Friday, December 15, 2017

Mtn Bike Riding in the Snow

I led a group ride in the snow last night on the canal/tow path near my home.  It was in the teens cold.  When I got in my car after my ride, my car thermometer read 13F .  The snow was 1-2" with occasional icy spots.  Everyone stayed upright.  The ride was 22 miles long and took just under 2 hrs. averaging 13-14 mph with a couple stops for water and an energy bar.  Normally, I drink while I ride, but last night was so cold that my Camelbak Hydration Pack hose froze solid.  Here is my essential riding list for the snow:

BIKE- gotta have the right bike with the right tires.  I don't recommend a hybrid bike or a cross bike in 2 inches or more of snow.  Yes, I'm sure you can ride it in 2" of snow but it's not very stable.  Not stable like a Mtn. Bike or Fat Bike.

PEDALS and SHOES- some people still use clip-in pedals in the snow.  I don't because you'll invariably need to stop and when you do, your pedals will fill up with snow.  I use flat pedals with stiff sole shoes and flat bottoms.  You don't want to wear shoes with an aggressive tread pattern.  You want the tread to be flat so the metal nubs/barbs on the flat pedals can dig in for grip/traction.

GAITERS- these should be waterproof and cover the entire shoe including the tops.  This will keep the snow out which will prevent the snow from melting inside your shoes.  If you get your socks wet from melting snow, your feet will get cold in a heartbeat.

POGIES and/or GLOVES?- I don't like Pogies.  They're the big muff looking things that attach to your bike handlebars and grips- that you insert your gloved hand into.  They're too poofy for my taste.  Besides, I want my hands free to do whatever: get a drink, press a button on my bike computer, get a drink, blow my nose, scratch my ear, eat, etc.  I like Ski Gloves.  They work well.  If your hands still get cold, pop a hand warmer inside.

FACE/EYE/HEAD PROTECTION-  I lumped these all together because you want them to fit together.  You want your goggles or sunglasses to fit our helmet.  When it gets real cold and windy outside, I ditch my bike helmet and use my ski helmet w/ goggles or sunglasses.  If there is a chance of frostbite, I'll use a balaclava (full face/head mask).

FENDERS- I have a clip-on fender for my rear wheel (and it works great).  I should get one for the front.  They make them but they're just harder to find.

LIGHTS- for night riding you need a good hi-power (hi-lumen) output light.  You'll also need a high capacity battery to run the light for at least 2-4 hrs. since you never know how long you'll be riding or caught outside in the cold.  Make sure your light battery is fully charged.  The cold has a way of zapping your battery (even Lithium batteries).

BIKE RACK- I see people disassemble their bikes and throw them in the trunk after their ride.  To me, that's too much of a hassle.  Plus, it dirties up the back of your SUV or trunk. I like the hitch mounted bike racks.  It takes all of 5 seconds to safely secure your bike to the rack and it keeps all the dirt/salt/gravel/etc. outside of your car.

Power ON!  Coach Rob

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Let it Snow!

I know there's a lot of people that live near me in PA that don't like the cold or the snow.  They bitch and moan about it.  I never understood that.  If you don't like something, why do you put up with it- year after year after year?  It's not going to get any better.  Winter is still going to come and dump some snow on you if you live in the Northern latitudes.  Just move to Florida or wherever if you don't like it.  For some, that's not possible..they just can't afford to pack up and move.  Or, maybe they have older parents in the area to care for, etc.  I'm guessing the REAL reason why they bitch and moan is because they don't know how to enjoy the snow.  That is, they don't sled, ski, hike, snowmobile, walk, or bike in the snow which is a shame.  Some of the most beautiful nature photos I've taken over the years have been snow scenes where I was outside skiing, biking, walking, etc.  Plus, who doesn't like the fresh clean air after a recent snow and the warm sun on your face?

I bike in the snow with my mountain bike.  As long as the snow is 2" or less it's fine.  When it gets above 3" it can be a little tricky unless it's one of those powdery snows (which we don't get very many of here in the Northeast).  I just deflate my tires from 50psi down to 30psi for more/better traction.  Fat bike tires can run as low as 10psi of air in the tires.

The next thing I recommend is to change your pedals from the clip-in type to flat pedals.  Because you're going to put your foot down sooner than later and when you do, your cleats will fill up with snow and make it hard to clip back in.  Plus, your reaction time is much faster getting your foot on the ground for stability with flat pedals vs. clip-in pedals.  And, you're not going to have to worry about your foot coming off the pedal when you're climbing because you shouldn't be climbing in the snow anyway.  You also want to stay seated while you ride.  No need to stand up on the pedals.  The bike is going to wash out a little from side-to-side.  It will feel weird/unsafe at first but you'll get used to it.  Just spin at a good high rate (80-90 rpm) and don't mash the pedals.  Also, get used to the fact that you're not going to be riding at your customary speeds. If you normally ride at 15 mph on dry trails, don't expect to go faster than 8 mph in the snow.  And, you're going to use much more power to go 8 mph in the snow than you would 15 mph in dry conditions.  If the trail becomes slippery you can always put on some studded tires.  I've never done that yet, but there's always a first time.  If I do, I'll report it here.

As far as clothing, I dress for Winter bike riding the same way I do for skiing..except I don't wear the baggy pants that I do when skiing.  I wear long winter stretch riding/cycling pants.  They're comfortable and warm.  I also wear the lobster gloves where the thumb and index finger have their own sleeve, and the last three fingers of your hand share another sleeve.  If your hands still get cold you can always pop a hand-warmer inside your gloves.  I'll wear sunglasses or ski goggles depending on conditions.  Always wear goggles or glasses of some type with UV protection from the sun.  Don't forget your sunscreen too.  For shoes/boots, I love my specialized winter riding boots.  Except for the snow, I change to flat pedals and hiking boots.  If your feet get cold, pop in toe warmers- they work.  Lastly, don't forget to hydrate.  Riding in the snow is a workout.  It's tough riding and you're going to work up a sweat just like X-Country skiing..regardless of whether it's in the 20s.  I wear my Camelbak hydration pack on my back.

So, get out and ride and enjoy the snow... LET IT SNOW!  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Train Hard...recover Harder!

You don't get stronger by training harder, you get stronger by recovering harder.  When you cycle train hard, you're essentially tearing down the muscle fibers of the quadraceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves- in your legs.  Those small muscle membranes are torn-up/damaged.  That's the muscle soreness you experience 8-12 hrs. after a hard ride that can last 24 hrs.  When you recover, those muscle fibers in your leg are re-building stronger and acclimating to the stress they've been seeing lately..and readying themselves for the next hard effort.  Yet, most cyclists don't spend much planning on the recovery phase of training, just the workout/training phase. 

Recovery isn't about sitting on the couch with your feet up on the coffee table drinking beer and watching football all day/night long after a hard ride.  When we talk about recovery it should be "active" recovery.   I'll get to active recovery later.  Recovery should start at least 5 minutes before the end of your hard training ride.  It should consist of a nice cool down of high rpm low intensity pedaling.  This will help clear the lactate accumulation in the blood.  As soon as you get off the bike, you should ingest some carbohydrates and protein to fuel the muscles.  According to sports physiologist Joe Friel, in the first few minutes after getting off the bike, there is a potential for a 300% increase in glycogen resynthesis as compared to waiting 2 hrs.  Miss this window after your ride and your recovery may take more than 24 hrs. to get back in the saddle.  A good post-workout recovery drink is chocolate milk.  It's got the right amount of high glycemic carbohydrates and protein.  That combined with a high glycemic carbohydrate and high protein energy/protein bar should do the trick.  Within 2 hrs. after the ride, you want to eat a more substantial meal composed of lower glycemic carbohydrates and quality protein such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, etc.  This meal will keep blood glucose and insulin levels high.  This post ride meal is not a time to be thinking of eating less and losing weight.  It should be a time to be thinking of feeding and repairing your damaged muscles.  And, don't forget to consume plenty of water that was lost sweating during your your hard training ride.  Even if you don't think you sweated very much during your ride (such as in the Winter months), your body loses a lot of fluid.

In addition to eating/drinking properly, many professional riders find that a massage is a highly effective way to restore muscles after a hard ride.  However, for the everyday amateur rider (like you and me) that is not practical nor feasible.  But, what is is stretching and using a foam roller.  Ten to fifteen minutes of stretching and rolling out your leg muscles on a foam roller goes a long way to a speedy recovery.  Don't forget to get plenty of sleep the night after your hard least 7 hrs.

So, what is "active" recovery?  Active recovery is just that- recovering while being active instead of passive.  Active recovery from the bike can be taking a walk, swimming or hiking as long as the intensity is low.  Active recovery can also include getting back on the bike as long as the effort/intensity is ridiculously low and slow.  Pretend you're riding with your grandmother of 80 yrs. in your flip flops.  You want a low intensity ride of no more than 20-30 minutes.  I find that I recover faster with "active" recovery vs. "passive" recovery..again, as long as the intensity is low and doesn't exceed 20-30 minutes.  I think most cyclists would agree with me.

Remember, your recovery is just as important, if not more important than your training ride/workout.
Power ON!  Coach Rob

The Pain Cave

I always have people tell me how much they hate indoor training- so they don't.  That's a shame, because it really doesn't take a lot of effort or cost a lot of money to build your own Pain Cave- as I like to call it- for indoor training.  What are the pain cave essentials?  First, and foremost, you need a a cave.  I finished 1/2 of my basement to make my pain cave.  Carpet, drywall walls, drop ceiling, all basic stuff.  The 2nd, you need a bike.  I use my old (circa 1995) Cannondale Aluminum bike.  It's still a great bike.  The 3rd, is a good "smart" trainer.  What do I mean by "smart"?  It's a trainer that changes resistance automatically as the bike (in your training video) either ascends a mountain/hill or descends.  There are plenty on the market these days.  I have a "Lab Quality" Computrainer that I bought years ago.  It's compatible with all of today's virtual reality software programs like Zwift and ErgVideo.  It's also one of the most accurate trainers on the market.  That is, it reads power output in watts +/- 1%.  Yes, it's pricey ($1500) but I got a great deal from Racermate for being a USA Cycling Power Based Coach.  You don't have to spend that much on a good trainer.  There are a bunch on the market made by Power Tap/Saris, Tacx, Wahoo, Kinetic, etc. that cost half of that.  Fourth, you need a good computer to run the virtual reality software.  I find that a laptop works just fine.  Just make sure the processor speed is fast enough, the video graphics board is fast enough, there's enough memory, and make certain you have a fast (wide bandwidth) internet connection.  Fifth, you need a good monitor/display to project your ride on.  No, a phone doesn't hack it, not an iPad either.  I don't even like laptops since they're still too small for me.  You gotta go big on the monitor.  I either recommend plugging your laptop into a big screen TV or plug it into a projector and project it on to a screen.  I used to project onto a projector screen but now that I have a big screen TV within earshot of my laptop, I connect via an HDMI cable.  Speaking of phones, that is sixth on the list.  If you use Software such as Zwift, you need a smart phone to act as a remote.  Seventh, you need a good fan.  I'm talking near industrial strength/grade to keep you cool during your training ride.  Eighth, you need some tunes..either provided by your phone or by a stereo.  I use my stereo from my college days which still kicks out some amazing sound with good bass.  Ninth is all the other stuff: towel, water bottle, shoes, HR monitor, etc.  You definitely need a HR monitor that is either ANT+ or BLE protocol that talks to your computer and the software on it.  If you use an ANT+ trainer and/or HR monitor you're going to need an ANT+ dongle in your computer so they talk to each other.  My Computrainer plugs-in directly into the laptop so I don't have to worry about dongles or wireless connections.

So, stop making excuses on why you don't train indoors or why you hate training indoors.  If you don't train indoors (or you hate it) you probably don't have a decent set up.  Yes, I know these things/equipment costs $$$.  So does every other hobby/sport I know of.  If you're serious about cycling you'll find a way to come up with the $$$ to build/create a similar pain cave to mine.  Beg, borrow or steal some $$$.  No, don't steal..just kidding on that one.  And, who said you had to build it all in a day/weekend.  Rome wasn't built in a day, nor was my setup.  Mine took years to build.  So, start building.  I actually look forward to training in my pain cave on inclement weather days.  Is it as much fun as riding outdoors?  In general, "NO"..but it's the next best thing.  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Friday, December 8, 2017

Interval Workout

Most cyclists think the only way to do training intervals is inside on their trainer.  That's not so.  You can do intervals outside as long as you find a road/path where you have time/distance to perform a steady-state interval effort.  That is, a road/path void of any stops.  I have just that path/road.  It's a canal/tow path near my home that runs adjacent to the Delaware River.  It's flat, and at night, it's deserted.  The only slow downs are 2-5 second slow downs for road crossings and/or bridge crossings.  In the interval workout last night, I completed two intervals at L3/L4 (sweetspot) zones: the first being 25 minutes long and the 2nd being 45 minutes long.  Each interval was separated by a 5 min. rest.  The rest interval was when I dismounted my bike and walked across a Delaware River bridge (on the walking path).  At the end of the 45 minute interval there was a 10' cooldown period  Here's the workout:

5' Warmup
5' RI (Rest Interval)
10' cooldown

Here's what it looks like graphically:

What I really like about this graph is the W' curve (red line).  It shows how my stress went from positive to negative during the interval workout.  They (experts) say when your W' equals zero that you're nearly out of gas.  That was true last night.  In fact, I was running on fumes at the end of the 1st interval.  The second interval was no different...running on fumes at the end of the interval.  You can see how the 5' Rest Interval (RI) re-charged my batteries but that they were drained shortly thereafter- again.  No doubt a good interval workout that stressed the legs.  My legs were sore when I got home last night.  In fact, they're still a little sore this a.m.  Now, I need to get some rest and recover so the leg muscles can rebuild (stronger) and get ready for the next effort/workout on Sunday.  Until then.  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Ok, so I said whenever a cool product hits the market I would review it.  Well, this product isn't necessarily new but it's new to me and it's WAY COOL!  The program (or game) is called Zwift.  What is Zwift?  It's an online (internet) game, it's an interactive cycling software program, it's a training aid, and it's FUN!  See

What you need to set up Zwift is a bike, a cycling trainer with a power meter, a laptop or desktop computer and an internet connection.  You can even run the Zwift program from a phone or iPad.  That power meter can be built into the Hub of your wheel (provided it can communicate via Bluetooth or ANT+ protocol with the computer that the Zwift software is installed on), it can be a HR Monitor/Power Meter strap (such as the PowerCal from Power Tap), it can be a trainer such as Computrainer (by Racermate) or one by Cycleops or Tacx.  The more accurate the power meter, the more realistic the online experience.  The computer should have a good network or Wifi connection with hi-speed internet service.  It should also have a fast graphics card/adapter.  If not, the Zwift software program won't run properly or won't run at all.

Once set up on your computer you can go for a group training ride, sign up for a race, or just ride alone.  The first thing to do, once you sign-on is to determine what your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is.  You can do that by clicking on the FTP test.  You have the option of doing a 1 hr. FTP test or a 20 min. abbreviated FTP test.  I chose the latter.  Once you determine your FTP (mine was 210w when I tested it last night.  My FTP is actually closer to 220w) you divide that number by your weight in kilograms.  To do that, just weigh yourself in lbs. and divide by 2.2.  I weigh 160 lbs. so my weight in kg is 160/2.2= 73kg.  Now, take the FTP (210w) and divide that by the weight (73) and you get a power to weight ratio (w/kg) of 2.9 w/kg.  If you want to race online, you need to know this number so you can ensure you sign up for the correct race.  The races are rated/categorized A thru D.  Here is the Zwift w/kg per race category:

A> 4 w/kg
B= 3.2- 4 w/kg
C= 2.5- 3.2 w/kg
D< 2.5 w/kg

Based on this, my w/kg was smack in the middle of the C-category.  So, I entered a Cat-C race and I got shelled/dropped...ha.  I could clearly see that the people ahead of me were not Cat-C riders, their w/kg was close to 4, some even over 4 w/kg.  By the way, these people are real people from all over the world.  So, just like in real life racing, there are sandbagger racers online.  It's easier to sandbag at an online race than it is a real race.  The easiest way to do it is to enter a weight (into the software program) lower than your actual weight.  The other is to use a Power Meter that is not calibrated properly and reads high.  I know that the PowerCal HR monitor/power meter reads 10% higher than my Computrainer Power Meter.  I know Zwift is trying to police this somehow/some way.  Here is a screen shot of a race:

The Zwift software tells you everything you want to know about the race/ride.  It tells you your power output (watts), your Heart Rate (bpm), your cadence (rpm), your speed (mph), the distance and time into the race and the time remaining.  It also tells you the other racers around you, their names, where they're from, their w/kg, etc.

All of this Fun is not free however.  After your free 7-day trial, you must pay $15/mo. to continue.  But, that's cheap considering one spinning session at your local gym where they play Beyonce music for 45 minutes charges $25.  That's $15/mo. for unlimited riding, races, etc.  Even if you only sign-up for the Winter months (December thru March) it's well worth it in my opinion.  Because there is no better cycling training than racing.

Check it out, I think it's a cool program that's only going to get better.  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving Day.  Did you get a ride in today before the big dinner feast?  I did.  Now I won't feel as guilty downing all the food/drink.  Don't forget, the average Joe gains 5-10 lbs. from Thanksgiving to New Years day.  For me, it's a time of year I start watching what I eat because it's too easy to start drinking and eating too much.  Every where you go over the Holiday's there's food- mostly junk food.  So, riders beware!  Don't forget to get a long ride in this weekend.  It's supposed to be mild temps (50F ish).

PowerCal vs. Computrainer Power Output

Let me just say this before I begin, this post was not intended to compare the merits of a $100 power meter/HR monitor made by Power Tap to that of a $1500 power meter made by Racermater aka Computrainer.  There is no comparison.  What it's intended to do is show/highlight the PowerCal for what it is.  That is, it's an inexpensive tool to get you into the "power meter" world without taking a 2nd mortgage out on your home.  Just like you can go to a store and buy a $100 micrometer vs. $1000 micrometer, they both do the same job..measure things.  It's just that one does it with better accuracy/precision than the other.  Naturally, the higher the price the more accurate.  Same applies with power meters.

From the research that I've done, I read/heard the PowerCal power meter/HR monitor has better reliability (closer accuracy) with longer steady-state efforts rather than shorter intervals.  So, I set out to see if this was true, and lo and behold- it is/was.  Granted, this is not a scientific study and the sample size is not large enough to give it any statistical significance.  Nonetheless here it is.  See Chart below:

You can see that as the intensity increases (L1 thru L4) the change in watts (delta) between the Computrainer and PowerCal increased.  I can only assume that's because of the short 5 minute intervals.  So, I decided to do a longer interval at L4 (20 minutes instead of 5 minutes).  You can see that the delta decreased from 30 watts to 10 watts.  That is, the PowerCal was more accurate at longer steady-state intervals.  I tried to maintain the target watts of 225w at L4 but I could only muster 205w.  Just not on my A-game since I rode hard on Tuesday night and it's currently Thursday night.  Yeah, I know, it's 2 days..but I'm almost 60 and I seem to need 3 days rest before hard workouts rather than 2 of yesteryear.

I'm really happy with my PowerCal power meter/HR monitor for $100.  It does what it was intended to do and that is get you in the ballpark of the power meter game.  As I said before, it's not intended to compare with the more expensive power meters on the market, but it will get you in the game/ballpark..and that's what I wanted.  If I want better accuracy I'll use one of my more expensive power meters on a ride- that has better accuracy.

BTW, I own 2 computrainer power meters at $1500 ea. (one is Lab quality), an iBike Pro power meter at $400, 2 Power Tap power meter hubs at $700 ea.  And, now a PowerCal power meter/HR monitor.   That's over $4000 worth of power meters. So, it's not that I don't have any other power meters or I can only afford a $100 power meter.

Power ON!  Coach Rob