical downhills, wide open flat roads and riders deciding to sit up have the opposite effect: the pack bunches up. No race stays strung out or bunched up forever. Riders that understand and predict the "waves" of the peloton can use it's energy to move up to the front when it's bunched up instead of fighting the tide and use much more energy to move up when the field is strung out . This principle can also be used to time attacks. Smart riders move up when it's bunched up and attack when it's strung out but just about to bunch up again. The result is that a small gap quickly turns into a large gap and by the the time the field picks up the pace again they are out of sight. Dumb riders attack when it's easy, which means that the field will catch them as soon as the pace picks up again. The first step to being a smart peloton surfer is realizing that the ocean is more powerful than you are.
You can't impose your will on the race single-handedly
A dominant team is different from a single rider or even a small team because the dominant team has a lot more bullets to fire. They can afford to sacrifice riders for the sake of imposing their will on a race and making sure that it plays out the way that they want it to. If they want a breakaway to work, they can sacrifice riders to make the initial attack(s) so that they can have their strongest rider(s) counter attack and get into the winning move. If they want the race to come down to a sprint, they can afford to sacrifice riders to chase down breakaways and lead out their sprinter. If they want to split up the field, they can sacrifice riders to drive the pace and keep it fast enough to rip apart the field. All too often, though, solo riders or small, less powerful teams try to implement these tactics and all of their hard work only serves to set other riders up.
I am sure that some of you are thinking of times when you or someone you know did actually single-handedly dominate a race and impose their will on it, so let me say first of all: yes, there are exceptions. Most of those exceptions however, are when riders are far stronger than anyone else in their race (aka sandbagging). Most of the time though, even when a pro cyclist comes out to the Tuesday night training ride, they can't expect to just sit at the front and ride away from the field on strength alone even if they are twice as strong as the second strongest rider. It should be noted that for the most part when they do this, their intent is to get a good workout, not to "win".
In last month's Tour de France, Vincenzo Nibali was head and shoulders stronger than all the other [surviving] contenders, yet many fans thought this year's edition of "Le Grand Boucle" was the most exciting in recent memory because it was so aggressive. Nibali did not have a dominant team in the likes of Froome and Wiggins' Team Sky that could keep the pace so high as to discourage any of these attacks. Although Nibali was left without any teammates by then end of most of the mountain stages, he patiently let the others put in their attacks, following the ones he needed to and letting his competitors tire themselves out. When at last they had nothing more to give, he would go his own, gaining time on almost every decisive stage. In other words, he didn't win by beating everyone into submission, he won by taking advantage of every opportunity.
Keep your head up
The first thing my father ever taught me about riding a bike on the road was "Keep your head up", and to this day it's the best piece of advice I've ever received. He said this because he wanted me to recognize what was coming up ahead. If my head was down, looking at my front wheel, my bike computer or my legs, I might get caught off guard by a turn in the road, a pothole, a stop sign, a patch of gravel, a car, or any number of things. Keeping my head up allowed me to work out how I needed to react (if at all) well in advance. It also meant that I kept a straighter line and a smoother pedal stroke.
When we start to suffer from a hard effort, when we get nervous about road conditions or sketchy riders or when we get demoralized because we feel like we're not performing well, many of us react by lowering our heads. Some riders with limited neck flexibility or back/shoulder issues may have a difficult time keeping their heads up as well In an age where many of us have speed, cadence, heart rate, power, altitude, gradient, temperature and GPS measurements available, I see more and more riders that have trouble looking away from their bike computers. The bottom line is this: if your head is down, you aren't part of the race. Not only can this be dangerous, it can also lead you to make decisions based on the wrong information. With regard to attacking, too many riders attack because they feel good. Smart riders attack when they see a good opportunity to do so and more often than not, it's when the race is hard (which means they probably don't feel good).
Keeping your head up is the also the first step in getting out of your own head. If you can do this, you stop worrying about how much your suffering or how nervous you are about crashing or under-performing. You just figure out what needs to be done and you do your best to make it happen. The other upside to this kind of mentality is that when you are not able to make it happen (which, to be honest, for most racers is most of the time), there's no mental anguish. It's a lot easier to accept when you fail because you asked your body to do something and it refused than because you just didn't know what you needed to do. You only have so much effort to give (so many matches to burn, bullets to fire, whatever metaphor you like best). The trick is to learn to focus your effort at the times it really matters.
Look for opportunities and do your best to take advantage of them
Someone once told me that if you are in a breakaway and you have to go harder than everyone else in the break for it to survive, it's not the right break to be in. Those of us that are not field sprinters recognize that getting in the break is probably our only chance of winning. We may want so badly for the break to work that we are willing to work harder than anyone else in the break to ensure it's success. The thought of having to go back to the pack and either try to attack again or duke it out in a dangerous field sprint may seem unbearable. Here's the thing though: if we are working harder than everyone else in the break, we're not racing to win, we're racing for a top 5.
This doesn't mean that if you think the race will probably end in a field sprint your only option is to sit and wait for a sprint, it just means that there may be fewer opportunities for breaks to get away, so you really have to pay attention to see them. It's also important to realize that "the odds" aren't everything. When you think about it, bike racing odds are almost never in your favor. In a field of 100 racers, there are 99 losers and only 1 winner. To be a bike racer is to never stop believing that you could be the 1 winner if you are smart and a little lucky, but also to have the ability to get over it when most of the time, you are in the 99. Being a smart racer isn't about choosing the strategy with the most likely odds of winning, it's about picking the strategy with the most likely odds of you winning.
It's been a while since my last blog post, so I apologize to all my loyal readers out there. So far, it's been a busy July. I started off the month with a trip to Madison, Wisconsin for the US Road National Championships where I had a number of junior and U23 athletes racing. One of the things that shocked me during the week was how there were so many athletes (juniors in particular) who were so physically strong, yet had a poor grasp of some of the fundamentals of the sport. Now, I'm not just trying to make the point that some of these kids should be working on their bike handling a little more instead of staring at their power meter numbers all the time, or that they should make sure their tires and chains are in good shape before they drop $4000 on a set of carbon wheels or $10,000 on a new TT bike (although there were certainly many examples of both of these). I am talking about basic things like braking and shifting... skills that most people don't think much about or work on, yet can be a little more complicated than they appear.
"If you brake, you lose" - Mario Cipollini
Did you ever think about why track bikes don't have brakes? It's because if riders had the ability to quickly decelerate, there would be many many more crashes. To be fair, there are also a few crashes that could be avoided if brakes were allowed, but all in all track racing with brakes would be much more dangerous. It's tempting for new riders to think of their brakes as something that saves them from danger, yet forget about how much danger brakes can cause. If you hit your brakes when riding in a pack, there is always a chance that the rider behind you might ride into you. Not to mention, the thing that caused you to hit your brakes is still in front of you. Experienced riders learn to accelerate around problems, putting them in the rear view mirror.
You don't have to be riding with other people to have a braking related crash though. If the road surface is wet or loose, a simple touch of the brakes could have you skidding along on your side before you know it. When you are riding on gravel, dirt or a wet road, the coefficient of friction between the tires and the ground is reduced. Braking creates force in the opposite direction as the forward movement of the tires. If that force is greater than the friction between the tires and the ground, your tire will begin to slide. Once sliding, your tires can slide easily in any direction. Now, you may be able to let go of the brakes and adjust your center of gravity in time to save yourself from crashing if your rear tire "fishtails" a little bit, but if your front tire slides sideways, you will be on the ground.
The other problem that brakes cause is that they can cause you to work harder. This may seem like a no-brainer but it's something a lot of people don't think enough about. When you are riding along, the bike is propelled by your power, but there are also a lot of opposing forces working against you. I like to use this equation:
Speed = Power - [Aerodynamic Drag + Gravity + Rolling resistance + Drivetrain resistance + Braking force] *
I've seen a lot of riders conveniently forget the braking force part of this equation. They train to improve power output, they diet and buy expensive bikes to be as light as possible, they buy aero wheels, helmets, skinsuits and frames to make themselves more aero, nice tires to reduce rolling resistance, ceramic bearings and special chains to reduce drivetrain resistance. All of that advantage is negated if your increased speed is only met with increased braking. As your power improves, your technical skill must improve in accordance. Otherwise whatever speed you gain through increased fitness is lost whenever you go around turns, on descents or anytime you get into tight situations in the pack.
One thing I notice a lot on the bikes of less experienced riders is what I call "hair trigger brakes". In essence, riders set their bikes up so the slightest touch of the levers can slam on the brakes with maximum force. There are a few problems with this: a) This type of setup does not allow for much modulation (light or moderate braking). b) If the riders wheel is out of true or they hit a pothole their brakes will rub against the rim and c) This type of setup encourages nervous riding. The next time you see a pro's bike, try squeezing the brake levers. Chances are you will have to almost bottom them out on the bars to apply maximum force. This is because, for the most part, pros realize that their brakes are something to be used judiciously. I have told some riders that have a problem with this to imagine that their brake pads were made out of gold. Chances are, they would be a little thoughtful about how they use them if they cost $500 a pair!
Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to argue that brakes are unnecessary. There is a reason we have brakes on our road, cyclocross and mountain bikes and proper braking can actually help you go faster in the long run. I'll give you a couple examples:
Example 1: You are going down a steep descent with sharp, blind turns. Even the most technically proficient riders can only take these turns so fast. If you attempt to take these turns without braking, you will only be able to go so fast on the straighter sections. Having the confidence that you can safely slow down whenever necessary means that you can confidently fly down the side of the mountain, scrub as much speed as necessary before the turn, set yourself up to take the proper line, then let go of the brakes and accelerate through the apex of the turn.
Example 2: You are riding in a paceline, tucked nicely in the slipstream of a really good draft. The riders at the front of the group decelerate and if you don't do something you will run into the rider in front of you. If it's a slight deceleration, you can just slide out into the wind a little bit and the extra wind will slow you down to where you need to be. However, if it's a big deceleration, you will slide out into the wind and go flying up the side of the pack. Now, unless you were planning on attacking at this time, this may place you in a position you don't want to be in. Suddenly you are right at the front and exposed to the wind. If you stay there, you will have to do some work. If you slow down and try to move back where you were, you may find that someone else has taken the wheel you wanted and won't give it up. So before any of this happens, you should consider lightly hitting your brakes and staying in your position. You can still slide out to the side a little bit if you want to combine the slowing effects of the wind and the brakes and make the re-acceleration a little less severe when the speed picks back up.
Front Brakes vs. Rear Brakes
The most common braking mistake I see riders make (on the road at least) is that they use too much rear brake. This could be because a) They are afraid of going over their handlebars if they hit too much front brake, b) Their right hand is stronger or most likely c) They just aren't thinking about it. Unfortunately, even though a little rear tire slide won't usually cause a crash, under normal road conditions, it takes a lot less braking force to slide the rear tire than the front. This is because when you decelerate the center of gravity shifts forward due to momentum. In fact, it's very difficult to flip yourself over the handlebars without running over something unless you absolutely slam on your front brake and make a concerted effort to shift your weight forward.
If you are looking for a good/fun way to practice your braking skills, use 4 cones or water bottles to set up a square that is approximately 10' x 10'. Come into the square as fast as you feel comfortable with and hit your brakes hard. The goal is not to hit your brakes until you enter the square and slow to a stop before the end without sliding the rear tire at all. Spoiler alert: the key is to keep your weight back (really far back) and use mostly front brake.
Under normal conditions, you should see your front brake pads wear out approximately twice as fast as your rear brake pads. If you see your rear pads wearing out faster, or even at an equal rate, you are most likely using too much rear brake. Some have even argued that rear brakes are unnecessary. This is why many motorcyclists looking to save weight remove their rear brakes entirely and many fixed gear riders (who can scrub speed by applying reverse pressure to the pedals) use only a front brake. I would not go quite that far because there are a couple situations where the rear brakes are very important. If you are riding down a very steep (>20%) grade or descent with extremely low traction (e.g. sand, gravel, rocks, ice), you will want to use your rear brake exclusively. In these situations, some tire slippage is unavoidable. You just want to make sure that it's the rear tire, not the front that slips. It should be noted that these situations are very common in mountain biking and cyclocross. Although rare on the road, you will learn the hard way if you forget what to do.
Next up in this series, I will talk about shifting. If you have any other requests for topics in this series, I'd love to hear them.
* A pre-emptive apology goes out to my college Physics professors on this equation. I know it's not technically a viable equation I didn't put any thought into the units at all, I'm just trying to keep things as simple as possible to illustrate my point in ways that every cyclist can understand. If you would like me to send you the full equation, I can.
Have you ever wondered how much better you could be if you didn't have a "day job"? Do you think that you could make it to the next level if only there were 2-3 extra hours in the day to train... or to prepare better food for yourself... or maybe just get a little more sleep? If you have you aren't alone. In fact, I would venture to say that every athlete asks these questions from time to time, even those that don't have day jobs. After all, even pros have to pay their bills, go to publicity events, travel, do their laundry and clean their houses (not to mention, spend time with the ones they love).
Training is more than just doing workouts. You may hear that you should try to get 9-10 hours sleep every night, get a massage every week, see a chiropractor, see an acupuncturist, do yoga, do your core work, get an altitude tent, use compression boots before and after every ride, meditate, do your recovery spins, eat natural and healthy fresh foods, take naps and drink a gallon of water every day. I could go on and on with these tips but I'm pretty sure your eyes are already beginning to roll. Whether cycling is your profession or a hobby that you do on the side after working 60 hours a week, you're probably thinking the same thing: "That all sounds good if I only had the time."
Part of scheduling is prioritizing. You must first accept that you can't do it all, which means you have to let some things go. The other side is learning to be more efficient so you can get more done in the same time. To do either of these things, you have to plan. When you look ahead and plan your training schedule, here is a simple list of the most important things to remember:
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit" - Aristotle
1. Be consistent: A question I get asked a lot is "When is the best time to do my workouts?" Most of the time when in the day you train will be determined by either your work schedule or a pre-determined schedule for races and training rides. Those that have the choice, however, usually find that morning, evening and mid-day workouts can all work fine, but it helps to be as consistent as possible. In other words, don't train one day at 5 AM, the next day at 8 PM and then the next day at noon if you can help it. If all of your races are in the morning, do your best to train in the morning when possible. Consistency also applies to volume. Better to train an hour every day than 5 hours twice a week. Better to sleep 7 hours every night rather than 5 hours on weekdays and 12 on weekends. We are creatures of habit and we have a lot better chance of adhering to the plans we make if they become habitual.
2. Plan your meals and snacks: You've probably heard that "if you wait until you are hungry or thirsty it's already too late". If you want to eat a healthy diet with a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables and preservative-free foods, you have to plan because these foods all spoil rather quickly. You won't be able to eat big salads, quinoa and sweet potatoes for dinner or snack on pears, carrot sticks and hummus if you don't plan ahead, go to the grocery store, prepare foods ahead of time and pack them to bring to work, training and races. It also helps to look into the proper storage method for every food to maximize shelf life in your refrigerator or pantry. If you're traveling for extended periods, research restaurants and grocery stores wherever you're going. To use an old saying, "If you fail to plan you plan to fail". Lack of planning will lead to inconsistent energy levels, calls for pizza delivery, trips to the vending machine at work and a lot of stops at gas stations after races.
3. Get your sleep: Though many claim they are "fine with only 6 hours of sleep", it's simply not true, especially for athletes. Ideal sleep is typically 7-9 hours per night for most adults, but the "magic number" varies from person to person. Simply put, it may be 7, 8, or 9 but it's definitely not 5 or 6. Sleep is also the number one factor in recovery, so the less you sleep the less your training volume and intensity have to be. For those that can swing it, a nap may also help speed the recovery process and improve mood, motivation and cognitive function. If you find that even 9 hours a night and a nap is still not enough you may want to consult your doctor, as there may be another underlying problem (e.g. depression, breathing issues).
Perhaps increasing your quantity of sleep isn't really an option though. In this case, think about whether or not anything can be done to improve sleep quality, such as putting up room darkening shades, getting a better mattress or pillow, putting in earplugs or using a sound generator. If you have trouble getting to sleep, consider meditation, listening to relaxing music or taking a sleep aid (note: some sleep aids such as Melatonin, Unisom and Diphenhydramine are available over to counter, a prescription is required for most others such as Ambien and Lunesta). Needless to say, do your research and consult your doctor before popping any pills. Within an hour of bedtime, avoid exercise, eating spicy foods, drinking alcohol, watching TV or thinking about work if possible. At the end of the day (literally) it comes back to... you guessed it... planning. If you plan ahead to get to bed at a given time you will have a much better chance of actually doing it.
4. Make time for active recovery: Although sleep is the number one factor in recovery, there are many forms of active recovery that can help you achieve greater (and faster) benefits from your training. Some examples are easy recovery spins, massage, acupuncture, electric stimulation, yoga and using compression boots. The better you can recover, the better you can train. Even if your training time and intensity are relatively low, other factors in your life such as stress and standing on your feet a lot can impede recovery. Planning active recovery activities can balance out the effects of stress and decrease risk of illness and injury as well as helping to reduce recovery time.
5. Multi-task: Some activities are mutually exclusive. For example, you can't train in your sleep and you probably shouldn't be planning for your next board meeting in the middle of a crit. Luckily though, many activities can be incorporated. For example, you might combine an passive activity (e.g. watching TV, listening to a podcast) with an active one (e.g. indoor trainer workout, core, yoga or stretching). In some cases you can replace a passive activity (e.g. driving to work) with an active one (e.g. riding to work). A recovery ride may be a good way to spend time outdoors with your partner or children. Of course, compression socks or tights can be worn to work or during travel without having to give up much at all (though admittedly those tights can be a bit warm in the summertime).
6. Decrease your transition times: If you've ever raced a triathlon you know how important transitions are. An experienced triathlete can get out of the water, take off their wetsuit and goggles, run to their bike, put on their helmet and sunglasses, then run their bike out of the transition area, hop on, slide their feet into their shoes, cinch down the straps and be at full cruising speed in as little as 30 seconds. This same process could take a newbie more than 2-3 minutes. If you think about how much more power you need to put out to make up the difference, it's clearly worth it to practice those skills.
In our daily grind, most of us don't think much about how much time we lose moving from one activity to another. If you're like many athletes, you might get home from work, have a snack, sit down at your computer to check the weather, maybe answer a couple emails or check Facebook/Twitter/Instagram while you're there. Perhaps you take a quick look at some pictures of animals wrapped like burritos. Finally, you think about what to wear, find the clothes you need (which may be scatted all over the house), put them on, fill your bottles, grab food for your ride, pump up your tires and lube your chain before you head out the door. By the time you actually start riding, that "post-work fatigue" may have set in and you may not even feel like training anymore. If there was a stopwatch running during this "transition time", you might do a few things differently. If you check the weather ahead of time, you should know pretty much what you need to wear and you can lay it out the night before. You can fill your bottles and take care of any necessary bike maintenance ahead of time as well. The best part is, before you start to feel the urge to take a nap, all that exercise induced serotonin is already pumping into your brain.
7. Don't sacrifice your loved ones: When athletes decide to call it quits and give up training and/or competing, one of the most commonly cited reasons is that they want to spend more time with their partner, friends and family. The problem isn't just that they spend so much time training; it's all the other stuff that goes along with it. Athletes have special dietary needs, they need to sleep more, they get moody when they're tired and hungry, and they can't always travel, take a vacation, or even go out to dinner or a movie because of their racing or training schedules. To sum it up, athletes can be a lot like infants. The difference is that parents of infants know their kid will eventually grow out of that phase. If there is no end in sight, living with an athlete can get old. My advice is this: don't make training an all or nothing thing. You're training won't suffer if you take a 3 hour ride instead of a 4 hour ride or if you take every Monday off so you can spend time with your kids. A little bit goes a long way. Those that love us unconditionally should accept that we will be completely and utterly exhausted from time to time, but if we are consistently sacrificing time with our loved ones in order to get another hour of training or another couple more intervals in, it's not worth it. Period.
Cycling has a culture of secrecy. Most people aren't lucky enough to grow up with a network of parents and coaches that can help them learn the ropes of the sport, so they learn the hard way; often by trial and error. Unfortunately this culture often perpetuates itself. When inexperienced riders make mistakes they are often yelled at and made fun of or excluded rather than taught how to do things properly by the more experienced riders.
One of the reasons that I became a coach was to help change this culture. I want my sport to grow and thrive. I want cycling to be more welcoming and open, not more elitist and exclusionary. It took me a lot longer than it should have to learn the things I know now, so I want to help accelerate that process for new riders. Reading books, finding a good coach and asking for help from those that you respect can only take you so far. If you are really serious about getting to the next level, here are some things that you need to know that the pros won't tell you:
1. Slam that stem. Next time you watch a pro bike race, take a look at the bikes. How many spacers do you see under their stems? That's right, zero. When pro cyclists get their bikes each season, they are asked which size frame they ride and the team will order one size smaller. Busy pro mechanics don't have time to keep track of each rider's individual bike fit measurements, so they take out all the spacers under the stem and cut the fork. Done. Vertical drop from saddle to bars should always be at least 25 centimeters. If that's not easily possible, a stem with a steeper drop may be necessary. Some readers may ask "won't that make me uncomfortable?". The truth is, if you want to be comfortable, sit on your couch. The more your back hurts, the faster you get to the finish line.
2. Keep your head down. Aero is everything and human heads are not very aero. Much as we might like to, we can't simply cut them off. Wearing an aero helmet is always an option but usually the best thing to do is simply keep your head down at all times. Pro cyclists are taught to look down at their bottom brackets in order to keep their head out of the wind as much as possible. Those new to this method and concerned about safety may wish to install a pocket mirror in place of their front brake in order to view the road ahead.
3. Under-inflate your tires. By now, everyone should know not to inflate their tires to the maximum pressure limit. As I discussed in my article about tires, higher tire pressure can actually cause more rolling resistance. The real truth is, the softer the better. Most race tires can actually handle pressures 30-50 psi below their recommended minimum inflation guidelines. Lower tire pressure will result in a smoother, more comfortable ride and better surface contact between the tires and the road. Ideal tire pressure will vary depending on your weight, but the rule of thumb is to start at 50 psi and then ride over some potholes, a curb or a stretch of rough pavement just before your race. If you don't feel your rims bottoming out, let the pressure out until you do.
4. Wear clothes that are 2-3 sizes smaller than what's comfortable. I remember reading that when Pearl Izumi sponsored the Fassa Bortolo team, they had to create 5 additional sizes between small and extra small. Compare the average speeds of the pro peloton with that of a typical recreational group ride filled with middle aged men, all wearing extra large Primal Wear jerseys. I don't have to tell you which group is faster, and that is for one reason and one reason only. It's because pro cyclists know something those "reckies" don't: tighter is better. Tighter clothes will not only improve aerodynamics, they will help reduce the flow of "bad blood" to the extremities and make fat look more like muscle. Not to mention, if you're have trouble fitting into your cycling clothes, that's just another incentive to lose weight!
5. Get your bike lighter. With modern technology, most pro bikes weigh in at exactly the UCI minimum of 6.8 kilograms (~15 lbs). Unless you're doing UCI races though, you don't have to abide by this rule and you can go much much lower. Those who raced in the 70s and 80s remember a few old tricks such as drilling holes in their brake levers, chainrings and handlebars and not using bar tape. Another easy way to reduce unwanted weight is to remove the rear brake, which isn't really necessary anyway. If the race is relatively flat, you can remove your inner chain ring and front derailleur as well. Another trick of the trade that comes from the triathlon community is to simply not glue your tubulars, which can save you 50-100 additional grams of rotating weight.
6. No sex within 4 days of the race. It is claimed that testosterone levels are 10-20% higher in men who describe themselves as "extremely frustrated". In a 2006 study, men who had abstained for more than 3 days proved to be more aggressive and less risk-averse. It should be noted however that for women, abstinence will produce negative results. A study in 2008 showed that women who had abstained more than 3 days were overly aggressive and likely to engage in risky behaviors. (Note: this is why it's generally not a good idea for male bike racers to marry female bike racers).
7. Stop hydrating so much. For decades, so called "experts" have espoused the benefits of proper hydration for athletes. Have you ever noticed though that many of these studies are sponsored by the same people that are trying to sell you their hydration products? Do you really think that The Gatorade Sports Science Institute is giving you unbiased advice when they tell you that you should drink more Gatorade? Of course not. Leaving your bottles and cages at home on race day can lower your bike weight by as much as 4 pounds! Not to mention, you can lose as much as 5% of body mass in a single hour when riding on a really hot day. In the course of a 3-4 hour road race, a 160 pound rider could lose more than 20 pounds. Try getting those results with Jenny Craig!
8. Don't shower. An old but true cycling superstition is to never let water contact your skin before a race. Spanish rider Izidro Nozal famously refused to shower for the entire length of the Grand Tours he rode in. He claimed that showering would increase the risk of catching a cold, but the real reason was because it made it much more likely that his breakaway attempts would be successful. After all, who wants to be within 20 feet of the guy who hasn't bathed in 3 weeks?
9. 3 words: beer, waffles and frites. It's no accident that Belgium, a country of just over 11 million, has almost 120 riders in the pro peloton, far greater than their logical share. But cycling is the national sport of Belgium. Belgian children learn to race bikes before they learn to walk. Belgium is home to some of the most famous monuments of bike racing; The Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Flèche Wallonne, Gent–Wevelgem and many others. Not so coincidentally, Belgium is also the home of frites (which American's call "French fries" because most of us flunked geography). The secret to their famous frites is that they deep fry them not once but twice in oil and then serve them with heaps of mayonnaise. Similarly, Belgian waffles are served with lots of powdered sugar and real whipped cream. And don't even get me started on Belgian beer! Belgium is home to over 180 breweries, including 6 Trappist breweries and many of the top rated beers in the world. Most Belgian beers are not only higher in flavor, they are higher in alcohol. It doesn't take a statistician to see the correlation between these quality of Belgium's delicious foods and beverages and the quality of it's riders.
10. Listen to the Pros. OK, I understand that you may be skeptical of some of my advice here. So listen to these tips direct from the mouths of some famous former pros:
"When you want to do something you just have to want it more than the others" - Richard Virenque
"Here's the secret: You can't block out the pain. You have to embrace it." - Tyler Hamilton
“When you’re a father, you think twice before doing something stupid”. - Ricardo Ricco
"The method is the same for you as it is for the pros. The only thing different is the workload." - Michele Ferrari
"Hard work, sacrifice and focus will never show up in tests." - Lance Armstrong
I couldn't have said it better myself!
Colin Sandberg is the owner and head coach of Backbone Performance, LLC. He is still a Cat. 1 road racer but he is currently thinking about downgrading. He also coaches a junior team but he still doesn't know what "snap chat" and "twerking" are. If you have questions or comments, please don't send them. If you're still reading this, Happy April Fool's Day!
Henry Ford. Orson Welles. Thomas Edison. James Polk. George Patton. Steve Jobs. Walt Disney. Jeff Bezos. Sam Walton. Graeme Obree. Each of these men made many enemies. They were called "micro-managers" and "control freaks", but in the history books they are remembered mainly as innovators and game-changers. Each of them revolutionized their respective fields because they found ways to take control of factors that their peers took for granted as out of control. A look at the most successful entrepreneurs, politicians, scientists, artists, athletes, educators and leaders in nearly every field reveals that those at the top leave little to chance.
In the 1966, Julian Rotter, one of the country's leading psychologists, published an article in "Psychological Monographs ", which spelled out his theory of "Locus of Control". Rotter used a forced choice questionnaire to score people on a scale of empowerment. On one end of the scale are those that believe that life is what they make of it, they can get anything they want if they're willing to work for it, they're in control of our own destiny, etc. On the other end are those that believe that they are bound by luck, circumstance, genetics and fate and that they're own actions mean nothing. Most people of course, lie somewhere in between these two extremes.
Athletes usually tend to view life as a bit more under their control. The fact that they train would be the first piece of evidence of that. Athletes understand that they push themselves they should improve, and they are constantly looking for ways to push themselves harder and more appropriately in order to improve more quickly and in the right ways. At the same time, most agree that performance is not simply a matter of good training and "who wants it the most". To a large extent genetics determine how we respond to the training, and as much as we like to say "you make your own luck", the importance of luck or chance cannot be completely ignored.
One could make a convincing argument that we are all products of fate. This is to say that we are essentially sophisticated robots. The probability that we react to a situation in a given way is pre-determined by the computer program that is our genetic code. That code may be changed over time based on experience, but it still binds us to react a certain way to a given stimulus. If this is true, we have no more free will to make choices in our lives than we have free will to stop our hearts from beating.
I cannot prove this theory wrong, but I can say that personally I am unable to believe it. I believe that we do have choice, if only because it's what I need to believe in order for this universe to make sense to me. I also think that most of society agrees with me. After all, if they didn't, how could we punish people for crimes they commit? The justice, educational and economic framework of our civilization all depend on the one simple idea: free will.
At the same time, it can be dangerous to attempt to control too much. In bike racing and in life, there are some things that just can't be controlled. You can't control the weather, the course conditions, how strong your competitors are or what they decide to do. While it's important to be aware of all of these things, attempting to control them will only leave you frustrated. Too many athletes spend too much time worrying about the things they can't control while neglecting factors they can control. So let's start there...
Things I can control:
- What I do for training
- What I wear on rides
- What and when I eat and drink
- What equipment I use (tires, gearing, crank length, bar width, saddle choice, etc.)
- How much sleep I get
- How I communicate with my coach, teammates, family, partner, etc.
Now, some of you may already question these. "But my coach tells me what to do for training", you say. "I don't have enough clothing or equipment options", you protest. "I can't just choose to get more sleep... I have to __________ [fill in the blank: work, study, clean, make phone calls, spend time with my family/friends, watch TV]" you argue. These are the arguments of someone that refuses to take responsibility for their own life. With regard to a coach, a coach is an advisor but ultimately it is your responsibility to do your training or to communicate why you can't. The same principle is true if you hire a lawyer, accountant, interior decorator or wedding planner. You pay these people for their advice but at the end of the day it is your life.
As far as clothing and equipment, you always have choices. If you don't have the money to buy a new cassette, see if you can buy a used one at a bike swap. If you don't have the money to buy a new winter cycling jacket, see if you can buy or borrow one from a teammate that isn't using theirs. When there's a will there's a way. With sleep, I don't want to imply that you should try and get 9 hours sleep every night even if it means that you are late for work or school, don't feed your family or you don't spend any time relaxing at the end of the day. Just keep in mind that you always have a choice, it's just a matter of how you prioritize. Being 100% focused on training to the exclusion of everything else in your life will inevitably lead to burnout, but the vast majority of us can find ways to get enough sleep without feeling "off-balance" if we only plan ahead a little better.
I already mentioned some of the things that are firmly in the category of "Out of your control": the weather, who your competition is, course conditions, etc. The biggest category though is the factors that are partially, but not fully under your control...
Things I can partially control
- I can't control if I get a flat tire or not, but I can control which tires I use, when I replace them and what pressure I pump them to. I can also choose to take better lines, ride on "cleaner" parts of the road and improve my handling skills in order to avoid punctures and pinch flats.
- I can't control how I will feel at the beginning of a race, but I can give myself the best chance for success by eating a good breakfast, getting an appropriate warm-up and doing everything I can to put myself in a positive mindset.
- I can't control if someone crashes in front of me, but I can control who I ride behind, how closely I draft them, and I can try to give myself an "escape route" if they crash or do something unpredictable
- I can't control if I get sick, but I can get a flu shot every year, wash my hands and take emergen-C when I am exposed to a lot of germs. I can also choose to skip a workout or cut it short if I feel like I am getting sick.
- I can't control how fast/well I can recover, but I can try to drink my recovery drinks, eat a healthy diet, try to sleep well, wear compression tights, stretch and get massages when possible.
- I can't control how my body will respond to training, but I can pay attention to the signals that my body is giving me and make smart choices about when to push harder or ease up. I can also talk to my coach whenever I am unsure about whether I need to ease up or push harder.
- I can't control the workouts that my coach assigns me but I can choose to communicate with my coach better about how I feel and ask questions about things I don't understand. Ultimately, if I don't fully trust my coach I can get a different coach.
- I can't control whether I get nervous before or during a race, but I can work on managing that fear and anxiety better. I can work on meditation, breathing, and focus. I can also see a sports psychologist if this anxiety becomes paralyzing.
- I can't control how strong my competitors are and what they decide to do in a race, but I can learn to predict it better and I can choose how I react.
- I can't control how the field will react when I attack but I can be smart about when I choose to attack and I can choose to either fully commit or to back off.
My advice is this: sit down and take a good hard look at the things that hold you back. Be honest with yourself. Consider every possible angle: VO2 max, muscular strength, recovery, muscle composition, nutrition, anxiety, focus, finances, emotional support, equipment, motivation, illnesses, injuries, metabolism, or anything else you can think of. Sometimes these factors will be fully in your control, sometimes completely out of your control. Most likely though, there are some elements in your control that you can work to improve. Even if there are factors that are out of your control, you can at least understand them better so you can make sure they don't control you. Don't be a victim or a slave to circumstance. Empower yourself.
Whenever we talk about threshold, we're talking about a "tipping point" at which the effort is no longer sustainable. Just to clarify, threshold is not the point of failure, it is the point that failure becomes imminent unless the effort is reduced or halted in order to return to a state of equilibrium. Once we know where that point is, we can train more appropriately in order to a) be more efficient below this point and b) raise the level at which it occurs.Read More
There are few (if any) equipment decisions as important as which tires to select for your bike. Most professionals have a range of tire that they choose for training and racing in different conditions. Here are the factors you should consider:
1. Rolling resistance: this is the resistance of the ground surface that impairs the forward movement of the wheels. Under "normal" road conditions (dry road, good pavement, road bike), rolling resistance is negligible compared to aerodynamics, but all you have to do to see how big of a deal it can be is ride along your local paved bike path at 18-20 mph, hop off the pavement onto the dirt and try to maintain the same speed. Though road races with dirt or gravel sections are becoming increasingly popular, rolling resistance is always a significant factor in Mountain Bike and Cyclocross races. For more on tire rolling resistance, check out this article from Lennard Zinn (VeloNews).
Determined by: riding surface (e.g. smooth asphalt, concrete, wooden track, rough asphalt, dirt, rocks, sand, mud, etc.), tire width, inflation pressure, speed, rubber compound, tread pattern, TPI (threads per inch).
2. Traction: Traction and rolling resistance are essentially 2 sides of the same coin. Traction refers to the "grip" a tire has on the road; it's what keeps our tires from sliding on the road and thereby, our bodies from sliding on the ground. Higher traction does not necessarily mean higher rolling resistance though. In fact, to a certain extent it's the opposite. The less traction, the more slippage. Slippage causes friction, thereby greatly increasing rolling resistance.
Determined by: rubber compound, tire pressure, tire width, tread pattern, surface conditions, weather conditions, bike handling skills and finesse
3. Weight: nowhere on the bike is weight more important that on the tires and wheels. Even when riding on a flat (or downhill) road, mass that lies on the outside of a rotating surface is constantly being accelerated. This is one area where even a few grams of weight savings can be quite significant. On the other hand, it doesn't matter how light your tires are if you are constantly getting flat tires.
Determined by: rubber compound, tire thickness, tire width.
4. Wheel compatibility: Most people are aware that tubular wheels take tubular tires and clincher wheels take clincher tires. However, when you throw tubeless wheels and tires into the mix it makes things a little more complicated. Most clincher rims can now be converted for use with tubeless tires and most tubeless rims can be used with a clincher tire and tube. Tubeless tires are now ubiquitous in MTB racing and increasingly popular for road and cyclocross racing but they may not be ideal for training since tubeless tires require high pressure to seat properly and most of us don't carry high pressure pumps when training.
Determined by: which wheels you own, manufacturer's wheel and tire recommendations
5. Flat resistance: Flat tires were the most common mechanical problem 100 years ago and they are the most common mechanical problem today. To some extent flat tires are unavoidable unless we want to use solid rubber tires. Roads have broken glass and potholes. Once we venture off the road we have to contend with rocks, thorns and 100 other potentially flat-inducing obstacles. That doesn't mean flat tires are completely unavoidable though. Choosing the right tires helps, but being smart about where on the road/trail you ride, how you carry your weight, checking your tires for wear and cuts regularly and replacing on a timely basis is equally important.
Determined by: rubber compound, tire pressure, manufacturer quality control, tire wear, surface conditions, rider weight
6. Aerodynamics: You might not think that aerodynamics comes into play too much for tires but you'd be wrong. Just as there is nowhere that weight reduction can be more important than with rotating surfaces, the same can be said for aerodynamics. Now, tire manufacturers can only do so much to change the shape of the tire without affecting it's other qualities, but that doesn't mean they can't do anything. The two most notable examples in the past few years have been the Zipp Tangente tires (with dimples) and the Mavic CX01 wheel/tire systems (smoothed interface between tire and wheel). Even with traditional tires though, the width of the tire and gap between tire and frame will affect aerodynamics. For more on tire aerodynamics, check out this article, also from Lennard Zinn.
Determined by: Width of tire, shape of tire, interface between tire and rim, gap between tire and frame
7. Suspension: Tires are your first and foremost form of suspension on any bike and they are the majority of your suspension on a road, cyclocross or rigid mountain bike. Your tire will do more to either soak up road bumps and "noise" or make you feel every last vibration than anything else. In general, lower tire pressure, softer rubber compounds and higher TPI will give you more suspension, but here is a limit. Just as over-inflated tires will hurt reduce traction and comfort while increasing rolling resistance, under-inflated tires can bring about a higher risk of pinch flats, and also cause higher rolling resistance/less traction. Like many things, the trick is to find the best middle ground.
Determined by: Width of tire, tire pressure, rubber compound, rubber thickness, rider weight, surface conditions
8. Durability: Obviously we want our tires to last as long as possible, especially when many tires run over $100 a pop. Unfortunately, the easiest way for a manufacturer to get a tire to last longer is to make it thicker and use a harder rubber compound. Most likely this means a heavier tire, higher rolling resistance, less traction and a less comfortable ride. So we must compromise. Most of us are willing to accept a tire that is a bit heavier for training if it lasts a little longer and there's less chance we'll be stuck outside changing a flat tire in 20 degree weather. Similarly, when racing, we're probably willing to accept a little shorter tire lifespan if the tire is lighter, has less rolling resistance and has excellent grip wen cornering. However, that doesn't mean we want to train on solid rubber or we want to be gluing tubulars on our race wheels every week. With everything there are limits.
Determined by: Rubber compound, tire thickness, riding conditions & mileage
9. Shedding: This is the ability of a tire to displace water, dirt or mud. In dry conditions on good pavement or a concrete/wood track, it's not a huge concern but as soon as the rain starts to fall or you start riding in the mud it becomes important. The better a tire displaces water or mud, the better your traction and the lower the rotating weight of the tire/wheel.
Determined by: tread pattern, surface conditions, weather conditions, tire width, rubber compound
Here are my answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about tires:
What pressure should I pump my tires to?
The answer to this question depends on many factors; mainly the width of the tire, weight of the rider and course conditions. To simplify things, I made this chart:
Before all you tire pressure nerds start writing in and picking this apart, let me say that I know it is oversimplified and this is on purpose. So instead of trying to make a chart that accounts for every possible scenario, let's keep the chart simple and address some of the possible exceptions. First of all, it's important to read the min and max pressure limits for your tires, rims and rim strips (if applicable). Never go below minimum or above maximum recommended limits, but that doesn't mean pumping to min or max allowable pressure is correct either. Second, the thickness of the tire and the rubber compound will also come into play. The thicker the tire and the harder the rubber, the lower the pressure needs to be. Third, whether you use clinchers, tubulars or tubeless tires makes a difference. Tubular and tubeless tires don't pinch flat, so you can generally get away with lower pressure with either. Tubular rims can also tolerate higher pressure since they don't have sidewalls. Last but not least, riding style and personal preference come into play as well. Riders with more "finesse" and those more careful about avoiding obstacles can get away with lower pressure. Those that prefer the "bulldozer" method might want to go a bit higher.
For cyclocross and mountain biking, determining tire pressure is much more complicated because of the vast differences in course conditions and types of tires used. I could write an entire article on just this, so in the interest of efficiency let me just give 3 simple recommendations: 1) Have a few different tire options available for different conditions, 2) Run the lowest pressure you can get away with without an unacceptable risk of punch flats and/or ripping sidewalls and 3) Preride whenever possible, adjust pressure as necessary. This should be a part of every MTB/cross warmup. For more on cyclocross tire pressure, check out this article from BikeRadar.com
Should I buy 25 mm or wider tires for my road bike?
Short answer: If they fit, probably. The standard for road cycling seems to be quickly changing from 23mm to 25mm. In general, 25 mm tires are more comfortable, more flat resistant, corner better, have lower rolling resistance and can be pumped to a lower pressure without a high risk of flatting. Downside? They weigh more, are less aerodynamic, won't fit on every bike (e.g. the chain stays on my Canondale Evo aren't wide enough to accept a 25mm rear tire) and the selection on 25mm tires is not as good as with 23mm tires (at least at this time). I would also note that for TT/Triathlon bikes it's probably best to stick to 23mm tires because of the aerodynamic factors as well as typically smaller gaps between the frame and the tires. In my opinion, 27mm tires aren't necessary except in extreme conditions (e.g. Paris Roubaix), though some riders, heavier riders in particular, may prefer them.
Is it worth it to buy a tubular race wheelset?
Maybe, maybe not. 30 years ago, just about everyone used tubular (sew-up) tires for racing and many used them for training as well. It wasn't even possible to buy a race quality clincher tire. Things are different now and there are plenty of great high quality clincher tires available. Advancements in manufacturing technology have allowed many wheel companies to manufacture high quality carbon clincher rims that won't crack the first time you ride over railroad tracks. Of course, there are still 2 good reasons to consider tubulars: 1. The tubular rim/tire combination is lighter than the clincher rim/tire/tube combination. For example, a set of Zipp 404 firecrest carbon clinchers with Tangente clinchers will weigh about 285 grams more than the tubular equivalent. Hardly insignificant, especially when you're talking about rotational weight. 2. You can get away with using a lower pressure for tubulars without the risk of pinch flatting. This is especially important for cyclocross, where many racers like to run 20-30 psi in their tires. Contrast these with the benefits of clinchers: 1. It's a lot easier to switch to different tires depending on the course conditions and 2. You don't have to glue your tires on, which is messy, smelly and time consuming. At the end of the day, it still comes down to personal preference.
How can wider tires and lower pressure result in lower rolling resistance? Was that a typo?
No, but I'm glad you're paying attention. It is a bit counter-intuitive that you might actually increase your rolling resistance by pumping it up more or by going to a narrower tire but it is true, within limits. Narrower tires and higher pressures mean that less rubber is in contact with the ground. The bumpier the surface is, the less rubber will be in contact. This means that the rotational force is concentrated onto a smaller piece of rubber, which means more chance of slippage (and hence a higher rolling resistance). Even when the road surface is "pretty good" (e.g. average asphalt road), there are small bumps in the road surface where highly inflated or very narrow tires will slip. These "micro-slips" may not even be individually perceptible, but overall they will slow you down because the friction between the tire and the ground impairs forward movement. So why don't we go to the other extreme and all use huge tires and super low pressure? The answer is that a) wider tires are heavier and less aerodynamic and b) It's not really necessary under most conditions. Basically, once you pass a certain threshold, slippage becomes insignificant. This threshold can be met with fairly narrow tires and high pressure on a "perfect" surface like a wooden track (hence the higher pressure recommendations for track racing), but the bumpier the surface, the wider the tire and the lower the pressure required to prevent excessive slippage (hence the lower pressure recommendations for off-road racing).
Are there tires I can use in snow and ice?
Yes! For mountain biking in the snow, I am of the opinion that a most mountain bikes do OK for casual snow use, but a fat bike is ideal. That said, it may not be worth it for you to buy yet another bike just for snow riding (note: enthusiasts will be quick to point out that fat bikes can be used in all sorts of conditions). As far as ice, that's a different story. The best way to ride in ice is to put a pair of studded tires on your mountain bike or cross bike (some road bikes may accept them as well, but be careful in order to avoid frame damage). If you need help selecting a pair of studded tires, check out this excellent article from Peter White, who lives in New Hampshire where the winter riding options are a) Get studded tires or b) Ride indoors. Studs work surprisingly well in icy conditions, but use caution using them in good conditions because the studs can easily rip out of the tire.
Which tires should I use indoors?
As I mentioned in my article "How I learned to stop worrying and love the trainer, part 2", riding indoors wears tires down faster than outdoor riding. In particular, indoor trainers will "square off" your tires, making them dangerous to ride outdoors. A few manufacturers make indoor trainer specific tires, but they are not safe to ride outdoors so I would only recommend them if you either ride exclusively indoors in the winter or you have a separate "trainer wheel". Of course, another option is just to use a tire around that is too worn out to ride outdoors but not quite showing it's threads yet. If you're like me and you ride both indoors and outdoors in the winter but you don't want to get another wheel for the trainer, just keep a close eye on your rear tire and expect to replace it a little more frequently.
If you have any other tire questions that I didn't answer, feel free to send em' in!
Here in the Mid-Atlantic, we're not even halfway through winter but we have already had more than our share of snow and cold weather. Few things are as frustrating as having the motivation to train but not being able to get outside. Even if you don't mind the indoor trainer, it's tough to do many long endurance rides indoors. If you don't want to just "sit it out" and resign yourself to a few months exclusively on the indoor trainer, here are some tips on how to prepare yourself.
A few years ago, I wrote an article for Cadence where I detailed the process of how to get your training in when the weather is working against you. This is a general strategy for getting through the winter, but I thought that I would elaborate on #2: Invest in some good winter gear.
On a day to day basis, here is the process I follow in order to figure out what to wear:
Step 1: Check the weather forecast. Weather.com has a nice site that will spell it out for you hour by hour. Obviously you will want to pay attention to the temperature, but you should also look at the wind strength and direction. One of the biggest mistakes new cyclists make when trying to ride outdoors in the winter is they underestimate the wind factor. A lot of cold weather gear that is not cycling specific may keep you warm enough for a snowball fight but not warm enough to ride a bike. Even if you there is no wind, there will still be a "wind chill" at least equal to the speed you are traveling. If it's really windy, you will have to take the "feels like" temperature into account and you may want to wear some clothing with more windblock material, which tends to do a good job of keeping you warm, though it is not particularly flexible or wicking. Now some astute readers may question why the wind direction matters unless you are riding in one direction and then getting a ride home. In truth though, a lot can be done with route planning in order to avoid the worst of the headwind (which can be demoralizing as well as chilling). For example, the other day I saw that there was a steady 17-20 mph wind coming from the west, so I decided to do this route, where I would more protected from the headwind on the way out by hills and trees and then have a tailwind for the second half when I would surely be more tired.
Step 2: Check the clothing matrix. I made up this matrix after years of trial and error as well as more pairs of gloves, booties, jackets, base layers and hats than I can imagine. Keep in mind that this is only a starting point and also that it is based on my personal preferences and biases. Also, you may not have all the clothes I have so you may need to make some substitutions. BTW, if you don't like my chart, you may also want to try this one from Bicycling Magazine.
Step 3: Adjust for weather changes. If there are strong winds, you should take a look at the "wind chill" or "feels like" temperature as well as the actual temperature. Anything over 5 mph winds will be significant. You should follow the recommendations for 5 degrees cooler on any areas of exposed skin. If it is going to warm up a lot during your ride, you should take extra care to bring some clothing alternatives in your pockets or possibly just be prepared to be cold at the start before you warm up. As a rule it is usually good to start cold weather rides a little bit cold and then warm up. If you are too comfortable at the very start, chances are that you will be sweating like crazy in an hour, and then freezing cold in 2 hours because you are soaking wet with sweat.
You should look not only at the temperature when you are leaving but the temperature throughout your ride. If your ride starts at 8-10 AM, it is not unusual that the temperature could rise more than 10 degrees in an hour. If it's going to be a particularly hard/fast ride, you may be willing to sacrifice your comfort in the beginning of the ride so you don't have to bring as much with you or be sweat logged after an hour.
Step 4: Adjust for the type of ride. In general, the harder you will be going, the warmer you will be and therefore the less you should wear. For example, if you are going for an easy recovery ride, you aren't going to warm up as much as you would for a sprint or anaerobic capacity workout. The other thing to keep in mind is how much protection from the wind and elements you will have. Riding around flat fields or ocean front will be a lot colder than rolling hills or forests, even if all other things are equal. In fact, many riders will choose to ride their mountain bikes on those really cold days because of lower speeds as well as more wind cover. It should be noted that these recommendations are for road and mountain bikers will have to follow slightly different rules (mainly with regard to foot covering since booties don't usually fit well on MTB shoes). Finally, riding in a group can offer a lot of protection from the wind, though if you are riding on wet roads you will end up with more ice water in your body and face if the other riders aren't using fenders.
Step 5: Adjust for your personal preferences or needs. Personally, I have always had trouble with cold hands and feet, and to this day I have never found a perfect solution for keeping either hands or feet warm in the coldest conditions, even if I follow all of my own recommendations. Yet I know other people that ride on the coldest days with only light booties and gloves. A rider with an artificial hip may need to take added precautions in very cold weather, and a rider with a knee issue may need to either keep the knee covered even when it is fairly warm or uncovered when it is fairly cold depending on the nature of the injury. Some riders are very sensitive to their ears being cold, so they have to wear a hat or headband that covers their ears even when most people would go bare-headed (except for a helmet of course). Additionally, some people may find certain accessories such as neck warmers, hand warmer packets, multiple pairs of socks or booties, heated insoles, rain pants and fenders cumbersome, annoying and possibly unfashionable. You know yourself better than anyone, so adjust according to your own preferences.
Step 6: Make notes on your training log about what you wore and how comfortable you were. Though most people won't want to bother with another thing to record in their training log, it can help to record the weather conditions, what you wore and how comfortable you were so you can better learn from your mistakes. In addition, you can never have too many clothing options and no clothing is ever perfect. Always be open to trying out new products and technologies. In addition, clothing wears out and breaks so it's always good to have backup.
Now, everyone has their limits. I admit, when I lived in Ohio I used to ride as long as it was above 10 degrees. In my old age, that limit has been raised to 20 degrees but it still feels pretty cold. Luckily, I have learned a few tricks that help make things a little more bearable in the extreme cold.
Toe Warmers + Booties: For added toe protection, you can double up by wearing toe warmers underneath your regular winter booties. I even sewed (ok, my wife sewed) an old pair that was torn up onto the outside of a pair of winter booties.
Heated Insoles: There are a number of battery operated or rechargeable electric insoles that you can get. Most of these are designed for skiers, who often ski in far more extreme conditions than we rides in. There are a few potential issues with these though: a) The wires are often very delicate, requiring that you carefully route them through your shoes so they don't get damaged, b) The controls have to be mounted externally (most likely somewhere along your calf) so you have to think about where you put them so they won't be in the way and keep them from getting damaged, c) Most of these don't last more than 100 charges (though if you are like me you would probably only have occasion to use them about 10 times/year), d) You will usually have to remove your regular insoles and replace them with these, which can be a fit problem for people that have to wear special orthodics or insoles with high arch support d) They can be relatively expensive. For those looking for a less expensive, but slightly effective solution, you might want to look at disposable heated insoles as an alternative.
Winter Shoes: Many cycling shoe manufacturers make special "winter cycling shoes" that are thicker, more waterproof, more windproof, less ventilated and offer more insulation inside. Personally, my experience with these is that they are indispensable for winter mountain biking, but not really worth it for the road. The reason they are so nice for mountain biking is because it is so difficult to get good booties for mountain biking and even the MTB specific booties have a habit of slipping off or shredding whenever you put your feet down. Most people find that riding with them on the road gives you a little bit more warmth in exchange for a lot of extra problems. Shoes are arguably the most important item of a bike fit and any move away from what you normally use can cause huge problems (which is why most professional cycling teams allow riders to use non-sponsored shoes). There may even be a significant difference required in saddle height when switching from one shoe to another, even if you keep your brand consistent.
Take your gloves off on the climbs: Personally, I am partial to Lobster gloves in very cold conditions. My warmest pair of gloves is a purple and blue pair of down insulated Pearl Izumi gloves lobster gloves from 1994. They are super ugly and bulky, but they are warmer than anything I have ever found, so for someone that gets cold hands easily, they are worth it. The other nice thing about lobster gloves is that it's easy to stick hand warmer packs in there if you need to. The only problem is that my hands always sweat in them and if that sweat becomes excessive my hands will get cold because of this. A good way to fix this is to take off your gloves on the climbs, letting everything dry out. Because the speed is low, your hands won't get too cold. Once you reach the top, put your gloves back on before your speed picks up again and you should be fine.
Merino wool baselayers: Thin merino wool has the distinctive characteristic of keeping you warm in cold and wet conditions while not being very bulky. Owning at least a couple of these (short sleeve and long sleeve) are a must for winter riding. The only downside is that the good ones aren't cheap.
Smartly timed rest stops: Riders from Pittsburgh will be familiar with 2 time RAAM winner Danny Chew's "7 minute rule" which states that any stop made has to be less than 7 minutes long. Admittedly, for Danny this is largely about making the most of his time since he regularly rides over 200 miles per day. But keeping rest stops short and sweet can also prevent you from having to warm up a second time when you are already sweaty, so it makes sense, at least in moderately cold (30-50 degree conditions). In extremely cold and/or wet conditions through, I recommend taking a bit longer stop and letting yourself fully warm up. Make sure to strip down as much as possible without breaking any laws in order to dry out your clothes a little bit. If you stop somewhere with a hand dryer in the bathroom, these can help you dry out any wet clothing (shoes, socks and gloves in particular). Grab a hot beverage while you are stopped to help your core temperature rise a little. It still might be a rude awakening when you start up again, but you might discover that with your clothing all dried out and a cup of hot coffee in you the ride is a lot more bearable.
Fenders: Having fenders on your bike can keep the moisture on the ground from spraying onto your legs and up your backside as well as into the face of the person behind you. In some areas, winter group rides require riders to use at least a rear fender as a courtesy. Fenders also protect your headset and drivetrain from becoming coated in salty water sprayed up off the road, which is much more damaging to your bike than simple rain. Many cyclocross bikes and older road bikes actually have mounts for fenders. For newer road bikes, SKS makes a fender set that can easily be installed and removed. If you don't have enough clearance to accommodate these, there are also quite a few rear fenders that be easily mounted to your seatpost.
I would love to hear from you what your tips are for winter riding as I am sure that some of you do it much more regularly than I do. So write in with your tips!
There's no shortage of things to spend money on in the cycling world. Being that most of us don't have an unlimited source of cash, we have to prioritize. In part 1, I listed 5 ways to spend your money that I believe are good investments. In part 2, I will talk about the other side: how to save your money and avoid spending it on things that won't help you very much.
Ways to save money
1. Buy aluminum instead of carbon: Buying an aluminum frame, wheels, stems, bars and seatposts can be significantly less expensive than buying the equivalent carbon versions. Here are a few examples:
Carbon Version Aluminum Version Price Savings Additional Weight
Cannondale Super Six Evo-4, $2710, 1110g (frame) Cannondale CAAD10-4, $1950, 1150g (frame) $760 40g
Zipp 202 Carbon Clincher wheels, $2725, 1380g Zipp 101 wheels, $1325, 1530g $1400 150g
3T Ergosum Team Bars, $325, 195g 3T Ergosum Pro Bars, $95, 245g $230 50g
Easton EC90 SL Stem, $240, 110g Easton EA90 Stem, $95, 130g $145 20g
Ritchey WCS Carbon Seatpost, $200, 179g Ritchey WCS Al Seatpost, $100, 198g $100 19g
Don't get me wrong. I think carbon fiber is great. For example, a carbon fork can do a lot to increase shock absorption, improve comfort and decrease the weight of your bike. I'm not sure how anyone ever rode a bike without a carbon fork before. And a good carbon fiber bike undoubtedly has a better ride quality than it's aluminum equivalent. As far as weight goes, although many of those weight differences may seem small by themselves, they do add up, especially when we're talking about rotating weight, as in the case of wheels. But although carbon is generally lighter than aluminum and it's easier to shape it into unusual shapes, it doesn't always have the ideal properties for every application. For example, the braking surface on carbon wheels will never be as good as the breaking surface on aluminum wheels, especially in the rain or other bad conditions (though better carbon specific brake pads have certainly helped). Carbon is also more prone to catastopic failures under impact. Many a bike racer has made the switch back to aluminum after breaking their carbon fiber bars, frame or seatpost.
2. Buy 2nd tier components: When you compare all the 9 piece 11 speed (non electronic) gruppos from Shimano, Campagnolo and Sram, the price difference jumps out at you:
Top Tier 2nd Tier Price Savings Additional Weight
Shimano Dura-Ace 9000, $2600, 1988g Shimano Ultegra 6800, $1350, 2346g $1250 358g
Campagnolo Record 11 Evo, $2452, 1980g Campagnolo Chorus 11 Evo, $1400, 2149g $1042 159g
Sram Red22, $2728, 1848g Sram Force22, $1534, 2187g $1194 339g
It's also important to ask the question "Where does the weight savings come from?" Sometimes companies obtain weight savings at the expense of durability. For example, top tier Shimano and Campagnolo cassettes utilize titanium for the bottom gears, which is far less durable than hardened steel. You pay for that weight savings not only with money, but with durability.
3. Don't spend a lot of money on bike equipment your child will grow out of: As the coach of a junior team, I see this one all the time. It's hard to say no to your children, especially when they are racing against kids with $15,000 bikes. (Note: I was astonished to see that roughly 80% of the girls in the Girls 13-14 National Championship road race in Wisconsin last year were riding full carbon bikes and deep dish carbon wheels!) My advice is this: save the really nice stuff for when they are fully grown. In addition to the fact that they won't grow out of the stuff, you will also teach them the value of hard work and persistence. Meanwhile, join a junior developmental team and spend your money on coaching and travel so your children have the opportunity to compete at a national (and possibly international) level. This will do a lot more in then long run to teach good sportsmanship, the fundamentals of the sport and let them decide if cycling is something they want to continue to pursue at a high level after they turn 18. Being part of a junior team may also provide helpful resources, not the least of which is a community of other families that can loan, give or sell you their kids' old bike when she grows out of it.
4. Save money on aero equipment: Before you go and buy that Specialized Shiv, Cervelo P5 or Felt IA FRD TT Superbike, you should ask yourself a few questions: 1) How many time trials am I really going to do? 2) Am I willing to take the time to train on this bike? and 3) Have I already picked all the "low-hanging aero fruit?". If you are only doing a couple time trials every year, you might be better off either borrowing a TT bike from a friend, fitting your road bike with TT bars or building up a less expensive TT bike using a spare frame and parts you have lying around the basement. First of all, more and more races have "Merckx-style" (road bike only) time trials, and some time trials are too technical for a full TT bike to be much of an advantage snyway. Even if TT bikes are allowed, you have to be able to produce power and handle the bike on the course. Doing well at time trials is more than just an investment in equipment; it's also a time investment. Time trialing is a completely different cycling discipline. The bike is different, the position is different and the type of effort is different. If you want to be good at it, you have to spend the time getting properly fit, making the necessary adjustments, training for long steady state efforts, and getting used to how the bike handles. That means taking time away from your other training.
As far as the "low hanging aero fruit" I'm referring to, I am talking about things that you can do to make yourself more aero at a much lower cost than a Superbike. Here are some examples:
Don't expect to duplicate these results yourself because a) everyone is different (different body types, proportions, starting positions, initial TT speed, etc.) b) All products are different (i.e. Not all aero bars, skinsuits, helmets, frames, etc. are equal) and c) Conditions (wind, course) vary greatly. That said, it gives you a pretty clear idea of where you get the best "bang for your buck". The one thing that I would note is that a good bike fit (even without the wind tunnel) can make a huge improvement not only in aerodynamics but also comfort, power output and efficiency. How much improvement exactly depends on too many variables to make any kind of good estimate, so let's just say it has the potential to be a lot. Keep in mind that your body will always be the main source of drag when riding, so improvements to your position can potentially dwarf all other improvements.
Assuming that you already have a well-fitting skinsuit/speed-suit, an aero helmet, a wheelset that is reasonably aerodynamic and a set of shoe covers, the next step would be the bike itself. Unfortunately, putting a set of aero bars on your road bike isn't just a matter of "plug and play". Doing so would make most riders too stretched out and upright on the TT bars. To get the position right, you will probably have to move your saddle forward, get a shorter stem and "slam" it down, which in essence rotates your body forward around the bottom bracket. Since training in your aero position is very important if you want to minimize power loss, this process can mean a lot of changes every time you want to go ride and an increased risk that you might accidentally mess something up about your road position. One way to simplify this process would be to keep a set of aero bars with bar end shifters, brakes and a shorter stem (perhaps one with more drop as well) all cabled up. Then put a TT specific saddle on a seatpost with less setback. When it comes time to train in the position, just mark your saddle height on the road seatpost and slide it out, undo the brake & derailleur cables and slide off the stem (bars, cables and all). Pop in the TT seatpost and TT bar module and re-cable. It's certainly not as convenient as a separate TT bike that is dialed up and ready to go whenever you need it, but it's a lot less expensive, you don't have to worry as much about messing up your position and aerodynamically you're 97% of the way towards a full-TT setup (perhaps more if you use a reasonably aerodynamic road frame).
5. Make your own nutrition: In a typical year, I might drink 500 bottles of energy drink and eat 200 packs of energy chews, 120 energy bars and 120 gels and 200 recovery drinks. That adds up to almost $2000 in nutritional products. Now, I love the convenience of pre-made/pre-packaged nutritional products, but making your own products can be a lot less expensive and better tasting. On top of that, you know every ingredient that goes into the foods you eat and you can control for special dietary needs (e.g. gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance) and personal preferences. The Feed Zone Cookbook provides some great recipes for energy bar alternatives, and a simple internet search will reveal some excellent recipes for homemade energy drink, gels and even energy chews. The big one, though, is recovery drinks. Instead of buying a pre-made recovery drink powder that can cost $3/serving, buy some chocolate milk or make your own fruit smoothie. It's better tasting and less expensive, and since it is a post-workout drink, the packaging issue shouldn't be a big concern.
I want to be very clear here, there aren't many things I would classify as "a total waste of money" (though there are a few). Carbon fiber is an amazing material and I am very excited every year to see the new ways it is being used in the industry to make lighter, more aero, stiffer, stronger, more comfortable, safer products. I also think that there is a case to be made for getting a TT Superbike if you're a triathlete, TT specialist or you are gunning for the GC in stage races. And as far as nutrition goes, I like the idea of making more of my own food, but in reality you won't see me giving up my Gu Brew anytime soon. It's all about priorities, and we're all different in the way we prioritize the things we want in our bikes as well as our time and money. Until we have unlimited income though, we all have to make choices and sacrifices. My hope is that this can give you some information as to how to make those choices smartly in the future. As always though, feel free to send in questions as well as any tips you may have.