Heroics

Theory Thursday

Gears

Now that you’ve got your helmet, your frame and your wet weather gear, you’ll want to be picking your gear-set for your bike.  You might go with what you’re given, or you might want to customise.

Gears make ALL the difference to your energy expenditure.  If you’re planning a long ride, or a run afterwards, you want to save your legs as much as possible.  So here’s the low down!

Gear Geek Corner

If you want to read all about it you can try this.  Or you can follow our random ramble through the gears:

“Fixies”

look ma – no brakes!

You might decide it’s all a bit complex.  You want to keep things simple and you don’t go up or downhill much.  You can get a bike with only one gear ratio.  You can have a “single-speed” bike where you can freewheel or you can have a single-speed bike with a fixed gear.  Fixed gear bikes (fixies) are “bang on trend” (as Cosmo would have it) with cute colours, retro styling and a subculture of reckless speed and perversity: you can’t coast so you have to keep pedalling (thus getting faster!), some people don’t even add brakes they just slowly stop pedalling/skip or skid to a stop.  If you go uphill you work harder.

Recommended for – hipster wannabes

Not recommended for  – the Lake district

Derailleurs

This is what you will commonly find on a road bike.  You can have multiple sprockets on the back (3-11) and up to three chain rings on the front to give you from 3 to 33 gear ratios.  Why do you want that?  So that if you cycle uphill the gears take the hard work out of your legs.  Like driving your car you change down to go uphill and “spin” your legs around faster but more easily and when you’re zooming downhill you can “change up” and get more power through your legs to make the bike go faster and faster.

Recommended for – long journeys and hills

Not recommended for – the easily confused 😉

Gear Technique

Assuming you’ve gone for a derailleur system you need to learn how and when to change gears.  Some of it is a matter of preference, some is common sense.  It’s easy to push the pedals round when the front cog is small and the back cog is large – it will slow you down but get you up a hill easily.  If both are medium sized you can roll along a flat road feeling a nice power transition and pedalling smoothly.  If you get a big front cog and small back you are working harder, but going faster.

Normal rides

So for a short to medium undulating ride you want to be in a middle gear on the flat, change down in advance of any hills and change up at the top to whizz down.

Long rides

But some people going for 60+ miles like to “spin” their legs all the time at a high cadence (rate of pedalling) and a low gear.  This saves the quads from working too hard & “feeling the burn” so you can endure the long ride.

Hilly rides

You’ve got two choices.  Sit down and spin or stand up & mash.  (or a bit of both?!)

Sit down & spin: the theory is that sitting down keeps your weight evenly distributed over the front and back wheel keeping contact with the road evenly spreading the friction and being more aerodynamic.  Also, bodyweight supported by the saddle = less energy expended.  You change down to a low gear at the bottom of the hill and spin your legs with a fast cadence allowing you to persevere up any hill.

proponents – Chris Froome, heavyweights

Stand up and mash: also known as “dancing on the pedals”, but I guess that’s a matter of framing!  This is where you stay in a higher gear and stand up and even start to rock the bike underneath you as you climb with a slower cadence.  Harder work on the quads but potentially less strain on your back and allows you to use more muscles to power up the hill.  Less aerodynamic.

proponents – Alberto Contador, flyweights

A bit of both:  probably the best thing to do is start seated in a low gear and slowly get up the hill.  As you reach the top and know you’ve got some “oomph” left in you and it gets steeper than 10% you might want to stand up and push the last little bit.

Tech Tuesday

Bike frame materials

So, you’ve got your helmet and you’re researching what bike frame size you’ll need within your budget.  Your budget might determine what your bike frame is made of, but if you have a choice – how to decide!?

bamboo bike frame, anyone?

4 options

You’ve got 4 main options, and there is a LOT of controversy out there about the pros and cons of each.  In the end it probably just comes down to preference – but here are a few things to consider:

Aluminium “Alloy”

If you want a cheap bike aluminium’s your pick.  It’s a bit light, it’s a bit stiff it’s moderately long lasting.  It’s the compromise at the cheap end of the range, and it might mean you can get pricier components if you self-build.  (or get your friendly bike shop to do it!)

Carbon

Carbon frames were all the rage, until they were all the rage and now people want something that isn’t ubiquitous.  They are not cheap, but they are cheaper than they were and they are light (very light if you pay!), fast and strong in the right direction.  This is good for light, small people like hobbits who don’t need to be pushing a bike that weighs more than they do……however, they are brittle if you crash, but they don’t rust!

Steel

If you want a workhorse, steel might be your answer.  They are heavy, unless you pay squillions, but they last a long time and you can crash and they might dent but it’s repairable.  They “dampen” road bumps so they are good for commuting but also long-distance comfort.  If you’re a larger bloke with powerhouse quads from a winter of turbo training you can move a steel bike and this might be your pick.  (They look “retro” cool, too).  Just don’t forget to clean it properly after a bad weather ride.

Titanium

If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket and you are an experienced rider so you know what size frame works for you then investing in titanium could be your bike for life.  Beautiful, uncorrodable, light, super-dampening of nasty road surfaces and comfortable it’s the best of all possible worlds!  They can be custom built for you and the lack of corrosion means they suit British winter riding!

doesn’t need painting!

Bamboo

and yes, you really can buy a bamboo bike – a sustainable material, this is light and handsome – perfect for the eco-warrior in your life.

Motivation Monday

Weather

We get a lot of it in the UK.  Weather.  When it’s fine our motivation to get out on the bike is high, when it’s cold, wet and windy we want to stay at home.

Benefits of exercise outdoors

You intuitively know outdoor exercise is good for you – the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, even getting a bit damp but then coming back in to a warm house and a warm bath make you feel wonderful afterwards.  It’s backed up by evidence, too.  Plus, vitamin D!

No such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing

But how do you motivate yourself and prepare yourself to go out when it’s wet and windy and maybe cold?  Firstly,

“failing to prepare is preparing to fail”

If you’re training and you have to go out and clock up your scheduled ride you know you could get on the indoor bike or turbo trainer instead (and sometimes discretion is the better part of valour), but start preparing yourself and you might even get out of the door.  This video is sage advice and don’t forget it’s rare to experience it raining as hard on you as it looks through the window!

Get the right bike set up, the right clothing and plan your route and just get out of the door.  You can tell yourself you’re only going to do 10 miles and you might end up enjoying it and doing the loop twice!

Safety first

Don’t forget safety when you’re cycling in the rain.  This is in the preparation as well as the execution.  Rain tends to wash puncture-inducing items onto the road so make sure you have a spare inner tube and know how to change it quickly.  The right clothing is about safety as well as comfort – denim and cotton get wet and stay cold and wet – you might not want to be a “MAMIL” but there are sound reasons why the gear is used.  This video helps with braking technique in the wet and this one covers the rest of the issues – drop your tyre pressure would be my top tip!

April showers

Amazingly, now we’re in April, we’ve got really good weather – so there’s no excuse not to be out there!  But if the famed April showers do come along, we’ll still see you out there 🙂

Sport on Sunday

Week 14

Have we recovered?  Have we taken our own advice about retraining slowly?

superhobbit, second breakfsat goings on in Hobbiton
Sunday Well, I did actually manage a yoga session and a 30 length swim last week, in the end.  Today I ran a circuit which turend out to be 4.57 km at an average 6.36 minutes per kilometre.  So far I am taking my own advice and retraining slowly.  I even had a multivitamin and mineral afterwards!
Monday  work day so rest day
Tuesday  work – did manage the desk treadmill slowly
Wednesday Cycled to the swimming pool for a 1km swim and back with a lunch stop.  Not exactly training, but definitely gentle!
Thursday  another rest day – taking own advice!
Friday  Kettlebells session
Saturday  Muscle pain after kettlebells – totally deconditioned.  Managed a 6.48 km run at an average 6.39 minutes per kilometre.  Slow progress, but progress!
jongleur-de-vie, super-bad multitasker Multi-tasking Major activities
Sunday I’ve been team chasing today: four horses thunder round a (huge) cross country course together. Fastest team wins. I’ve never done it before but it’s been on my bucket list for a good twenty years. I was worried it might be the last thing on my bucket list if it didn’t go so well.

Anyway, it was amazing, one of the most exciting things I’ve done for years. So now I’ve done that I can get back to focussing on superheroes!!

Monday  galloping
Tuesday  galloping
Wednesday  galloping 🙂 

yes, I know I’m not really focussing on superheroes……

Thursday  work, so rest day
Friday Lighter mornings = run before work = joy
Saturday  horse – related exercise.

Reflection Corner – On Cowardice

On Cowardice

Nerves are a funny thing.  Everyone gets nervous from time to time, butterflies in the tummy and a sense of dread.  But carrying on anyway can bring a rush of adrenaline that addicts some people to extreme sports and speed – the adrenaline junkies.  The hobbit is not an adrenaline junky, the multi-tasker feels the fear and does it anyway.

Bike nerves

When you ride a bike, or think about it, you might be nervous about multiple things: traffic, your ability to get up a hill, falling off, going downhill too fast and going over the handlebars, being able to keep up with a group, punctures, the chain falling off.  You can probably think of more!  How do you manage your nerves and get on your bike?

Knowledge is power

Uncertainty is the root of many fears and stops people embracing change or challenge.  How do you “live with uncertainty” and go forwards anyway?  You can minimise uncertainty with knowledge – you might be less afraid of a puncture of you’ve watched a you tube video and practice changing your inner tube before you set off.  You might feel better prepared if you have watched this video about braking and know to use your back brake first to avoid jolting yourself over the handlebars, you might have read about bike helmets and feel reassured about riding out without one.  You know that if something happens, you have the means to manage it.

Minimising or calculating risk

The other cause of a cowardly return to the couch is your approach to risk.  There is risk inherent in sitting on the couch, by the way – worse than smoking!  So one thing to do is reflect on the real size of the risk you take getting on your bike (or anything challenging) versus your perception of the risk.  You can minimise your risk with planning and preparation as above but you can also take calculated risks.  If you know your bike is in good repair and you are fit enough, zooming down a straight hill without using the brakes in good weather is minimal risk.  If you add a corner and rain, your risk increases and your speed should inversely decrease.  So far, so many eggs sucked.  The other thing that might help is on the spot ability to know your real risk versus your perceived risk.  As you fly down a hill on a bike you might feel as if you are going faster than you are due to the wind rushing past your face.  A bike computer can tell you in fact you’re only doing 21.4 mph – less than the speed limit!

Push your limits

How do you become less fearful?  Practice.  The more you ride, the more you know how you and your bike respond and what will happen in any situations.  Each time you go down the same hill you can go a bit faster, incrementally, until you are whooshing along in the drops, smiling all the way.  Each time you take the same corner you can lean a bit more.

A lesson for life?

Theory Thursday

Bike Sizing

So, you’ve got your helmet sorted, but what if you haven’t got a bike in the shed, or you want to upgrade or change from your old hybrid/commuter/mountain bike to a road bike for triathlon racing?  You need to buy a bike!

do you need a new bike??

You’ll want to set a budget.  Starting at £200 and going up to over £5000, road bikes are a big outlay.  The more you spend, the lighter the bike (easier uphill!) and the better the components.  But, in the end, the bike is only as good as the rider!  We also think, the bike is only as good as the fit.  If you end up spending long hours in the saddle on a 100 mile sportive, you don’t want to be cramped or overstretched.  Equally, if you want to go fast, efficient “power transfer” depends on having the right size (of frame) and fit (saddle and handlebar position, crank arm length)

Off the peg frame-sizing

If you are a normal-sized adult then there’s no problem in buying “off the peg”.  You will want to know your inside leg measurement and your total height.  You might need to add your

“ape index” – arm span minus height.

Every manufacturer and brand and frame design has a slightly different “geometry”, and you should be able to research this online, within your chosen budget, before even approaching the bike shop.  Generally, the manufacturer will recommend frame size (based on the length of the top tube) by your height.  

But then you need to go into the bike geometry for that frame size and check the “standover height”  This is where your inside leg comes into play.  ideally you want 3-5cm clearance in height over the top tube to avoid uncomfortable groin squashage when you stop. (potential ouch!)  

Then, if you find you sit between two frame sizes your “ape index” becomes important.  If it’s positive (big wings) go for the larger frame, if negative (short arms relative to height) go for the smaller frame.

Extremes of height

If you’re a hobbit, women’s specific road bikes are not only for women!  They are simply designed for a smaller frame with narrower shoulders and longer legs relative to shorter torso.  You can find the smallest frame size of 44cm in a few different manufacturers, but they are not universal.  If you’re a giant, you are fairly well catered for.

women’s specific bike – not in pink!

Custom-built

But if you are a narrow-shouldered extremely tall person or a broad-shouldered hobbit, and you have money to burn, you might want a custom build.  This is where you will find a bike shop with a fitting equipment (We recommend “Retul” as its an infinitely adjustable bike you actually sit on) to find the perfect geometry for you.  This means you might get less high spec. components/frame material within your budget, as you’re spending more on the custom build, but it may be worth your while to get ultimate comfort.

Invest to save

Finally, invest your time in finding the right bike size and then getting it fitted properly (saddle height etc. in the shop BEFORE you take it home) and it will repay you.  Big chain bike shops are only as good as their local staff, so if you decide to go to one don’t settle for any superficial fitting, go prepared with a few options and try before you buy.  Smaller shops tend to be run by bike enthusiasts and, by contrast, you may struggle to ever leave as you get engrossed in discussions about power output ratios……..!

 

Tech Tuesday

The bike helmet

Yesterday we had a look at ways to motivate yourself to get back on your bike after a sedentary period.  But what if you’ve not had a bike since you passed your cycling proficiency?  Where to start?  It might sound daft, but not with the bike!

In triathlon, you can’t get into the transition area without wearing your helmet and having the fit tested by a marshall.  So let’s start there.  Bike helmets should be less than 5 years old, or be replaced after any accident (because the foam, if dented, does not re-shape).  Which means you probably need a new one!

How to buy a bike helmet

There are a squillion different designs, makes and models.  A basic road bike model should be fine – but you can get all sorts of fancy aerodynamic designs.  They probably aren’t worth it, you’re not Bradley Wiggins.  (if you are Bradley Wiggins – please sponsor us)

You can spend a little or a lot.  But bear in mind, don’t spend too little – how much is your brain worth?  The basic premise is – try some on!  They should be comfortable.  I bought one without trying it & it left a dirty great welt in my forehead every time I rode and felt like it was twisting my skull.

When it fits properly it feels comfortable, as you tighten the band at the back it becomes snug so that you can bend in half with your head upside down and it won’t fall off.  The chin straps should tighten enough, but not too much – you should still be able to fit 2 fingers between the strap and your chin and the triangle of straps should allow your ear to sit comfortably & not be squished or chafed.

head fit correct, just above eyebrows
chin strap correct (but too high on the forehead)

Safety evidence?

A lot of people don’t wear a bike helmet.  It’s up to you, of course.  We always wear ours to get used to them.  In triathlon you’re not allowed to touch your bike in transition until you have your helmet on.  You must rack your bike before removing your helmet.  I found a statistic that says you will crash every 4500 miles of riding.  I plan to stop riding at 4499 miles ………….

The problem is, the evidence is conflicting, and flaky.  Read this for a full and sensible evaluation.  On the “helmets are safe” side is case-control evidence (not top tier) for reduction in minor head injury and anecdotal evidence (various individual stories) of “my helmet saved my life”.  In a way, it also might be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The sort of people who wear bike helmets are the sort of people who don’t take risks and ride less recklessly down steep hills and crash less often as a result.

However, on the “helmets are actually dangerous” side is some more modern evidence that bike helmet wearing increases severity of other injuries, does not protect in serious collisions with motor vehicles and increases the likelihood of head injuries full stop.  Is this because, far from being risk averse, helmet wearing cyclists feel they have a licence to ride more recklessly as they feel (falsely) better protected.  No bit of foam can protect your head from a juggernaut!  Also, countries where helmet wearing is compulsory have seen a drop in cycling – and less cycling means more heart attacks!

The bottom line?

If you’re racing or planning a sportive, you need a helmet “‘cos it’s the rules”.  You may as well wear it all the time to get used to it – like any other bit of race kit.  If you’re a pootler or a commuter you don’t have to wear one – think about your attitude to risk.  If you know you’re risk averse, paradoxically you probably shouldn’t wear a helmet!  

If you know you’re a risk taker you might want to wear one to prevent your frequent minor scrapes from becoming big ones.  But know that if you have a really serious collision nothing will save you – so let’s all campaign for safer roads and more safe cycle lanes!

Motivation Monday

“I like to ride my bicycle…..”

We’re done with swimming.  So if you’re an “aquaphobe” you’ll be happy.  Now it’s time for 5 whole glorious weeks dedicated to bike stuff 🙂

I love my bicycle.  There are times on the bike on a calm sunny day when you get a feeling of “flow” that eludes you when you’re trying to regulate your breathing during a swim and is definitely missing from the challenge of running (but then I’m not that good at running!)

If you love your bicycle too, or you used to and need some motivation to get it out from under piles of junk in the garage, pump up the tires, oil the chain and set off on an adventure, here we are to help you!

Why bike?

Well, there is lots of strong evidence it’s good for you: improving fitness – even in commuter cycling – reducing cardiovascular risk, improving your “good” cholesterol and reducing your risk of cancer.  But is that enough to make you get your bike out of deep hibernation?

Get on your bike!

Sometimes with motivation you have to build yourself up to it.  Other times you have to “rip the plaster off”: just put your running shoes on, stop procrastinating and get out of the door.  But with a pushbike you can work yourself into it.  Firstly, find the bike at the back of the garage and extricate it.  Then find a friendly local bike store and take the bike there for a service.  This has a number of important motivational functions –

#1 you have to pay out money for the service, you’re not blowing hundreds on a new bike, but you are committing some pounds to this project, so you’re more likely to ride, to get your “money’s worth”.  

#2 You’ve got yourself a new accountability buddy or two.  The bike shop team LOVE to see you riding.  They are enormously supportive.  Tell them you’re taking up biking again and they will give you tips, techniques, ideas and ask you about it – so you’d better have done it!

#3 You’ve given yourself some breathing space – the bike won’t be ready for a bit, but when it is it’ll be shiny & sparkly and you’ll want to take it out for a spin

It’s also a safety thing – it’s the opportunity to check your helmet is in date (or buy a new one) – 5 years is the industry accepted standard and there should be a sticker inside saying when you bought it.  It means your chain is well oiled, your tires are pumped up and your brakes are effective.

Nerves, weather and company

You’ve got your bike back from the shop and you’re ready to go.  It’s raining.  Go swimming instead.  Go for a run (running in the rain is lovely).  There’s no point ruining your motivation with a miserable wet ride. (didn’t think I’d let you off like that, eh!?)  Look at the weather report and plan your first ride on a nice day with minimal wind.  

You might feel nervous.  Go and have a little potter round the local car park and get a feel for your bike again.  Nerves tend to reduce with more information and increase with increasing amounts of “unknowns”.  So, plan a route using Strava or “map my ride” or the bikemap app and be conservative about how far you can go.  Know who you will call if you get too tired, have a puncture you can’t deal with, know you won’t be too far away for them to come and get you.  

You might want company – there are plenty of cycling clubs and groups, but often newbies or re-starters feel very nervous that they won’t be able to keep up.  Cycling clubs are very friendly, so you could give it a try, anyway .  They usually have a rule that the group goes at the pace of the slowest rider.

PPPPPP

“proper preparation prevents piss poor performance”

But just “be prepared” and then you can relax and get your cycling mojo back.  Get your spare inner tubes, tyre levers and pump/CO2 ready, watch this video and even practice changing the inner tube.  Wear something sensible – i.e. trousers shouldn’t flap about and get caught in the chain, weather reports can be wrong so avoid denim etc.etc. consider high vis. and decide if you are going to need lights (probably for your first ride out ensuring it’s in daylight is a good idea!)

Do you need food? Pack it if so (more than 90 minutes out – take food!)  Do you need water (YES!  You never know what might happen….)

Take your phone, take a bit of cash money and a bit of plastic money and just go!

Sport on Sunday

Week 13

unlucky for some?

superhobbit, second breakfsat goings on in hobbiton
Sunday  Still have a fever!  Taking my own advice is VERY hard.  No training this week, no duathlon next sunday.  Only reassured by knowing another superhero from another team has had the same thing for 4 weeks.  The end is in sight!
jongleur-de-vie, super-bad multitasker multi-tasking major activities
Sunday Feel better! went running 🙂 3.5km run with four kids and four dogs
Monday 6.4km run with four dogs and the sunrise
Tuesday  my knee hurts – running is bad 🙁
Wednesday  horse-related activity. 37000 horse steps. Horse was pretty tired too.
Thursday work, so rest day
Friday Went off to save horseriders from certain death, so managed a run round the course before hand
Saturday Bit of running, bit of life saving – all in a day’s work

Reflection Corner – on frailty

On frailty

Here we are trying to train the human machine and what happens?  Viruses.  The David to our Goliath, we’ve been felled by the nanoscopic little blighters.  We are frail – as in fallible, weak and vulnerable.

It’s distressing: lying about like a Victorian lady with a fit of the vapours.

The sick role

We’re supposed to be superheroes.  We are not supposed to be frail.  We’ve got a schedule to stick to!  It has not been at all easy accepting the sick role identity and we have railed against it.  The multitasker kept running through her cold with conjunctivitis and ended up with chest pain, I refused to accept muscle aches and feverishness with no other symptoms were at all significant and am still having fevers 2 weeks later.  We had to be told to stop.

Why stop? How to stop?

When you’re pursuing exercise for beneficial health reasons, you have a big psychological barrier to stopping.  We know that in old age frailty is reduced by exercise with multi-nutrients.  If 86 year olds can benefit from training, surely we can do it when we’ve “just” got a virus?

Well, “just” a virus is potentially quite significant.  We should have taken our own advice on the “below the neck” no-training rule: if you’ve just got the “snot-monster” then carry on, anything below the neck – gut rot, fever causing muscle aches and pains, cough with phlegm then STOP.  This is to avoid prolonging the illness and potentially damaging your heart.

But it’s so psychologically difficult to stop – you’ve built up a routine, you’ve got into a habit, you’re on a schedule, you are really quite addicted to those endorphins.  

Plus, you know you’ll have to go back and start again building back up that habit, getting back into routine, behind on the schedule and having the discipline not to jump back in where you should be, but reverse a bit and build back up – knowing you’ve lost the training trajectory that would have seen you match fit by race day.

How to start again?

Firstly, know a bit about immunity and training.  Whilst we saw that swimming in the winter protects swimmers from colds their partners have, and that regular exercise for 20 minutes 3 times a week reduces the frequency and intensity of colds, hard training has a short term opposite effect.

After hard training there is a variable length “open window” of suppressed immunity when it’s virus open season, if you get exposed.  You can read advice on prevention here, but I think this highlights where I was going wrong.  I was doing my long runs on a Sunday and I work a 12 hour (or more day) interacting with viruses on a Monday (in the open window).  I hadn’t been taking my vitamin D over the winter (procrastination!) and I had spent quality time cramming in the stretching and foam rolling and post-run nutritioning in the 30 minutes post-run carb. window, but in my nasty wet sports kit.  I had also experimented with low carb training to keto-adapt – but I have given that up as a very bad idea not suited to Hobbits.  (the multitasker is doing very well with it, so don’t knock it if it suits you!)

So what next?  When I am finally a full 24 hours fever free I can then do a swim or a cycle or a sloooooow 5km run and see how I feel.  I’ve cancelled 2 sportives already and a duathlon.  I am supposed to be running a 1/2 marathon in 4 weeks, so I have to be disciplined enough to demote myself to the 10km on the day if I haven’t caught back up.  I have to accept my frailty and work with it.

And no more Sunday runs!