Tag Archives: travel

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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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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More manageable cycling trips

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Having done of number of these spring riding trips, and trips to Europe in particular, I’ve learned a few things along the way on how to make it reasonably affordable and more enjoyable. Most of it I learned the hard way — by making mistakes.

Collect frequent flier miles
Airline tickets are usually the biggest single expense, so it helps if you can eliminate that right from the start. You don’t need to fly a lot to do this. Get a credit card that allows you to accumulate miles and then use it for everything.

Go in the off-season
Tourist season, that is, which is late spring and through the summer. Early spring, or fall is better. Hotels, flights, and other things are cheaper, and it’s less crowded.

Don’t do an organized tour
It’s way cheaper to do a cycling trip on your own. Yes, it can be a bit intimidating to do the first time, but if you’re willing to be patient, to make mistakes, be confused at times, you’ll be rewarded not only by saving money but by experiences you won’t get if someone else does it for you.

Find affordable housing
For young people that could be hostels. Also now there are many ways to book private housing where people rent rooms, apartments, etc. (e.g., AirBnB, HomeAway). In Alicante I found a small apartment with kitchen for 34euro per night). The main point is avoid large, American-style hotel chains.

Get a credit card with no international fees
That goes for ATM cards too. CapitalOne is the primary one that I know if. This can be a very big savings, as some will charge up to a 3% transaction fee. Use the ATM card to get cash; don’t change money here in the US or at airport kiosks as the exchange rate and fees will be terrible. Although it’s a good idea to at least have a little cash on arrival, just in case your card doesn’t work. Also a good idea to inform your credit card and bank companies that you will be making international transactions.

Make your own breakfast and lunch
And/or find a hotel that includes breakfast. Personally I like going into local stores and buying food that I can then make myself. Way cheaper, and often more fun, than eating every meal out.

Rent a bike
I’ve had pretty good luck renting bikes, rather than hassling with bringing my own. Airlines now charge ridiculous prices to fly with your bike, and then you have the added hassle of renting a car big enough to hold the bike case, putting the bike together, packing it up again, etc. I accept that a rental is not going to be as nice, and may not fit perfectly, but to me the reduced hassle is worth it. An alternative is to ship your bike — an option if you’re staying within the US but not to Europe.

Don’t overplan
I’m often guilty of this. Then find that it makes me even more stressed if things don’t go exactly as planned. One of the harder things can be finding and planning bike routes. It does help for this to do a bit of advanced planning to find recommended routes. You can do this with sites like mapmyride, or looking for local bike shops that have route maps, or local clubs, or just doing some Internet searching for recommendations. I remember coming across great routes in the Girona area via pro rider Michael Barry’s web site.

Carry a map, money, id when on the bike
That really should go without saying, but there have been times when I’ve forgotten, or feel (over)confident that I know where I’m going. Then make a wrong turn, or run into a detour. Or forget my water bottles and need to stop for something to drink. On this last trip I stuck a (car) GPS in my back pocket as a last resort in case I got lost (which I ended up using). See below.

Bring a GPS with local maps
If renting a car and driving, this is pretty much essential to reduce stress. On the bike, I would ideally like to have had a handlebar mounted unit rather than fishing maps out of my pocket all the time. Those tend to be too big for racing, but for riding in strange places would be very nice. On my “to purchase” list.

Choose more off-the-beaten-path locations
Especially if you are going to ride, but also I think this applies in general. For me, anyway. Seeing big cities is nice, but for me it gets old after a while. I am happier to find somewhere smaller and more manageable, where I can easily ride, walk, hike, have coffee, and experience some of the local culture. Even in Alicante, it took me about 20 minutes of riding to get out of traffic congestion. Somewhere like Barcelona would have been a mess.

Learn a little of the local language
At least some of the basics: greetings, please & thank you, do you speak English?, how much? where is the bathroom?, another beer please! etc. A little travel dictionary is very helpful. In some places, it doesn’t seem to matter. In Barcelona a waiter made fun of my daughter saying “your Spanish is funny.” But they are dealing with a mass of tourists every day. In other places, people seem appreciative when you try to speak their language rather than assume that everyone speaks English.

Most of all, keep and open mind and at least a bit of a sense of adventure.

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Ride lots

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When I returned from Spain, people at work asked how much I rode. When I said “about 33 hours over 8 days” (not counting the first day’s 45 minute spin), the common response was “I can’t imagine riding that much.” A few other cyclists even said that.

It does sound like a lot, but having done a number of these kinds of weeks now, my experience is that it’s quite amazing how quickly your body adapts. This is true for multi-day races like Superweek also. After the first couple of days you think there’s no way you can continue doing it, but then at a certain point it switches and you feel like you have to do it. Your body doesn’t feel right if you don’t go out and ride (or race).

I understand why the Grand Tour racers go out and ride for 3 hours on the race’s “rest days”. They feel worse if they don’t ride.

Coming back home, I had a full day of travel where I couldn’t ride. The next day though I was back outside again, riding for 2 hours. Then every day since then. Not at the same volume or intensity, but I wouldn’t feel right not riding (both mentally and physically).

I’m sure it helps that I have been riding for quite a few years now, and have built a pretty good base of fitness. I don’t think I’d tell a beginning rider to go ride 30 hours in a week. But I think even beginning riders can do a period of increased volume.

There are a couple of secrets to it: you have to back off the intensity to what you can ride every day. I’ve learned what happens when you ride too much at too high an intensity: you dig hole that’s hard to climb out from.

The other secret is that when you don’t have to work and can just ride, rest, eat … well, you can ride a lot more. So I just need to figure out how to solve that problem of needing to work.

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All the roads go up

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Climbing used to be my favorite thing on the bike — racing, training, or Just Riding Around. But that was before I officially became “old”, and before those extra 5 or so pounds. It’s not that I dislike climbs now. It’s more that I just don’t look forward to them like I used to.

That was going to present a bit of a problem riding around Alicante. Once you get away from the city and the coast — which you have to do to escape congestion — all the roads go up. If I was going to actually enjoy riding every day I was going to need to adjust my outlook.

It’s not too hard to change your attitude when you’re going up a climb and you look down and see paint on the road from a race — encouragements for favorite riders. Imagining what the race might have been like, it just makes you want to keep going up.

And then you get rewarded by the views from the top.

The climbs in this part of Spain are very different than what we have at home, which are usually short climbs of 3-8 minutes. Instead, I was doing climbs lasting 20 minutes to almost an hour. And then the long descents after the climb.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much extended time riding in the small ring. It seemed the road either was going up or going down. Which also made for some of the slowest average speeds I think I’ve ever had. I just had to accept that it was going to take me 4 hours to go 100km.

The hardest part was doing it day after day. In 8 days of riding I did about 45k feet of climbing — roughly 5500 feet each day. I have to work to get 5k feet in a day at home. But surprisingly, you just get acclimated to it.

I think I now know why the “Spanish climbers” do so well in the mountain stages of the grand tours.

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