Waves of Encouragement

Yesterday was a good Saturday for a ride. It was going to get hot, so I got up early and I met friends for a ride out in the Agricultural Reserve west of Washington DC. The place we started from is called Riley’s Lock, which is a good location to access the back roads in the reserve and the C&O canal towpath by the Potomac river. It’s a place to see people paddling, fishing, running, trail biking and road biking.

We started early – but we were far from the first people there. It’s a popular spot, and on a good day Riley’s Lock can be a very busy place. I’m a road cyclist. I love the roads and what you can see from them. Yesterday was a banner day for wildlife. I saw an owl for the first time from a bicycle.  I also saw a bald eagle, various other birds, and a red fox. Having said that, these kinds of sights are available to anyone doing just about any kind of exercise out in the countryside, and when you make the effort to go to beautiful places to get a workout in, these things are a reward.

When out on the roads we saw lots of other riders. I’ve seen a lot more riders who look like they’re just beginning, particularly closer to towns on the route.  I’ve made a habit of waving to all the riders I see, no matter what they look like. I think of it as a kind of respect and encouragement that helps in small ways. Because of the pandemic panic, people have started looking for ways to escape their isolation. The bicycle business has exploded. That means more people are getting out on bikes for the first time. I want them to know that THERE IS NO WRONG WAY TO DO THAT. What you’re wearing or riding isn’t important. Riding is. I know that a lot of riders are inspired by the racing culture, and the difference between starting out and being experienced can be fairly large, but you can’t let snobbery decide what a cyclist is. I’m not built like a cyclist. But I am one, and nobody would dare say I’m not. It isn’t just the experience I have, or the speed I’m riding at, or the kit I wear, or the stories I can tell. It’s that I choose to get out there and turn the cranks, and nothing else is nearly so important. Therefore I want to be friendly and set a good example.

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Cycling is healthy, scenic and fun. It’s easy to forget how much we all had to learn when we started out. A little encouragement can go a long way!

 

After the ride, we sat together in camp chairs by our cars in the shade with a cooler nearby and talked. We weren’t the only ones doing that. I saw a little family drive in with their bikes for riding the trail. I thought it was wonderful. The two little girls riding with mom and dad may be forming lifelong exercise habits. I saw the smiles on everyone’s faces as they came through. It didn’t matter if they were riding old mountain bikes, road bikes, hybrids or whatever they were rolling on. They were rolling. They were out enjoying the outdoors. No matter how they choose to experience it, they should be encouraged.  Maybe in years to come those will be the people riding in the events that I love that have been cancelled this year due to the pandemic. Maybe this explosion of bike purchasing is a temporary thing, but how many people buying bikes could be catching on to a lifetime of enjoyment of the outdoors?

It helps to give the beginners some encouragement. Cheer them on. Let them know that there are no limits. With every pedal stroke those limits are pushed outward and every memorable bit of scenery, every wildlife experience, every new milestone can make that bike more special to them. I’m reminded of the finish to one of my favorite events. Riders who have finished are relaxing in the beer garden waiting for friends to join them, and riders keep coming past to the finish with huge smiles of triumph and joy. I have stood by the fence cheering and high-fiving these happy riders. The ones who have finished their first century are almost floating. You don’t need to be fast or look like a racer to feel that way. You have to get out and do it. Everyone has to start somewhere. Many who have started cycling this year as a way to get away from the boredom of home isolation will stay with it. They’ll be happier and healthier, and many will have inspiring stories. Encourage them. Cheer them on. Give them a smile and a wave. They’ve earned it by being out there on a bike. The encouragement you give may be the difference between a bike that is well loved and used, and one that serves as a garage ornament.

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Never forget to celebrate. 

Shut Down Again

I try to be patient, but it’s hard. I am sick and tired of this endless, breathless pandemic panic. Everyone I know is on edge in some way.  They’re not on edge because they fear getting sick. They are on edge because they’ve been locked away from normal life. Some are locked out of jobs and busineses. We’re all ready for some “normality” to embrace. The lack of things to look forward to infects us all with negativity day after day in hundreds of nasty little ways. Today one of the things that I’ve been looking forward to, an event that wasn’t supposed to happen until OCTOBER, was cancelled. Goodbye Seagull Century 2020. Shut down again.
Is this really the right thing to do? To close off popular events that people prepare for and look forward to? Cycling is positive. It enriches people’s lives. Is this really the way to promote healthy living? Organizers have ALWAYS demanded that participants sign waivers to acknowledge that they could have bad outcomes, and to assume the risks of doing that activity. Why is this any different? I’m sure most people would HAPPILY assume the risks of the coronavirus at events if it meant having something positive to look forward to. I’ve heard and read enough insincere apologies and worthless explanations in the last few months. Cancelling events isn’t courageous. It’s cowardly.  It’s negative. How long will people be forced to cower in place? When will the people get to decide what is good for themselves? What is there to look forward to now?

Almost nothing. Maybe it’s time to quarantine those who are actually at risk. Not the rest of us.

Thinking Like A Rider, Not A Racer

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After I’m done with work for the day, I like to get out and have a short ride while the daylight lasts. The route I take is convenient and I ride it frequently. It’s a short hilly route that goes out and back, and it gives me a good workout without taking too much time. I found myself riding hard and fast on that ride recently. Conditions that night were ideal, not too warm or cold. I was breathing easily and had good focus. Traffic was light. I didn’t set out to ride fast, but once I was warmed up, I pushed myself to the end of the ride.

I was only competing with myself, knowing that I might just log my best time for that ride this year. I love the feel of speed and control and pushing my limits and the exhaustion and exhilaration of it all. This is just part of my personality. I’m competitive.  I enjoy knowing my ride statistics – how fast and far I’m going, and comparing the ride to others using Strava. I sometimes get a feeling that my bike and I are a single unit. The feel of a beautifully tuned and responsive bike is a real joy. I think most riders come to know this feeling at one time or another.

These things are closely aligned to one of the driving forces of road cycling – racing. Racing is about excitement. It drives technological change. It inspires us to test ourselves. It’s part of the joy of what we do, and most of us have watched or followed a race such as the Tour De France, even if we have never raced ourselves.  We respect racers and racing. In our own ways, we all emulate them. While that can be a good thing, and even great fun, most of us do not race. Thinking like a racer isn’t hard to do. In some ways. it’s encouraged. I don’t think that racing is something we can or should ignore, but sometimes it pays to stop thinking like a racer, and start thinking like a RIDER. Some people even find the racing aspect of cycling culture to be discouraging. Riding doesn’t have to be guided by competitive thinking. Thinking like a rider is important in two ways, practical and technical.

Practically, thinking like a rider is a matter of looking at the larger picture. Do you have a goal? Do you want to be fitter, or maybe drop a pound or two? Do you have events you’d like to try? Are you getting all the variety and enjoyment that you can from your rides? There are times when what I really want is an easy ride and I push myself anyway, or I set out to push myself and discover that I can’t. The important point is that I’m riding. In an ideal world I would be able to ride every day. That simply isn’t practical. You have to rest. I normally take Fridays off from riding, and on those days I clean the bike instead. The secondary benefit of this is that the act of cleaning your bike reminds you to maintain it. It’s a good way to build rest into your routine.

It’s also a good idea to do this when you’re riding: look up. Don’t just ride. See things around you! Birds. Scenery. All the things you pass that you might not notice if you’re focused on performance. There are many times when I’ve been riding a lot and my legs feel heavy, and I just don’t want to ride. I have two cures for that. The first is to do something different. Put the bike in the car and go somewhere fun. Shake up the experience. The second is to get some company. It’s harder to skip a workout if someone else is counting on you. Part of the joy of cycling is the experience. While it’s okay to push yourself, that isn’t the point of riding. You can get great satisfaction out of pushing yourself, as long as you keep your perspective. My absolute favorite cartoon character is a textbook fanatic – Wile E. Coyote. He is creative and focused and I love that, but he is a fanatic, because he redoubles his efforts while losing sight of his goals. You can satisfy your hunger without catching the bird, and you can be fit without being fast.

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The other aspect is technical. Racers use the best and lightest equipment, because it could be the difference between winning and losing. What if you don’t race? Do you need the best tech? No. If you want the best and can afford it, buy it. Otherwise if you don’t race it isn’t necessary. I love bikes and bike tech. I ride a “retro-modern” bike. It’s a classic lugged steel frame with 11 speed Campagnolo components. I love the look of old style bikes and components, but in reality, I want something that I can ride every day, so I want modern convenience of shifting from the bars and a gear range to help me on difficult climbs. By racer standards, it’s too heavy. It’s all wrong. By rider standards, it’s perfect.

Technology in rider terms is the difference between “good” and “good enough”. There will always be something lighter and better out there. Tech improves every year. In my opinion, the best “rider” technology is a step or two behind the leading edge. Component groups such as Shimano 105 are excellent, give you a wide range of gearing, and are an outstanding value. I like to think that having a wide range of gearing options is wise for all riders. The best gear is the gear you can afford, but there are a lot of beautiful second hand bikes being sold because there are people who love the best bike tech more than they love to ride. As a rider, think about tech in terms of the options you need.

Cycling is a wonderful form of exercise. It can be cooperative, competitive, fun and even relaxing, Sometimes thinking like a racer can be great fun, but thinking like a rider can prevent burnout and keep your mind and body working together.

 

 

Missing small joys

Another day, another pandemic (Covid-19) shutdown story.

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A happy scene from the 2016 Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride. From left to right: Eric, myself, Rita, Ron, John and Carol.  This is a picture full of small joys!

I have events that I ride every year.  I have many fond memories of them, and I have friends to experience them with, and over the years they’ve become familiar and friendly. They represent small joys. They are goals to train for, and fun things to look forward to.  They aren’t so important in the larger scheme of things, but small things do matter. Recently I discovered that the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride, (which I often refer to as Pax) has been cancelled. This follows the cancellation of the Six Pillars Century. These are two rides that seem to highlight every Spring for me.  They were not just a source of T-Shirts or a way to avoid boredom on a Saturday. They were waypoints in my year. It’s a wonderful thing to talk about and share memories of rides like these. Others ask about what I do, and these events are part of the tale to be told. These may not be the only events that will be cancelled, but for now, they are fresh in my memory.  At this writing, Six Pillars would have happened this weekend, and Pax in 7 weeks’ time. I can only hope that they are the only enjoyable events that will be cancelled. These cancellations, in addition to the cancellation of club rides, have left me feeling like I’m somehow behind where I should be. I have ridden fewer miles than I normally would. I’m riding well, and I’m not far behind other years in my fitness, but my motivation seems less. I will move on without them, but I wish I didn’t have to. So here are a few words about these two rides that won’t happen this year.

Six Pillars has been great for me. After a century early in the year, no other ride seems too difficult.  It is a flat ride that always seems to work out well. It remains the only century ride that I have ever ridden in 5 hours. (There will be no more attempts!) I have managed to enjoy riding Six Pillars every year because it motivates me. It stretches me out. When I finish it, I’m always exhausted, but once done I can celebrate with friends and look forward to a great year. Since this is always the first event on my calendar, it always comes with a sense of excitement. It will be missed this year.

The Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride is one of those rides that finds a way into your heart. It is a rolling Metric Century (this one is 64 miles) through the farmland of southern Maryland, and all of the rest stops are at the river side. This means you descend to the stops, and climb out again. The weather is normally comfortable, and the scenery is excellent. It’s run by the Oxon Hill Bicycle Club, and they do a wonderful job.  It’s always been a ride to revel in. I have celebrated after this ride with friends every time, and I wouldn’t want to miss it. Now I must.

In the long run, these event cancellations don’t mean much. I’m sure they will return. Like everyone else I am “sheltering in place”, yet like most of us, I’m healthy.  Thankfully I’m allowed to ride on my own. It feels wrong to be shut in like this when you’re perfectly healthy. Normally, you quarantine sick people, not healthy ones. I am lucky that my life disruptions are manageable. Still, the loss of small joys has been adding up. I can’t wait until the panic is over and small joys become accessible again.

Socially Distanced

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A time will come when I ride and enjoy events again, but I am socially distanced, and my Wilier must be patient.

I’m in new territory.  Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve been cultivating good habits by cycling. For many that is a solitary pursuit, but for me it’s also a group activity. I have found good friends through it, and brought others into the sport, and told tales of cycling experiences that I’ll always remember.  As Spring begins I feel excited to get out and train, and cycling events are on the horizon, and everything feels new again. 2020 started strong, and I started my cycling year with high hopes.

Then the Coronavirus, Covid-19 happened. This is the first true pandemic of my lifetime. I don’t recall anything like it. Businesses are closed, people are practicing “social distancing” and there are no obvious gatherings. Thankfully I can work from home, and as of this writing I’m free of any symptoms and hope to stay that way. I’m just outside of the demographic that should be worried, but I’m also healthier than most men my age (58).  So I’m not concerned, but it has already had an effect. My first event of the year was “postponed”.  By postponed I think “cancelled” because the later in the year they hold it, the more it’s likely to conflict with other events. I ride a lot of them! So I don’t have a sense of urgency that I’ve had in years past. I still ride whenever it’s nice enough outside. I ride after work, and that comes by just wheeling my bike out my door and getting started, without a commute between office and bicycle.  There is more time to ride before sundown. I even ride hard when the mood takes me, but there isn’t any urgency about it.

There is less traffic to cope with, and I’ve begun to see more runners, riders and dog walkers out there. People are adjusting, and so am I. I have ridden with friends a few times, but not many at once. My cycling club is not holding group rides just now, and I don’t know when my first chance to ride among others at a cycling event will come. I’m slowly getting miles in. It doesn’t feel the same without group rides and the excitement of my first event coming up. Eventually there will be one, but I don’t know when, because more events may be cancelled before the pandemic eases. I miss that familiar structure that defines my spring season.

Yet the season progresses. The trees are budding and the familiar green of spring unfolds. I notice the birds and animals as they become active. It reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book”. This is the “time of new talk” where the birds and animals practice their mating songs, and life in the jungle is renewed. Yet it feels different. I have a distinct feeling of change – a difference that may go beyond the conditions forced on me by social distancing. Perhaps this forced change from the familiar is telling me to expect more changes. My life is a good one, and I don’t fear changes, but I know that they must come. I must prepare for them. Despite the melancholy that comes with changes, I have to look ahead with hope. The bike will be there for me, and we will welcome these new times as we look forward to the return of familiar gatherings.

A Fighter Kite Break

Earlier this month, before  the world went mad for the Covid-19 scare, I took some time to fly a kite. It’s something I should do far more often. I flew the kite shown below, which I designed and built myself. There are times when the only thing to do is fly a kite.

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While I have a video of the event, I need an upgrade to my site before I show it, but there are times when taking a brief break to fly a kite will clear your mind nicely.

The kite is based on an Indian Fighter Kite. The sail is Orcon, cut on the bias, and unlike a paper Indian kite the entire sail is a single sheet, with .03 graphite battens supporting the tail and meeting the spine just above the lower bridle point. The spine is bamboo, the bow is a .06 graphite rod, and I use a 3-point bridle. It flies beautifully. When I get a little more time, I’ll post a plan!

Motivation, Training, and Touchstones

As I write this it is late February.  The weather is starting to get a little better, and Daylight Savings Time is starting soon. After a long, dark and cold winter that left me working out indoors, I’m ready to get back on the roads.  At this time of year, motivation is easy. Everyone looks forward to the first warm days of spring. What they don’t think about is actually training.

I’m a recreational rider, not a racer. So why should I mention training? What do I have to train for? The answer to those questions is my motivation, and for years I’ve been building motivation into my calendar in the form of events. Most are fairly close to me, but I make a point of trying to get outside of my home region for at least one event a year. This year I will ride the Maine Lighthouse Ride in Portland Maine again, and before that event I will spend a few days riding in Nova Scotia, Canada. (It seems that most of my vacations involve exercise.) In any case, an event such as a century ride on your calendar will focus and motivate you like nothing else will. One thing to remember about events is that you’ll see all kinds of people with all kinds of bodies riding them. It’s an approachable goal for average people. Perfection isn’t the goal, improvement is!

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At the finish of one of my favorite events, the Seagull Century, with my friend John Summer. 

My first event of 2020 will be the Six Pillars Century in Cambridge Maryland in early May, but I ride events throughout the year from May to October. If you set a goal, you keep your incentive to ride. The advantage of events is that they can be found just about everywhere, and they usually include some shorter distance rides that you can use to prepare for a longer event later in the season.

I ride several Century (100 mile) rides a year, but I’m not quite typical. The typical recreational rider might ride a local charity or club event, but centuries are a big test for the average rider. If you’re ready to try a century, I think the best time to ride your first century is the autumn, in late September or early October. That way you can train for months in the warm weather and schedule some test events over the summer to see how your training is coming along. Also the weather is warm but shouldn’t be oppressive.

I neither have nor use a training plan. If you want a specific century training plan, they are easy to find on the internet. I prefer to use the Eddy Merckx “ride lots” method. I get my miles in for a couple of months before I ride my first century.  This has worked well for me because I ride longer rides on the weekends with my friends or my local cycling club. I also have a lot of experience. Since my first Century ride in 2006, I have ridden over 100 century rides. For many years I was riding 10 century rides per year. Lately I’ve come down to 6 or 7 century rides a year. Often I’ll ride a particular event every year.  I’ve found many events that I enjoy so much that I won’t miss them without a good reason. Important note: I do all this without being “slim”. You don’t have to be some kind of ideal body type to be fit. You just need to be motivated.

The Metric Century – 100 KM or 62 miles – is a great intermediate distance. Riding a Metric is a great way to test yourself before you attempt a full century. It can teach you the kind of pacing you need for a full century, and it also gets you accustomed to making rest stops, hydrating and eating enough to complete a century later in the year. You can’t ride 100 miles without eating something to keep your energy up. You need to stay hydrated. I have also noticed that people often get nervous about their upcoming “goal” event, but having a little practice and experience relieves some of that anxiety.

If you’re already a century rider, a metric is a great distance. It’s long enough to be a challenge but doesn’t drain you like a century can. Normally a century rider will have to push through a “wall” between 70 and 80 miles, and a metric puts you on the edge of that wall without having to push past it.

I couldn’t write about training without mentioning of one of my favorite things – a touchstone for me – the humble 40 mile training ride.  To me, 40 miles is the line that separates a satisfying training ride from a short ride.  39 miles is too short, but 40 miles is just about right. It’s an attitude, not something that can be measured objectively. It is a motivational waypoint.

To me, a good training ride can be hilly or flat, but the most important thing is that you ride at least 40. I recommend longer rides as well, as progress toward your goal, but that 40 mile ride stands as the difference between making progress and not doing quite enough. If you’re not riding quickly, or you’re on a hilly course, most riders can go 40 miles with 3 hours of saddle time or less. Most riders can also go 40 miles on back to back days without feeling exhausted. If you’re cramped for time it gives you a workout to be proud of and still manage other priorities in your life. It’s 2/5 of a century ride – it’s a few hours to clear your mind and enjoy the scenery. It’s real training! You can work up to riding 40 miles in a few weeks’ time. Once you can ride it comfortably, 40 mile rides will keep your conditioning up.

I go back to the 40-45 mile distance often when I’m busy, and throughout the year to maintain fitness. If you haven’t ridden 40 miles, you can work up to it, but that number is magical. It’s enough to get you ready for the metric distance if you can ride it comfortably. You can get an early start in summer and complete 40 miles before the day gets too hot. If your motivation is at a low ebb, a 40 mile ride will keep you on track or put you back on course to your goal.

I recommend adding an event to the calendar now, while the motivation to get out and exercise is strong. Look up local events, and put your motivation on your calendar!

 

“Steel is Real” and other opinions about Bicycle frame materials

I ride a steel road bike, and I love it. I love the mix of classic looks and modern components on it. I love the way the bike feels on the road. To me, there is no doubt that steel is real. I’m not a purist or a traditionalist or even a snob about my bikes. Yet like every other rider, I have opinions. My steel Wilier is much different than my carbon fiber Orbea or my aluminum Cannondale. My other bikes are every bit as real as my Wilier. A rational argument can be made that how a bike feels has more to do with things like frame angles or tire pressure than any mystical property of the frame material.

That argument is valid.  Steel has many great qualities, but it is generally a heavier material than carbon and aluminum. In cycling, weight matters. Lighter is better as a rule, and if you’re a racer, or an engineer, or even most club riders, steel isn’t likely to be your first choice. At this point, the racer’s choice is Carbon Fiber. Carbon is the “go-to” material for bikes, so much so that often riders overlook the strengths of other materials.

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Steel is Real. This bike is my pride and joy.

Yet, steel IS real. It is undeniable. the material is the classic definition of “elastic” in that it will return to it’s shape readily if it flexes – and it is very good at soaking up vibration from the road. It can be custom built to anyone; a builder can mix different grades of steel tubes to create a masterpiece of fit and function that any rider can appreciate at any speed. My fit metrics are fairly generic, but I appreciate the feel of that steel bike. My bike is made of Columbus SL tubing using lugged construction, hand crafted by a master frame builder in Italy. It is a classic bicycle with modern drive components. The joy of riding it and the joy of looking at it are pleasures that never fade. What makes it so perfect for me is that my riding is for the soul, not the stopwatch.  It delights a part of me that cold and analytical engineering cannot see.

Aluminum frames have a reputation for being a harsh ride. That might have been true when they were introduced, but no longer. Riding my CAAD 12 has been a revelation. That bike is far from harsh, and at this writing Cannondale has updated to the CAAD 13, which takes Aluminum frame building to another level, if the marketing is to be believed. My CAAD 12 is a smooth and accurate and connected ride. If the CAAD 13 is improved, the result must be outstanding, and they would certainly end any suggestion that Aluminum bikes are harsh riding!

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“Real” aluminum. Performance and excellence that many overlook. I suspect that the next generation of Cannondale aluminum masterpieces could be even more “real”.

Carbon frames are anything an engineer can dream of. There is an almost infinite variety of carbon frames with different layups providing different “feel” on the roads, and any rider can be forgiven for thinking that riding a bike made of this miraculous material is the very best they can do.  At the high end, just about any carbon bike is a well designed blend of form and function that has been tuned to do specific things very well, such as time trials or climbing mountains.  I can’t fault anyone for wanting that.

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Carbon Fiber – the look and the feel of the modern road bike. Real in it’s own way, and even though I’ve moved away from the material, carbon’s properties make it ideal for a bike frame, and it’s appeal is universal.

I started riding a road bike seriously in 2005 when I joined my local bike club and used the bike as therapy as I worked through some problems and made some changes. In those years I’ve had many bikes. I started with an Aluminum Felt – it was light to me, and it expanded my cycling horizons. Then a Carbon Orbea Onix – a bike that was quick and responsive – the frame angles made it almost too twitchy, and yet it taught me things about bike handling that I still use. I went back to Aluminum with my CAAD 12 – a bike that easily outperformed the carbon options I had that were usually more expensive and were often just as heavy, and the CAAD 12 had a precision and ride that I  have to rave about. It is an exceptional bike.  Then I got my passion project, the steel Wilier, and it was both a nod to the steel racers of my childhood years and classic good looks while giving me a beautiful ride that no other bike has equalled. It is a bike to love. It is “real” in every way that matters.

For me, “Steel is real”.  That doesn’t mean that other materials aren’t, and many other kinds are best for other riders. I’ve fallen for the look and the feel and the tradition of it. “Real” for me may not be real to you, but once you’re turning the cranks, “Real” is the cycling experience, regardless of the frame you’re on.

Sprinting in Place

Indoor training is one of my least favorite things to do.

Yet I do it.

I think of warm days outdoors, or just about anything that will distract me from the monotony of sprinting in place.

It’s a great thing to do to keep you moving though, and it makes a big difference in the spring when you’re ready to ride outside again. I haven’t gone with a high tech trainer yet, and I haven’t tried training tools like Zwift, but even though I don’t always enjoy it, sprinting in place is worth doing as you wait for longer and warmer days in spring.

So I spin away, dreaming of better days to come.

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My Orbea on the trainer

My experience with the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt, the Strava application, and a little personal history…

 

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The Cateye Strada on the left, and the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt on the right. 

A bike computer is a curious device for a number of reasons. It’s a training tool, a source of information when riding, and as I’ve often said, a taskmaster.  When I was a child, I didn’t need one.  A few years ago life put me in a difficult place. I was recently divorced and I was hurting.  I had moved back to my old college stomping grounds in the Washington DC area to start over, and I knew that if I didn’t find something to keep me busy, I was going to slide into depression.  Depression wasn’t a matter of if, but when. I loved cycling and reached out to an old friend to get some advice. As a result, I got involved in my local cycling club, and I got some good gear recommendations, including this: buy a computer.

A little background…

At the time, the GPS computer was in it’s infancy, a large and curious device that was expensive and even a bit exotic. I didn’t even consider one. What little research I did led me at first to a wired Cateye Enduro model. It had more functions than I actually used, but it was reliable. It looked awful with a wire wrapped around my brake cable and down the fork, but at the time, (2005) that seemed to be fairly common. It wasn’t long before I went wireless though, buying another Cateye product – the Strada – that I liked so much I bought one for my Orbea Onyx in 2010 and my Cannondale CAAD 12 in 2015.  These were simple things that did everything I needed.  They told me my speed, and the distance I’d gone, average speed, the time I’d spent moving, the maximum speed on my rides, and it included an odometer that was really only of use since the last battery replacement. It had all I needed to follow the average que sheet – the ride directions on paper that I clipped to my bars or stem.  Information storage was a notebook. I wasn’t as accurate as I could have been, and my yearly mileage totals were only approximate, but they were fine.  I didn’t feel the need to spend money to get the latest and greatest.  I have an unusual facility for remembering routes. It is very hard for me to get lost in a place I’ve already been. Given this innate gift of navigation, I never felt the need to get more from a bike computer.  I finally gave in to the GPS revolution when I started my passion project late last year. This season, most of my riding has been done with a GPS computer on my bars. I didn’t want everything available in a GPS, because I didn’t use everything I already had. My research led me to the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. I have heard people complain about it’s competitors, but never the Bolt. I’ve come to understand why. Now that I’ve had it for nearly a year, it’s time I wrote about my experience with this technology.

The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt

Apart from wanting to give Wahoo more examples of the letter “e” to use in their unit names, I found the Bolt to be an excellent computer. The most important thing is the unit’s ease of use.  Most of the controls are found on a smartphone app, and the buttons on the unit itself are easy to access, even when wearing gloves. The 2.2″ screen is black and white – which can be a bother to some, but I find it easy to read. The newer Wahoo units, such as their Roam, make limited use of color, and I think that’s a nice addition, but not strictly necessary. However, like most features of the modern GPS unit, familiarity with color on my computer might just change my mind. The screen has good contrast and the controls for backlighting the display are easy to find and use.
The on/off button is on the left side of the unit, the two buttons on the right side change the size of the information displayed on the unit to show more or less information, and also to scroll through menus.  The three buttons on the front allow access to other menus and features such as the mapping display.
At the top of the display is a row of LED lights that can be configured to alert you to various things. They show me if I’m riding above or below my average speed, and they flash if I’ve gone off course.  When you get back on course, the unit resumes the route seamlessly. I’ve found this through short cuts or route changes this year, and I could ignore the lights, knowing where I was.  Even so, I think this is an excellent feature if you’re riding somewhere you aren’t familiar with, and you wander off course.
The unit can display a map, which shows the route using arrows. The maps can be added to the unit according to where you live or travel, and they are updated automatically through the application.  I don’t use the map feature much, but I have found it easy to follow when I have.
What you choose to display is controllable from the companion app on your phone. If you have speed and cadence sensors, a heart rate monitor, or a power meter, all of those sensors can be connected via the app and displayed on the Bolt. The genius of the unit is the phone app. It lets you set what to display and in what order to display it. Rather than trying to find controls on the unit, most of the work is done on your smartphone, including pairing with the unit and sensors. Downloading routes is simple in the application, and synchronizing with the unit is easy, as is selecting a route. You can turn the unit on, ride where you like and save the route. The best part is that when you’re done riding, it automatically uploads your ride information to the apps you use, in my case Strava and Ride with GPS.  If you don’t have WiFi available when you finish, sync the unit with the Wahoo app when you get home, and your ride will be uploaded. Now Strava keeps my ride data, and I’ve come to like having all the data it collects.

Strava – catnip for competitive riders

Strava is an application that I have been aware of – and wary of – for years. Stories of people having accidents because they were chasing personal records or racing to be the fastest on a particular segment have been circulating for a long time. Ways to cheat Strava have popped up, and such stories kept me away from using a GPS and tracking ride data because I’m competitive by nature and I know that these aren’t things that I can ignore. I stepped over to the “dark side” though, and to my surprise, I’ve learned to stop worrying and love Strava. (Yes, that was a thinly veiled “Dr. Strangelove” reference.) Early on I chased segments and personal bests on local rides from home, but a funny thing happened after a few months – I stopped chasing personal bests. This isn’t to say I didn’t care. I will look at my feed after a ride to see how I did, particularly if I felt good or fast that day. But while I did start out by identifying segments where I thought I could go for a personal best when I started using Strava, after the novelty wore off, so did my desire to chase segments, or at least to pay attention to them and plan what to chase. On the usual routes that I ride on weekday evenings, I know where the segments are. If I’m feeling good, every so often I’ll go for a personal best, or at least sprint a segment to see what happens. More often I’ll look at a ride after it’s been uploaded and discover that I had a personal best that I hadn’t actually been trying for.

While I thought Strava would appeal to my competitive nature, what I found was that after years of riding without such data, I didn’t actually compete with myself over segments, and I use it to get a feel for my fitness level. I track miles, I look back over rides and show friends where I’ve gone.  I understand the drive to use Strava to compete with yourself and others. I thought that I would do that too, but I didn’t. I was tempted. I just found that I didn’t want to race. When I’m in the mood, I go for it, but I’ve taken a more practical approach than I thought I would. Strava is a tool, and how you use a tool is not the choice of the tool. So I’ve come to see Strava as a good way to keep information, while understanding how it gives competitive people an outlet for their drive. Maybe it’s an advantage of age – I’ve found Strava at the right time to avoid being obsessive about it.