Last Minute Gifts to Buy for Cyclists In Your Life

12.23.2014 | 1:01 pm

A Note for My Readers: This post is not really for you. This is for you to give to the people you know should have bought you a present, but haven’t. You’re welcome.

Oh, nice work. You know a cyclist and should have bought them a present, but you haven’t. And now you are pretty much out of time. 

Shame on you. SHAME. ON. YOU.

Luckily for you, I am going to help you save face, by presenting you with several ingenious gift ideas you can buy today, wrap tomorrow, and look like you are a thoughtful gift-giving person (instead of the forgetful, inconsiderate person you actually are) the day after that.

The List of Present Ideas

Of course, if you are an actual good person, you may want to buy a bicycle as a gift for someone. It doesn’t have to have a lot of fancy colors or anything; keep it simple. For example, I would be perfectly happy if someone gave me this bike for Christmas:

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It’s the Cannonade F-SI Carbon Black, Inc. As you can see, it’s a simple bike. Just one color, just one leg on the fork (when a fork doesn’t fork, what is it?). Just one shifter (Shimano XTR Di2). No pedals or water bottle cages, even. It doesn’t even weigh very much.

I’d be OK with getting one of these bikes, and I suspect your loved one would like it well enough, too.

But if you can’t (or, more like it won’t) get this very important person in your life a present like this, there are additional options you can consider even though you are a miserable cheapskate. Here are some.

Make the World a Better Place: It’s not too late to change someone’s life for the better on your friend’s behalf. Go to the World Bicycle Relief donation page, and you can make a donation, sending an e-card to them. In addition to this being an actual good thing to do that will make a difference in a child’s life, this option is instant and doesn’t require you to wrap anything. In fact, you don’t even have to get up from your chair, allowing you to be simultaneously really generous and thoughtful, and a completely lazy slob. Highly recommended.

Get Them Things They Will Actually Use: According to very scientific surveys and studies and statistics and things, less than 20% of Christmas gifts ever get used. This is due to the surprising fact that people mostly use things they actually want and use, compounded by the astonishing reality that if someone wants something and is going to use it, they have already gone and bought that thing.

However, there are exceptions. Specifically, if you have a cyclist in your life, they need and use certain things, and then wear them out. And they always need more of those things. 

If you will go to the trouble of getting them those things, you will have made their life better.

Here are some of those things:

  • Tubes: But don’t just go to the local bike shop and buy any tubes. Bike tubes have gotten a lot more complex in the past few years. The one thing you can be certain of is that if you guess, you’ll get it wrong. So call or text or email or something and just ask: “Buying you a Christmas present. What kind of tubes do you use? BE SPECIFIC.” Then, after they reply, say, “Oh I’m not really getting you those, I’m getting you a patch kit, because they’re cheaper and should work just fine.” Their heart will sink with despair at that moment, because that totally seems like just the sort of thing you’d do. And then their heart will surge with joy when they discover on Christmas that you—for once, finally—actually did the right thing. Cost: $5 – $10 / tube
  • Lube: Chain lube is essential, and everyone runs out at inopportune times. This is because there is no such thing as an opportune time to run out of lube. So. Buy some lube for your friend. But since chain lube choice is deeply personal, ask your friend what they use and where they get it. This is important, since different bike shops tend to stock different kinds of lube. Cost: $5 – $25 / bottle
  • Chain: If your cyclist friend is more than just a casual rider, chances are at least one of his bikes is going to need a new chain sometime soon. Like, maybe at the beginning of the riding season. Ask them what kind of chain they use, because this—like everything else in cycling, apparently—is now highly specific; you can’t just go and buy any old bike chain for a lot of the newer bikes. Note that a bike chain is a biggish-ticket item. Cost: $40 – $60
  • Cleats: These have to be replaced every single year, or more often. Once again, though, you have to buy the correct kind, so ask your friend what kind of pedals they use, and have them be really specific. And call the bike shop before you head over; not every shop carries every kind of cleat. Cost: $20 – $50
  • A Gift Certificate: OK, by the time I finished writing the first four items on this list, I realized that there is no possible way for you to surprise a cyclist and get them something they can use…unless you trick them. Here’s how the trick works. You say, “Hey, I’m thinking of buying a bike. What’s your favorite bike shop?” And then you buy them a gift certificate at that shop. I promise, it will get used.

Super Secret Bonus Gift Idea 1: Rice Rice Baby.

What? You say you’re no good at being tricky? OK, fine. Here’s what you do, then. I’ve got to warn you, though. This is a pricey one. 

First, you get this person a big bag of Calrose rice and put it in a box. That’s going to keep them guessing what you’re getting them. 

Second, you buy them a Zojirushi rice cooker. They’re expensive, but they work great and they last for pretty much forever. I have owned one Zojirushi rice cooker, have used it at least once per week for about fifteen years, and it has never had a problem. 

Third, you get them a copy of Allen Lim’s Feed Zone Cookbook. You can score a copy at most bookstores, and many bike shops. 

Abracadabra, you’ve just given this cyclist about 90% of the stuff they need to make their own on-the-go cycling food for the next year. You’re a hero. Do a victory dance.

Super Secret Bonus Gift Idea 2: Me

If you haven’t given your friend / loved one / worst enemy a copy of The Great Fatsby, well, you’re just not a very good human being, are you? But it’s not too late, as long as you don’t mind giving them the kindle version of the book

But if that just doesn’t seem personal enough, you could do any of the following to make their FatCyclist experience more grand, somehow:

  • Option 1: If you order a paperback copy of the book and then Paypal me an additional $50, I will have an awkward phone or Skype conversation with them, telling them it is my fault you have not yet received the book. I will apologize profusely and convincingly.
  • Option 2: For an additional $25, I will sing the “Happy Birthday” song to them (desperately off-key), and then act horribly embarrassed that I have sung a birthday song to them instead of a Christmas song.
  • Option 3: For yet another $25, I will then sing a Christmas song I made up for my twins, which I sang to them two years ago, because it was time. The lyrics are as follows:

Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas
Christmas is so
Very Merry
Merry Christmas
Merry Christams
There’s no
Santa Claus
Ha! 

Due to time constraints, I will only take the first 500 requests. Contact me at fatty@fatcyclist.com to arrange a time that is both convenient to me and horribly inconvenient to your friend for me to talk with them. And also to arrange payment.

May your days be simultaneously merry and bright,

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The Fat Cyclist

PS: I will be slacking off and probably not doing much in the way of writing until after the new year, though I’d be surprised if I don’t post something between now and then.

 

Failure is Not an Option

12.19.2014 | 10:05 am

“Failure is not an option. 

How many times have you heard someone say that? How many times have you said it yourself? No, don’t answer either of those questions. (At least, not out loud. I can’t hear you.)

Here’s a little piece of actual wisdom for you, though: if you’re doing a hard ride—whether you’re training or racing—saying “failure is not an option” is completely idiotic.

I know, it’s tempting to say it. It sounds like you’re being tough when you say it. Determined. Resilient. Like you are hell-bent on not failing.

But you know what? When you say that—or think it—you’re explicitly imagining failure. You’re thinking about what a DNF looks like. You’re considering the call of shame. Even as you’re saying it, a chunk of your brain is preparing a rebuttal.

You may not like the idea of that failure, but you’ve planted the seed. You know what it looks like. And as the ride goes on and gets tougher, that seed can start growing. 

Slowly, you realize the counterargument to this aphorism is in fact more correct: “Failure is always an option.”

So do this instead: when you’re riding and suffering, think about the finishing line. About having just enough energy to stand and sprint across it. Think about the story you will have to tell after you finish this thing—about the story you are living right this second.

Think about your current effort, and how three percent of that is your ace in the hole. If you’re about to blow up or cave in, you have the option of dialing back your effort by that three percent. And then keep going.

Think about anything that does not include failure, or even the absence thereof.

I know, I know: This sounds like The Secret. And that might be because there is in fact something to be said for this philosophy when it comes to making decisions: you can’t decide to quit if you’ve never entertained the notion of quitting. 

Does this mean you’ll always finish every race, that you’ll ride strong to the end of every ride? No. Because occasionally you might hit the actual end of your strength; you will get to the point where you honestly cannot go any further. 

When that happens, you haven’t failed; you’ve just found the edge of your envelope. And you can’t stretch it next time if you don’t know where it is. 

An effort like that isn’t just a success; it’s a huge success.

Don’t say, “Failure is not an option.” Instead, focus on success.

It makes a difference. 

50 Minus One

12.17.2014 | 3:23 pm

You know what happens if you start a blog in your late thirties and then keep on blogging for a decade?

You wind up being a guy in his late forties, still blogging. Specifically, tomorrow, on December 18 (my youngest son’s nineteenth birthday), I will be exactly 48.5.

I’ll certainly still be blogging when this blog turns ten, and I’ll probably still be blogging when I turn fifty, a year later.

All of these facts, combined with a new year coming up, have made me consider the likelihood that at some point in what I assume is the near future, I am going to have the distinct pleasure of blogging about my descent into decrepitude. 

But not yet. Not this year.

The 2015 Plan

I don’t want to be slower in 2015 than I was in 2014. I want to be faster. In fact, I’d like to be a lot faster. Specifically, I’d like to pare  twenty minutes from the 8:18 I got in the Leadville Trail 100 in 2011. I’d like to get a Leadville 100 finish time that starts with a 7.

And being fast this summer means heading into the basement this Winter.

Here’s what my basement used to look like: 

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Basically, old, mismatched, unused furniture and a lot of dust. And a thing the cat lurks on.

So The Hammer and I did some cleaning up:

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And we did some moving around, repurposed a Mac Mini we weren’t using, and we bought the cheapest decent-size flat screen TV we could find, and we went all-in with Wahoo Fitness gear, connected up to our Specialized Shivs:

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First of all, we got a couple of Wahoo Kickrs: bluetooth-controlled trainers, which means your iPhone or computer can control how much resistance you’re pedaling against, and read how fast you’re going. 

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And very sophisticated equipment to lift the front end of our bikes a little bit: 

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We also got Wahoo Tickrs (Wahoo’s bluetooth HRM) and RPM (Wahoo’s bluetooth cadence sensor). 

And finally, we got wireless headphones to watch Netflix with while we train.

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But all of that (extremely awesome) gear is secondary. The thing that’s bringing all this together is that we’ve subscribed to TrainerRoad.

We’ve looked into it, we’ve been trying it, and The Hammer and I are sold on it. [Full Disclosure: TrainerRoad is providing us complimentary subscriptions and equipment]

Using it, we expect that this winter and spring, instead of turning into big puddles of goo, we’re going to get into the best and fastest shape of our lives.

How it Works

You sign up with TrainerRoad and choose a training plan that works with what you want to achieve. That plan has workouts all chosen for you. Like right now, The Hammer and I are on the “Sweet Spot Base 1 – Mid Volume” plan: 

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Then, you load the workout for the day—onto your iPhone or onto your computer— and you start.

And instead of you just pedaling at what you hope is the right effort for what you hope is the right amount of time, TrainerRoad talks to the Kickr and makes it go to the right resistance, and giving you instructions on what you’re doing right now, how fast you should be pedaling, and what’s coming next.

With the plans and workouts all in place, all that’s left for you to do is put in the work.

It’s incredibly easy. Well, the workouts themselves aren’t necessarily easy, but knowing what you need to do to get better is. And that’s pretty awesome.

So this is what TrainerRoad looks like on the TV loaded on the MacMini while we play Netflx (Dan Ackroyd in Grosse Point Blank, in case you were wondering): 

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Or, if you load TrainerRoad on your iPhone instead, it looks like this:

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And here’s The Hammer in action:

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Trust me: she’s having fun.

Grand Scheme

The Hammer and I have been using TrainerRoad for about a month now, and we love it. With a huge number of workouts on a well-designed plan, we’re not getting bored. 

And TrainerRoad also has workouts synchronized with the Sufferfest videos, which means you can load a video, turn on TrainerRoad, and just concentrate on surviving, instead of trying to decide whether you need to shift up two gears or three to truly be at your limit. The Hammer and I haven’t tried this yet.

But you know what I really want to try with TrainerRoad? There’s a  workout where you can simulate what it’s like to make an attempt on the Hour Record. You know, the one all the cool kids have been trying lately.

I want to know what that’s like. Maybe I’ll even live stream it (because just imagine how much fun it would be to watch me ride my bike in place for an hour). More on this soon.

The Hammer and I have had really good results by just riding our bikes a lot. I think it’s going to be interesting to see if we can break through to a different level by actually adding some structure to our training.

And I’m kind of stoked to have a Leadville hoodie with a 7:55 time on it.

Rule #5 is Stupid

12.15.2014 | 12:11 pm

Some of you have never heard of it. Some of you have heard it referenced, but don’t know what it means. But probably most of you have heard of it, know what it means, and regard it as a sacred cycling edict:

The famous Velominati Rule #5: “Harden the F— up.”

I’ve had cyclists say it to me when I’ve been stopped on the side of the trail mid-race, crouched and whimpering as my quads and hamstrings battled it out to see which could cramp harder.

I’ve heard cyclists say it to others on trails, much more frequently on the road, and—most frequently of all—on social media.

It’s time this stops. It’s time the Velominati retract and apologize for their vaunted Rule #5 as the single stupidest, most insipid utterance to ever gain traction in cycling.

Oh the Arrogance

What bothers me about this so called “Rule V” is the presumption that anyone is in any position to assess how hard another rider is, how they’re working on being harder, or how hard they want to be.

No, instead, you’ve diagnosed the problem (insufficient hardness) and—luckily for the other guy—are on hand to provide a useful solution. 

How lucky for that other person!

And of course, the fact that you are able to measure hardness and the need to have more of it means that you must be very hard indeed. Hey, you’ve been through the fire, right? You’re tempered steel; you recognize pig iron when you see it. It’s your responsibility to tell others the error of their ways.

Or, it’s possible you’re just an arrogant dork with an inflated opinion of yourself. 

First Line of Defense

I am not the first person to take issue with Rule #5, nor with The Rules in general. And whenever someone does, the Velominati apologists fall back to the “have a sense of humor” defense, a variant of the “we were just kidding around” line schoolyard bullies have used ever since there were schoolyards.

If it’s a joke, fine. Saying something absurd with a straight face is a totally legitimate way to make a joke. 

However, regardless of original intent, a lot of people don’t regard it as a joke now, and they see it as excellent advice to give to others, and then hide behind the “it’s just a joke line,” thus trying to have it both ways.

So here’s a tip for the “Just Kidding” types: You either mean it, or it’s a joke. If there’s a joke, there needs to be a punchline. And if you mean it, you’re an arrogant and presumptuous idiot. (Hey, I’m just kidding though.)

Do You Have The Right?

Here’s a question to everyone who’s ever told another person, “Rule #5,” or just gone ahead and told them to harden the f— up: Are you “hard” enough to dispense this kind of advice? Which is to say, are you so supremely confident that lack of hardness is the reason someone is having a bad day on the bike?

Or is it possible that they are bonked and hungry because they followed the absolutely idiotic Rule 91: No Food On Training Rides Under Four Hours? (If you can train for three hours without food, you’re not going hard enough. And while on your bike is not the time to cut back on calories. I’m a complete idiot and even I know that.)

Or maybe they felt like venting a little bit. Maybe they thought that—since the Velominati are apparently allowed to talk endlessly about the nobility of suffering—perhaps it would be OK for someone else to mention that they’re having a rough time today.

Or maybe they’re just not as fast as you, and have done all the hardening they can do before getting dropped.

Or maybe they’ve got another reason for not being, at this moment in time, as magnificently “hard” as you.

But know this: if you tell anyone, whether in reference (“Rule V dude, rule V.”) or by actually saying, “Harden the F— up,” you are in massive violation of the much more valid Rule 43: Don’t be a jackass. (And you’re not being the funny kind, either, in case you’re hoping to get the “or at least be a funny jackass” fine-print exception.)

Furthermore, by saying “Rule V” to anyone, anywhere, you have explicitly relinquished any claim to assistance the next time you bonk, have a mechanical, or are out in the middle of nowhere facing a 20mph headwind.

Instead, use that time to think about how wonderfully hard you are. And also, don’t tell us about it when / if you ever get back.

And finally, please note: if you make this proclamation to another rider and then are later dropped by that rider—on (especially) this day or any other, you are legally obligated to rend your jersey and kidney-punch yourself to the point of renal failure.

In short: you don’t know how hard other people are, or how much hardening they’ve done. You don’t know how far they’ve come or where they are right now. 

You Vs Others

I have, at times, actually uttered words similar to Rule #5. To myself. Because I often do find myself lacking. I often want to stretch myself, to see if I can find a new breaking point. 

I will often mutter, to myself, “Just. Stay. Strong.” Or “Five. More. Minutes.” Or even, “Five. More. Seconds.” 

I’m a big believer in testing myself. In trying to be stronger. “Harder,” if you want to call it that. Whatever.

I think most of us want to improve ourselves. And we’ve all got our internal monologues prodding us along.

Some of us even have coaches, people we’ve hired to push us further.

But for everyone else, stop it. Rule #5—faux-jokingly or not—is the dumbest, least-useful, most insulting advice you can give another cyclist. 

And if you say it, be prepared lose a kidney.

How To Pedal Your Bike Properly

12.10.2014 | 4:47 pm

KindlecoverA Great Fatsby Note from Fatty: I’m happy to announce that as of this morning, The Great Fatsby: The Best of FatCyclist.com, Volume 2, is now available on the Kindle. Please go check it out. And then buy a copy, for crying out loud. It’s been years since I’ve won an award or been invited to a fancy dinner party as the guest of honor, and if I don’t get some kind of validation soon I’m going to crumble.

Please make me feel good about myself. Buy a copy of my book, or I’ll cry.

You don’t want me to cry, do you?

Oh, and if you pre-ordered the Kindle version of The Great Fatsby, check your email. You should have the code for downloading it in your inbox right now.

A Donation Note from Fatty: If you’re looking to make a donation to WBR, and would like to have a chance at winning some awesome bike gear by doing so, allow me to recommend you check out Jordan Rapp’s RappStar Charity Challenge. His contest works (more or less) like my contests, though he sets his minimum prize-worthy donation quite a bit higher: $134 (the cost of a bike). 

And this is pretty exciting: The Great Fatsby is currently the #1 top-selling cycling book in Amazon.com’s Kindle list:

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About which I proclaim: Huzzah! And also: go buy a copy!

How to Pedal Your Bike Properly

As a cycling expert, I am frequently asked what the best way is to be faster and win races. The answer, of course, is to always wear a matching cycling kit, have the most expensive and newest bike of anyone in the race, and—above all—to enter in the least-populated age / gender / equipment / experience level group you possibly can.

I, for example, am very excited about my chances in the 80+ novice singlespeed women division when I race this year. Indeed, I expect to crush the competition.

But believe it or not, there is actually more to being fast and winning races than just how you dress, what you ride, and finding racing category nobody else has found.

And that is: pedaling

Oh, I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, “Well of course we have to pedal if we want to go fast!

[Unless we have an e-bike, in which case all we have to do is sorta-kinda make a pedaling motion at all! But let us dismiss e-bikes from our thoughts. They are too ridiculous, even for this blog.]

But pedaling isn’t enough. No, not at all. There is a proper way to pedal. An efficient and smooth way. A correct way. A way that is vastly different than the way you are doing it right now.

Fortunately for you, I will now instruct you in the proper technique to pedal your bicycle.

Pedal in Circles

The most important thing you can do when riding your bike is to remember: pedal in circles. Only when you pedal in circles will you achieve the speed and grace of a pro cyclist. 

You can prove the truth of this statement by climbing onto your bike right now and pedaling. But do not pedal in a circle. Instead, pedal in a square. You’ll find, thanks to the fact that your feet are attached to a device that has both a fixed center and radius, that it is very difficult to pedal an actual square.

Now try a rhombus. It’s not easy, productive, or comfortable, is it?

Now try pedaling in a figure-8 motion. Still no good, right?

OK, now pedal in a circle.  Suddenly, your bike moves forward. In fact, it moves forward with considerable ease. The difference is astonishing.

Well, it moves forwards as long as you pedal circles in the correct directions.

Yes, I said directions. Plural. Because the number of directions your feet must go in describing circles is as important as it is complex and counterintuitive.

Luckily for you, I am here to help you understand.

First of all, you must realize that you must turn your feet in opposite directions, simultaneously. I know, how strange is that? But you must trust me: the circle you describe with your right foot is clockwise, while the circle you describe with your left foot is counter-clockwise

Here. I’ll illustrate:

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You see what I mean? You’d think each of your feet would go around in the same direction, but the truth is demonstrably the opposite. This seems like madness. If you will follow this top-secret tip, though, you’ll find your bike goes so much faster

Pedaling With Power

Of course, it’s not enough to merely make your bike go forward. You want to go forward fast. Toward this end, I have several secrets the pros use. 

First, try the Wipe Your Foot Off technique. This means that as each foot reaches the bottom of the pedal stroke, you should perform the same action as you do when scraping gum off the bottom of your shoe. Specifically, this means you should follow this sequence with each turn of the cranks:

  1. Push down to nearly the bottom of the pedal stroke.
  2. Kick back, as if wiping your foot on the street / grass / carpet to get a piece of gum off your shoe (but hopefully not actually on the carpet, because that’s gross).
  3. Curse at the way some people spit gum out onto the street. Why would they do that? Why not just throw it away? Don’t they know someone’s going to step in it? Don’t they have any consideration at all?
  4. Go find a stick or something to try to scrape it off your shoe, because scraping it off on the curb didn’t do much good at all.
  5. Ask yourself why anyone even chews gum. It’s not like the gum keeps its flavor for more than twenty seconds anyways. And there’s probably nothing in the world that makes someone look cow-like as chewing gum does. Plus, it makes you hungry. Resolve to never chew gum yourself. Or if you do, to at least never just spit it out on the sidewalk.
  6. Repeat this process ninety times per second. 

The second technique to use is to Pull Up With Your Foot. Did you know that when you pedal a bike, up to 50% of your effort can go toward just lifting the leg that’s going up? It very well might be true! 

That’s wasted effort. And if there’s one thing you don’t want when you’re riding a bike for exercise, it’s to expend unnecessary effort. 

So: with every stroke, as soon as your get to the bottom of the rotation, begin pulling up. By doing so, not only are you not forcing your other leg to lift it, but you’re actually sending additional power to the wheel.

Or maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re just unweighting the crank. 

Or maybe you’re not even doing that, either. Everyone seems to disagree how much you’re accomplishing by trying to pull up on your pedals as well as push down on them. 

But beware of the dead spot at the bottom of the stroke—the spot where you don’t have much power, and also it sounds kind of ominous.

Except there’s really nothing much you can do about that dead spot. It’s not like you can skip past it or anything. In fact, forget about this part altogether.

Just push down on the pedals really hard and really often on the pedals and you’ll probably be OK.

Advanced Techniques

There’s more to proper pedaling technique than pedaling fast and hard in the correct direction, however. Advanced cyclists also know and religiously adhere to these three top techniques:

  1. Bring your feet to a level position at the bottom of each stroke, then stretch and flex your calves on the upstroke. This may or may not actually improve your cycling performance, but it is guaranteed to show your calves off to maximum advantage. 
  2. Keep your legs together, so your knees graze your top tube with every up and downstroke. If you do this properly and consistently, you should wear through the bike’s finish before the end of the season. 
  3. Remain seated when riding. This is the most effective way to pedal. Although it’s okay to stand during climbs. And sprints. And during hard efforts. Or when you want to switch up positions. Okay, never mind. Sit or stand, whichever you prefer. It’s all the same to me.

With strict adherence to these pedaling techniques, you’ll soon (over the course of seven or so years, generally) find that you have more power and speed on the bike than you could have ever imagined.

Or you could just get an e-bike. Those things make you go fast.

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