Tuesday, August 14, 2018

California: The First 300 Days

My first ~300 days of cycling since moving to California. Blue rides are "Pace" rides, ridden at my fastest comfortable speed. Green rides are "Recovery" rides ridden very slowly. Red rides are "Brisk" rides where I go all-out. Yellow rides are "Long" rides where covering a lot of miles is the goal. The numbers in the MON through SUN columns are how long the ride was in minutes. The grey, Miles column is total miles ridden for the week. Given the impact of hills on how hard and how fast a ride is, I switched to recording my rides in miles to recording them in minutes when I moved, the Miles column is a holdover from my Texas days. In the min/wk column is the total number of minutes for the week. I highlight those weeks where I met the medical community's minimum (green) or optimum (yellow) recommendations for minutes of aerobic exercise per week.


On June 10, 2017, Agi, my wife of 42 years, died and with her, the life I had been living. Since then, I have been trying to put together a new life, one based based on my new reality. Good news, it looks like bicycling is part of my new life, but just as my life is changing, so is my cycling.

The first step in creating my new life was to move from Houston, Texas, where Agi and I had lived for almost 30 years, to California's San Francisco Bay Peninsula where my two sons live with their families. I have now been cycling in California between ten and eleven months. I considered if I should delay this post for another month or two so that it could be about my first year of cycling in California, but I have things to say now, and a year is a completely arbitrary time period in any case, so this is the story of my first 300 and some odd days cycling in California. What have I learned while designing the new cycling plan for my new life?
  1. "Man Plans, God Laughs." Guess what? I still have a life, and it still gets in the way of cycling. Over a year after her death, I am still enmeshed in dealing with my wife's estate and establishing a stable life in California (health care, daily maintenance, etc.) Also, lucky me, I have purpose in life! My older son has two children, one two years old, one two months old, he and his wife can most definitely use my help, and helping them gives both meaning and joy to my life. So, whatever cycling I do has to fit around that.
  2. "Cycling is Essential for my Health." By the fall of 2016, Agi still had 8 months to live, but the writing was on the wall. Even so, being the wife that she was, she worried about me, about my health, and insisted that I find a doctor (my previous one having retired), that I schedule a physical, and that she be there during the physical to make sure I was properly cared for. My new doctor realized, to nobody's surprise, that I was clinically depressed. (The anticipated loss of a spouse will do that.) I was very lucky (or clever?) in my choice of doctors, because she also realized that, despite the widespread use of medication to treat depression, anti-depressants were the wrong choice for me, and to my delight, prescribed bicycling as my treatment. Thus, whatever other reasons I might have to ride or not to ride, I have to ride to maintain my mental health (not to mention the many benefits of cycling for my physical health.)
So how has that played out over the last 300 days? I arrived in California on September 18, 2017, moved into my rental house on September 22, and by October 10, was sufficiently settled to start establishing a cycling routine.  One thing I have learned about myself is that I find making decisions, even simple ones, difficult. If I am to maintain a riding schedule, I have to have a "go-to" ride that I can do without thinking about it, and shortly after moving to California, I found such a ride. Although it was about the flattest of the pretty rides I could find (I really don't want to ride the Freeway access roads), it is still pretty hilly, with 1300 feet of climbing over its 23 miles. It usually takes me between 1:45 and 2 hours to complete and my average speed varies between 11 and 13 mph. Because of the hills, this ride is a mix of light (downhill), moderate (flat), and vigorous (uphill) exercise, as defined by the medical community. Compare that with my MAF test ride, my go-to ride at the end of my stay in Houston. That ride was completely flat. 45 minutes were spent on the Rice Track, riding with a heart rate monitor so I could remain strictly within the bounds of moderate exercise. Another 45 minutes were spent riding to and from the Rice Track, which was done slowly, qualifying as the light exercise disdained by the medical community. My speed on the Track averaged between 14 and 16 mph, but I claim that the slower speed of my current ride is due to the hills, and in fact, that my current ride is significantly more strenuous even with its lower average speed. For the first four weeks after restarting, I repeated that go-to ride three to four times a week, meeting or exceeding the medical community's optimal recommendation for aerobic exercise. For the next five weeks, my older son Michael was able to join me on my rides, and as a result, my riding became more varied, more challenging, and more fun. At that point, life intervened and my cycling collided with one thing after another. First, there was holiday travel. Next, there were out of town guests. And just when I thought I could settle back into my routine, my granddaughter Julia ended up in the hospital with an Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infection. Although this experience was scary and disruptive, she was never in any great danger, and at the end of the week, was home again. But of course Michael, her mother Robynn, and I had all been thoroughly exposed, and developed RSV infections ourselves. I will discuss the impact of that infection more below, but briefly, my cycling was disrupted for 10 weeks. In the 17 weeks since then, I have done a pretty good job maintaining a schedule, with the exception of 1 week where I was babysitting Julia full time because she had an illness which kept her out of daycare. Overall, on a week by week basis, I have met the medical community's optimal exercise recommendations about 50% of the time, the minimal recommendation about 75% of the time, and have managed to get in at least some riding about 90% of the time.

What is the efficacy of my go-to ride for managing depression? Despite the fact that exercise is commonly prescribed for depression, as far as I know, there is no data indicating how much and what kind of exercise, so probably the exercise recommendations for general health should be used. The recommendations for general health are at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week, ideally twice that. After lots of reading and soul searching, I have decided that my go-to ride, despite its uphills and downhills, qualifies as moderate exercise as defined by the medical community. By doing three of my go-to rides a week, I meet not just the minimum recommendation of the medical community, but the ideal recommendation, and I am currently managing four of these rides a week. More subjectively, I know my mood is better when I ride, and it seems that riding more provides more benefit. When I started riding after the RSV infection, I spent three weeks doing easy rides around my neighborhood, just meeting the minimal medical recommendation. I then ramped up to the optimal recommendation, and it was only then that my family started commenting on how much my mood had improved.

Pneumonia


I have briefly mentioned my RSV infection in two previous posts (in March and again in June) but I wanted to summarize the whole course of this illness, and in particular, talk about some lessons I learned along the way. Michael, Robynn, and I first developed symptoms about a week after exposure (the week of 1/29/2018) and at first the symptoms were flu-like and severe. For those few days I wisely and appropriately stayed off the bike but as the illness retreated into more cold-like symptoms, I decided I was mostly over it and started riding again. Even though I started slowly, 30 minute rides around my neighborhood, it quickly became apparent that this had been a mistake; every time I rode, my infection got worse, so I stopped riding entirely for two full weeks. I slowly and carefully restarted cycling, starting once again with short rides around the neighborhood, and at first it seemed to be going fine, but as I began ramping back up to a normal schedule, my infection went from "upper respiratory" to "lower respiratory"; it turned into pneumonia. Typical pneumonia, caused by a handful of specific microorganisms, is a serious illness which often required hospitalization. What I had was atypical pneumonia, of which RSV is a well known cause. It is much less serious disease which usually does not require a hospital visit. Even so, I found that exercise, normally a health benefit, was, in the face of this pneumonia, quite the opposite.

Once I realized I had pneumonia, I stayed completely off the bike for almost four weeks until all pneumonia-like symptoms had gone, and that worked. I spend three weeks doing easy, neighborhood rides, and then ramped up pretty quickly so I could participate in "The Art of Survival", a group ride with one of my high school cycling buddies, and now have returned to my "normal" schedule of three or four of my 23 mile go-to rides a week.

This is as sick as I have been for as long as I can remember. I have known for a long time that fighting an infection and exercise compete for the body's resources, but this particular episode brought that lesson home in a much more powerful way than ever before. As I first began working on this post, I had grandiose ideas about how to explain the theoretical basis for this competition, but the more I pursued that idea, the more I realized how little I knew, and for that matter, how little the medical, scientific, and exercise communities know. Thus, I am going to take a more practical approach, describing my experiences and the immediate conclusions I draw from them, with little attempt at any kind of theoretical explanation. I have a bad habit, on this blog, of over-interpreting one or two personal experiences, and I am probably doing that again. On the other hand, I sure don't want to go through this again, and so I will try to learn what I can from my experiences, and here are my conclusions to date:

Listening to my body is important, but sometimes my body is wrong. In this case, I am guessing my body underestimated the infection I was fighting. Had it correctly understood its severity, I would have experienced symptoms which would have strongly discouraged me from exercising. However, when I went for bike rides before I was fully recovered from my infection, the cycling felt great, and I felt like it was doing me a lot of good. It was only days later that I noticed my infection getting worse. Based on this experience, the next time I have an infection, I will stop exercising altogether until I am truly symptom free, even if I feel like a ride. Even then, I think I should restart cycling slowly. There are two reasons for that. Firstly, to make sure that I am really over the infection and to minimize the damage caused by exercise should I be mistaken. Secondly, even if I am over the infection, this slow start probably is a more effective way to regain fitness and good health than to try to return too quickly to my optimal routine. An experience I have had repeatedly, over many years, is that a very modest amount of exercise provides a disproportionate share of benefits.

Stress and Fatigue


I am following the medical community's guidelines for the amount of aerobic exercise I should be getting by cycling at least 300 minutes a week. As I hope to discuss in a future post, these guidelines rest on pretty shaky evidence and are somewhat controversial even within the medical community. In addition, the primary reason I am being so diligent about exercise is for mental health, something not covered by the standard medical recommendations. I have commented that my mood seems to improve more with higher levels of exercise, why limit myself to 300 minutes a week?

In the first place, I am not limiting my cycling to the medically recommended 300 minutes. I can obtain that 300 minutes with three of my go-to rides per week, but four weeks ago, I increased my riding from three to four rides a week. I did that for reasons that, in retrospect, seem suspect. Admit it, seven is an awkward number of days to have in a week. If I ride three days a week, most rides are every other day, but once a week, there is two days between rides. (It turns out it is very helpful for maintaining my routine to ride on the same days of the week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday for example, so simply riding every other day doesn't work for me.) When I was riding three days a week, I felt like the first ride after two days off the bike was harder than the other rides, and so decided to try eliminating that gap. That meant, instead of having two days between some rides, I now do two rides back to back, with no rest day in between, and I am definitely more tired on that second day in a row. Looking back, I am less sure that two days off the bike was as harmful as it seemed at the time, it may not have been harmful at all, but I seem to be handling four days a week OK, so am sticking with it for now. That said, there are limits to how much I can ride. As noted at the beginning of this post, I have a life to lead that is not just about cycling, and cycling makes me tired. At present, I am riding in the morning to take advantage of cooler temperatures, and despite getting home fairly early in the day, I find that I am unable to get much work done, I'm just too tired. Thus, everything I need to do needs to get done in three days of the week I don't ride. Sadly, there seems to be only so much exercise my ~70 year old body can handle.

I have already discussed the devastating effect of illness on my ability to exercise. Another thing that affects my ability to ride is stress. I am an introvert, so one common source of stress for me is human interaction. Don't get me wrong, I love being with people, I am often the last guy to leave a party, but I pay a price; the next few days, I am exhausted. (The difference between an extrovert and an introvert is that extroverts gain energy by interacting with other people, while introverts lose energy.) Other things, like driving, I also find to be stressful. Two recent events really brought the impact of stress on my cycling  home. The first was a delightful trip to my home town of Modesto. My older sister Alice had a school reunion there, I drove her, and while she was at the reunion, I had brunch with two of my high school cycling buddies, Paul and Eldon. Afterwards,  Alice and I visited the grave of our younger sister, Deana. I then drove Alice home, had dinner with her and her family, and then drove a final two hours back to my home in San Carlos. Before I had time to recover from that trip, I participated in a once in a lifetime opportunity, a cemetery consecration, again involving driving and human interaction. Although I did not miss any rides due to these events, I definitely felt their effect; my legs ached and my speed was reduced for my next several rides. Although nowhere near as harmful as illness, stressful events make me tired without providing any training benefits, so definitely take their toll.

Fun


Isn't it boring to ride exactly the same ride four times a week, week in, week out? For some folks, it is. My son Michael, after riding with me for just a few weeks, has announced that he will never go on that ride again. I, on the other hand, am pretty resistant to boredom, as evidenced by the years I spent riding 5 or 6 MAF tests every week, week in and week out, each one consisting of 40 or 50 laps around the Rice track. Also, this boring schedule is my fallback, not my plan. In my first post after arriving in California, I announced my plan to attend Eroica California that year. That plan was disrupted by my bout of pneumonia, but a plan it was. When I ride with my son, he often takes me on beautiful new routes, and those rides, though not organized, are most definitely fun. Although I was not able to participate in Eroica, I made up for it by riding The Art of Survival with my friend Roger a few months ago. During my visit with him, he mentioned that his goal was to ride a metric century (a ride 100 kilometers or 62 miles long) every month. Given that he is a much stronger rider than I am, and given how much trouble I had riding a 200K brevet (a ride twice that long) this seemed to me to be an excellent aspiration, one more in line with my capabilities than some of the harder goals I have set for myself in the past. There are many ~60 mile rides available, supported group rides like The Art of Survival, populaires with a randonneuring club, and casual rides, like a ride to the coast and back my son has been wanting to do. If I could figure out a way to complete a ~60 mile ride of one kind or another every month, this would add to my fun both by giving me a goal and by providing variety. I have thoughts about how I could change the regular cycling routine I do for my health to support such an ambition and look forward to discussing that in a future post. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Blue Jersey Revisited

Peter Sagan, winning Stage 13 of the 2018 Tour de France. He is wearing the Green Jersey, given to the winner of the most "sprint" points.
A few years ago, I wrote a semi-satirical post proposing the creation of a new definition of the winner of the Tour de France, called the Blue Jersey (as opposed to the current winner, called the Yellow Jersey). To this day, this remains one of my favorite posts, both because of its humor as well as because of its underlying serious intent. For many of the intervening years, circumstances have kept me from watching The Tour, but this year I made an effort to restart. Doing so made me rethink my Blue Jersey post. Don't get me wrong, I still think the Blue Jersey is a great idea, but being realistic, it is unlikely to happen in my lifetime, so in this post I am focusing on how I can change my attitude towards The Tour so to maximize my enjoyment.

Anyone at all sophisticated in the ways of The Tour is probably rolling their eyes at my naïveté by now; clearly my understanding of the tour is so limited! That's OK, this blog has never been for the sophisticated, but rather for the naive like me; I hope that my simple discoveries will help us better understand the cycling world we love, even if we don't understand it all that well. So for those readers, here are my thoughts:

To be honest, a big part of what motivated my Blue Jersey post was my frustration that one of my favorite riders, Peter Sagan, had no chance of winning the Tour, despite being one of its best riders. (This is because there are many separate skills a bicycle racer can have, sprinting, climbing, bike handling, time trialling, and a particular subset of these are needed to win the Yellow Jersey. As brilliant as Sagan is as a bicycle racer, his collection of skills are not a good match for the Yellow Jersey competition.) The goal of my proposed Blue Jersey was to make it possible for a wider range of riders, not just the climbers, to win. When I tuned in for the 2018 edition of the Tour de France, Peter Sagan had become perhaps the most famous rider in the tour. Had he become a climber and learned how to "win"? No, he was still the same general purpose rider and sprinter as he had always been, but he was leader of his team, and among the highest paid riders. Rather than compete for the Yellow Jersey, he was competing for the Green Jersey (which he won). Did that mean that Sagan had elevated the Green Jersey to be a worthy competitor to the Yellow Jersey? At first, I thought he had, and had an idea for what I thought was going to be an easy post; how, by looking at the other prizes offered at the tour, I could get many of the benefits of my Blue Jersey idea without having to take control of the Tour de France. In contrast to my expectations, this post turned out to be one of the most difficult ones I have written. I have deleted everything and rewritten it from scratch several times. This is only slightly due to the fact that I was watching the Tour as I wrote it, that events on the road changed my opinion as I wrote. Rather, I had the fascinating if unnerving experience of, time and time again, sitting down to write with what I thought was a clear idea in my head, and then reading what I wrote, only to find it did not match the idea in my head at all. Did I finally get it right, in this, the final version? I don't think so, I think I simply became more realistic.

Just a little bit of background: The Tour de France is essentially 21 separate bike races. The winner of the overall race is the rider whose total time for all 21 races, added together, is the lowest, and that rider is given a Yellow Jersey to acknowledge that fact. In addition to this overall winner, prizes are awarded to the winner of each of the 21 individual races, as well as a Green Jersey for the rider accumulating the best finishes at sprint lines at the end of each race as well as various intermediate points on some of the stages, a Polka-Dot jersey for a similar contest with points awarded at the top of mountain climbs, and a White Jersey which has the same criteria as the Yellow Jersey except it is given to the best young rider, who must be less than 26 years old. In addition to Jersey prizes, there is a team prize given to the team whose top three riders each day have the lowest total time, and a subjective prize given to the most "combative" rider, the rider who stirs up the action and makes the race exciting.

Four important points:

  1. The various prizes are in conflict one with another; if you try for one award, it usually makes it more difficult to compete for other awards. So, each rider and each team have to decide which awards are of most interest to them, which is determined by some combination of how prestigious the award is and how realistic it is for that team or rider to win that award. 
  2. Bicycle racing is a team sport. In 2018, 22 eight-man teams competed. For a rider to win a prize, it is usually the case that other members of his team have to sacrifice their own ambitions to help him to so. 
  3. If a team has a rider who could realistically win the Yellow Jersey, their team will almost certainly designate him as their leader, and any efforts they make towards any of the other awards will be secondary, making sure they do everything they can so that rider can win. A team without such a rider will consider other goals; winning the Green Jersey, going after stage wins, etc.
  4. The Tour de France was created in 1903 to sell newspapers. It was then and is now a commercial enterprise trading in publicity. To survive, a professional team needs to attract $ponsor$, and sponsors are attracted by the prospect of good publicity for their organization. Thus, anything that gets good publicity for the team's sponsor is a win.

My most important insight about The Tour was that it is more a carnival of bicycle racing than a single race. Sure, the winning of the Yellow Jersey is without a doubt the main event, but there is so much more to watch. If we consider the 21 stage wins, the four Jersey prizes, and the two non-Jersey prizes, that means there are 27 prizes to be won. Of the 22 teams at the Tour, half of them (11) won no prizes. The maximum number of prizes any team won (Quick-Step Floors) is 6, and Team Sky, whose Geraint Thomas was the Yellow Jersey winner of the Tour de France won two other prizes for a total of three prizes. But many of those 11 teams with no prizes to their name were winners too. Often, their riders were active during the race, charging ahead of the other riders in attacks that were to no avail in the end, but they nonetheless inspired the fans and got publicity for their sponsors.

Some other random observations:

  1. What was fun to watch depended on how the race was going and varied over the course of the race. Team Sky is criticized for their boring racing style, and I have to agree with that criticism. It is hard to argue with success, but I got a lot less fun from Team Sky than from many of the other teams. To my great surprise, a similar phenomenon occurred with Peter Sagan. Once it became mathematically impossible for him to loose the Green Jersey competition, I became much less interested in the Green Jersey. (That said, Sagan is a very entertaining rider, Green Jersey or no.)
  2. Team Sky's boring style was nonetheless instructive to watch. Luck plays a huge role in the Tour, but there is a lot one can do to make one's own luck. By having what was clearly the strongest team at the tour, Sky could put in extra effort to keep themselves at the front of the group to avoid crashes, and because they always stayed comfortably ahead, they didn't have to take chances to win (see Point 3).
  3. I actually was appalled by the chances the riders felt they had to take to advance their ambitions. If the risk is to win time or loose the race altogether, I consider that fun, but as is often the case, if the risk is to win time or to become seriously injured, perhaps even die, then I start getting uncomfortable. In a number of the stages, the winning rider was the one who took the most chances racing downhill, around tight corners that might or might not be slippery, going 50 miles per hour with no meaningful protection. Skill cannot protect you if the corner is, without warning, slipperier than you expected. I was shocked at the number of riders who had to abandon the race due to injuries, some of them serious contenders for the Yellow Jersey. One of the popular riders shared my views, and advocated for rules to reduce risk. The commentators dismissed him with the argument, "you can't change that, it's bicycle racing." Perhaps we can.
So that was my Tour. How was yours?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Art of Survival




When I restarted cycling after my move to California, I set a couple of goals for fun rides. In the first place, I had my eye on some of the shorter rides organized by local randonneuring clubs. In the second place, I hoped to attend the 2018 running of Eroica California, a celebration of classic bikes, the perfect place to show off my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima. A few months ago, I posted that I had learned how hard that ride actually was and cancelled my plans to attend. What made that most disappointing was that I would miss riding with one of my old friends from the Modesto Roadmen, Roger. Roger did attend and sent me glowing reports. I would have been overwhelmed with regret, except that, as things turned out, there was no way I could have gone. In early March, I developed "walking pneumonia." I discovered that any attempts to ride, even on days I was feeling well, inevitably made the pneumonia worse, so took a month off the bike to recover, and Eroica fell right in the middle of that month. At the end of April, Roger suggested another ride we could do together, "The Art of Survival", a relatively easy metric century near where he lives in far northern California. I had just restarted cycling after the pneumonia, I only had a month to prepare, so it was a stretch, but the thought of missing another ride with Roger was too much to bear, so I signed up.



Back in 2012 through 2015, when I was still thinking about 200km brevets, one thought I had was that the very deliberate preparation I had done for my past brevets, the standard recommendation of all the experts, was not the best for me. The long, slow ramp up in distance, 10% a week, resulted in a lot of riding that left me fit but very tired. I noticed that, in contrast to the advice of the experts, many actual randonneurs ramp up much more quickly, often by a factor of two, resulting in a lot less miles of training, which promised less exhaustion. If I was to prepare for the Art of Suffering, my lack of time left me no choice but to try such a plan. My standard ride is 23 miles. Conventional wisdom said I needed to work up to a ride of at least 41 miles to prepare for a 62 mile metric century, though randonneurs might consider a training ride of 31 miles to be adequate. With only three weeks to prepare (leaving a recovery week before the ride), I ended up doing long rides of 28, 34 and 47 miles. Because this came right on top of my post-pneumonia restart, these rides left me very tired. This was such a unique experience, coming off the pneumonia, having so little time, riding with a much stronger rider (see below), that it is hard for me to evaluate how well this new plan worked, but I think I would definitely try it again.



California is a big state. Back in Texas, we used to say "The sun has riz, the sun has set, and here we is, in Texas yet." California is almost as big as Texas, and in fact, due to its shape, is much longer in its longest dimension, so it was a seven hour drive from my home in "Northern" California, to the northeast corner of California where Roger lives. I arrived for dinner on Friday evening and we got up at an obscenely early hour on Saturday morning to drive to the ride. Despite having grown up in California, this part of California has a geography different from anything I had seen. As I was approaching his house, I noticed steam rising from some of the fields, and wondered what that might be. Roger told me it was volcanic, there are hot springs all through the area, and evidence of volcanism was a central feature of the ride.



The Art of Survival was a fairly typical supported group ride. There were multiple routes, varying between 29 and 113 miles, rest stops featuring a delightful selection of snacks (including freshly cooked pancakes at one), and a lunch at the end. The Tule Lake region, where the ride was held, is a big potato growing region, so potatoes were heavily featured at the lunch, and one of the prizes we got was a five pound bag of potatoes. I purchased the ride jersey, which is attractive and of high quality; I am currently using it as my every day riding jersey. In short, this was a great ride and I would recommend it to anyone. Yes, it is very far off the beaten track, but if you have time to explore this delightful and largely unknown part of California, you will not be disappointed.

Tule Lake is both a lake and a town near that lake, the start and finish of the ride was in that town. This is a very rural part of California with low and declining population, and Tule Lake, though one of the larger towns in the region, is a small town. The region around the town is flat, but a few miles from town is the Lava Beds National Monument which is hilly. The 45 mile ride makes a big loop around the town and lake and is relatively flat. The metric century we did is essentially the same ride except that it adds an out and back extension into the hills of the National Monument, turning around at its visitor center.  Essentially all of the 1,400 feet of climbing is in that out and back section. Lava flows and the resulting caves is a central feature of this monument. One of the scenic lookouts overlooked a lava flow a mere 1,000 years old; vegetation has made only the barest beginnings in its return to the area. History is also a big attraction in this region. Native Americans live in this region, and there are many stories of the clash between these tribes and the colonizing Europeans. Tule Lake is also the site of one of the detention camps where Japanese Americans were held during World War II; one of the rest stops was as the site of this camp. Finally, the "Emigrant Trail", the route that wagon trains took in the middle of the 19th century to get to California, goes through the region, and there are lots of historically interesting sites from that time.



At the start, the ride was very cold, in the 40s. I ended up wearing all of my cold weather cycling gear. By the end, it was much warmer so I ended up removing layers at each rest stop. Roger is a much stronger rider than I am, so I realized in the first few minutes I was in trouble. I know that if I start out a long ride too fast, I will blow up. However, if I was to stay with Roger, I had no choice, and blow up I did, at about the halfway point. Roger was very kind, but by the end, in a moment of frustration, accused me of being a "whiner", and I cannot deny that I was whining big time. I was fairly delirious at that point, so my memories are vague, but I do remember giving Roger instructions for the burial of my body.

The ride by itself fully justified the trip, but even so, the best part of the trip was not the ride but rather getting to know Roger and his wife Janet. I had known Roger quite well in High School as he was very active in the Modesto Roadmen. He and I bicycled from Modesto to Atascadero to the 1969 Great Western Bike Rally and I did not see him again until the Modesto Roadmen reunion in 2016, so this was only the second time I had seen Roger in over 45 years. Janet was a student at the same High School as Roger and I, and in the same class as Roger, two years behind me. Janet's brother David was in my class, and is now one of Roger's favorite riding companions. Originally, I wrote that I had gotten to know Roger and Janet "again", but in fact most of becoming who they are happened in the 45 years we went our separate ways, so it was more like getting to know new friends than reconnecting with old ones.

Roger works for the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency, and has developed a deep knowledge of the geography and history of the region. Besides history and bicycling, Roger's other hobbies include being a handyman and a fine carpenter. About 15 years ago, Roger and Janet decided their house needed a little refurbishing. As the project started to stretch out past the few months they initially budgeted, they purchased the house next door and moved in there to free up their house for more extensive work. It was at the house next door where they were living, where I stayed with them; they hope to move back into their magnificently remodeled house "any day now." Roger and Janet hired contractors for some of the work, but did much of it themselves, including the design, which is truly amazing.

The bike Roger road was the classic Alex Singer he purchased back in the 1960s. He also has a Moots titanium mountain bike and a Moulton with 20" wheels that he uses to commute to work. Janet has a Caylor road bike, made by former Modesto Roadman Gunnar Caylor, a Moots mountain bike matching Roger's, and her Schwinn balloon tire bike from her childhood which she uses to ride around town. She has mostly stopped riding, except for these local rides. She came with Roger and me on the Art of Survival, but rather than bike one of the routes, she drove the course in their car, providing sag support. Janet rides the same size bike as I do, and when I saw her Caylor, it took my breath away - it is gorgeous! I told Roger to give me a ring if she ever decides she wants to get rid of it.

In summary, this was a wonderful experience for a sad old widower; a fun ride to add leavening to my regular rides, a chance to get to know old friends, and an opportunity to see a part of my home state that I had previously missed. Next time, it is my turn, and I am actively looking for rides in my area so that Roger and Janet can come and visit me.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Hetchins Comes Home

My Hetchins! (Or what's left of it.) It is being held by its owner of 45 years standing in his magnificently-equipt workshop.

There is a thought experiment in philosophy that imagines a very old and famous ship named The Ship of Theseus. As the result of repairs over the years, The Ship of Theseus has had every single part replaced at one time or another. Is it still the same ship? That is the question I asked myself as I looked at my Hetchins fifty years after I had last seen it. I had sold the bike to Roger of the Modesto Roadmen in 1968. In 1972, Roger sold it to Mike, the man holding it in the picture above. Mike rode it extensively, way more than I would have, so that the Hetchins has already had a long and useful life. Mike is a real tinkerer, so was constantly swapping out parts; the TA cranks were replaced with Campagnolo cranks, the wheels were replaced and so on. And then there was the day that an inattentive driver ran a stop sign and hit Mike while he was riding the Hetchins and bent the frame. A local frame builder1 replaced the rear triangle and bottom bracket. It was perhaps at that time that Mike made other changes to the frame, getting rid of some brazed-on fittings, adding others, to allow the use of cantilever brakes, for example. What's left of my original Hetchins is the three main frame tubes, the fork, and most of the beautiful detail work on the frame, including the gorgeous lugs. But all things must pass, Mike acquired newer, more functional bikes, his cycling habits changed with age and increasing traffic, and soon what little remained of his well loved Hetchins sat in the attic, a source of guilt rather than joy. At the Modesto Roadmen reunion in 2016, Roger told me that Mike would be willing to give me the Hetchins back, if I wanted it. With so much going on in my life at the time, I declined, but the subject came up again a few weeks ago, and this time I accepted Mike's generous offer; I drove up to his home in Santa Rosa, and picked it up.

The Hetchins, Switzerland, 1967. Notice how little seatpost is showing. We rode them big, back in the day.

So what is the big deal about this Hetchins? Hetchins is one of the most prestigious of the steel frame custom bike brands made back in the 1960's. They are so prestigious that there is a market in counterfeit Hetchins. For me personally, my ride through Europe in the summer of 1967 was one of the transformative events of my life, so this particular Hetchins has great meaning to me. And yet, I never loved this bike. When Spense Wolf and I designed it, the plan was an "all purpose" bike that would work for long distance touring, but which would also work as a racing bike when I got home. This sounds like a very silly idea today, but back in 1967, most bikes were general purpose; the same Peugeot PX10 that I used for racing, I used for our week-long bike camping trips in the Sierras. However, I carried a lot more luggage that summer than I ever had before, and Alf Hetchins designed the bike to do that. This resulted in compromises that made it a rather poor racing bike. Also, to be perfectly honest, as prestigious a name as Hetchins is, there are aspects to that bike that probably should be characterized as "mistakes." There was so much going on during the two months I rode this bike in Europe, and the bike was so heavily loaded, I don't think there was any way I could have had an opinion about the bike one way or another, it worked fine. However, when I got back and started racing, I found its performance disappointing. A few weeks after returning, I competed in the 1967 Tour de Graceada on this bike, I attended the 1968 Great Western Bike Rally on this bike, I competed in a race or three on it in early 1968, but by the 1968 Mountain Loop in August, I had sold it to Roger and purchased a Bianchi Specialissima.


Me, racing the Hetchins, 1968

So what am I going to do with it? Good Question! When I decided to take the bike back, my plan was to build it up as a maintainable, rideable, Eroica-legal bike. Although it would be extensively cronenberged2, I would make it look as much like my old Hetchins as I could by using silver rather than black components, for example, and I would stay within the Eroica guidelines. My thought was that would free me up to restore my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima to be a period correct display bike without worrying about keeping it practical, and riding Eroica on the Hetchins which would be equipped with very low gears to help me deal with the heroic aspects of Eroica. That plan survived until the day after I brought the bike home. Mike and I talked extensively when I picked up the bike, and one minor comment he made during that long conversation was that "the Hetchins was kind of big for me." He then went on to say that the frame size is 24 inches, and he normally rode a 21 inch frame. I found that comment alarming as I, too, normally ride a 21 inch frame. I commented somewhat lamely that "yes, we rode them big back in the day" but made a mental note to carefully measure the frame when I got home. For comparison, I measured the bike I ride every day, my Surly Cross Check. To my alarm, the distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top tube was an inch and a half longer than the same measurement on my Surly. If you look at photos I took of the bike while riding through Europe, you can see how little of the seatpost is showing, consistent with this measurement. That by itself is not a deal killer, it makes standing over the frame harder, but by lowering the seat, the bike should be rideable. The measurement that concerned me more was the distance between the seat and the handlebars. I find my Surly a bit too long in that dimension, so I was hoping the Hetchins was proportioned differently to make that distance no longer. Sadly, that was not the case; the distance between the center of the seat tube and the center of the head tube measured along the top tube is a full 3 inches longer on the Hetchins than on the Surly! If the Surly feels too long, how did I ever ride the Hetchins?
Hetchins Head Badge

Honestly, I have not decided what to do. Should I just hang it on the wall, a bit of memorabilia? Should I build it up for a member of my family who is larger than I? Should I sell it to a Hetchins lover? Would a Hetchins lover even want it, with its frame modifications, and would that be fair to Mike, who gave me the frame gratis? Is there any chance I could ride it after all? Three inches front to back is a lot, but maybe that can be corrected with the right handlebar stem. My original plan would have been very expensive, paying to have the frame professionally repainted (replacing the head badge which Mike gave me and the Hetchins decals) and outfitting it with high end components, and to do that without confirming the resulting bike would be rideable would be insanity, but perhaps a trial build makes sense. My son acquired a 1970s Centurion which he is not using, and to my eye, it looks like many of the components on that bike would be compatible with the Hetchins frame. Could I temporarily build up the Hetchins with parts from the Centurion so that I could see how rideable the resulting bike would be and to what extent I could modify the fit with changes to the stem, for example? So far, my time in California has been massively overbooked, and it doesn't look like that will change any time soon, especially with a second grandchild on the way, but maybe that won't last forever. For now, I think I should store this frame carefully and wait for things to play out. Mike will be disappointed, he was looking forward to seeing pictures of my build. Que Sera.



1) Kimo Tanaka, who is still building frames in Davis, California, under the name Innerlight Cycles.

2) I coined the term "cronenberged" to describe a bike modified to be very different from its original design. A Cronenberg is a highly modified human in the cartoon series "Rick and Morty", named after the director of a genre of horror movies that focus on human deformity, David Cronenberg.

Human Cronenberg
David Cronenberg













Sunday, April 1, 2018

Just In Time? Too Late?

The main results from Howden et al., the paper that inspired this blog post. Middle-aged participants who engaged in aerobic training improved VO2max and left ventricular end-diastolic volume, both markers for reduced incidence of heart disease, whereas participants who engaged in flexibility and strength training did not.

Between ages 21 and 56, my level of exercise was inadequate to non-existent. For a few years thereafter, I went from exercise plan to exercise plan trying to get something to stick, until age 61, when I finally restarted cycling on a regular basis, an exercise program which I have maintained fairly well for almost eight years. Thus, a link on Facebook to an article on BBC News with the title of "Middle-aged can reverse heart risk with exercise, study suggests" had its desired effect: it caught my eye and I clicked through and read the article. Reading the article left me concerned: "...the aerobic exercise regimen should be started before the age of 65 when the heart appears to retain 'plasticity' and the ability to remodel itself." Had I waited too long to restart exercising, or had I managed to just squeak under the wire? Could I really believe any of this anyway? As I have blogged here many times, when encountering an article in the popular press on a scientific study, it is important to go back to the original article from a professional, peer-reviewed journal to make sure that its results were accurately reported, and then to evaluate the study described therein to make sure its conclusions are adequately supported, and that I did. I read the original article and determined that it only investigated people between the ages of 51 and 55. The statement that starting exercise later is is less valuable is in the paper, but it is based on comparing the results in this paper to those in an earlier paper from the same team which investigated people between the ages of 68 and 74. In my discussion of these papers, I will first summarize the claims of the papers, discuss the papers critically, describing their limitations, and finally, I will summarize my "bottom line", what results from these two studies I personally find convincing. (The impatient, who are willing to trust my judgement, should feel free to skip to this Bottom Line.)

Summary


Howden et al.1 is the original paper which formed the basis for the article in BBC News. They ask the following question:
"Poor  fitness in middle age is a risk factor for heart failure, particularly heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction. The development of heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction is likely mediated through increased left ventricular (LV) stiffness, a consequence of sedentary aging. In a prospective, parallel group, randomized controlled trial, we examined the effect of 2 years of supervised high- intensity exercise training on LV stiffness."

Fujimoto et al.2 is the earlier paper from the same group. They ask, what is to my eye, a functionally equivalent question:
"Healthy but sedentary aging leads to cardiovascular stiffening, whereas life-long endurance training preserves left ventricular (LV) compliance. However, it is unknown whether exercise training started later in life can reverse the effects of sedentary behavior on the heart." 

The group that published these two papers is a cardiology group. I have no expertise in cardiology so cannot comment critically on this part of their work, I simply have to take the authors at their word. Given that, my understanding of what they are saying is that one form of heart failure is associated with a decrease in left ventricular end-diastolic volume or LVEDV. LVEDV decreases with age, but is higher in the elderly who have exercised their whole lives ("master athletes"). The question both papers are asking is, for one of those unfortunates who have not exercised, does exercise later in life reverse the decrease in LVEDV? The hope is that if exercise can increase LVEDV, this will result in a lower probability of the development of this one kind of heart failure and thus increase longevity.

In addition to LVEDV, the authors of both papers measured a number of other parameters. The one that caught my eye was VO2max, because VO2max is probably the most common biomarker for the beneficial effects of exercise on longevity, one that I have discussed quite often on this blog. The authors barely mentioned their results with VO2max, but I will devote significant attention to them.

The reason for considering Howden et al. and Fujimoto et al. together is the assumption that they did roughly equivalent studies on two age groups and got different results, thus the statement in the BBC News article that exercise after age 65 may be too late to reverse heart damage. There are, however, other differences between the papers that weaken this conclusion. A partial comparison of the two papers is in the next figure:


What we note is that the age groups studied is different and that for the younger age group, LVEDV increases significantly, whereas for the older age group, the difference is not statistically significant. We also note that Howden et al. had many more participants, which by itself will increase the statistical significance of their results, a fact I will discuss in the next section. Finally, we note that VO2max, the workhorse biomarker used in a large number of studies as a proxy for health benefits increased in both studies by similar amounts. (Not shown in the figure is that both increases are statistically significant, P=0.0001 for Howden et al. and P=0.001 for the smaller study reported in Fujimoto et al.)

Another difference between the two studies is that they used different exercise plans:

The first number in each column in the above is the number of rides of this kind done per month. The intensity of the ride is given in the column header. Thus, 15 @ 25 min in the Base Pace column means that 15 rides a month are done at Base Pace, where each ride is 25 minutes long. For Intervals, 3 @ 8 x (30 s "on" 90s "off") means that 3 times a month a ride is done consisting of 8 Intervals, where each interval consists of 30 seconds at Interval Pace followed by 90 seconds at Recovery Pace. Base Pace corresponds to the Heart Rate Zone (HR) 3 and 4 that I use on this blog. MSS corresponds to the boundary between HR 4 and HR 5. The "on" part of the intervals are done in HR 5c. Recovery Pace (ridden during the time between intervals and during a recovery ride done the day after intervals, not shown above) are done in Zones 1 and 2. These HRs are so high, I worry that I have misunderstood the authors, I would find it difficult or impossible to complete the workouts above if this is correct. That said, because of these concerns, I read this part of the papers carefully, and can find no other way to interpret what the authors are saying.

The exercise plan in Fujimoto et al. was one year long as compared to Howden et al. which was two years long, but Howden et al. collected results after ten months and all the benefits of exercise had accrued by then, so I only show the results of this first ten months. Fujimoto et al. described their exercise protocol very clearly, so that it was easy for me to put it into the figure above and I am relatively confident I correctly described it. In contrast, I found the description of the exercise plan in Howden et al. ambiguous and confusing, so I am less confident I have accurately described it.

As noted above, I am not a cardiologist so cannot comment on the protocols used in the two papers to measure cardiac parameters, but to my untrained eye, it seemed that the two papers used different protocols.

Finally, there are differences between the papers that concern parts of the studies not relevant to this blog post. Fujimoto et al. also compared active, age matched (elderly) participants, known as master athletes, to the healthy but sedentary participants in their study, and Howden et al. compared the effects of yoga plus strength training to that of the aerobic training. I am  ignoring these parts of the papers.

Critical Analysis 


The two sentences in Howden et al. that inspired the BBC News article are as follows:
"Epidemiological studies show that a measurement of  fitness in middle age is the strongest predictor of future heart failure. Moreover, in observational studies, the dose of exercise associated with reduced heart failure incidence is much higher than that associated with reduced mortality. However, if exercise is started too late in life (ie, after 65 years) in sedentary individuals, there is little effect on LV stiffness [reference to Fujimoto et al.]"

To my eye, both Howden et al. and Fujimoto et al. seem to be well executed studies and the narrow conclusions that the authors draw from their results seem justified. The focus of my critical analysis will thus focus on the comparison between the two papers, made in Howden et al., that is the basis for the assertion that exercise at age 65 and older to too late to protect against one kind of heart failure.

Before starting, note the narrowness of the assertion: the authors do not deny that exercise for those of us older than 65 can decrease mortality overall, but rather that it may be too late to reduce the incidence of one particular disease. In fact, the VO2max results reported in Fujimoto et al. actively affirm the value of exercise for us old folks. That said, is this narrow assertion supported by the results?

The first reservation comes from the fact that these are biomarker studies. What the authors care about is the effect of exercise on the incidence of one kind of heart failure. What the authors measure is LVEDV. How good is the evidence that reducing LVEDV in late middle age (51 to 55) will result in a reduction in heart failure? Note that just because low LVEDV is associated with heart failure does not demonstrate cause and effect. Howden et al. might, in fact, be in a position to test this hypothesis. If they were to follow the 61 participants in this study, the 28 who did yoga and strength training vs the 33 who did aerobic exercise, and if they found that the aerobic group had a lower incidence of heart failure, this would go a long way towards demonstrating the value of exercise in middle age, but of course that study has not (yet) been done. For now, we must accept uncertainty as the inevitable limitation that result from this being a biomarker study.

Even if we accept that the increase in LVEDV caused by exercise results in a reduction in heart failure, the assertion that age 65 is too late for this benefit is suspect. The basis for this assertion is that no improvement in LVEDV was seen in the older participants of Fujimoto et al., whereas improvement in LVEDV was seen in the relatively younger participants of Howden et al. The problem with this assertion is that there are other explanations for the differences observed between the two papers. Firstly, Holden et al. had many more participants than Fujimoto et al., 33 vs 9. Thus, Holden et al. had much more statistical power. There may have been an increase in LVEDV in the older patients in Fujimoto et al., that was hidden by statistical noise, that would have been seen had they looked at more patients. Secondly, if I am correct that the two papers used different techniques for measuring LVEDV, that could also explain the differences. Finally, and most relevant to this blog, the difference between the two papers could be due to different exercise protocols. A lot of the papers I cover here are about precisely that, which exercise protocol produces the the greatest benefit?

Because this is an exercise blog, I'd like to spend a bit more time on the exercise protocols, specifically, how intense they are. (The legend of the figure describing the exercise protocols contains a translation of the intensity scale used in these papers to the heart rate zones I use on this blog.) During the five years I have been writing this blog, I have found the translation of light, moderate, and vigorous exercise intensity recommendations of the medical community to something I can use problematic. That said, I have developed a consensus translation: Light = Heart Rate Zone 1, Moderate = Zone 2, and Vigorous = Zone 4. By that standard, almost all the recommended exercise in these papers would be classified as vigorous. At 5 to 6 hours a week of exercise, this would be more than twice the maximum amount of exercise recommended generally by the medical community. At that level of exercise, I am astonished at the 88% compliance reported.

Bottom Line


The report on Howden et al. in BBC News is overly sensational and in fact adds almost nothing to our understanding of the value of exercise at different ages. Some of this is because the article fails to explain the narrowness of the conclusions of the underlying scientific paper, that it applies to only one kind of heart failure, not overall longevity, and some of this is because of limitations of the paper itself weaken even this very narrow argument. There is extensive evidence in the literature in support of the value of exercise at all ages for increasing longevity, and in fact, when properly interpreted, even the claimed negative result pointed to in the BBC News article supports this conclusion. Thus, even at my ripe old age of 68, I should definitely keep riding.



    1) Howden et al: "Reversing the Cardiac Effects of Sedentary Aging in Middle Age—A Randomized Controlled Trial.
    Implications For Heart Failure Prevention." by Erin J. Howden, Satyam Sarma, Justin S. Lawley, Mildred Opondo, William Cornwell, Douglas Stoller, MD, Marcus A. Urey, Beverley Adams-Huet, and Benjamin D. Levine. Published in Circulation volume 137 [Epub ahead of print]. Year: 2018.
    2) Fujimoto et al: "Cardiovascular Effects of 1 Year of Progressive and Vigorous Exercise Training in Previously Sedentary Individuals Older Than 65 Years of Age" by Naoki Fujimoto, Anand Prasad, Jeffrey L. Hastings, Armin Arbab-Zadeh, Paul S. Bhella, Shigeki Shibata, Dean Palmer, and Benjamin D. Levine. Published in Circulation volume 122 page 1797. Year: 2010.

    Monday, March 12, 2018

    70 and Done?

    Log of my last seven months of cycling. I will comment on this record over the course of this post.

    I confess I have a Facebook addiction. The silver lining is that my compulsive reading of Facebook helps me keep up with some of my friends. My high school friend Paul (previously referred to as Peter* on this blog) doesn't have a Facebook account, but his wife Susan does. Thus, it was on Facebook that I found out about Paul's bicycle accident. I also read Susan's comment: "I told Paul his road riding days are over. He agrees." Of course I telephoned Paul to offer him my condolences, and he told me that this was not such a big deal, since he had already had planned to retire from cycling at age 70. Since Paul and I are roughly the same age, this is less than two years away for both of us. Is that a thing, off the bike at 70?

    Like Paul, I am also at a moment of truth, albeit a less acute one, and one based on physical fitness rather than safety. (I will return to the issue of safety at the end of the post.) As a result, I took Paul's remarks more seriously than I might have otherwise. My "moment" of truth (a moment that has lasted weeks) can be seen in the chart at the top of this post just by looking at the color of the "min/wk" column near the center of the chart. This color is based on the medical community's exercise recommendations. Weeks where I met the optimum recommendation of 300 minutes per week are are flagged in this column with a yellow background, those where I met the minimal recommendation of 150 minutes a week in green, and those where I didn't meet that minimum in white. My previous cycling routine had been devastated first by my wife's end of life care, then by her death, finally by the need to sell my house in Houston and move to California, with Hurricane Harvey making that difficult experience even worse. It was not until the week of 10/9/2017 that I was sufficiently moved into my new house in California that I could restart a cycling routine. For the next nine weeks, I managed to not only meet the optimal medical recommendation, but go well beyond them to a level of fitness that I hoped would easily prepare me for the Eroica California this spring and perhaps even riding with a local randonneuring club. And then, beginning the week of 12/11/2017, everything fell apart. What happened? In homage to the childrens' book series, I will describe it was A Series of Unfortunate Events.

    The first series of events, not unfortunate overall but which had an unfortunate effect on my cycling, was an uptick in my social life, a combination of out of town trips and visitors. During the nine weeks I was riding regularly, I found that cycling plus routine chores (cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning) consumed 100% of my energy and time, leaving no time to take care of anything else. Thus, when I had to prepare for two weeks of somewhat challenging travel, the only way I could do that was to abandon my cycling.  During the following weeks, much welcomed house guests, babysitting, and dealing with my wife's estate kept me from reestablishing my routine. After four weeks of that, a truly unfortunate event occurred. My granddaughter developed a respiratory syncytial virus infection, and as sometimes happens, it was severe enough to send her to the hospital for a week. During that week, between running errands for her parents and visiting her in the hospital, I had little time and no energy left for cycling. And then, of course, I caught her virus and I was sick as a dog. As I write this six weeks later, I am still coughing.

    When I first became ill, my symptoms were severe; I had a fever, muscle ache, and did nothing but rest in bed. After a few days, I got over the worst of my symptoms and felt like I had nothing worse than a bad cold. In response, I started riding again, albeit extremely easy 30 minute rides around my neighborhood. Despite being so easy, they turned out to be too much; the day after even those easy rides I found my symptoms reproducibly got worse. So, I stopped trying to ride altogether, and it was only two weeks later that I resumed easy rides. They seemed to go well, so I resumed my "medium" (Pace) rides, my standard 2 hour/23 mile ride. My son had been urging me to try yoga for some time, so I did yoga on one of my off days as well. This was a disaster! My illness got much worse, and I have completely stopped riding again until I am symptom free. This means I will have lost a great deal of fitness, and worse, gotten out of the routine that I had worked so hard to build, but I don't see that I have a choice.

    So what about Eroica California and randonneuring? Eroica California is another unfortunate event. As it happens, I had drastically underestimated the difficulty of this ride, even in its shortest, 40 mile incarnation. What alerted me to my error was some posts on a bulletin board I follow, the Classic and Vintage (C&V) group of the Bike Forums site. Eroica California, which is modelled after the original Eroica held in Italy, is a ride to celebrate "classic" bikes, which is defined as bicycles built before 1988 which lack indexed shifters, clipless pedals, and other modern abominations. What I hadn't realized is that Eroica also features extremely difficult rides with unusually steep climbs on dirt roads; Eroica is derived from the same root as the word heroic. This Bike Forms member was posting to C&V to ask about options for putting sufficiently low gears on a classic bike to be able to make it up those climbs. "How bad can they be?" I asked myself as read his post, so I went to the Eroica California website and got my answer: up to 12% grades on rutted, muddy roads - and that's on the shortest, easiest ride! This is almost certainly more than I can manage on any bicycle (mountain bike included), and is out of the question on my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima with its very limited low gear options. So a few weeks ago, I notified my fellow Modesto Roadmen that I would not be joining them on this ride.

    How about randonneuring? I think I understood randonneuring better than I did Eroica, and so to the extent randonneuring was an option in 2017, it remains one in 2018, which begs the question of how realistic an aspiration it was in 2017. I may be learning that there are limitations imposed by my age which might not present themselves immediately or in the most obvious ways. I love bicycling, but it does makes me tired. Some of that tiredness is immediate; once I do a bike ride, I find it difficult to do anything else for the rest of that day. Some of that tiredness reveals itself only over time. If I push my bike rides day after day, I am more likely to pick up a virus that can knock me out of cycling for weeks. It can also leave me so tired that I can't get anything else done even on those days I don't ride. So, we'll see. I am going to concentrate on finding a sustainable ride schedule that optimizes my ability to deal with my long, long ToDo list, and take it from there.

    In summary, I am not setting my 70th birthday as any kind of deadline. I plan to ride as much as I can both before and after that date. I expect the amount of riding I will be able to do each year will be less than the year before, but I make no hard rule about that either; what I find I can do, I will do. There is one other concern; my friend Paul is not giving up cycling because he can no longer manage it physically, but because he no longer feels safe on the road, and safety is a separate, very important consideration. I already feel less safe on the road than I did in my prime, and in response, I am much more careful. Thus, I need to be willing  to face reality when the decline of my faculties make it unsafe to continue road cycling. To know when that is, I will both have to watch myself as well as solicit the advice of friends and family to tell me if they think the time has come. So, should I not die of something else before then, the day will come when it is time for me to hang up the bike. But rather than try to guess in advance when that will be, I will wait for the signs that tell me when I have gotten there, whether I it be at age 69 or 99.



    * Originally, I used pseudonyms to refer to my friends on this blog, but as I had a chance to talk to them, I decided this was unnecessary and have switched to referring to them by their real names.

    Sunday, February 4, 2018

    Berkeley Wheelmen Newsletters

    The front page of one of the newsletters I edited. The newsletters varied between 8 and 12 pages. The pages were created by folding a standard 8½ x 11 sheet of paper in half. By photocopying on both sides, each sheet of paper yielded four pages. Photoreduction and other techniques were used to assemble each page. The photo the members received was of much lower quality than that above due to the primitive consumer-grade photocopying technology available at the time. I scanned the master page, used to create those photocopies, to create the image above. The artwork, some of it quite brilliant, was supplied by my roommate, Paul Rail, another UC Berkeley student who had no interest in bicycling or the Berkeley Wheelmen but provided the illustrations as a favor to me. Paul is a very gifted artist, I have some of his paintings hanging in my home.

    While unpacking from my move from Texas to California, I uncovered another treasure trove of historical data relevant to my early biking history: 14 issues of the Berkeley Wheelmen Newsletter, dated between January, 1970 and March, 1971. I was the editor of the first 10 of these.

    What is in these newsletters that makes them interesting to the reader(s) of this blog? One of the areas this blog covers is the history of cycling as I observed it, focusing on what was going on in the 1960s and 1970s. One set of posts on this topic were titled "Cycling in the 60s:..." and "Cycling in the 70s:...". These newsletters fill in a gap between those two series, detailing my cycling as a college undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, as a member of the Berkeley Wheelmen bicycle club.

    So what did I learn? I learned that I did a lot more racing in college than I had remembered. I learned that, at the Senior level, many races had a Senior A race for the strongest riders and a Senior B race for riders like me, which may have been one reason I maintained an enthusiasm for racing. I learned something about the bicycle racing culture of the time; the number of riders in a race, the number of members in a club, the price of dues, entry fees, and the level of prizes offered. And finally, I learned something about the status of my high school bicycle club, the Modesto Roadmen, in 1970, a subject about which I previously knew nothing.


    My Racing in College


    The racing season ran from approximately April through October and these newly discovered newsletters reveal that I rode throughout most of the 1970 racing season. During that season, I rode in four road races and one time trial. There were about 14 road races in which I reasonably could have competed, so I was certainly did not race as much as I could have. The Berkeley Wheelmen had an annual competition for which of their riders did best in road racing. One acquired points for placing in races, 10 points for first, 9 for second, on down to 1 point for 10th. I never placed except in Senior B events, so comparing my points to those who won their points in Senior A events says nothing about who is the better cyclist, but it does represent some kind of measure of activity, and by that measure, I was about middle of the pack. Of the 30 or so members of the Berkeley Wheelmen, 21 accumulated points in road racing. Of those, 12 had more points than I did, and 8 had fewer.

    How about before and after 1970? As documented in photographs, I raced extensively in 1967 as a member of the Modesto Roadmen, especially during the first half of the season. Although I have little data as to my level of participation during the 1968 and 1969 seasons, I do have pictures of me in a couple of races in 1968, so I think the most reasonable assumptions is that those seasons were similar to 1970. On the other hand, I didn't race at all in 1971, and in fact I didn't even renew my Berkeley Wheelmen membership. The reason was that I was increasingly focused on my future career in science to the exclusion of everything else, a fact that continued and resulted in a 30+ year neglect of cycling. In summary, the evidence indicates that I was a hard core bicycle racer 1965 through 1970, inclusive.

    Bicycle Racing Culture of 1970


    The bicycle racing scene, in Northern California at least, seems to have consisted of a bewildering array of small clubs whose names change and who appear and disappear rapidly. The Berkeley Wheelmen would appear to be one of the larger and more stable clubs, so in that context, the fact that we had about 30 to 35 members is perhaps interesting. Annual dues for our club was as follows: $10 for Seniors, $5 for Juniors, and $5 for Women. In addition, to race, one needed to be a member of the Amateur Bicycle League of America (ABLA) and dues for that were: $8 Seniors, $5 for Juniors, and $5 for Women. Entry fee for a race was $1 to $2. The total prizes for a high end race totaled a few hundred dollars in value. (For reference, First Class postage was 6¢ and a top of the line racing bike cost $200.) More popular races had between 50 and 100 Senior rides, with fewer number of Juniors and Veterans.

    The Modesto Roadmen in 1970


    By 1970, I had completely lost touch with the Modesto Roadmen. Everyone I rode with had graduated High School and moved on with their lives. According to former Modesto Roadmen member Roger Farschon, the club's center of gravity had moved from Thomas Downey High School, which I had attended, to Davis High School. Thus, it was of interest to see riders listed as members of the Modesto Roadmen showing up in race results printed in the newsletters. I counted six distinct Modesto Roadmen. (To be listed in the newsletters, they had to have finished in the top 10, so there have been more participants than that.) I was able to identify three as Juniors and one as a Senior B, the other two only show up in a handicap race so I was unable to determine their class. Of these, only one was someone I had ridden with "back in the day", the remaining five were riders I didn't know. I don't have the data to be certain, but based on these newsletters and my memories, I am pretty sure the 1970 Modesto Roadmen had a better racing record than we had when I was a member, during the 1965, 1966, and 1967 racing seasons.

    Also of interest, in the list of races of 1970, I see no mention of the Tour de Graceada, or any race sponsored by the Modesto Roadmen. Was there a lapse in sponsorship of that race? I did note the mention of a "Modesto Criterium" in a tentative list for the 1971 season.

    Who Cares?


    I get that this is a lot of arcane history, and that some will find it of little interest. Hopefully those folks stopped reading a number of paragraphs ago. The reason I find it of interest is that it is a glimpse into the origins of bicycle racing in the United States, of the very active and successful bicycle racing teams and riders that we have the good fortune to have today.



    Friday, January 5, 2018

    King's Mountain

    "Without a picture, it didn't happen." My faithful Bianchi Volpe at the top of the King's Mountain climb.

    Last post, which was about my plan for my second six weeks of training, I said "If I get comfortable going up Old La Honda Road, then what?" but then concluded with "I am trying to ignore such questions for now". As it happens, I was unable to ignore that question; it is something my son and I ended up talking about. King's Mountain and Old La Honda Road are nearby roads over the same mountain range and he has ridden both. He concluded "King's Mountain is about 30% harder than Old La Honda. Let me know when you are ready to try that." Ready or not, here I come. In just my second week of including Old La Honda as part of my weekly workout, my son and I got to the base of that climb only to find it closed for road repairs. What to do? With an impish grin on his face, he casually mentioned "Well, we could try King's Mountain..." What kind of cyclist would I be if I ignored a challenge like that, even considering the bonus miles we rode by going out of our way to the base of Old La Honda? So ride it we did, and a delightful ride it was.

    I have merged the Old La Honda and Kings Mountain rides onto a single map. Because they are so close to each other, much of their routes are in common. The common part of the ride is shown in yellow, the part of the ride unique to the Old La Honda route is in blue/purple and the part of the ride unique to the Kings Mountain route is in red. For the Kings Mountain route, the best ride is to ascend and descend on the same road. In contrast, although Old La Honda Road is a great ascent, it is not a good descent so that ride is a loop, up Old La Honda, down Highway 84.
    The map above compares the Old La Honda ride (in purple, which we could not do) to the King's Mountain ride (in red, which we did instead.) This diagram does not show the ride we actually did, which included an extra and unnecessary extension to the base of the Old La Honda climb, it shows the King's Mountain ride as we would have done it were that the intention from the beginning.

    It is not obvious from the map why the King's Mountain climb is an "upgrade" from the Old La Honda climb, but it is. The Old La Honda climb is 3.7 miles long and ascends 1420 feet from the base of the climb to the top. (The summit is at 1587 feet.) The King's Mountain climb is 4 miles long and ascends 1634 feet (with a summit at 1860 feet.) Because it is closer to where we start our rides, the total ride up King's Mountain is shorter, 18 miles for King's Mountain vs 23 miles for Old La Honda, but that has a relatively minor impact on the difficulty of the ride. (Because we rode the bonus miles, our ride was 24 miles.) Granting that it is an upgrade, objectively, it would seem like a small one, and that was my subjective opinion as well.

    Overall, the ride was lovely. If anything, the scenery of King's Mountain is even better than that of Old La Honda, already one of the prettiest rides I know. Maybe it was just the day or my mood, but the forest through which we climbed seemed a little nicer, but more importantly, the King's Mountain climb includes views out over San Francisco Bay that Old La Honda doesn't. It is hard to accurately compare the difficulty of the rides. The week before, I had underestimated the difficulty of the climb and did not pace myself properly and think that was a big part of why I found that ride so draining. My goal for this week was to work on pacing, to complete the climb in as much comfort as possible, and I maintained that goal when we switched from the Old La Honda to the King's Mountain climb. I think that made a big difference. Make no mistake, it was still a very difficult ride. By the end, my legs were in a fair amount of pain, I had to go very slowly on the ride home, and my legs remained sore for days afterwards. That said, I did not experience the overall exhaustion of the week before, and this week's ride seemed more like a challenging training ride and less like a death march. In summary, I feel like the King's Mountain and Old La Honda climbs are sufficiently similar that I could freely interchange them in my training regimen, that how hard I push will have more impact on how tired I get than the difference in the climbs.

    Total climbing for the day was 2808 feet for the King's Mountain ride (including the climbing included in the bonus miles) as compared to 2420 feet for the Old La Honda ride the week before. This is getting into the ballpark of the 4200 feet of climbing included in a 112K/70 mile populaire ride with the San Francisco Randonneurs bicycle club. The various training programs I have considered suggest that the longest training ride to prepare for a long, challenge ride is between ⅔ and ¾ the length of the challenge. Thus, to prepare for a Century ride (100 miles), the longest training ride should be between 67 and 75 miles. Using a value of 70%, my longest training ride to prepare for that 112K populaire should be 49 miles. But what about climbing? Interestingly, none of my training books talks quantitatively about how to prepare for the climbing of a Century ride. I think it is reasonable to say that ideally, the training rides used to prepare for a Century ride should be through the same kind of terrain as that century, so if the mileage of the longest training ride is 70% of the ride, then the climbing should be about 70% as well. That means my 49 mile training ride for the 112K populaire should include about 2940 feet of climbing, not much more than the 2808 feet I did during my first ride up King's Mountain. If I simply added more miles to that ride without adding any major climbs, I should easily meet that goal. I am starting to think that a populaire might not be beyond my abilities. Stay tuned.