Friday, November 10, 2017

California vs Texas

In both Texas and California, automobile drivers need constant reminders as to how to coexist with cyclists. One piece of good news is that reminders such as this are often set up to block the very bike lane they claim to protect! Not so in this case, the sign is in the parking lane, the bike lane being to its left. (This is the exception rather than the rule, even in California.)

Last post, I noted "it turns out access to desirable cycling is significantly more difficult from my house than it was from [my son's, a few minutes away]." That was after only two real rides from my new house. With a few weeks cycling under my belt, that difference, though real, seems smaller than at first, and I feel reasonably comfortable heading out from my house for a bike ride. I think this is simply a matter of familiarity, and when I think back, I think I had similar discomfort both when I first started riding in Houston almost 10 years ago and when I first started staying with my son and riding from his house, about a year ago.

This is not to say that there are no differences between Texas*, where I cycled for the last ten years, and California*, where I am biking today. The traffic is heavier in California. (This actually impacts me even more as a driver than it does for me as a cyclist.) I feel like people in California are less patient. On the other hand, Californians seem a bit more accepting of cyclists and more savvy about how to deal with us. Quality and availability of bike lanes is mixed in both Texas and California, though the advantage clearly goes to California on this point. The bike lanes I am using today are much more similar to where Bike Houston hopes that the Houston Bike Plan will take them ten years from now than to where Houston is today. Still, the problems are similar. In both Texas and California some bike lanes are too narrow or poorly maintained. People park in them, set up signs in them, and on garbage day, put out their garbage cans in them. California has many more high quality bike lanes and fewer low quality ones, but other than that, the problems with bike lanes between the two locations is pretty similar. The biggest difference, however, is the hills. The roads I rode in Texas were flat, flat, flat and the roads I now ride in California are anything but. Last post, I blogged about the changes this promised to make in my "training" strategy; due to the hills, I am relying more on Relative Perceived Exertion (RPE) and less at riding at a controlled heart rate less, tracking the miles I ride less, and the minutes I ride more. Already, it is quite clear that I was right to make these changes. That said, I wondered how good I job I was doing with RPE. I knew just from the Perceived part that my riding was by necessity less steady, more variable than what I had been doing in Texas; there is simply no way to avoid extra Exertion going up some of the hills, gears can only do so much, and try as I might, going down the hills is, in some cases, so fast, I have no choice but to coast.

Although I do not plan to use a heart rate monitor to nearly as much as I did in Texas, I did want to compare what I thought I was doing by RPE to what an heart rate monitor measured, but I wanted to wait until I had found a "go-to" bike ride before doing that. At any given point in time, I have always had a go-to bike ride. In Texas, there were times when it was Terry Hershey and George Bush parks, there were times when it was Braes Bayou, and there were many times it was the Rice Track. Depending on time and context (Was I training for a brevet? Was I struggling with challenges in my life?) my go-to ride would change, but I always had one; the ride I would do when I didn't want to think about it, I just wanted a ride. For the moment, this is my go-to bike ride in California:

My go-to ride takes Alameda de las Pulgas south from Edgewood to its end at Stanford University, then Alpine Road to Portola Road to Mountain Home Road to CaƱada Road to Jefferson Avenue, and finally through a series of local streets in the neighborhood of Emerald Hills and then home.

I ended up with this as my go-to ride because it is less hilly than most of the alternatives (though it is far from flat), there is a good bike lane through most of it, and because it goes through some beautiful scenery (another metric where California easily beats Texas.) Once I had ridden it a few times and had a sense of how to moderate my RPE, I strapped on a heart rate monitor to get an objective look at how I was doing. Mostly, I tried to take it easy, but pushed on the last climb up Jefferson Avenue to give myself a benchmark for a high heart rate. I was not surprised by the result, I knew my effort was uneven, but I was disappointed. During a roughly two hour ride, about 30 minutes were ridden in heart rate zone 1, about 60 minutes were ridden in heart rate zone 2 (my target), about 20 minutes were ridden in heart rate zone 3 (the "grey" zone, too easy to build strength, to hard to build endurance), about four minutes were in heart rate zone 4, and about 30 seconds in the top heart rate zone, zone 5. All of the zone 5 and virtually all of the zone 4 were on that final climb where I deliberately pushed myself.

So what does it all mean? It depends on who you ask. I currently have two goals for my cycling. The first is to help maintain my physical and mental health, and for how I am doing at meeting that goal, I ask the Medical Establishment. My second goal is to get in shape for the Eroica California next spring. For the purposes of getting into shape, for maximizing my performance, I look to the Exercise Community, folks like Joe Friel and Philip Maffetone.

The Medical Establishment speaks of three or four levels of effort; mild, moderate, vigorous, and recently, high intensity. They claim that to maximize good health, one should spend 300 minutes a week doing moderate aerobic exercise, that mild aerobic exercise is of no value, that vigorous aerobic exercise is earns double minutes (e.g. 150 minutes of vigorous exercise is equal to 300 minutes of moderate exercise) and in some recent experiments, high intensity exercise is worth 45 times as much as moderate intensity exercise. I have tentatively concluded that zone 1 corresponds to mild aerobic exercise, zone 2 corresponds to moderate aerobic exercise, zone 4 corresponds to vigorous aerobic exercise, and that the high end of zone 5 (which I never reached on this ride) corresponds to high intensity aerobic exercise. How about zone 3? On that, I have no opinion. It should count at least as much as moderate exercise, but I wonder if it qualifies as vigorous exercise? To date, I have been counting all my riding as moderate (which is what the Medical Establishment suggests I do) and so have been shooting for at least 300 minutes of riding a week. But what if I subdivide those rides into different levels of exercise? If I lump the whole ride together as "moderate", I get credit for 111 minutes. If I subdivide and count zone 3 as vigorous and ignore zone 1, I get credit for 101 minutes. If I subdivide and count zone 3 as moderate and ignore zone 1, I get credit for 85 minutes. All that coasting is costing me! If I were to correct for this, then I should be shooting for more like 400 total ride minutes a week to make sure I get as much aerobic exercise as the Medical Establishment advises.

The Exercise Community is much more enthusiastic about cycling in zone 1 than the Medical Establishment, but much less enthusiastic about cycling in zone 3. They like zones 4 and 5, but only at the right time in a training program. Because I am restarting cycling after months off the bike, the Exercise Community would recommend I spend all my time in zones 1 and 2, and would advise me that any time in higher zones risk compromising the building of a base on which all future training relies; that the problem is not the 30 minutes in zone 1, but the 20 minutes in zone 3, and in fact there is no good way to correct for that. Joe Friel, in "The Cyclists Training Bible", says about his recommended ride during base building: "Stay primarily in zones 1 and 2 on a rolling course of up to 4 percent grade." Here is the grade of my go-to ride:

Unfortunately, Garmin Training Center does not have the best graphics capabilities, so what I did was use the route slider to find the steepest grade on the ride (9%) and a point at the recommended maximum grade (4%) and clearly, much of my ride violates Joe Friel's criteria for base building. This would appear to be reflected by both my RPE and my heart rate. At this point, I can imagine some of my readers rolling their eyes, thinking that I am seriously over-thinking this, and Joe Friel would agree. He notes that his advice is for the serious racer, and that for a casual rider like me, random riding is probably as good training as anything else. Nonetheless, all this reassures me that my instincts are right, that I should be trying to minimize hills and reigning back on my effort until I feel ready to go all out.

So what do I need to accomplish to be ready for Eroica California? There are two things:
1) Become sufficiently fit for a 40 mile ride over undulating terrain, 12 miles of which are dirt...
2) ...on my stock Bianchi Specialissima

The first accomplishment is fairly straightforward both to understand and to complete. I would definitely want to prepare for Eroica, but have little doubt I would succeed doing so; if I could ride it on my Volpe or my Crosscheck.

The second accomplisment is less obvious; why does the bicycle matter? There are a few reasons, but by far the most important is gears. My Bianchi Specialissima came with Campagnolo Gran Sport derailleurs, which have a maximum rear cog size of 26 teeth. That, along with its Campagnolo cranks with the old 151 BCD (Bolt Circle Diameter) and minimum front chainring size of 44 teeth, means that my Specialissima does not support very low gears. My Volpe has the lowest gears of any of my bikes, and if I were in the smallest front chainring, and the largest rear cog (the lowest gear, 24 inches), I would have to shift the rear derailleur to higher gears five times before I reached the same gear as the lowest gear on my Specialissima (47 inches). Thus, I have to acquire the strength and skill to navigate undulations and some on dirt using a relatively high low gear. As of this moment, I have no idea how I am going to do that. Stay tuned to see if I figure it out.

Future of This Blog

When I started this blog back in 2012, I promised a post a week, and for the first 100 posts, I did a pretty good job of maintaining that. Since then, my record has been dismal. I have some pretty good excuses, but honestly, I just don't think my current cycling warrants that many posts. As of this post, I am going to try to maintain a rate of one post a month. I hope by doing that I can keep them interesting.

* The city of Houston, Texas has about the same area as the San Francisco Bay Peninsula, the strip of land between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean stretching from the southern border of the city of San Francisco to the northern border of the city of San Jose. Both Texas and California are exceptionally large states (#2 and #3 in size among the 51 states, respectively) so the California vs Texas comparison of the title is meant to refer to the relatively small parts of each state in which I routinely bicycled. Houston represented a fairly good approximation for that. San Carlos, on the other hand, is a relatively small city, a small fraction of both the Peninsula and the area through which I cycle. To be accurate, I would have to refer to Houston vs the San Francisco Bay Peninsula, but to avoid the awkwardness of that, I will simply refer to California vs Texas.