I am an enthusiastic cyclist. I tell many people about the virtues of bicycles. I ride with aplomb and energy. After rides, I earnestly effuse about how happy I am. About the good time I’ve had.
I’m a strong cyclist. I can ride for hours, and often do. Indeed, I have occasionally ridden for more than a day, just to prove a point. I no longer remember what that point might have been, but let’s agree that whatever the point, I have made it sufficiently.
I am a committed cyclist. I have been riding for more than twenty years. Not contiguously, but darned near close to it.
Enthusiastic. Strong. Committed. When it comes to cycling, I am all those things. And all those things are good things.
Sadly, however, I have no cycling style. No panache, as it were. At all. My riding is as boorish and ham-fisted as it’s possible to be without calling the authorities and hiring a lawyer to draft a cease-and-desist notice.
I shall elaborate.
Technical MTB Style
Some people are a pleasure to watch as they mountain bike. They glide up and over ledges. they lightly hop over rocks and roots. They carve hairpins cleanly and precisely. They climb with economy and grace.
They sail from jumps in a perfect and mathematically elegant arc, landing so smoothly that you’re not precisely sure of the moment they returned to earth.
I do none of these things. Or to be more accurate, I do the opposite of these things.
When I try to bunny hop, I pull my shoulders out of their sockets — so great is my effort — but my bike remains on the ground.
When I get to a ledge, there’s even odds that I will jam either my front wheel or my chainring into the lip of the ledge, bringing my bike’s forward progress to a sudden and traumatic halt. I will then either flip over the front of the bike, crush my snipe into the stem, or fall over backwards onto my tailbone.
Sometimes — and I know this should be impossible, but it’s true — all three.
I approach hairpins so slowly and tentatively that a case could be made that I never reach them at all.
When I try to clean a technical ascent, I seem to be wrestling my bike — as opposed to riding it. Furthermore, it is quite clear that I am losing that wrestling match.
I seize up and stiff-arm my bars during descents. Steep drops ending in flat runouts terrify me, and wheelies are right out.
In short, while I love mountain biking, I am possibly the ugliest-riding cyclist who has ever donned (and then crookedly worn) a helmet.
Here’s a nice little piece of irony for you: I think of myself, above all else, as a climber. But I climb terribly.
Rather than sit and find the correct combination of gear selection and high cadence, I stand up as soon as the road turns uphill. I hang my head down, so all I can see is my front hub, mocking me with the slow repetitive rotation of its logo: DT Swiss, 240s. DT Swiss, 240s. DT Swiss, 240s.
My mouth hangs open; I drool. Sweat and snot — a “snotulum” I call it — combine and sway from the tip of my nose.
Spit, sweat, snot. And, frankly, tears. Honestly, it’s astonishing how many fluids drip out of my face when I’m climbing.
So gross. And that’s just what’s going on at head-level.
I lack any form. I have no upstroke, I have nothing that resembles a cadence. I look, essentially, as if I’ve somehow mistaken my bicycle for a rowing machine.
The moans of pain aren’t very attractive, either.
Finish Line Style
I am pretty sure I’ve never had the good fortune to win anything, so developing a victory salute style isn’t something I have needed to spend a lot of time on.
But even if I were much, much faster — so much faster that I could dream of winning in a less non-fantastical way — I would never even attempt a victory salute.
I know myself too well, that’s why.
I know that if I were to win and raise my arms to the air, I would immediately veer hard to the left (not sure why, but if I’m going to veer, it’s always to the left), plowing into timing equipment, race officials, and spectators.
And if any of those spectators happen to be small children or frail senior citizens, you can bet I’d manage to single them out.
The carnage, the humiliation, the complete clumsiness of it all, would be too much; I’d have to impale myself (if I hadn’t already) with my handlebar in order to escape the shame of it all.
Of course, all of this would happen before I even crossed the actual finish line, and so I’d wind up being a DNF.
In summary: should you ever see cross my path whil we are riding, look away.
For your own good.
UPDATE: If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t generally read the comments, let me recommend that you make an exception this time. I love reading about the amazing things readers are describing having seen from their bikes. And to those of you who have posted comments: thank you. We’re all so lucky to have seen such amazing things, aren’t we?
I’ve been riding for more than two decades now. Not contiguously, mind you; I do take breaks. For example, I’m not riding at this moment.
You’d think — or I’d think, anyway — that by now I’d have run out of things that amaze, surprise, or delight me about cycling.
But I haven’t run out. Not even close. And there are three really cool little bike-related surprises I want to tell you about today.
The First Cool Thing
Years ago, a guy named Wade asked me to link to his new blog, CyclingTips. I took a look at it — a nice site with a lot of good information in it — and added it to my blogroll.
Now, of course, CyclingTips is way more than tips about cycling. It’s a mainstream cycling site, and one of my favorites to read.
And as of right now, I’m contributing to it. Specifically, I’m co-hosting their new weekly CyclingTips Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, use its RSS feed with many podcast managers, download it directly, or just listen to it here:
You can read more details on this first episode over at CyclingTips. And let me know what you think.
The Second Cool Thing
Last Saturday, The Hammer, The Monster, and I went on a nice long, flat road ride around Utah lake. It’s our go-to ride for when we want to put in a lot of hours, but not a lot of climbing. Plus we wanted The Monster to have a good experience for her first century.
I have really stepped up my Strava Ride Description game lately.
The ride went great. Somehow there was little or no wind, and it was at our backs more often than not. We kept a good pace. We had no mechanicals.
And traffic was light — not many cars. But — and this is the important part — we did get passed by about 700 motorcycles.
I am not exaggerating. At least I don’t think I am. Basically, about forty-five miles into the ride, one Harley-Davidson motorcycle passed us, followed by another and another.
And then, for the next four miles, at least one motorcycle passed us every single second. Beautiful motorcycles, obviously cared for and loved. All of them were a pleasure to look at, and many were straight-up eye candy.
Many of the riders waved, all of them gave us plenty of room. And Harley-Davidsons just sound wonderful.
We had been taking one-mile pulls, fading off the back at the green mile markers, but while this unbelievable parade went by, we just held the formation we were in.
Finally, they had all gone by and we had the road to ourselves again. I looked back and laughed. “Can you believe that?” I asked.
“That was amazing,” The Hammer said.
“That had to have been every single Harley in Utah,” The Monster said.
We hadn’t expected to see a parade, weren’t after a parade. But out in the middle of nowhere, we had been the lone spectators to an incredible parade.
I’m not 100% certain it’s the coolest thing I’ve stumbled upon while biking, but it was certainly close.
The Third Cool Thing
That brings me to the third cool thing. Which is your cool thing. Which is to say, after seeing all these motorcycles, I started thinking about all the amazing things I’ve seen because I happened to be on a bicycle. I’ve seen a wild turkey, running at top speed down a road, looking for all the world like a velociraptor. I’ve seen a moose, standing stock-still and facing me down. I’ve seen people hugging and crying at finish lines. I’ve seen stars, clearer and brighter than anywhere else.
And I’ll bet you’ve seen some amazing, memorable things, too.
I’d love it if you’d share one of those things with the rest of us, in the comments.
A few months ago I got some samples of something called #ITSTHENERVE — little two-ounce bottles that are supposed to stop cramps in their tracks.
The next time I had a cramp come on, I opened one, drank it…and within seconds, the cramp was gone. And that’s happened twice more since then.
And in short, this #ITSTHENERVE stuff has worked for me, every single time.
So I had to learn more. And that’s how I wound up with Dr Bob Murray, with Flex Pharma, talking about this mysterious product.
You can listen to it on iTunes, you can download the MP3, or if you use a podcast tool like Overcast, you can use my RSS feed (http://fattycast.com/rss), or your can listen to it right here:
It’s an interesting interview with a smart (and nice) guy about a product I’ve had a lot of success with.
PS: Be sure to follow #ITSTHENERVE on Twitter, and maybe get in on the pre-order that’s going on this week, as they prepare to launch and reveal what they’re going to call this product.
PPS: Full Disclosure: I am not compensated in any way by #ITSTHENERVE, but I did get several sample bottles at no charge.
One of the things I like best about writing this blog is the fact that it has made me extremely famous, tremendously beloved, and remarkably wealthy.
Also, it has made me tall, thin, and handsome. Plus my hair has somehow become thicker and somewhat curly. (For some reason, it almost always appears to be waving in a slight breeze.)
These benefits — and many more (more than I currently wish to count, really), I assure you — come at a cost, however.
I get so, so much email. Mostly from people who want to write high-quality guest posts in nearly-decipherable English about why bikes are a good choice for fitness and recreation and all they want back is a link to their site, which may or may not (but most likely may) install malware on my readers’ computers. An enticing and fair trade, to be sure, but one I generally shun.
The other kind of email I frequently get is questions. What kind of bike should I buy? (A red one.) Should I try racing? (Yes, everyone should try racing.) Should I shave my legs? (Yes, everyone looks better with shaved legs.) Do I really need to wear bike shorts with a chamois? (Not unless you are going to be riding for more than an hour.)
Really, it’s like people think that just because I know everything I want to actually share that knowledge.
And yet, from time to time, I get a truly interesting question, such as the following:
First of all, let me begin with this sentence.
Next I would like to absolve myself of any insult I may inadvertently make by addressing a complete stranger with a nickname that is very rarely used affectionately.
Third, I would like to come straight to the point, which I will do in my fourth point.
Fourth, I would like you to tell me how I can train with purpose, excellence, and efficiency, gaining maximum value without special equipment, and hopefully in a trivial amount of time. My ideal outcome would be to be offered multiple contracts from a number of professional teams by the end of this fiscal quarter.
This is an extremely well-conceived question, and one I am happy to answer. Especially since I took about 750 words just to get to it.
The truth is, Steve, there’s no shortcut to being a faster racer. No, wait. That’s actually not true. There are actually a number of very good shortcuts, such as the following:
- Doping: This is a popular option and is covered elsewhere.
- Putting a motor in your bike: This is not as popular, as far as we know, but seems like it would be more fun, be less expensive and probably involves fewer needles and blood bags.
- Actually taking a shortcut: This, weirdly, seems to be the least-offensive way of shortcutting your way to racing success, so I guess I recommend it.
I’m just kidding, Steve! You shouldn’t do any of these things. Instead, you should train your guts out, spending all your free time (and also a fair amount of your work time) riding your bike so hard that every moment on the thing is pure torment, and the only pleasure you ever get from the bike is in boasting to others how much suffering you endure while doing this, your hobby.
If you’re going to go this route, I strongly recommend having a blog. And writing multi-part race reports that describe your suffering at this thing you paid to do in absurd detail.
But training hard isn’t enough, Steve. No. Not enough at all. Because just saying, “I trained hard” is too simple, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Velominati, it’s that there needs to be at least a hundred rules that tell you how you’re doing it wrong.
Thus, we now have zones for describing your suffering. These are helpful mostly for impressing people who don’t know what zones are, because jargon makes simple things complicated, what you’re doing is complicated, it must be work, and therefore has value.
Or something like that.
Anyway, training has zones of effort, ranging from Zone 1 (not actually riding your bike) to Zone 7 (riding your bike with such intensity that your shins get hot from air friction).
Here is a screencap of the amount of time I spent in the various zones while on a recent ride:
That’s really impressive, isn’t it? I mean, with those tables and bar charts, I must be really be a force to be reckoned with when cycling. At least, I hope that’s what it means. I guess it could mean that I spend most of my time in Zone 1, sort of tooling along while I eat Chicken McNuggets dipped in Ranch sauce.
No Equipment Required
Sadly, in order to tell what zone you are riding in, most training methodologies require you have a great deal of expensive equipment: a power meter, a heart rate monitor, and a cadence sensor.
Fortunately for you, Steve, I have developed a set of simple observational techniques that will help you quickly and accuratey tell which zone in which you are riding.
I present them here, to you, at no charge. (Because, thanks to this blog, I’m already extremely well-to-do.
- Zone 1 — Active Recovery: If you can look up and notice that it’s a beautiful day outside, maybe nod and wave to other riders, you are in Zone 1.
You are probably having fun right now, enjoying your bike, glad to be out and getting some exercise. Real cyclists consider this kind of riding “junk miles” and would like you to know that you should be ashamed of yourself.
- Zone 2 — Endurance: When you go into Zone 2, your thoughts become dominated by how much you enjoyed Zone 1, and several reasons why you ought to go back to Zone 1 spring to mind.
You realize you can probably go at this pace for another few minutes, but you don’t really want to.
- Zone 3 — Tempo: The good news is you can no longer think of any good reasons why you should go easier. The bad news is you can no longer think about anything at all. Except pain, and how much your legs hurt. And your lungs do too.
You can’t talk when you’re riding in Zone 3, and that’s probably a good thing. Because if you could talk, you would have several complaints to make. Also, you would explain that you can’t keep this pace up any longer, and you’re not sure how you’ve kept it up as long as this.
- Zone 4 — Threshold: Zone 4 is called “Threshold” because you are on the threshold of vomiting, unless you are actually vomiting, which is equally likely. So Zone 4 could accurately be called “Vomit,” and from now on that’s what I propose we all call it.
And it works both ways, too: the next time you need to throw up, instead of saying “I think I’m going to hurl,” just yell “ZONE 4!”
- Zone 5 — VO2Max: Your legs are screaming. No, I mean actually and literally screaming. People riding in your vicinity ask you why your legs are screaming.
“Because I’m in Zone 5,” you reply.
“Shall I call the police?” they ask.
“Obviously,” you reply.
- Zone 6 — Anaerobic: You are in pain. You have always been in pain. You have always been riding, and you have always been in pain. You do not know why. You would ask someone, but you are alone. Alone and in pain. Now and forever.
- Zone 7 — Neuromuscular: Zone 7 doesn’t actually exist. It’s just a silly term made up to make us feel like even when we’re killing ourselves in Zone 6 it’s not good enough and we should feel bad about ourselves for not training as hard as we ought.
This should give you everything you need in order to become a strong and effective racer, Steve, even without power meters, heart rate monitors, or cadence sensors. Best of luck in your training efforts.
PS: I wrote this while riding my trainer, primarily in Zone 8.
I have a key takeaway from the 2016 RAWROD: It doesn’t matter how beautiful something is if you don’t take the time to look at it.
And here’s another key takeaway: nothing’s so beautiful that it justifies getting your eyes and face sandblasted as you look at it.
Which is to say, for pretty much the entirety of this ride, I kept my head down and just rode. Giving about 60% of all my mental cycles over to a single thought: “I can hardly wait ’til this is over.”
But you know, that leaves 40%, and that 40% is worth mentioning.
I’d say I spent about 50% of that 40% (i.e., 20%) wondering, “Where is everyone?” We had started together, we had waited in the places where you wait, we had ridden at a reasonable pace.
And yet, we were alone. And thanks to the wind, we just couldn’t make ourselves sit there and endure the wind any longer than we had to.
Which leaves me with 20%. And 75% of that 20% (in other words, 15%) I thought about how it was pretty darned cool that we were doing this amazing ride in a beautiful place in terrible conditions.
I thought about how weird it is to choose to do something harsh and difficult, for no reason other than you had decided to do it. Or in my case, because you like being with someone who had decided to do it, and know yourself well enough that if you don’t do it, you’ll kick yourself afterward. A lot.
I thought about how it was pretty cool that even though the wind was almost always in our face, we rode side by side, so we could hold a shouted conversation. By the end of the day, we’d both have hoarse voices from spending the day yelling everything we wanted to say. Usually at least a couple of times.
And in the end, we did it.
Wasn’t it clever the way we wore our 100 Miles of Nowhere jerseys, seeing as how this route, according to my GPS is exactly 100.0 miles long — the only perfect natural century I know of or have ever ridden.
We waited for the rest of the gang. We waited while we changed. We waited while we ate and drank.
But the wind was getting worse, and we had a storm to beat if we were getting home.
So, without seeing anyone from our group arrive, we left.
But we didn’t beat the storm. In fact, as we went over Soldier Summit, we rode through incredibly windy whiteout conditions. I slowed to thirty miles — and often slower — as I white-knuckled the steering wheel for the longest forty-five minutes I have ever driven.
I’m not a big fan of driving over mountain passes in blizzards. Especially when I’m exhausted from a long day of mountain biking for a hundred miles in a windstorm.
But we made it.
The next day, I texted Kenny: “Are you guys alive? What happened? Where were you?”
I expected a reply full of drama and adventure. What actually happened…was a little less interesting.
Basically, partway up the Mineral Bottom dirt road, they realized they had not brought their passes or money for the toll booth. Not realizing that neither were necessary on this particular day, they turned around and went back to the beginning to get their money and passes.
And that’s it. That’s the end of the story, really. And I feel like I’ve let you down here. There wasn’t a lot of drama in this story. Just a lot of wind and a group separation due to pretty mundane circumstances.
But you know what? Not every story is going to have a lot of drama, outside what happens in your head. Sometimes, just deciding to start is the story. Then deciding to keep going. And then finishing a very hard day and getting a burger afterward.
Sometimes a plain ol’ difficult ride is adventure enough.
PS: Really, I should give better detail on how things went for the rest of the group. Ryan and Jaooaooaooooeeoooeeeooo finished about an hour behind The Hammer and me. I am not certain, but don’t think they finished together. Which means those guys suffered magnificently.
As for the Kenny / Heather group, they finished too, about an hour and a half after The Hammer and I did. My guess is that Kenny had a fun day and was cheerful throughout.
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