Friday, April 26, 2013

Changing Gears

One of the most important parts of writing this blog, in my opinion, is deleting stuff that doesn't contribute. Over and over I include something that I think is interesting or amusing but as I re-read the post for the third or thirtieth time prior to posting it, I realize it does not help the post and I delete it.  Right now, I am working on my first ever "page" for this blog. A page is a part of the blog which is a reference, not part of the regular blog narrative. My first page describes the various parts of the bicycle, something I talk about a lot in my posts. If I refer to a part of the bicycle with which the reader is not familiar, they can refer to that page to find out what I am talking about. In the section on gears, I wrote a couple of paragraphs on how different gear ratios ("high" gears vs "low" gears) are calculated and used, realized that it broke up the narrative because it wasn't really a description of the different parts of a bicycle. However, it was interesting and I have just been changing the sprockets on my Surly, so I thought I would use it for today's blog post. This discussion will be restricted to derailleur bicycles with two or three sprockets in front (attached to the pedals) and five to eleven sprockets in back (attached to the rear wheel.)

Diagram courtesy of Wikipedia

Calculating Gear Ratios

The factors that determine how fast a bicycle moves at a given pedaling speed are the size of the front sprocket, the size of the back sprocket, and the size of the wheel. In the United States, the most common way of expressing this is the size of the wheel (in inches) needed to reach this effective gear ratio assuming there were no other gears (e.g. an hypothetical penny-farthing.) This value is traditionally rounded to the nearest whole number. Consider the following example:
  • A one speed bicycle with a 46 tooth sprocket in front, an 18 tooth sprocket in back, and a wheel 27 inches in diameter: The size of that gear would be 47 ÷ 18 x 27 = 71 inches.
Determining the number of teeth on front and rear sprockets is simple and unambiguous. Determining the wheel size is less so. The good news is that in most cases, road bikes (with the notable exception of folding bikes) have fairly similar wheel sizes so getting this not quite right has modest consequences.

The best way to determine the size of your wheel, if you can do it carefully enough, is to have someone hold your bicycle as you sit on it with the tires inflated to the pressure you normally use, precisely mark the position of the bicycle, move the bicycle forward one complete turn of the wheels, precisely mark the position of the bicycle, and measure how far the bicycle moved. This gives you the actual circumference of the wheel under your precise conditions. To calculate the gear inches as described above, use the formula diameter = circumference ÷  π.

I have never measured my wheel size as is described above. It requires a partner, is more fuss than I am up for, and I am not confident of my ability to make measurements precise enough to be useful. The alternative is to look up the wheel size. To do that, you need to know the tire size and the manufacturer of the tire, and you have to do some research and some calculations. Here are the considerations:

  • You might think that you could determine the wheel diameter from the marked tire size. For example, you might think that a 27 x 1¼ inch tire is 27 inches in diameter. It is not, it is closer to 28 inches in diameter (see below). A 26 x 1.3 inch mountain bike tire is less than 25 inches in diameter. These are not huge differences, of course, so if you do use the marked tire size, you will only be off by about one gear shift (e.g. from your lowest gear to your next lowest gear.)
  • A given wheel can usually fit multiple sized tires (fatter or skinnier.) Putting fatter tires on your bike makes the wheels larger and thus all your gears higher, and putting skinnier tires on does the reverse. Again, this is a relatively small effect in most cases.
  • There are two reasons you may need to know the manufacturer of the tire. Firstly, some manufacturers have made a proprietary sized tire with a standard designation. For example, a 26x1⅜ tire from a Schwinn three speed results in a wheel diameter of 26.6 inches whereas a 26x1⅜ tire from an English three speed results in a wheel diameter of 26.3 inches (and neither tire will fit on the other bike - yikes!)
  • Tires are not always the size they are marked. I am considering getting Grand Bois Cypres Extra Leger tires for my May 18th brevet. These tires are marked as 30 mm wide but are in fact 32 mm wide.
  • Historically, tire sizing has been completely irrational and chaotic, but things are getting better with the introduction of the ETRTO standard for tire sizing. ETRTO sizes look like 28-622; the first number is the width of the tire in millimeters, and the second the diameter of the wheel before you put the tire on (more or less.) I have noticed that more and more new tires are sold under their old size name, but have the ETRTO standard size written on the tire. If it is not, you can look it up on  Sheldon Brown's website. With that in hand, you use one of the many available lookup tables; this one for example, to get a wheel size. Finally, you convert circumference to diameter and millimeters to inches as required. 
  • Example, the above mentioned 27 x 1¼ inch tire has an ETRTO size of 32-630. Looking that up, the final circumference of the wheel is 2220 millimeters, 2220 ÷  π gives a diameter of 706.6 millimeters which equals 27.82 inches.
My 2010 Surly Crosscheck came with 700c, 32 mm wide tires. The ETRTO standard for this size is 32-622.  Looking that up and doing the appropriate conversions gives a wheel size of 27.19 inches. It also came with front sprockets of 48 and 36 teeth and rear sprockets ranging from 12 to 25 teeth. The result:

Highest Gear = 48 ÷ 12 x 27.19 = 106 inches.
Lowest Gear = 36 ÷ 25 x 27.19 =    38 inches.

This high gear was way higher than I could ever imagine using, but I would have liked a lower low gear. For comparison, the bicycle I rode through Europe (including across the Alps) when I was 17 years old had a low gear of 27 inches. An old man like me certainly needs a gear at least that low. That 27 inch low gear was calculated as follows:
The bike had sew-up tires which are ETRTO 23-622, and front gears of 49, 44, and 28 teeth paired with back gears of 13, 16, 19, 23, and 28 teeth, so the low gear was:

28 ÷ 28 x 26.63 = 27 inches.

The first change I made to my Surly was to replace the tires. I did not do this to lower the gears, but because I felt like the stock tires were too "knobby" and fat, so I replaced them with slick, 28 mm wide tires. Although this had the effect of lowering my low gear, the effect was so small as to be lost when I rounded the gear to the nearest whole number:

36 ÷ 25 x 26.94 = 38 inches.

As I was preparing for my brevet in May of 2012, I took my Surly into the bike shop to have it tuned up and checked out. Foolishly, I had gone too long with the same chain (who knew chains needed periodic changing?) and had worn out the rear gears as a result. Thus, I took the opportunity to replace the rear gears with gears that ranged from 11 to 32 teeth, which required replacing my Shimano Tiagra rear derailleur with a Shimano Deore. The result was a low gear that felt dramatically lower; it was plenty low enough for the rolling hills of the brevet:

36 ÷ 32 x 26.94 = 30 inches.

However, now I knew better. Next time I would replace the chain before the rear gears were damaged. Not. Between one thing and another, I found it difficult to be without my Surly long enough to let the bike shop at it. Finally, I gave up, bought a new chain, and installed it myself. It was remarkably easy! However, I was too late. Once again I had worn out the rear gears. (I could tell because the new chain slipped on the most worn gear.) Although the Deore derailleur was listed as having a maximum rear sprocket size of 32 teeth, Sheldon Brown notes that Shimano is very conservative with their specifications, so when replacing the rear gears, I went with gears ranging from 11 to 34 teeth. Replacing the gears was remarkably easy, and the slightly out of specification gears work great. My new low gear is:

36 ÷ 34 x 26.94 = 29 inches.

Unusable and Overlapping Gears

With two gears in the front and 9 gears in the back, there are 2 x 9 or 18 possible combinations of front gears and back gears, so my Surly was sold as an 18 speed bicycle. However, best practice says that I should not be using the two "extreme" gears; the 48 tooth sprocket in front with the 34 tooth sprocket in back nor the the 36 tooth sprocket in front with the 11 tooth sprocket in back. The reason is that in these two cases the chain is going from the far right on the front to the far left on the back or vice versa, putting it at a sharp angle relative to the front and rear sprockets. According to conventional wisdom, this generates a lot of friction which both wastes energy and is bad for the chain and the sprockets, so one is advised not to use these combinations. In my experience, these extreme gears work just fine, but they are not all that useful, so if I fogo them, my 18 speed bicycle becomes a 16 speed.

Let's now look at not just the highest and lowest gears, but all the different gears on my Surly:

The gear ratios were calculated as above, based on a 28-622 size tire which has a diameter of 26.94 inches. 
Notice that the 36x15 and the 48x20 sprocket combinations result in almost exactly the same gear ratio. The same is true for 36x13 vs 48x17 and 36x17 vs 48x23. Other combinations are also close, but these are the closest.  - they are really the same thing. So really, I only have 13 truly different speeds. Back in the mid-1960's, we would spend hours with pencil and paper (computers and spreadsheets had yet to be invented) designing different combinations of sprocket sizes to get as many different distinct gear ratios as possible by avoiding such duplications, known as gear overlaps.

Conventional wisdom argues that trying to adjust sprocket size to minimize gear ratio overlap is a fool's errand, especially today with 9 back sprockets; who needs more than 13 different gear ratios? The basis for this argument is that the convenience of getting from one gear ratio to another is often more important than getting to a very specific ratio. Imagine that, in order to get rid of the gear overlap, I spent $50 to replace the 36 tooth front sprocket on my Surly with a 34 tooth front sprocket. The gears I would get would be as follows:

Whereas the 36x15 gear used to overlap with the 48x20, the 34x15 is now half way in between the 48x20 and 48x23 - I got my gears back! However, suppose I am riding along in my 48x23 (56 inches) and want to shift to my next highest gear, the 34x15 (61 inches). To do that I would require two shifts, one in front and one in back. I could either shift the back, putting me into the uncomfortably high 86 inch gear, and then shift the front, just to get from 56 inches to 61 inches. Alternatively, I can shift the front first, putting me into the uncomfortably low 40 inch gear before shifting the back to get to where I wanted to be. Conventional wisdom argues that under any given condition, either the 56 inch gear or the 65 inch gear will be close enough such that it is not worth the double shift. The right way to think about the gears, say the experts, is not as 18 speeds or 16 speeds or even 13 speeds, but as two sets of 8 speeds, a high set and a low set. Mostly, one stays in one or the other set, switching between the gears in that set, but when conditions change (e.g. one heads into the wind or into the mountains) one switches to the other set.

Nonetheless, I am seriously considering purchasing the 34 tooth sprocket. The main reason I am considering this is to get an even lower low gear. If I make this change, my low gear becomes:

34 ÷ 34 x 26.94 = 27 inches

I would finally have matched the alp-riding bike of my youth! However, although getting a lower low is my main motivation, getting rid of gear overlap is a motivation as well. Partly it is an esthetic consideration, knowing I am getting all my gears is somehow satisfying. Also, although I agree that when I am shifting between gears to accomodate rolling hills or shifting winds I am unlikely to go to the trouble of getting to the intermediate gears, I can imagine being in the last 24 miles of a 200K brevet, riding into a steady headwind for mile after mile, being discouraged, exhausted, and in pain, and feeling that 56 inches makes me pedal just a little too fast, and that at 65 inches, it is just a little too hard to pedal. Being able to go into that 61 inch gear might be just the psychological edge needed to carry me to the finish. And besides, I just like to fidget with my bicycle.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why Train?

[My apologies that this post is so late. For a variety of reasons, this post was more difficult to compose than I had expected, and thus took longer to write.]

This is my bike, equipped for the 200K brevet on May 18, in a sea of Texas wildflowers. I am scattering some pictures from recent rides through this post in an attempt to leven this mountain of words.

I am a huge fan of humor. Besides its entertainment value, I believe humor also has the very serious purpose of allowing the communication of subtle, complex, or subversive ideas that would be difficult  to otherwise get across. One of my favorite humorists is Bike Snob, and I have been squirming for the last several weeks as he has been poking fun at the foolishness of training at the same time I have been writing post after post about my training regimen.

Bike Snob pokes fun at training because (if I understand him correctly) it reflects an unrealistic pretense on the part of amateur bicycle racers. They see themselves as somehow equivalent to Bradley Wiggins and thus expect to receive the respect and perks of Bradley Wiggins just so long as they have all the right equipment and keep up with the latest, most sadistic training regimen.  Bike Snob's contention is that we should ride because it is practical and because it is fun, and that we should attribute no virtue to ourselves nor expect any special treatment for thus looking out for our own self interest. Training, according to him, is neither fun nor practical, and thus is an appropriate target for ridicule. (Note how all the insight, subtlety, and fun of Bike Snob's telling gets lost in my humorless rendition.)

Trees with bizarre blue-painted trunks along Buffalo Bayou. Is this some kind of disease preventative or other treatment? Is it somebody's questionable attempt at decoration? I have no idea.

At present, I am not doing much practical cycling so my reasons for riding are for fun and to improve my health, a reason not considered by Bike Snob (though one that is also self serving). For the purpose of health, it is important I ride regularly. What I currently find fun about cycling is long rides in the country, and, let's be honest, a certain competitive sense of progress. If I can complete a 200 mile ride this year when I could only complete a 100 mile ride last year, that's fun! Thus, to my eye, training is not an unrealistic pretention, but an investment in the future, sort of like saving money for a vacation. In short, by having a regular training program, I make sure I ride regularly for my health, make it possible to do longer, more interesting rides, and develop a satisfying sense of progress.

A few weeks ago, my long training ride was 62 miles. Because my wife had the car, I rode it from home and got up to the required distance by stringing together a bunch of my standard rides. This part of the ride, one of the prettiest, is along Heights Boulevard. Every time I ride by this sign, I am intrigued. Given that my Dad spent his entire career as an employee of Ma Bell, maybe I should take the time to go into this museum some day.

My current training is directed towards completing a 200K (124 mile) brevet on May 18. My recent training has been dominated by the ideas of Dr. Phil Maffetone. Central to Dr. Maffetone's program (though certainly not unique to him) is training at a fixed, relatively low heart rate. The idea is that this program favors endurance by developing slow twitch muscle fibers and their infrastructure. The core of this program is both a training ride and a metric to determine if that ride is working as it should, a Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) test. When I began riding MAF tests in December of last year, they were so easy to complete, that despite Dr. Maffetone's reassurances, I found it difficult to believe they were actually improving my fitness. As Dr. Maffetone predicted, my speed on these rides gradually increased and as a result, the rides have become more taxing. While these rides certainly do not yet push me to the limit (I could ride faster), I now find them an effort that leaves me tired, a tiredness from which I need to recover. The jury is still out on the success of that program, but I remain guardedly optimistic.

Why is the jury still out on the Maffetone training program? One of the attractions of Dr. Maffetone's program that it has its own built-in metric for success. The training rides in this program consist of riding for 45 minutes while keeping my heart rate between 130 to 140 beats per minute. If the program is successful, the distance I can ride in that 45 minutes (my average speed) should gradually increase. Each week (this week included), I have been reporting the results of my MAF tests at the end of each post, and the fact that my speed is improving over time is no longer in doubt. I have been using Microsoft Excel to plot my MAF Test results and to fit a line to those results, but a weakness in Excel is that it cannot provide an estimate of how sure I can be of that line. I have been wanting to become more familiar with the statistics/programming language named "r" for some time, so I fed my MAF test data into r, figured out how to use its "lm" function to do the same line fit as I have been doing in Excel, and gratifyingly, r fit the same line to my data as Excel had. Even more gratifyingly, r unlike Excel was able to tell me that there is less than one chance in a million that my apparent improvement in speed is due to chance variation. The reason the jury is still out, even though the Maffetone program is working as promised, is that the Maffetone program's built-in metric provides no evidence that my ability to ride a 200K brevet will be improved. Such a brevet, unlike a MAF Test, takes 12 hours not 45 minutes and is ridden not at a fixed heart rate but at whatever heart rate happens. In short, the Maffetone program might be the wrong training program for a randonneur. Although I don't expect to ever be certain if it is or if it isn't a useful program for a randonneur, based on how this cycle of preparation for my May 18 brevet works out, I hope to be able to make a good guess.

Texas Bluebonnets. "Please Do Not Pick Wildflowers"

MAF Tests are only one part of a training program; a foundation that (if they succeed) will allow me to complete more focused and difficult training rides rides with less stress and thus greater effectiveness. This larger training program consists of MAF tests, some parts of last year's training that seemed to have worked well, and some new ideas, most of which have come from Joe Friel. The major idea I am carrying forward from last year is a weekly long training ride starting at 40 miles long the first week and increasing 10% per week until they reach 90 miles long a couple of weeks before the brevet on May 18. For the remainder of this post, I will describe the new ideas Joe Friel has brought to my training program:
  1. Training seven days a week, as I had initially planned, is too often. According to Joe Friel, training 4 days a week provides close to maximum training benefit. As is more specifically recommended by Friel, my current routine includes a rest day both before and after my weekly long ride. Here is the training I have done so for and what I am projecting for the remainder of my build phase:
    Record of my training schedule starting in March leading up to a 200K (124 mile) brevet in May. The numbers are the length of the ride in miles. Rides on a purple background are MAF tests. Rides on yellow are long training rides ridden as quickly as is comfortable without regard to heart rate. Long rides are not always done on Wednesday, but I have "normalized" the schedule by moving rides around a bit to make the schedule more readable. Rides on green are social rides, ridden at whatever speed my wife wishes to ride. Numbers in black are completed rides. In the case of long rides, the adjacent number in parentheses is the distance I was scheduled to ride that week. Numbers in grey and in italics are planned rides. I plan to do some easy rides on the days before the 124 mile (200K) brevet but have not yet decided what they should be so they are not shown on the schedule.
  2. An important part of performing a MAF test correctly is knowing at what heart rate these tests should be ridden. Joe Friel provides two different ways of determining that heart rate zone, one based on the easily measured heart rate at lactate threshold, and a second based on the relationship between subjective levels of exertion and heart rate zones. Using these two together, I was able to confirm that the 130 to 140 beats per minute I am using, much higher than expected for a man my age, is in fact the correct heart rate zone for my MAF test rides.
  3. Adjusting training in response to how my body is responding is an essential part of any training program. Joe Friel introduced me to the concept of decoupling; an increase in heart rate not accompanied by an increase in effort. Decoupling is a sign of lack of fitness. More specifically, Friel noted that this can occur in the middle of a long ride as an indication that the ride is longer than the rider is trained for. This has provided me a valuable indicator of my training status. I have not worn a heart rate monitor on my recent long rides, I find the reporting of heart rate is distracting and disrupts the focus I need to finish a difficult ride and I find its chest strap uncomfortable. However, I did wear it for some of the earlier rides, and they confirmed that as I increase the length of my rides, I see decoupling at the end of each ride, but each week I can go longer before decoupling occurs, precisely the desired effect.
  4. As I previously posted, Friel introduced me to the notion that the symptoms of overtraining are different for younger and older riders. Many unconscious bodily functions, including heart rate, are regulated by a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. According to Friel, overtraining in younger riders (which are the targets of most studies) tends to be manifest as a perturbation of the sympathetic system, whereas overtraining in older riders tends to be manifest as a perturbation of the parasympathetic system. Because many of the effects of these two systems are opposite, this can be confusing for an old guy like me! I have extracted this data into a table:
    In the first few rows, I align symptoms that are more or less opposite in younger and older athletes, in the next few rows, I list symptoms unique to younger riders, and in the last few rows, those unique to older riders.
    One of the most discouraging things about this table is that many of the symptoms of overtraining in an older rider like me (e.g. decreased heart rates) are identical to the effects of proper training! Some of the others (e.g. decreased lactate) are not possible for me to measure. Pretty much the only useful signs I have of overtraining is feeling tired all the time and being depressed. I did look at my blood pressure and heart rate over my last training cycle, beginning in December, at they have been pretty steady:

    The upper panel show my heart rate, measured first thing in the morning over the last 4 months, and the lower panel my systolic and diastolic blood pressure. To my eye, they are not changing.

Future Topics

In "Cycling Past 50", Joe Friel provides a training program to prepare for a 100 mile ride. That program does not increase mileage each week the way mine does, but rather increases for three weeks and then decreases the length of the long ride. The results is that it takes much longer to prepare for a 100 mile ride, but Friel opines that not including the decreases leads to overtraining and a failure to build long term endurance. I did not have the time to try this idea for this training cycle, but I certainly would like to consider it for the future.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Modesto Roadmen Ride Again!

In the beginning, in 1963 or so, there were four of us; Tom, Paul, Jeff, and me. We attended high school together, spent our weekends bicycling through the Sierra Nevada mountains together, and founded the Modesto Roadmen bicycle club together. The last I had seen any of them was 1969. The last I had seen Paul was 1967. In early 2008, Paul emailed me, initiating a series of emails and then phone calls. At the time of that first email, neither of us had been on a bike for decades, and in addition to connecting us personally, that email may have been the event that got both of us cycling again. About a week ago, Paul and I met in the  parking lot of a strip mall in Modesto, California and headed out on our bikes to ride some of the most beautiful roads in California to one of its most beautiful destinations, the unincorporated town of Knight's Ferry, a fifty mile bike ride out and back. Here is our route:

Click on map to see it at a readable size

Paul wore a Yellow Submarine jersey because he remembered the week long bike tour where we all sang that song as we rode. I wore a Raulston Strokers jersey which is related to the Modesto Roadmen by a joke so long and convoluted that current ICANN regulations forbid its transmission over the Internet. Time is a friend to no man and while riding, Paul and I compared stories of fading memory and other health problems, and bemoaned the fact that "back then", the low gears we currently favor would have been silly and unthinkable. This is what Paul looks like today, on his new bike:

The route we took is not one ever ridden by the Modesto Roadmen, but is one of the standard rides of the current club in the area, the Stanislaus County Bike Club. During the ride, Paul kept saying "All of those years we rode up the highway, we never knew all this beauty was right here, only a few miles from where we were riding!" I was just glad to be back in California, absorbing the unmatched scenery.

Modesto has grown tremendously over the last 46 years, from a population of about 40,000 back in the 1960's to a current population of over 200,000, so a lot had changed; the crowded strip mall where we started our ride had been in the middle of the country "back then". That said, a lot of country remains. Our first stop was in the attractive town of Oakdale, at a general store:

Photo courtesy of Google Street View

According to Paul, Oakdale persisted for many years as an authentic cowboy town, but now has become a popular location for the affluent. On our way through, Paul took me on a detour through "the ghetto", a very high end housing development in Oakdale. This is an example of one of the unique houses therein:

That said, a lot of  True Country®  remains in Oakdale. This is a photograph of what looks to me to be a working ranch right next door to the castle pictured above:

One thing that struck me about the scenery we rode through was the impact of the broad river valleys which provided a lot of visual interest and beauty. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture this in photographs, but here is a picture of a bridge over the Stanislaus River:

Photo courtesy of Google Street View

Paul was determined to share the joy of Cemetery Grade with me, a 15% incline just outside of Knights Ferry. This climb was made even more interesting by the failure of my front derailleur. Hills never photograph well, but this is the best Google can do:

Photo courtesy of Google Street View

As a perfect ending to a perfect ride, we finished with lunch at The Scenic Drive In, a hamburger stand which was the hangout for the Modesto Roadmen back in the day, unchanged 46 years later:

Photo courtesy of Google Street View

We had their famous burgers with everything on them (as good as we remembered) and as homage to our youth, a Coca Cola with actual sugar, no Diet Coke, us!

As my excessive reliance on Google Street View betrays, I didn't take nearly as many pictures of this ride as I should have. My attention was consumed with keeping up with Paul and soaking up the experience, an experience I very much would like to repeat. Family brings me to California quite frequently (which is why I keep a bicycle there) and if I can twist Paul's arm to ride with me again, I will certainly do so.

* This post was edited in 2016 to correct an error in the original.

For those new to this blog, each week I am posting an update of my training results; see my previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and this graph.

My MAF test results continue their upward trend, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I have started my ramp of weekly long rides, currently at 55 miles and increasing at approximately 10% a week. On the one hand, the stress of these exhausting rides might be expected to interfere with my aerobic training progress, but on the other, their training benefits might help. I will discuss this in more length in a future post.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Riding to Mount Vernon

My social ride last weekend took me along the Potomac River almost all the way to Mount Vernon. I wish I could say I started the ride in Houston, but actually, my wife and I were in Washington DC visiting with our kids and rode the Mount Vernon Hike and Bike Trail with them. Both my son and daughter in law are avid cyclists, having bicycled across the United States to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. The route we followed is shown by the red line on this map:

The start of the ride is indicated by the green circle with the black arrowhead inside, at the upper left in the picture. Just to the right of that, across the river, is Washington DC. Just below Washington DC is Washington Reagan Airport. Watching the planes take off and land as we biked this part of the trail was a special treat. At the bottom left is Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. As you can see, we almost made it there.

We started our ride at Big Wheel Bikes in Arlington where my wife and I picked up the bicycles for our ride. My son and daughter in law had put their bikes on their bike rack and we all drove from their home to Big Wheel. This is my second time renting from them and both times have been fantastic experiences. They are friendly, professional and have a large selection of quality road bikes to rent. This is what their shop looks like:

I now feel like any time I am in DC and would like to ride, there is no need for the annoyance and expense of trying to transport a bike, I can just rely on my friends at Big Wheel. An added benefit of renting from them is that a bike trail leading to the Mount Vernon trail, among other places, runs right behind their shop.  These are the bikes my wife and I rented:

Of course, no bike rented sight unseen will be the same as your own bike, so mine was quite a bit more aggressive than I am used to, and both my wife and I were taken aback by the skinny, hard saddles. (We both ride Brooks B17s at home.) Both bikes were exactly the sizes we requested, but apparently the Surlys we normally ride are sized a bit large, so these bikes were both a bit smaller than we are used to. Next time, I think I might request a bike one size up. The bikes they gave us were light and responsive, in perfect repair and adjustment, and were a lot of fun to ride.

In the above picture, you can see a young woman with a dog in the background. That is my daughter in law with her dog. We had decided to try an experiment this trip, bringing the dog along in a trailer so she (the dog) could join in the fun. To do that, we also rented a doggie trailer (named the "Tail Wagon") from Big Wheel. This is the dog in the trailer:

Don't let the dog's calm demeanor in this picture deceive you; she hated the trailer! Unfortunately, after a spate of barking when we started, she seemed to calm down, so when she started barking again after a rest stop, we hoped she would calm down again. We were 15 miles down the trail before we realized that was not to be, that we had turn around and go home. As a result, we ended up on a long ride with a vocally miserable dog. A word of advice to any dog owners reading this: before buying a doggie trailer, rent one to find how what your dog thinks of the idea. Here are the parents of the dog, with the dog safely zipped into the trailer:

This is my fourth time riding with my family in DC and my second time riding this trail. The first time I rode this trail, I borrowed my daughter in law's bike (the red Schwinn in the picture) and my son and I made it all the way to Mount Vernon, had lunch at the restaurant there, and then rode back. That ride, taken almost four years ago, was my first experience with either indexed shifters or clipless pedals; the bike shoes I wear today I purchased in DC so I could ride her bike. For last weekend's ride, the barking dog was definitely a distraction, and as you can see from our dress it was still a bit early in the season, but all in all my wife and I had a wonderful time. (The embarrassed parents of the misbehaving puppy might feel differently.)

More generally, including a bike ride on a trip away from home adds a lot of interest to my cycling. Next week, I will be flying to California (where I have a Bianchi Volpe stored) to visit with my dad and take a bike ride with one of the original Modesto Roadmen, one of my best friends from High School. I most definitely will be describing that ride in a future post.

For those new to this blog, each week I am posting an update of my training results; see my previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and this graph.

My MAF test results continue their upward trend, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I have started my ramp of weekly long rides, currently at 55 miles and increasing at approximately 10% a week. On the one hand, the stress of these exhausting rides might be expected to interfere with my aerobic training progress, but on the other, their training benefits might help. I will discuss this in more length in a future post.