Just Riding Along

12.12.2005 | 6:20 pm

With the dark and cold, most of my riding has taken the form of biking to work and back each day. This is a round trip of about 20 miles when I go the direct route, which I almost never do during the summer, and always do lately.

I figured, though, that while this amount of riding wouldn’t keep me in race condition, it would at least help me maintain a good base level of fitness.

Last Saturday, I found out I was wrong.


Oh, Now I Remember

Around 1:00pm, for the first time in more than a month — maybe more than two months — I got out on a three hour ride. I had meant to get out around noon, but I spent about an hour tweaking my bike, fine-tuning what I was going to wear, washing my glasses, and in general stalling. For some reason, I was having a little trouble getting motivated. A ride just didn’t sound like all that much fun.

It was only when I finally quit puttering around and started riding that I figured out what my problem was. I hadn’t wanted to go riding because I had been riding so long in the dark, with a heavy bike and heavily-loaded messenger bag (gotta carry more clothes during the winter), with several layers of bike clothes on, that I had begun to think that’s what riding a bike feels like.

It sounds obvious in retrospect, but with no fenders, no light setup, no bag, and just tights, a long-sleeved jersey and a windbreaker shell, biking sure feels a lot different. For the first time in quite a while, I wasn’t using my bike just as a vehicle. I was using it for fun.

It was nice to just be out on a ride.


No Pressure, No Plan

With no races in the immediate future, I had no real target for how long I would ride, or how far, or at what pace. I didn’t have a watch. I didn’t have a speedometer. I was just riding along.

I’d ride for a while on one road, and then — when I saw another road that looked like it had a bike lane or good wide shoulder — I’d turn and continue on. It wasn’t really exploring. It was more like meandering. But as I rode along, I did in fact start making connections. “Oh, you can get to this route by connecting along this street? Well, that’s interesting.” I think if I did more wandering like this, I maybe wouldn’t feel lost so often in this area I’ve now lived in for close to two years.

Each time I stopped, I’d try to do a trackstand. Nope, still no good at it.


Carb Boom: Preliminary Thumbs-Up

A few weeks ago, back when I was talking (and talking and talking) about energy gels, Niki of TucsonTriGirls said that I needed to try Carb Boom, her sponsoring gel. She sent me a nice sampler pack, and during the ride I tried the banana-peach pack. I don’t yet know how well Carb Boom works over the long haul, but I will say this: it was the best-tasting gel I have ever had. You can tell — both from the flavor and the texture of the gel — they use real fruit.


A Farewell to Fitness

By the time I got home, I was fully cooked. Yes, a three-hour, easy-level workout fried me. After a nice long shower to warm up my hands, nose, chest and feet, I dressed in sweats, with no intention of leaving the house again that day.

So as I laid on the floor, or the couch, or whatever other surface I could find that had some level of lay-down-ability, I wondered to myself:

  • Have I really completely lost all my fitness in such a short time? I mean, I worked and worked and worked on it. And it’s not like I’ve stopped riding or anything. Three hours on the bike — especially three hours the way I was riding — shouldn’t wipe me out. But it did.
  • Could it be that I just had a slow day? I mean, one of my kids has a cold. Maybe I’m coming down with something. No, that’s not it. I feel fine. I’m just slow.
  • Maybe it’s because of the fixed gear bike. Riding a fixed gear bike requires a consistency of effort that you don’t get on a bike with a freewheel. You’re always working on the flats, are working harder on the climbs, and even have to work on the downhill. So maybe that’s part of why I’m tired. But it’s not the whole thing.
  • Is this what it means to be working on “base fitness? Maybe for the winter, this is exactly how I should be. I mean, at least I was able to go out and do a three-hour ride on a fixed gear bike in the middle of December. Maybe I should be happy with how I rode today. Or — more likely — I’m just a big puddle of goo that lost several months’ of fitness in a few short weeks.

Which of these is true? I don’t know. Probably some combo of all of them. Or maybe it’s none of them.

Am I the only one who’s watching his fitness go down the drain this time of year? Please, please tell me I’m not.

I’m begging you.


Bonus Blogging Excellence

In his Top 5 list today, Bob talks about how I cracked someone’s noggin during one of the rare times I tried a team sport. It’s a must-read, and is dead-on accurate, as near as I can tell. Click here.


  1. Comment by Zed | 12.12.2005 | 7:29 pm

    I don’t have the evidence, but I can guarantee that my training program (currently consisting of one spinning class a week and two quarts of eggnog) isn’t lowering my future timetrial times any. Go figure, the only real oxygen I get comes during my morning windshield scrape-off.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 12.12.2005 | 7:33 pm

    I’ve heard that unused muscle capacity begins to atrophy within 7-10 days. The body is a very efficient machine. Too bad it doesn’t train UP as quickly…

  3. Comment by kris | 12.12.2005 | 7:34 pm

    Oh man, I’m glad you posted this! I feel like a turd when I ride outside this time of year. The last two years after Leadville, I’ve lost any semblance of motivation to do anything other than ride slowly until the beginning of October. Of course, October in Nebraska isn’t exactly the greatest time to go out on four hour rides again, so I’ve been on the trainer for about an hour each day, trying to keep from pedaling triangles in the spring. Today was the first day in about a month that it’s been warm enough to even think about riding outside (40 degrees) and I had to stop twice to see if a brake was rubbing or something. I weigh the same I did at Leadville, and have been on the bike or trainer literally every day since then, but still seem to struggle. If form holds, I’ll muddle through four or five 3-hour rides in March and halfway through April, then on a longer ride something will click and I’ll feel not-so-slow again.I’m surprised that a finely tuned machine such as yourself is feeling slow as much as you ride. Forty miles per day sounds like a lot to me, even if you’re just commuting. I’m a well know pansy, though.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 12.12.2005 | 7:36 pm

    Last winter I gained weight (got fat) for the fist time ever. It took me all summer to lose the 10 pounds. It has taken me 1 month of not riding (much) to gain it all back.’Botched, master of the obvious’ warning: gaining it back is faster and easier that losing it. Real fast, and real easy.BotchedP.S. I give up all rights to "fatire". Use it (without aknowledgment) with impunity.I’m thinking, "The Fat Cyclist: fatire with a spare tire".

  5. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 12.12.2005 | 7:43 pm

    caloi – eggnog? really? i just don’t understand how anyone can drink eggnog.sparky – that is the most depressing statistic, evar.kj – oops, that was an error in my post (which i have now corrected). my round trip is 20 miles. it’s not 20 miles each way. if i rode 20 miles each way, i expect i would be writing about how cold i am (again) instead of how out of shape i’ve become.botched – it’s startling how fast the weight can come back. i, personally, have not weighed myself since i stopped the daily weigh-in. i fear what i will find when at the beginning of the year, i start up again.

  6. Comment by Unknown | 12.12.2005 | 7:44 pm

    If you ride for the commute, and commute hard like I do, you are "training" to do a ten mile time trial. You may have just the kind of fitness you need for riding ten miles twice daily on gears, rather than 30 one time on a fixie. When the weather here in D.C. clears, hopefully within the week, my mission is to learn to keep my HR "in the endurance zone" so that my commute isn’t counterproductive to the rest of my training. I had a shocker the other day when I bought a liquid stationary trainer – man, I was dying doing interval work on the thing. Little muscles in my hips hurt today. It has become clear that I need to mix up my routine a bit in order to get the most out of my riding. I hate running and am too large for it anyhow, and I don’t have the time or membership at the right gym to swim a lot. So I’m looking for some cheeeep CX tires for the fixie to make it the legit 3x weekly commuter, I just put aggressive MTB tires on the MTB/UeberKommuterKampfWagen to do some midnight MTB’ing with the LBS, and there’s also the trainer / spin class routine. I’ll let you know how it goes.One other thing – I’ve noticed that riding the fixie in cold weather (denser air, harder breathing, heavier clothes, lower efficiency) is a bloody tough workout. There’s a reason that it’s the olde skoole toole of choice for many pros. I’ve read some analysis on geared riding in races, and was surprised to find that many pros spend a lot of time coasting – 5-10% or more sometimes. Pro racers! How much lazier are we than that? If you are coming off the geared bike and getting reaccustomed to the fixie, it should hurt, you are probably working a lot harder, and likely doing it against a big gear, especially in low efficiency conditions. (Y’know, Surly makes rear cogs for about $20-30 that could, um, protect your knees and make the fixie more conducive to riding frequently in the hard winter conditions, especially with a 700×25 cross tire, y’know, to work on your spin and all…I’m just sayin’…)/s Al- A 44-20 man. (Believe it or not, good for a 19-20 MPH cruising speed on the flats…)

  7. Comment by James | 12.12.2005 | 7:44 pm

    Long rides on the fixie take it out of me in a way that the same route on a geared bike does not. I think that keeping the legs in motion like that for 2-3 hours, plus the really fast spins on the downhill, stress the legs in a unique way. Not to mention the greater stress in the saddle region. But, it beats the heck out of the same time on the trainer.Doing it is better than not doing it – you aren’t going to retain your peak levels of endurance and strength, but keeping a higher base will help you next year. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

  8. Comment by craig | 12.12.2005 | 7:48 pm

    So wait, I don’t get it;Your commute is 20 miles round trip or 20 miles one way? 20 miles round trip each way directly? or indirectly? 40 miles round trip each way directly? does going to work one way constitute some sort of round trip up there in the NW? Could you please clarify? Oh and…..I think you are fried because of the muscling up the hills on the fixie. I on the otherhand have been slowed this fall by 14 pounds of blubbery goodness accumulated since 10/2 (my last race) by eating the same as I did all summer but only getting in half the running and riding. On the plus side, I am getting close to being able to enter those ‘clydesdale’ categories that look like so much fun.

  9. Comment by craig | 12.12.2005 | 7:51 pm

    My reading comprehension might need some help because now it makes perfect sense.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 12.12.2005 | 8:31 pm

    Cycling is supposed to be fun. Winter riding is mostly NOT fun. It’s akin to riding a trainer and or rollers, or ice water enimas. Not fun, nope.

  11. Comment by tayfuryagci | 12.12.2005 | 8:45 pm

    atrophy 7-10 days? thats not true at all man. but the fact that you start to lose your fitness with 10 days of no-training is somewhat true. atrophy? no.well fatty you’re not the only one watching all the fitness built up during the spring, summer and even autumn go down the toilet. I gained a magnificent 15 pounds and am as slow as a damn yak! yesterday me and my as-fit-as-me buddy got cooked after 15 kilometers of off-road. gotta find a way to keep fit during the winter or I’ll be worse than last year next season. now I feel dow too! dough! blast you fat cyclist blast you!duh siimpsoons da-dee-deuruie… (worst simpsons theme ever)

  12. Comment by Unknown | 12.12.2005 | 8:52 pm

    Hey Fatty,I have a similar commute as you (20 miles round trip). I also took a three hour ride yesterday. Out behind my house I can get to some state land with fire roads. There were about 4-5 inches of snow on top of frozen ground. Fortunately, after about 1 mile there was some four wheel drive/snowmobile/quad runner traffic which had packed the road nicely. I was able to do my favorite climb which was made smoother by the packed snow. I don’t think I’ve lost on the aerobic capacity, but it is really hard to tell on leg strength because of the type of riding. It’s really hard to compare winter riding conditions with summer conditions. You know, more clothes, low pressure in the tires etc.I’m also do nordic ski patrol at a local ski area several weekends per month. Different muscles, but definately a workout.I think you will be surprised if you keep up the commutes with the fixie. Next spring, when you compare how you are doing, I’ll bet it’s better than in years past.

  13. Comment by Unknown | 12.12.2005 | 9:10 pm

    This is more a question than anything else. I orde this past weekend a regular 40 mile trip, fender, panniers etc, in summer when all goes well 2.15 or 2.30 but it took almost 3.30 hrs to complete. The main resson was that my feet were frozen. I stopped at least once to massage them and what not with no improvement. The rext of the corpus was fine. And I was not to worn out on arrival, after eating and what not I did this and that. I have tried thoese toe bootes and foot warming dealies, to no avaial. So does anyone know hiow to keep the feet warm? Do those winter cycling boots hep? What about the neoprene zip over booties?thanks

  14. Comment by Zed | 12.12.2005 | 9:50 pm

    What’s up with Washingtonians and not liking eggnog? Okay, so it’s probably responsible for the vast amounts of mucous in my throat, but it sure does taste good. BTW, I had a lunch-hour ride, and I now have evidence of my out-of-shape-ness. Whew, I got killed. At least you get to commute every day.

  15. Comment by Big Guy on a Bicycle | 12.13.2005 | 12:37 am

    T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, but that just tells me that he wasn’t a cyclist. My fitness took a real beating this fall due to injury, and now I have to try to regain it during a time when I can’t go for long evening rides due to darkness (the light helps me see, but not be seen from behind so well), it’s coldcoldcold, and I have the temptation of holiday food all around me.Saturday’s mountain bike ride was truly humbling.

  16. Comment by Unknown | 12.13.2005 | 12:59 am

    We’ve been doing quite a bit of riding & have found the way to keep our feet warm – check out the Hotronics ski-boot heaters. It’s basically a shoe-liner that replaces the one in your shoe, that has an integrated heat pad that’s attached to a rechargable battery pack. On low, it’ll last up to 12 hours, & on high, about 4 hours. We’ve ridden 5-6 hours at level 2 in 30 degrees, & no frozen feet.

  17. Comment by Gillian | 12.13.2005 | 2:38 am

    I feel you. I don’t ride, I run – well, ran. After a couple of months off while doing a play (a musical even, there was dancing, and aerobic exercise involved), I can barely motivate to get out of my chair. I wheeze like an asthmatic after thirty seconds, and a thirty minute run is like torture. After 11 years of running regularly. It sucks. Bring on the spring!

  18. Comment by EricGu | 12.13.2005 | 4:03 am

    Alas,To keep your feet warm try:1) Neopreme (sp?) booties are pretty good. 2) Make sure your shoes aren’t too tight.3) Make sure your legs are covered.4) Keep your core warm (but not too sweaty)Phatty,You detrain a bit in 10 days, but it takes a while to lose base fitness. Just don’t worry about it, riding at all in the winter is your focus. Oh, and ride with me, because I’d love to be out when you’re detrained.Oh, and it’s the Apple-Cinnamon that you want to rock.Lowephat.

  19. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 12.13.2005 | 2:07 pm

    Alas, I just wear thermal socks and crosstrainer shoes. It helps. Of course, I’m old school and ride with clips and straps, no clipless pedals. I can’t tell you anything about any modern hi tech stuff. The best suggestion I have if you can fit them in your cycling shoes is wool thermal socks, they keep your feet warm even when wet. Woolen leg warmers help as well, keeping the blood warmer as it circulates to the feet.

  20. Comment by Unknown | 12.13.2005 | 6:18 pm

    Fatty,Johan would only let Lance ride a fixie for two hours max. That’s Lance, Fatty. Two hours. Max. Fixed gear bikes take it out of you for sure. If you did three hours it would be expected to hurt. Meandering is great for learning the area and discovering new wrinkles in established routes. My best routes are a result of meandering over the years and once you start to meander, an occassional look at a map will help connecting the new dots you discovered while you were out having fun. Meanwhile, you are gonna spin like crazy with all the fixed gear time you are logging. Like butta.

  21. Comment by Tom | 12.14.2005 | 7:24 am

    I don’t ride this time of year. I weigh the same that I did in September, but my gut is bigger and I drink and eat and lay on the couch more. I suck. And I’m kind of enjoying it. I’ll start making deposits in the bank of pain in early Feb.

  22. Comment by Tyler | 12.15.2005 | 3:26 am

    What are you kids talking about? What kind of gear are you running on your fixies?Riding a my fixie, an 80’s roadbike conversion with 63 inch gears, is far easier than riding my race bike — whether for 1 or for 4 hours. Sure, I can’t coast, but I also can’t decide it’s a "good idea" to play Time Trial of the Week on a random stretch of road and slap it in the big ring and go to town. Likewise, I usually decide discretion is the better part of valour and climb the 1000 foot hill on the shallow, 5% side, not the 12% "short way." Maybe your fixies are massively overgeared, so every short rise tears your knees off.Maybe your pedal strokes are so bad that you’re bouncing your junk off of your saddle every time you pedal.Or, maybe you’re all just massive wimps.

  23. Comment by Isa | 12.15.2005 | 8:02 pm

    Fatty,I adore your blog, read it all the time! You’re not chopped liver ;)Let’s face it though, Kenny is such a hottie!Isa


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