Category Archives: cycling

Bike fitting in Boulder

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I’ve rented a bike probably a half-dozen times while traveling. When I pick up the bike, I pull out my tape measure to set the saddle height, then ask if I can put on my 120mm, -17 degree stem. I tell them it just won’t feel right otherwise. Then they look at me as if I’m straight out of The Princess and the Pea.

For the last year my bike hasn’t felt right. I’ve told people that I felt “crooked” on the bike. It didn’t used to be like that.

The person who did my last bike fit (Andy Applegate) suggested that I visit the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM), as they could do a real ‘medical fit’. I filed it away as an interesting idea — maybe, some day. The thought of getting 2 bikes to and from Boulder seemed like a hassle. But then everyone I mentioned it to said, “wow, that sounds cool. You should do it.”

I exchanged a few emails with a guy who works at BCSM, and when he told me that I would be seeing Andy Pruitt were I to come, I said “ok, let’s do it”. How could I turn down the chance to be fit by a rock-star bike fitter? Andy Pruitt has literally written the book (well, “a” book) on bike fitting and has worked with many Pro Tour cyclists.

As an added incentive, there are like 1000 microbreweries in Boulder. “Beer is everywhere”, Shawn Adams told me.

Arrangements were made, the bikes arrived, and I showed up first thing Tuesday morning at BCSM.  I showed Dr. Pruitt a picture of my x-ray.  He had a similar break, years ago.  I felt like I’d hit the jackpot — not only someone who knew about cycling fit and problems, but who know about my specific problem, first hand.

He poked and prodded, noted the still-apparent muscle atrophy (18 months later!), noticed that I still limp a bit, have leg-length imbalance, and reiterated what I’d been told previously: the anatomy of my right leg is just different now.

We got a baseline with my current fit, with Dr. Pruitt watching me ride.  The motion capture confirmed what I had been saying: I was crooked on the bike.

First step was switching pedal systems (to Speedplay, since they are so adjustable). Next was putting a wedge and shim under my left cleat. Then moving the right a bit on my shoe.  Lowering the saddle a bit.  Raising the bars a bit.  Another capture, and I was indeed straighter, but  still a bit off.

Next step was putting a pressure-sensor pad over the saddle to get a ‘heat map’ of the pressure points.  Before doing it, I said that I felt like most of the pressure was on my left side.  The pressure map confirmed it — bright red on the left side. We tried a different style / shape of saddle — one where I would be sitting more on top, and that would encourage me to rotate my pelvis forward more.

Another look at the pressure map, and wow, it was amazing how it had evened out.  This got me pretty close to straight on the bike.  It felt good.  I liked the pedals.  The saddle would take some getting used to.

We moved to the TT bike, which went much quicker.  A few minor adjustments, but nothing major.

By the time I got dressed and got my bikes back in the car, it was after 3pm.  I’d been there most of the day.

It’s been over a month now, so I’ve had time to adjust to the changes.  The new setup is most definitely better.  I love being on the new pedal system.  It took a while to get used to the saddle, but I like that too.  It’s clear to me that I am sitting straighter on the bike, with more even pressure on the saddle.

It still doesn’t quite feel like the “old me” on the bike, but the gap is closing.

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Race crashing

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Yesterday I finally pinned on a number and raced again. My number said 224, but the real number was 364: it was that many days since breaking my femur. One day shy of the anniversary.

After the race quite a few people asked, “how did you feel”? They didn’t ask about the result. They knew: the result wasn’t important.

So, how did I feel? At first it felt as though I’d crashed a party that’s been going on without me for a year. It was a very strange feeling — like I didn’t belong. That’s one of the things about bike racing. You could show up to run in the local 5k after not doing so for a year, and no one would notice. But in bike racing, you race with the same people week after week, ride shoulder-to-shoulder and put a large amount of trust in them.

It didn’t take too long to get over that though. And then the breakaway went up the road, containing my former teammate, Tris. And then it felt like ‘old times’ again.

But I think the people asking how I felt were really asking how my leg felt. And the answer to that is not as good as I’d hoped, but better than I had feared. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish the race.

A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to race, period. I give my new physical therapist most of the credit for getting me to this point.

I’m not assuming that I’m back on the “race 2x per week” plan. But it’s a start.

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Waiting game


It feels very strange: sitting at home on the first Saturday morning in April, drinking coffee, listening to music, and putting off doing my taxes. As opposed to being in the car, loaded with bike gear, on the way to a race. Which is what I’ve done on the previous 20 first-Saturdays-in-April (with one exception: the broken-collarbone-year).

Drinking coffee and listening to music isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not what I’d choose this morning, given the choice. Since people have been asking: I want to be racing. I just can’t yet.

I gave it a little test, out in Arizona, which didn’t go too well.

It comes down to: I can’t go hard enough without it hurting. Go too hard then I end up having trouble walking up/down stairs. Or it hurts to walk, period

There’s an ironic aspect to this: getting on the bike and doing a bunch of miles has really helped — both mentally and physically. But so many miles on the bike I think has reinforced the imbalances that we cyclists tend to have. Strong in very specific areas, but weak in others.

It occurred to me that I haven’t walked more than 10 minutes straight for several months. It’s been all bike. When I walk, it’s still a bit crooked. I can’t stand one-legged on the repaired leg. So my operating hypothesis at the moment is that I need to do some more PT to strengthen those other areas.

We’ll see. The goal is that you see me with a number pinned on my jersey, before too long.

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Cycling Terroir

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Wine people have this concept called terroir that they use when discussing qualities of wine that are due to local conditions. Wikipedia says it pretty well:

Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had […]

Having ridden my bike in a bunch of different places, I’ve decided that terroir applies to cycling, too. This became apparent while riding in Tucson, then Phoenix, then back in Tucson again.

Adam Myerson (Team SmartStop) speaks to some of this, here.

Tucson and Phoenix are barely 2 hours apart by car, but couldn’t feel more different when riding.

After unpacking and assembling my bike in Tucson I rode out to meet Shawn, who was waiting at a coffee shop. I had a bike lane the entire way. A few minutes later we were on a path, then off, then were climbing up Gates Pass.

It went that way the next few days: ride on some city roads with bike lanes, then within 15-20 minutes be out in the desert or climbing up mountains. Coffee shops and gas stations that are cool with cyclists filling bottles. Traffic, yes, but mostly tolerant.

Up in Phoenix a few days later, I rode out from my hotel looking over my shoulder every few seconds to check the traffic bearing down on me. Zig-zag down a maze of side streets to get to something more rideable, 45 minutes later. Look back and see the expanse of concrete.

That’s not meant to be completely down on Phoenix. There are some nice places to ride: from Scottsdale out to Fountain Hills, then north. Or up through Carefree to Bartlett Lake. But riding there feels more like a battle to get to those nice places.

I’ve previously written about “feeling like a local” when I get on the bike somewhere else (and interestingly enough, the last time I wrote about that was from Phoenix).

“Feeling like a local” and terroir seem to come together. I’ve long felt that you can more readily get a sense of place being on the bike. Certainly more so than driving in a car, and as much or even more so than walking.

All these different places become “my place” for a while, even Phoenix, even if it means I am primarily looking to survive on the roads.

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Spring training starts now

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Executive summary from 9 days of riding down south:

Blue Ridge Parkway: great road to ride on, but it actually gets annoying.
Savannah: food good, walking good, riding bad.
Greenville: challenging routes, courteous drivers.
460 miles over 9 days: feels like ‘spring training’ has already started.

The more complete story:

Somewhere in the middle of not being able to drive for 3 months, I had told myself that once I was driving again I was getting in the car and going somewhere … anywhere. I needed to at least get farther than Youngstown — the farthest from home I’d been since May.

Heading south proved to be a good decision: I missed the worst week of weather since last winter.

Blue Ridge Parkway
I stopped on the way down south, and again on the way back, to ride the Parkway where it conveniently crosses I-77 at Fancy Gap, VA.

It’s a unique road to ride on: limited entry and exit, no commercial trucks, good pavement, 45mph speed limit, great scenery. From that standpoint, it’s a pretty ideal setup for cycling. But riding it twice on this trip, something occurred to me: riding the Parkway can be annoying. You always seem to be going up or going down. The grades aren’t that steep or long, but it seems that you can rarely get into a nice riding rhythm. I know that sounds like heresy. It’s still a pretty special road to ride on … but day after day, I think I’d need a different option.

Savannah
Visiting Savannah was primarily about spending time with my daughter. So we stayed in the city, where we could easily walk to where we wanted to go — and all the walking turned out to be really good for me. After walking around for 4 days I felt like I’d completed a round of physical therapy.

It’s a great city to visit: not too big, but big enough. Good restaurants. Beach 15 miles away. Lots of parks and other sights to see, just by walking.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, cycling-wise. I did what I often do when visiting somewhere new: go to mapmyride.com and look for routes that people have submitted. Riding out of the city, there weren’t too many. I wanted to ride out to the beach (Tybee Island), but the prevailing opinion seemed to be “don’t even think about it” (dangerous traffic). So I essentially rode the same route each day. Anything different seemed to take me on 5 lane roads with heavy traffic … and lots of trucks.

Even on the route I took, there were lots of trucks — perhaps as a result of Savannah being a port city. The truck drivers weren’t obnoxious towards me on the bike, but it’s a little unnerving being passed by an 18-wheeler a dozen times on a 40 mile ride.

Overall, I liked Savannah, and I would visit again. But I can’t help but feel that they are missing out on something by not being more bike-friendly. It seems like a natural fit: it’s warm year-round, it’s flat, there are lots of pedestrians. Why not embrace cycling too? More bike lanes … rental bike stations for the more casual rider … and then outside the city how about some more roads where you don’t have to be looking over your shoulder for a lumber truck to come screaming by? It seems like a no-brainer to have a safe route to ride from Savannah out to Tybee Island.

Greenville, SC
In contrast, Greenville was riding heaven. Besides the courteous drivers, which I wrote about here, there are many great (scenic, challenging) roads to ride on. If you look on mapmyride, there are pages of routes for the Greenville area. Ride up towards NC and you are in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Just about every road that I was on seemed to have markings as part of some ride or another.

Overall I got the impression that Greenville really embraces the cycling culture. I will definitely be back.

9 days, 460 miles
… which included a 3-day stretch of 87, 75, and 94 mile rides (in Greenville). The day after the 94 mile ride, my legs actually hurt. I know I keep repeating myself here: I never imagined I’d be able to do this, so soon. I’m not able to go fast, but I can keep going.

I can’t express how good it felt to spend a few entire days doing nothing more than riding, then eating and resting afterward. I had told myself, back in May, that if I were able to get to “just riding” like this, then I would feel satisfied. And so I am.

The big shock came when I arrived home to 5″ of snow, no power, and downed trees everywhere. I almost … almost … turned around and headed south again.

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A funny thing happened on the way to Saluda

Something strange happened while riding today: cars were giving me lots of room when passing. On multiple occasions cars — and trucks even! — slowed behind me and waited for a clear chance to pass.

No horns honking. No shouts from drivers as they passed. No aggressive accelerations as they went by (yeah, I always love that … like it really makes a bold statement).

I gave a wave of ‘thanks’ to drivers a half-dozen times.

This couldn’t be just an odd coincidence, so I’m concluding that it’s something with the drivers here in the area — from Greenville, SC up into NC. Maybe it’s because George Hincapie is pretty well known around here. Or maybe it’s because so many people here cycle, or come here to cycle.

Or maybe the local cycling community has done something to engender such ‘sharing of the road’.

I stopped for coffee in Saluda, NC and a local guy struck up a conversation, asking where I had ridden from, which way I was going back, etc. Said he used to ride a lot too. I mentioned the drivers, and he said that people are used to bikes on the road.

But back at home people are “used to” bikes on Chagrin River Road, but that only seems to make it worse.

Something else is going on, and I’m guessing that it’s something about attitude. They just accept — however that came to be — that it’s OK for bikes to be on the road. They are not viewed only as an impediment or an inconvenience. I felt this way riding around Europe also. People don’t question that bikes belong on the road. Everyone knows someone who rides. It’s not a problem.

I wish I knew how to transplant this attitude. It would mean fewer riders in the hospital — or worse — as a consequence of road rage and impatient driving.

I think it would be healthier for driver’s mental health too. If only they could see it that way.

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100km @ 30 km/h

100km at 30kmh

I continue to be amazed at the body’s ability to heal … and at the seemingly magical powers of cycling.

Today marked three weeks since my first nervous ride out on the road. Since then it’s gone pretty well — way better than I ever would have imagined.

This morning I left early to try to beat the rain. Figuring that the ride would be cut short, I started riding a little harder than I otherwise would have. But it brightened up, the rain held off, and so I kept going.

100km is my minimum threshold for calling a ride a “long ride”.

At 80km today I decided to go for “long ride” status. I made it, though the last 10km were pretty hard.

Crazy thing is that I still can’t quite walk without a limp, but if you saw me on the bike you wouldn’t think anything was out of the ordinary … until I showed you my scar. Which I did today while briefly riding with another rider I’d come up on. It’s always good for a “wow”.

I think I have to stop using my handicap parking tag though, when parking at work. People are starting to look at me in a funny (not-good) way.

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