A Year Later: Best Solo Ride Ever

One year ago today, I did my most memorable solo ride, from home to Boston and back.

What is different about this year? Well, first of all, the weather has not been nearly so compliant. Right now there's still snow on the ground (had some flurries last night) and I've been happy when it gets all the way up to 40ºF.

On the WAY upside, I am in much better shape than I was at this time last year. My piriformis has not been bothering me at all and despite the excess of trainer workouts, my attitude is good. Here's to hoping the weather improves soon!


Sit Down Already!

Another big-ish ride last weekend which, as the numbers tell it, was pretty close to the one the week before in terms of total effort and intensity, but very different in how things played out.


You'll notice that although the distance is about the same, we put in an additional 2k ft of climbing. Another difference, not apparent from the Strava numbers is that this was a no-drop ride. We'd hit the climbs pretty hard and regroup at the top while last week, it was an every-man-for-himself situation for most of the ride.

So a continuous, but not all-out effort over a long period of time versus shorter, but more intense applications of power with recovery in between.

There were two factors this week that found me draining my tank sooner than I would have otherwise:

1) As is my all to frequent habit, the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the ride, I went at the climbs way too hard. Hey, I felt great, my bike felt fast, I wasn't cold to the core – it's hard for me to hold back that enthusiasm for longer rides. Gotta work on reigning in the horses.

2) I spent way too much time out of the saddle. I know, I know, I know.

Then I ran across this blog post over at Wattbike.com: Power behind the Tour: Climbing.
So what happens when a rider gets out of the saddle, well, I jumped on my Wattbike this morning and did some out of the saddle efforts.  First thing to notice is that it is very difficult to maintain a smooth application of power, which inevitably results in an increased heart rate (my heart rate jumped by 20bpm whilst my speed only rose by 2kph - we can safely say that it was not worth the effort!).  A lot of force needs to be put down the front end of the pedal stroke to maintain momentum and the consistently good pedal technique is all but lost, this is true for the majority of the riders. The physiological cost of this is an increased heart rate which subsequently leads to an increase in the production of lactate and ultimately the rider having to slow to recover.
I think the two following images do a pretty good job of demonstrating this physiological cost:

Power through the pedal stroke while seated. (Wattbike.com image)

Power through the pedal stroke while standing (Wattbike.com image)
What I have to remember is that if I stand on a climb, just because it feels like I am working harder (and I am working harder), that does not translate into increased climbing speed of any significance.

It also means that I am burning matches that I could have used elsewhere in the ride. It's also silly for me not to take advantage of the trainer work I've been doing all winter spinning a higher cadence (100-105 instead of 95-100 rpm) while applying more power: it's made to order for climbing.

This is not to say that I won't EVER stand while climbing – there may be a breakaway forming that I need to catch or the climb is so long that I need to use other muscles for a while – I just need to do it less than I do now.


Wrenching Your Own Bike: Torque

Here's a great primer from Jay Seiter of Pedro's on why setting certain fasteners to the proper torque specs, especially on a carbon bike, is critically important:

As a human powered vehicle, the weight of a bicycle is a major contributor to performance. This requires engineers to push the limits of each material and design they choose. The engineer must factor in material properties, part shape, riding conditions, product life, and more. [...] While carbon fiber allows for more optimal design and provides a far higher strength to weight ratio compared to steel and aluminum, it is also more susceptible to crushing and cracking when improperly set up. Simply put, the margin for error is much smaller. For this reason, using a torque wrench has become essential.
Read the whole interview at Pink Bike.

I keep 3 different torque wrenches on hand: the first is a 30+ year old S-K beam type wrench that is dedicated to torquing down my bottom bracket and my cassette. I bought it way back when I had a motorcycle. It's long beam allowed me to ease up to the required torque nicely. Being a 1/2" drive wrench, my Pedro's External BB socket and the 1" socket for my Park Cassette Lockring Tool go right on.

The big advantage of a beam type torque wrench is that they are very stable. If you are a little rough with it and bend the needle away from zero, you can simply bend it back - it's the main beam of the tool that is the part that is calibrated. Now, that's not saying I think it would still be accurate if you drove over it with your car, but it does not require the care of a click wrench.

The two other wrenches are click types, both of them 3/8" Craftsman wrenches, one with a lower range (25-250 in-lbs or 2.98-28.2 N-m) that handles low torque duties such as the pinch bolts on my non-drive side crank and handlebar stem bolts. The other one (10-75 ft-lbs or 13.5-101.6 N-m) handles torquing that is too much for the small one to handle and offers precision the beam wrench cannot provide - this one is almost exclusively used on my car.

One big advantage of the click type torque wrenches over the bar type is that when you have to achieve a high torque, sometimes you have to position your body to pull on the wrench in such a way that you can't see the needle and the gauge. This is especially true when you are working on your car and you are under there with your hands and the wrench deep in the workings of your car. You just feel the click through your hand when the set torque is reached.. However, more care is required in their use and storage as the Jay said in his interview with Pink Bike.


Riding Outside Again!

After putting in over 260 outdoor miles in January, I had NONE in February, so joining up with a nice sized contingent of MRC members plus one 545 Velo pal on Saturday for a longish ride was quite nice.

The way the ride came off was awkward in more than a few ways: the start time was changed, the route was not well planned or known, the level of effort targeted by the person who posted the ride was overridden by the majority of the participants and lastly, I got shelled about halfway through.

Nevertheless, it was great to find out if all those hours on the trainer, using TrainerRoad workouts, had a positive effect on my performance. Net result: mixed.

On the upside, I was able to sustain a 30 minute effort at 92% FT – not from the beginning of the ride, but STARTING 24 miles in. Of course, I had the help of a large paceline which consisted of a lot of Cat 3 and 4 racers who did nearly all of the work up front to get me to that point.

It was at the end of that stretch, leading up into Carlisle along a series of short, punchy rollers (on a route called, "The Monster Bullet Train") that I hit a (the) wall. Bleh.

After a few minutes of deliberation, we stuck together as a group, but I thought the writing was on the wall. A little while later, recovered, I hit my best 5 min power for the ride heading up Nagog Hill. I don't know where THAT came from. Still: I was last up by a long way and a few minutes later, I thought I had been dropped for good.

I was fine with that: everyone else was in the groove and I knew my way back so I pedaled on, planning to continue for as long as I could at tempo.

No sooner did I start scrounging my "mental radio" for a song to help me soldier on, than I was overtaken by one of our group who was inadvertently left behind after dropping something he wanted to retrieve. Yay: company!

We met back up with the group at a coffee stop in Concord center and I was able to keep up the rest of the way back to Berlin.

So, what is the missing piece of the puzzle, looking at my fitness/training at this point? The usual: climbing.

If I'm not able to get outside and do the real thing, I need to figure out how to properly simulate climbing on the trainer. Also, I need to mix tempo efforts with climbing: all the TrainerRoad workouts give you really easy rest intervals, I should just do tempo during those perhaps.