Thursday, April 26, 2012

What I'm Reading

Remember the days when you would have to wait for the latest issue of VeloNews to get race results?  The first time you would see new products was when they showed up in your local shop—group rides were organized via rotary phone—and getting how-to instructions for that pesky front derailleur meant making your way to your favorite wrench’s shop to pick their brain.  Do you remember those days? Yeah, neither do I.  I just had the pleasure of turning the ripe old age of 26 two days ago (with a wonderful little shindig put together by my wife, I might add).  So it is safe to say that my adult life has been quite firmly set in the digital age.  

You, however, may be of the required age to look back nostalgically upon the age of print media.  Maybe waiting for those race results increased the suspense of it all, or maybe you really like rotary phones—I don’t know.  But like I used to say to my dad when he told me that when he was a kid he “walked to school, uphill both ways, in three feet of snow, everyday,” I would rather take the bus.  

Nowadays, there is a superfluous amount of coverage on anything and everything related to cycling and its culture—and it exists within easy reach.  You only need to know where to look.  Sometimes separating the good from the bad, the legit from the phony, or the experts from the misinformed is a little difficult to sort out.  So today I am bringing you a reading list of sorts.   I want to clue you in to what I check and read on a daily basis in the hope that you will like them too.  So here it is.  Here is what I’m reading:

Many people read BikeSnob for the humor, but I find that he usually has fantastically good points when he is railing against the sometimes ridiculous tendencies of cyclists and the like.  Well written, dependable, and wonderfully entertaining posts keep me checking his site with extreme regularity.  Quit taking yourself and your bike so seriously and read this stuff.  

Bicycling Magazine always has good content and their online content is no different.  HQ’ed in Emmaus, PA, has a lot of local spin to it.  Contributors include many local riders like Harlan Price and Selene Yeager—both of whom you can regularly find ripping the Wissahickon on many a sunny afternoon or Sunday morning.  Check out all of their blogs and feature articles on everything from tech coverage to bike handling tips.  Ms. Yeager’s Fit Chick has great insight into her personal riding experiences as well as fitness and general life coaching tips.  Well worth your time to become a regular reader.  

Unrivaled race coverage of all types—road, track, mountain, triathlon, etc.  Enough said.

Velonews also provides some great race coverage, specifically for domestic events.  I keep coming back for their tech coverage.  Nick Legan and Leonard Zinn regularly provide amazing content—both having a wealth of experience most wrenches, including myself, can only look at enviably.  

Irreverent?  Yes.  Bitter?  Yes.  Inappropriate?  Maybe.  That is why I love this blog.  Read it without shame and embrace the wrongness of it all.  Best of all, DrunkCyclist knows what he is talking about.  The eclectic mix of material he produces is entertaining to say the least, while still being quite informative.  Check out the review of his new 616 Fabrications fat tire bike.  Beautiful bike.  

A moody look at all things cycling.  From serious road cycling, to serious off road riding, to serious alleycats, to other not so serious topics, AHTBM covers it all, with some great photography to boot.  Check here for some “off the beaten path” stuff that you won’t see many other places.  Definitely not mainstream cycling media, and that is why you should love it.  

Pez is similar to CyclingNews or VeloNews, except not really.  It seems like they approach cycling news from a different angle.  They offer much more coverage of track racing and six day events, along with interviews with pros from all different roles in the pro peloton, all while still giving you good mainstream race coverage, tech news, and training advice.  Some seriously good picture galleries as well.  

Go forth now, and read about your favorite pastime on your smartphone while you should be working.  Let me know if I missed something that is on your list of favorites, as I’m always interested in finding some new and interesting reading material.  

Until next week…..

Epilogue:  I’m still looking for questions to fill a Q&A post, so don’t hesitate to hit me up about anything/everything that you have questions about.  Ask anything, really.  If I don’t have the expertise necessary, I will pass it to someone in the know.  Ask away!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

En Masse

A passing peloton makes an arresting whir.  The sound is like nothing else, a clear example of synergy at its greatest.  A peloton is synergy itself.  Riding in a group can unlock a whole world of possibility that alone is simply not feasable.  The peloton exists everywhere in nature—and for good reason.  The birds and the bees have got nothing on cyclists.  Whether flock, swarm, or peloton the idea is the same:  share the load to accomplish more than what would be possible solo. 

 Riding with others transforms cycling from a workout to a culture, a community.  Our entire sport is predicated on the peloton.  Though individual in its nature, cycling is made whole when done en masse.  The effortlessness of 27 MPH in a group is like no other feeling—exhilarating, freighting, and addicting all at once. 

Socially, group riding makes the individual rider part of something—a cooperative that can carry a suffering cyclist through difficulty, or propel someone on good legs to speeds otherwise unacheiveable.  Riding alone will teach you to dig deep and overcome personal barriers, but riding in a group will teach you to push beyond of what you are actually capable—to your absolute breaking point, deeper than you could ever imagine pushing when by yourself.  

Group riding is an essential part of being a cyclist, and thusly you should try to master it and hold it in high esteem.  Understandably though, many cyclists shy away from riding in large groups.  It’s scary.  It can be difficult, and maybe worst of all—there can be crashes that are out of your control.  My goal today is to give those of you who feel slightly sheepish about being enveloped in a swarm of cyclists the skills to conquer that sheepishness and reach new heights in your riding. 

Admittedly, group riding is a skill garnered through experience—not reading a blog.  Hopefully though, I can give you some food for thought, so to speak.  I will do my best to give you some tips that will make your foray into group riding a smooth and joyous experience—one that will be as exhilarating as it can. 

Tips to Keep You Safe

Heads up!   
 It can be tempting—especially when you’re really suffering—to keep your gaze focused solely on the wheel in front of you.  Beginners tend to stare at the gap between their front wheel and the wheel they are on, which is understandable because you certainly don’t want to rub tires or overlap wheels.  This can be dangerous though.  Keep your head up and look at the shoulders of the rider in front of you.  This will simultaneously give you a sense of your relationship to their wheel, and what the rest of the group is doing (stopping, turning, accelerating, avoiding a pothole, etc.). 

Look Mom, no brakes!
This is one of the most important safety rules that people constantly ignore.  Imagine the peloton to be a flow of heavy traffic on the freeway; if one car brakes, the effect reverberates backwards through traffic until it comes to a halt—and could likely cause an accident.  It’s the same in cycling.  Regulate your speed by soft pedaling (keeping your pedals spinning, but not putting any power down—think feathering your accelerator in your car), only braking when absolutely necessary.  Don't grab a handful, just feather them to scrub a bit of speed to keep you in line.  This keeps the flow of the group consistent and everyone happy. 

Half-wheeling: Don’t do it.
Half wheeling is the act of riding halfway next to someone—not quite behind them, but not quite next to them.  The problem with this is that you are in a very vulnerable position: if the rider you are half wheeling needs to change lines for whatever reason they will run directly into your front wheel.  You will crash.  They might stay upright, but you will crash.  Either ride bar to bar with someone or behind them.  Don’t half wheel. 

Like birds, bikes naturally travel in flocks.

Tips to Keep You Fresh

Avoid the back.
Some riders, when they feel they may not be able to hang with a group automatically put themselves in a position to be dropped before the ride even starts by riding near the back of the group.  If you are struggling or feel worried about getting dropped during the ride stay in the middle of the pack.  This is where it takes the least effort to ride—and will often keep you out of harm’s way.  Here you can get the maximum draft without the yo-yo effect that happens in the back of any peloton. 

Efficiency: Not just for the workplace.
Be efficient.  Sounds simple right? It can be harder than you think.  It is definitely a skill you have to cultivate—so cultivate it.  Don’t waste energy on descents or brake when coasting will do the trick.  Don’t ride in the wind where there is a wheel readily available.  Carry speed through corners.  Things like this will keep you rolling faster with less effort: always a good thing. 

Don’t pace yourself.
Sounds a bit backwards, but you should do everything in your power to hang on before getting dropped.  Plenty of people don’t push too hard thinking that they will be able to recover and chase back on to the group.  While this is possible, it is always less work to stay with the group if possible.  Drafting is a powerful thing.  You will be surprised how hard it is to close even a small gap on a large group once you let that gap develop.  If you go as hard as you can and you still get dropped, so be it.  There is absolutely no shame in that.  If anything, you should be proud that you are pushing yourself to your limit.  You will be rewarded and get stronger for your efforts.  Before you know it, you will be sitting in like a pro.  Make sure you are familiar with the route or have a GPS enable phone to get you home if you do get dropped.  Cue sheets are often available for organized group rides, and if you don’t have a phone that will get you home, throw one in your back pocket.  

Tips to Make You Friends

Group riding has many common courtesies that other riders will appreciate if you follow.  Respecting your fellow cyclists is the quickest way to earn their respect and make the experience fun for everyone.  Follow these rules to avoid a scowl from your fellow riders:

Point these things out!

Potholes and road hazards: Point them out.
Riding in a large group of riders is often like the blind leading the blind.  The group depends on the people who can see what is coming to point out any holes or hazards.  This message is then passed back throughout the group.  Don’t swerve last second leaving the guy or gal behind you helpless to avoid whatever is in the road.  It only leads to flats, broken wheels, or even crashes.  Look out for those around you—a quick point or wave of the hand will do. 

Keep your fluids to yourself.
It’s not pretty, but everyone has to do it.  When you are really going hard it is only natural to have to spit or clear your nose, but do it away from your fellow riders.  Step out in the wind for a moment and do your business and you will kindly be let back into your place in the paceline.  Your fellow riders will thank you and hopefully do the same when you are on their wheel.  As great as it sounds, I would prefer not to do the ride with the remnants of someone’s mucus on my arm.  Thanks. 

Complaints: There is a time and place.
As a general rule of thumb group rides take a decent amount of effort to keep well organized and well run.  If you have a complaint about how the ride is going, there is a proper way to voice those opinions, and loud and obnoxiously in the midst of the ride is not the place.  No one wants to ride with someone who is constantly complaining about the pace or route of the ride.  Make suggestions in the proper way or keep them to yourself.  If your complaints are correctly voiced, but ignored, then don’t go on the ride, or better yet: start your own ride and run it your way. 

Group rides: They’re not races.
Though some rides are ridden at a high pace, or meant to be some kind of race simulation, always keep in mind that they are not races.  Cut-throat tactics, elbowing for position, and other such practices have no place in social group rides.  The main idea is to go out and have fun, while not being dangerous or taking unnecessary risks.  There are no cash prizes, merchandise, or upgrade points available, so don’t ride like you’re looking for them.  

Like I said, these are just general tips that are jumping off points to build on as you ride more and more group rides.  It is very much a “learn by doing” skill to develop.  Sitting in and observing those around you will clue you in to the subtleties of the tips I just talked about.  Maybe the most important thing to remember is to just be a nice person, have fun, and push yourself to hang on.  Eventually you will experience and grow to love everything that is riding with a large group. 

Cadence leads our “EP” ride the first Saturday of every month year round.  Come hone your newfound skills with us and meet some new people!  The ride leaves at 9 am from Cadence for 35 miles of rolling hills.  All riders welcome.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Into The Woods

My cycling upbringing was a dirty one.  I don’t mean “dirty.”  I mean dirt-y.  Long before I joined the staff at Cadence, I was riding into the woods behind my childhood home, shovel in hand.  When of age—15 to be exact, and started working in the local bike shop, I took that same 20-inch BMX bike and started riding the local singletrack.  It wasn’t until I came to Cadence that I started riding bikes with skinny tires and shaving my legs.  So it’s only natural then, that I would write a post extolling the virtues of our fat tire friends.  But you’ve heard it all before, right?  Yet you still haven’t tried mountain biking.  

I’m about to lay down a serious list of reasons why you should—nay, must—try riding off road.  I won’t even bother with trying to just tell you how fun it is.  I am going to tell you how you can use mountain biking to help drastically improve your road cycling—guaranteed.  After reading this, cast your fears and doubts aside and get into the woods.  

Angela Lansbury, I like your dress, but that is not the “into the woods” I was talking about.  But seriously folks, let’s get down to brass tacks.  How can riding in the woods help your riding on the road?

        Diversify your fitness – Road cycling and mountain biking require a very different kind of fitness.  While the types of efforts required in each are very different, they are mutually beneficial.  Introducing mountain biking into your training will help against reaching any plateau in your fitness.  After doing the same type of training and intervals for a whole season, your body adapts, and you will get less and less benefit from doing them.  Mountain biking efforts are usually short and explosive—you either go as hard as you can, or you walk up the hill.  You will go deeper than you want to—but those explosive efforts help build power.  But forget the specifics of it—getting a change of pace that your body will react to is the biggest performance benefit. 

       Drive that bike – I’m just gonna say it: Many road cyclists and triathletes are poor bike handlers.  It’s ok—really, you’re not alone.  Don’t worry though; there is help to be had.  Get on a mountain bike and head into the Wissahickon!  Mountain biking requires more agility and bike handling than road cycling and the effects of the practice you get on the trails will be immediately transferred to your skinny tire bike.  Hoping curbs, avoiding road debris or other cyclists will seem like absolute child’s play after you have taken some trips through the woods. 

        Get off that trainer – Winter training on the road bike sucks.  Let’s just be honest about it.  Riding a trainer for hours is no fun.  We got lucky this winter with some very mild weather, but during a normal January, you are not going to get much time outside, unless you are a total juggernaut and are willing to ride through some freezing cold winds.  Here is the good news: While you are freezing your toes off on the road, those of us in the woods are warm.  On any given winter ride, the woods will feel 10-15 degrees warmer than riding on the road.  The trees knock down all of the wind.  No wind = still feeling your fingers and face at the end of a ride.  Snowy winter MTB rides are a load of fun, while your friends are stuck inside on the trainer, you can come with me into the woods and get one hell of a workout, and have some fun to boot.  

         Beat that burnout – Cycling is fun, but be honest, sometimes you’re just over it.  As people get more competitive, the cycling calendar seems to extend further and further from both ends, until you have no time off between the end of your season and starting to train for next year.  At that moment you want nothing to do with cycling.  You’re burnt.  You need a change of pace.  Mountain biking can fill that void.  It’s extremely fun and much less straight-faced than road cycling—just what the doctor ordered at the end of a long season, all the while maintaining your fitness.  So instead of slogging through another off season (or mid season) with low motivation because of burnout, change it up—relearn how fun it can be to just go out and ride.  Jump off some stuff.  It’s a hell of a good time.  

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I want to get the point across that trying mountain biking isn’t like some kind of religious conversion.  You won’t automatically stop shaving and start wearing baggy shorts—not that there is anything wrong with that.  You can keep your spandex.  Mountain biking can be a tool to improve yourself as an athlete—in a multitude of ways.  It may seem that mountain bikers and road cyclists exist in two separate worlds, but it’s just not like that.  You can have both.  You can learn from both.  And who knows, you might just like it in the woods. 

Shameless Epilogue Plug:  We have Orbea demo mountain bikes.  If you want to try before you buy—which I highly recommend—you should take advantage of them! They are here to be ridden.  Plus, all any of the demo fees can be applied towards the purchase of a new MTB.  Bam. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Arts & Crafts

People are often surprised to learn of my background outside of the cycling industry.  Tuba playing bicycle mechanic are not words that you would expect to hear grouped in the same article, let alone one after the other in the same sentence.  Most people find them incongruous.  The fact of the matter is, however, that they are incredibly related.  It may not seem like a cyclist and a musician can learn from one another, but I totally disagree. 

To absolutely understand this comparison, you need to understand exactly what goes into being a musician on a professional level.  Anyone you see on stage with a professional group has spent an obnoxious amount of time is a small white room, practicing scales, arpeggios, and every possible technique you can imagine.  The amount of time I’ve spent in these small prison cell-like rooms is staggering when I really think about it.  All of this time spent towards one simple goal: mastering the craft of playing an instrument.  Musicians work tirelessly everyday to become one with their instruments, so that when it comes time to perform, technique doesn’t hinder their ability to completely and perfectly express a musical idea. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? How many hours have you spent training, sweating on a trainer when you’d rather be doing something else?  Surely more than you would care to think about.  But here is the difference:  I find that more often than not, the motivating factors that keep these two groups working on their craft are not the same.  And not to make blanket generalizations about broad diverse groups of people (but to do exactly that), cyclists or maybe most athletes are very results orientated—race results, LT numbers, etc.—while musicians tend to be more motivated by less competitive motivations—perfection, other pretentious artsy concepts.   Aside:  I am well aware that this might sound really pretentious—but please bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

We, as cyclists, probably put too much emphasis on specific concrete results.  How many times have you heard about someone working towards an “A” race much of the season, only to have a disappointing result and declare the whole season a waste?  To be fair, setting specific goals is an extremely valuable tool for musicians and athletes alike, but our dependence on the validation that they offer us is usually unhealthy.  Try a more balanced approach.  Instead of thinking about achieving specific result orientated goals, think like a musician.  Try to master your craft.  Work on a daily basis to become a better cyclist—the results will follow. 

Just like the investment banker who sets the goal of making seven figures rather than becoming a better banker, the cyclists who focuses only on results will be left wanting when the time for personal fulfillment is nigh.  Empty goals equal empty souls. 

What are results anyway? What value do they have?  The only reason people want good results is that they are symbols of their ability as athletes.  They are ultimately meaningless.  In the grand scheme of life, winning the cat 4 crit at Lower Providence gets you nothing.  What it symbolizes, though, is that you are a good cyclist.  Better than your peers in fact—as evidenced by your beating them in some crit.  But winning is not the point. 

I think the reason that musicians, or maybe people in the arts more generally think this way, is that there really is no “winning” in the arts.  Well, maybe breaking even financially could be called winning.  The point being, though, that in a world filled with creative subjectivity, one of the only real benchmarks you can latch onto is your progress towards “your ideal sound” that exists somewhere in your head.  In our world of over analyzation, over wind tunnelyzation, and over carbonyzation maybe a little creative subjectivity is a good thing. 

Being a great cyclist is so much more than numbers and results, but we rarely give it that kind of credit.  Define clearly in your own mind what it is to be a truly great athlete and you will truly have a goal on which to hang your proverbial hat. 

Ride without your powermeter, simply concentrating on all the things you never think about when crushing an interval session.  Stay light on your bike, light on your pedals, and light on your concern about whether your heart rate is in your LT zone or sub-LT. 

Go to the shore and ride a beach cruiser with flat pedals, in jeans and a t-shirt.  Don’t worry about training in those wicked NJ crosswinds, just enjoy riding a bike.  We are constantly so wrapped up in our training schedule that we rarely stop to really consider what it is we are doing.  Riding your bike is fun. 

When I was younger, my entire day, outside of my time at school, would be spent out on my bike.  I had no care for how fast, how far, or what kind of wattage I was pushing—I rode just to ride.  I rode to explore new places and just become better at riding my bike.  That was it.  Be a better bike rider. 

Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that.  I would like to get back there—riding all day without really noticing anything but the road around me, the way it feels to be on a bike.  So for now, I don’t care about my LT.  I will race without a thought of where I would like to finish.  I will notice how beautiful the communities are wherever I am riding.  I will ride, not to win, but to be happy.  I want to just have some fun riding my bike, and you should too. 

Okay, I’m stepping down off of my soapbox. 

I want to devote a few lines to some general housekeeping things.  I wanted to take a second to follow up on some of our classics lead-out posts.  If you didn’t watch Flanders, shame on you, but if you did, you may have noticed that Boonen won his third Ronde aboard Zipp 303s—the wheels we featured in a review a couple weeks ago.  This is the third straight win for that wheelset.  They clearly mean business.  To get you psyched for Paris-Roubiax this weekend, I also wanted to post one of my all time favorite cycling movies,  A Sunday in Hell.  If you haven't seen this movie, make sure you watch it before sunday's race.

I also want to put a call out for questions to fill a regular Off the Rivet Q&A post.  Your questions can be anything from tech questions, to bike fitting, to culture questions, like when it is appropriate to wear your calve sleeves in public (which is rarely, by the way).  So submit your questions in the comment section below or send them to my email at  I’ll go through and pick the most intriguing questions (read: whichever ones I will sound the smartest answering) and answer them in a monthly blog post.