Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Training or Exercise?

My wife and I at the start of the 2014 Tour de Pink. We definitely plan to ride the Tour de Pink again this year, which will make five years in a row.

This blog has a number of recurring themes. I talk about the effect of different training plans on my ability to cycle, the effect of my age on my ability to cycle, the effect of my genes on my ability to cycle, and on the impact of life events on my ability to cycle. Unfortunately, another life event has impacted me within the last couple of months. There is no way to avoid this impact, but I do get to decide how I manage it. Specifically, the beneficial effects of cycling on my mental and physical health makes me determined to continue my cycling.

So, what kind of cycling will I be doing? In my last post, I discussed some of the ways in which cycling can be used. It can be simple transportation, like when my wife bicycles work. It can be exercise, done primarily for its health benefits. It can be an outdoor recreation, a way to enjoy a beautiful day and beautiful scenery. Or (as I focused on in my last post), it can be a sport, where one competes against other cyclists, themselves, or some other challenge. A person who pursues cycling as a sport will usually spend most of their time, not in the sport itself, but training for that sport. I confess that most of my recent cycling has looked a lot like exercise. However, as beneficial as these rides are for my health, I like to think that I am really training. Why do I care? I care because when I think about my rides this way, I enjoy them more and am much more likely to continue them. That, however, begs the question: training how, and for what?

The last time I posted on training was last summer, about 10 months ago (with an update a month later). At that time, I was exploring a new approach to preparing for a 200K brevet. The backbone of this approach is a MAF Test, a 45 minute ride on the Rice Bike Track done at moderate effort (Heart Rate Zone 2.) This is supplemented by faster, harder rides (such as intervals, done in Heart Rate zones 4 and 5) when I am feeling strong and rest days when I am feeling tired. I never ride more than 6 days a week, and try to make 1 to 2 of my weekly rides a faster ride. I take longer rides, up to 50 miles, when opportunity presents itself.

I was never able to ride that brevet, not because there was anything wrong with my training, but because life events got in the way. Rather than ride a brevet, I had to fly to California to help out my Dad. That was the first of three such trips, trips which interfered with any attempt to ride subsequent brevets and which thoroughly disrupted my training. As a result, I do not know if this new approach to training would have prepared me for a brevet or not. And it seems unlikely that I will be able to attempt a brevet any time soon. Despite all that, I have continued with more or less the same training schedule. Although I was never able to test this schedule against a brevet, other evidence suggests that it is a good schedule to keep me ready for whatever riding opportunities present themselves. Firstly, when I have attempted rides in the 40 to 60 mile range, I have been able to complete them comfortably, with the feeling like I could have easily ridden longer. Secondly, the MAF test, my most common ride, is both a training ride and a metric of fitness. The fitness score from that test is the speed I can ride without exceeding heart rate zone 2. In the past, the only times I have been able to exceed a speed of 16 mph in that test has been when I have successfully prepared for a brevet. Using my current training plan, I have often exceeded 16 mph, and in fact set a personal best of 16.9 mph. Thus, for now, I will continue with this plan.


Recently, Bike Snob reviewed a bicycle he had for three years, making the case that it is absurd to review a bicycle you have just started riding. I tried to quote his rationale, but could not extract anything short and pithy from his post. You should read Bike Snob yourself in all his charming verbosity. As it happens, I totally agree with him on this subject. It is so frustrating to read product reviews, knowing that one of the most important differences between different products is how they holds up over time, and seeing that all the reviews were written days after purchase, discussing how quick the shipping was and how pretty the product looked out of the box. My approach to this problem is to return to the same product over time, in this case, tires.

The last time I posted about tires was about a year and a half ago. I tires I talked about were Ritchey SpeedMax Comp, Specialized Armadillo, Grand Bois Extra L├ęger, and Schwalbe Marathon Plus'. The Ritcheys were the original tires that came on our Surly Crosschecks. They are 32mm wide tires with a knobby tread. The Armadillos are smooth tread, 28mm wide tires that my LBS put on my bike when I didn't like the Ritcheys. The Grand Bois were tires recommended for randonneuring by the experienced randonneur's at Compass Bicycles. They are 32mm wide, run at lower pressure than the Armadillos, have very thin walls which it is claimed results in lower rolling resistance, and are quite expensive. I used them for my second brevet, liked the way they rode very much, but then took them off the bike to "save" them, as they were expensive and seemed fragile. I purchased the Marathons as high reliability tires to replace the Armadillos when they wore out. At the time, I said I didn't like their handling very much but said "perhaps I will never get another flat and that advantage will trump everything." That is pretty much been my experience over the last year and a half. During the 14 months these tires were on my bike, I had one flat, resulting from running over a nail, a hazard so severe it would have caused a flat in an automobile tire. At that point, my wife was tired of all the flats she was getting with her Ritcheys, so I put my Marathons on her bike and the Grand Bois tires on mine, to try to get some use out of them and to try out them as every day tires. Just like me, my wife didn't like the Marathons at first because of their handling and harsh ride, but has had no flats with them, and now will not give them up. I, on the other hand, have replaced the Grand Bois tires after having three flats in as many months. Perhaps this is not such a bad record, but for me, the demotivation of that many flats is much greater than the motivation I got from the nice ride of the tires.

Fortuitously, it was at just about this time that Lovely Bicycle reviewed a tire that seemed like just what I needed: the  Clement Strada LGG. These are road tires, and the widest they come is 28mm, so that's what I got. She promised a tire that resisted flats and handled well. Only time will tell how flat resistant they are; I have had no flats but have only been using them for a month and a half. As to their handling, my first impressions were very favorable; I liked them much better than the Marathons. And then I crashed. I was entering the Rice Bike Track after some rain and the track was still damp. As I turned onto the track, my tires slipped out from under me with no warning. I was not badly hurt and continued with my planned ride, but I was nervous the whole time and felt like the tires were not secure. Most of the blame for my fall has to be placed on the track. It was recently resurfaced and probably still had an oil residue on it. That, plus the dampness, is a problematic combination, and I have seen other riders (presumably using other tires) crashing there under these conditions. Perhaps it had nothing to do with the tires whatsoever, but I am going to always wonder, would I have fallen with different tires? Some months from now, I will post an update on these tires, particularly their resistance to flats.

Garmin 500 Cycle Computer

I have posted several times on this computer, most recently, here. This is an update on two issues I have been following; lost data and the durability of the strap associated with its heart rate monitor. From the very beginning, I had trouble with the Garmin loosing the occasional ride. I would come home, connect the Garmin to my computer, and the Garmin software would claim there was no new ride. If I look on the Garmin's file system, there is a file for that day, but it is extremely short and presumably corrupted. When this first happened, I thought it might be the result of keeping too much data on the Garmin or over-using the lap button. Since then, I have been diligent about removing data from the Garmin promptly. Although I use the lap button for my interval workouts, I have not noticed that I loose data more often on days that I use the lap button than on days that I do not. In fact, I went many months with no data loss and thought the problem was solved. And then, a few weeks ago, for no reason I could figure, I lost a ride. It occurred to me that this might be a problem that Garmin had solved in a software update, so updated the software on my Garmin to the latest version, and the next day, lost another ride. Since then, no rides have been lost. I have resigned myself to the belief that occasional data loss is simply a problem with this device, and there is nothing to be done about it.

The other problem I had with the Garmin is that the strap that I wear around my chest to measure heart rate would stop working after a few months. This occurred both with the original Garmin strap as well as a replacement strap from Polar, which the sages of the Internet assured me would solve this problem. The original Garmin strap stopped working after three months, the Polar, after four. In my frustration, I started using an inexpensive, stand-alone Polar heart rate monitor. It was not as full featured and useful as the Garmin but it worked flawlessly for 12 months. Garmin makes two different kinds of heart rate monitors, an expensive one (which I had been using) with a soft, comfortable looking strap, and a cheap one, with a stiff, uncomfortable-looking strap. The strap on my stand-alone Polar was the stiff, uncomfortable-looking kind. What I noticed was two things:
1) It may have looked uncomfortable, but it was just as comfortable to wear as the expensive Garmin.
2) It kept working much longer, for 12 months. It was still working at that point, but I went back to using the Garmin. I have every reason to believe it would have kept working much longer.

Thus, ten months ago, I decided to try the cheap Garmin heart rate monitor. It proved to be as comfortable as the stand-alone Polar, and in fact as comfortable as the expensive Garmin monitor, and has worked without a hitch for these last 10 months. Even if it were to fail tomorrow, I would, at this point, just purchase another one. That said, I have every expectation it has a lot more life in it. Problem solved. My very strong recommendation to all Garmin users is to purchase the inexpensive heart rate monitor; the more expensive model is less good.

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