Posts Tagged ‘cycling


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Semi-endless Winter and 6 weeks of Pre-race Panic

In Minnesota, even in the southern-most tropical region of the state, the abundance of this winter’s snow harvest continues to pile up. The 3.5 feet sitting in my yard no longer represents a winter wonderland, but a multi-layered, crusted reminder of days, weeks and months of wind-whipped bitter cold.

However, in the winter of my discontent, I’ve found my cycling motivation for the upcoming year. I followed an actual training program, spending about 8-12 hours a week on the trainer, mixed in some strength training, ate smart and worked with a trainer partner that kept us both motivated. I managed to drop about 15 pounds so far, a couple more veins have chosen to make their appearance on my calves and I’m feeling a lot stronger. All in all, pretty damn happy with the way this winter has gone.

The rest of the winter’s program has me targeting building up more fitness and riding strength along with dropping another 10 before the pretty ambitious race schedule I set out for 2010 comes about this spring. No problem, let me see now…check the calendar…Holy S#@t, my first race is in 6 weeks.

All of a sudden I find myself less worried about whether or not the winter will end and if the snowmelt will leave us in a giant Great Plains-sized flooded mud pit until after the 4th of July and more worried the starting-line jitters building in my gut and how I’m going to attack the first climb. I know it’s a bit premature, but given my stellar effort at last year’s offseason training stupidity, early season incompetence and overall failure in my racing ‘program’ last year, I’m anxious for this year’s racing to start. I took the time to learn from my mistakes, train smart, make progress and set goals…you know, all that stuff they write about in magazines and people pay coaches to help them with.

The Glory I’m searching for is glory on a Very Small Scale. Cat 4 Masters Road and Citizen class MTB wins. Results that you have to scroll down 3 pages to find my age group and class to reach. The fun I’ll have pursuing this Small Scale Glory and the happiness I’ve had along the way will be far greater than any medal I might receive. The smile on my face that was missing through many years of workaholism is back, and I don’t want it to leave anytime soon.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to contain my starting line nerves until I actually reach the starting line. However, my outlook has changed a little – the winter can’t last forever, I can now envision myself out riding in the sunshine and my competitive side has started to stir. So, for those that will be at the opening Psychowpath race on April 3rd – just know I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be the slightly catatonic, overly caffeinated guy with the big grin on his face.


Cycling Memories – Man v. Peaceful Creature Sprint, Enjoyment at Speed

As winter winds howl across the prairie again, creating a curtain of snow and a carpet of ice, I find myself thinking back to the sunny days of riding last summer.  While I repeatedly admit I’m not a big deal, where I differ from most of the cyclobloggers is my environment.  Where most have to curse their bike-hostile urban landscapes and occasionally get the opportunity to escape to a peaceful environment where the true enjoyment of riding can occur, my escape takes about 3 minutes riding to be in the countryside, with hundreds of miles of paved freedom at my disposal.

It’s when I’m riding that these simple pleasures of a simpler life come about.  Watching the sun set over the purple and red-hued pipestone ridge of the Blue Mounds; crossing the Rock River as it slowly winds through the fields, slews and bands of trees that pop up, always slightly out of place across the agrarian patchwork that dominates the landscape; looking to the side and watching the rows of corn fly by my field of vision – all these are simple things that just cannot be enjoyed in the same manner if you’re constantly worried about a taxi taking a hard right turn in front of you.

The one  riding memory I’ll carry away from last summer was on a late afternoon ride, about 30 minutes into my ride on a relatively flat patch of county highway.  I was pedaling along at easy cruising pace when my peripheral vision picks up a young whitetail deer leaping out of the cornfield and starts running and bounding alongside me in the ditch parallel to the highway.  I clicked down a couple gears and climbed out of the saddle, wondering whether or not I had it in me to take my first man-beast sprint.  For slightly longer than the next mile, I kept pace with the deer (or so it seemed) but found myself laughing out loud at the sheer wonder and enjoyment of this experience.  As I was about to approach the first of a few rolling hills, the deer apparently bored of my less-than-competitive speed.  With a few quick strides, a gap was immediately opened and the deer leapt out of the ditch and bounded across to the other side of the road and stopped to watch me continue on.  I thanked him for his time and enjoyed a sense of wonderment and my smile was a little wider the rest of the day.   A little more than two weeks later, while heading back toward town after a quick 25-mile ride, the same deer came out from a cornfield at the edge of the Blue Mounds and ran alongside again.  He must have sensed I was a little tired from attacking the rollers over the last few miles and entertained my slower pace, but bored quickly and leapt across the road again.

For those who chastise those of us who go out to ride faster, stating that we’re missing the point, my reply would be that I get the point and still get it, regardless of my speed.  Unfortunately, those who live in the bike war zones have to slow down for both safety and to see the myriad of things they’re passing by.  I hope that sometime, they can see it my way.


2009 – the year of training stupid

Sometime in December 2008, I felt inspired.  I dropped almost 40 pounds from cycling during that year; I wanted to recapture my youth and do a lot of racing in 2009.  I knew I needed to still drop ‘that last 20’ and add endurance.  So, I did what worked for me in my 20’s.  I rode inside through the harsh Minnesota winter.  I rode longer and more often.  I learned the ‘political insights’ of rural America by talking those spinning around me.  If anybody really needs to know the heartbeat of America, just ask.

Once the snow and ice cleared and the temp climbed up close to freezing, I got outside and rode.  I had delusions of being semi Belgian-tough for riding in late winter days in the biting cold and miserable drizzle in the early spring. I got a new computer for heart rate and cadence that reported back crucial data that had to make me faster. I got really good at riding the really nice, really flat roads of southwest Minnesota for a really long time keeping my heart rate between a pretty tight range of 145-165.  If I dropped down to the 120-130 range, I felt I was going too slow and the brief, rolling hills weren’t enough to get me to blow up.

For all my efforts through the winter and spring, I weighed roughly the same and was marginally faster, with the only real tangible result being some semblance of endurance.   Apparently the Merckx mantra of “ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike” doesn’t work as well for semi-old, semi-fat guys looking to act 20-something again.  And it was fairly obvious that I wasn’t 21 anymore.  Despite the lack of results, I enjoyed myself immensely and couldn’t wait to get out and ride more.  Looking back, that was precisely the problem.  I was enjoying riding so much I didn’t think about how I was riding.  Others may say that the problem with training is that it takes the joy out of a recreational activity.  However, I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself any less if I had introduced some performance plan to structure how I was riding.  I would have weighed less if I had taken it slower occasionally and paid attention to nutrition.  The proverbial win-win could have happened.

My lack of structure came shining through in my 2009 race campaign.  The results can be summarized as “I got dropped.”  The breakthrough finally came later in the summer when I climbed back onto a mountain bike for the first time and both saw results and enjoyed suffering through climbs, grinding, spinning, recovering.  But, after a few rides, I observed actual, tangible improvement. An epiphany in mud, if you will.

Despite my educated ways, I spent last year training stupid.  The lesson here is a series of coaching clichés: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail; If you’re not training with power, you’re not training; et al.   Unfortunately for me, the clichés are true, but this winter is on a different, much better planned path.   2010 will be a different story.  Not saying it will be Pulitzer, Nobel or even local free newspaper-worthy, but it will be different.


Shifting the Bike Industry Paradigm

Like many cyclists, I’ve got a good relationship with my LBS.  While I could save a buck or two or ten by scouring eBay and discount sites, I appreciate the value of having somebody there for me to throw my bike in disgust at after my drivetrain tried to morph into an automatic with a spastic clutch during last week’s race.  The caring bike shop owner takes time to look over the carnage of carbon, aluminum and steel while I rail on about how my mechanical issue dropped me from a surefire 9th place all the way back to 14th and theorizing on how to explain to the international cycling media the reason for my mechanical issue without upsetting my sponsors.  (For the record, my sponsors are there because I’m apparently semi-likeable and a good cycling advocate.  The only international cycling media I’ve ever addressed was getting my blurb in Road Bike Action’s “Why we Ride.”)

I have what many would call a cycling gear ‘addiction.’ Over the course of the year, I probably average spending $500/month at the shop.  But, I don’t envy the shopping torture that I put my LBS owner through to earn that money.  Back in the day (as the kids say) when I managed a big box bike shop, the company’s mantra was a religious large scale purchase of closeouts.  I became a swami of off-season sales.  However, this knowledge engrained itself into my buying habits and constantly has me waiting for the unfortunate cycle of late season shedding of existing inventory and closeouts available from the manufacturers.  The 2008 parts will be just fine, thanks.

Given our national/global economic downturn, everybody expected the bike business to blossom.  Thoughts of America actually accepting the bike culture entered cyclists’ collective consciousness, if for no other reason than one less horn-honking jerk to almost run you over on the morning commute.  Why then are bike inventories after the season 39% higher than a year ago with 97,000 road bikes (up 88% over last year) and 202,000 hybrids (up 214%) sitting in warehouses? Yes, people kept their wallets closed overall during this crisis.  However, I see it as an exacerbation of the perpetual cycle the industry drives.  What bikes people did buy were previous year’s closeouts…they wanted more for their recession dollar.  The industry is out of touch with actual buying trends – they don’t know what is selling or why.

The bike industry needs to look no further than the American auto manufacturers to realize they need to make a paradigm shift.  For decades, the American automakers had to each year come out with new models and new features to supposedly keep up with the competition.  Meanwhile, over in Germany, companies like BMW and Volkswagen operated on keeping the models the same with small improvements each year and only making significant changes every 5-10 years.

I just purchased a 2008 Trek Fuel EX 9.5 frame to build to my spec recently.  It cost 43% less than a new one.  My buyer’s remorse kicked in when looking at the 2010 version and questions of “how will I live without ABP RACE and DRCV?” arose.  After asking Trek, there’s no performance difference between the ‘08 ABP and ‘10 ABP.  The reviews of the RP23 shock on the ‘08 overall were glowing.  Apparently, if I launch myself off a cliff, the DRCV might be a good thing.  I’m 38, I race XC, I live in the Midwest and ride trail…isn’t happening anytime soon.  The moral of the story – despite the cavalcade of new acronyms, the performance difference is incrementally minimal in 99% of the cases year-after-year.

Given my rant, here are my three recommendations to help fix the bike industry.

1)      More model consistency year-after-year.  If a frame has no significant changes other than the color of paint and the components are 95% the same, don’t create 5 new marketing terms for how the new one is better.  Let your LBS be able to sit with a 2009 model next to the 2010 model and say “they’re both great bikes.  The 2009 is $150 less because it’s last year’s model, but they’re essential the same bike.”  The typical now statement is “the 2010 has the hypersonic formed chainstays for greater vertical compliance.  Riding the 2009 is like putting a jackhammer under your saddle, which is why we’re discounting it $2,000.”  Forcing your LBS into a market where they have to reduce to a 5-10% margin after August 1 is just brutal.  Doing this also provides more value to closeouts by retaining retail value and ideally, larger margins.

2)      New retail cooperation paradigm.  Many think the era of the LBS is over and manufacturers just need to go the direct-to-consumer model.  Nope.  Disagree.  Could list pages of reasons, starting with cyclists need the service/education/communal connection, but you already quit reading 200 words ago.  Certain manufacturers cut their own throats with a dealer network by allowing large volume discounters to snatch up remaining product and advertise a 25 – 70% discount.

Existing dealers are stuck with current inventory and really would like to find a way to ship it back, preferably with a bag of flaming poo inside.   Manufacturers, launch websites that sell bikes at retail price but direct the sale to their nearest LBS dealer.  Dealers can pull from existing inventory or get new product shipped in.  Instead of bailing out with deep discounts on late season inventory, list national sales prices that follow the same procedure.  Ideally, the manufacturer’s benefit by getting a more accurate and timely production model, both gain inventory turnover and higher annualized margin.  Yes, I can already hear the wailing of the Jensons, Chain Loves and CBOs of the world, but rather the industry be healthy then have fattened vultures.

3)       A gift bag containing DZ-Nuts, Hammer Gel, bike mini-tool, the Zen of Pedaling and a video on how to use the aforementioned products with every bike purchase.

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