Why I cycle alone

lone_cyclistI have cycled on off since the early 90’s when Nancy and I went shopping for a bike for her. Being the Dallas area, this meant a trip to Richardson Bike Mark, the premier bike shop in the Dallas area. She ended up with a Cannondale road bike while I, being spontaneous, picked up a Bianchi. Thus began my cycling adventures with my first and only partner to date.

We were training for the Hotter’n Hell 100 in Wichita Falls held every August in the heat of Summer. We rode often encouraging each other to keep going. The rides were fun with lots of talk of riding at this event or traveling somewhere to ride. It was a great way for us to spend time together and try to keep up an active life. We both worked at Texas Instruments on the same shift so we had plenty of time to plan our rides.

Around that time Texas Instruments was going through their layoff phase and Nancy got caught in the letting go. Her priorities were to find a job first and cycling second. At that point she was still committed on the Hotter’n Hell ride. Nancy is like a cat landing on its feet. It didn’t take long for her to find a job, but this job took her to Singapore for training the same month of the ride we were planning to go to. I was heartbroken, but also glad that she was embarking on a new adventure in her life.

I ended up going as I already booked a camping spot. I figured that I might as well go, even if it means going alone. Sleeping under the stars with Randy Travis playing on my portable CD player (yes, they existed) was the best.

Since then I have cycled by myself. Back then the Internet was in its infancy and forget about Facebook and social networks. They simply did not exist. Neither did cell phones and the texting that came with it. In today’s time, I was living in a social cave. No interaction with the public was allowed nor possible. Finding someone who I could ride with was daunting so I didn’t bother.

I kept on riding but it was hard. Adapting to solo riding took a while to occur. The hardest part is the mental conditioning that you have to go through. You had no music to play (MP3 players were not invented then, hard to imagine but true), so long rides were rather boring mentally. Mind games and second guessing your decisions were my constant companions on those rides.

While in Dallas, I did all the cycling charity events there and surrounding areas. There were tons of them to choose from. Some easy and others hard. Even those I did by myself. I would started riding keeping an eye out for a group that seemed to be cycling at my tempo and stuck with them. I did meet a few people, but nothing stuck. Just casual acquaintances nothing more.

Since I’ve moved back to the Valley, I still find it difficult to find someone to ride with. My friends either do not ride or if they do ride, it is one part of 12 different activities that they do. Really? Do you really need to participate in twelve different activities to “live life to its fullest”? Forget that!

club_rideWhat about club rides? For the most part, I hate them. We had them in Dallas and now here. To me, they seem and act like pretentious SOB’s. They only like to do one thing and that’s ride fast. If you can’t keep up then it’s too bad. If you get a flat then it’s see you later attitude. That happened to a friend of mine. It was her first time out with them and she’s a beginner. She got left behind after getting two flats at once. What a freaking bunch of assholes. Not my thing. Now, I know that they are all not that way and a few are rather nice. A few is the key word here.

Anyways, I don’t look good in any of those tight-fitting jerseys. I’m a big boy and don’t have the body for it. I really like my plain sport jersey’s from Academy Sports. The white long-sleeve with black trim that also has a rating SPF 50+ is my favorite. In this Texas heat of 100+ degrees, white is the way to go.

Recently this year, I thought I had found a riding buddy. In fact, two of them. I was so excited! I always get excited to find a possible riding partner. At least I’m happy for a couple of days or weeks from the cycling that we do, but it never lasts. One thing leads to another and we end up no longer riding. It’s either jobs, new boyfriends, skill level passes me up or lost of interest with riding with me. After which I come crashing down emotionally. It’s like the rug was pulled from under my feet and it hits me hard for some reason, but after a while I’m okay with it. As long as we are still friends that’s what matters to me.

This leads to the question, is it me? Do I make a terrible riding partner? Do I bug them too much on Facebook or cell phone? Am I too quiet while riding? Am I too old and boring? Too fast, too slow? Well for one of them, I’m too slow, that I know. I’m naturally a shy quiet guy in everything I do. Either way no one ever lets me know what I’m doing wrong, if anything. The result is I’m still cycling alone. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Another possible reason is that right now I’m following a training plan from iBike Powerhouse. This plan is custom to me and involves performing intervals. The training session usually last about an hour, more or less. So, if someone texts me about going riding I’m a little hesitant. I don’t want to be taken off my plan. But, if I can get the training in before we meet to ride then yes, I’ll go. If it’s a certain person then I drop everything and go if possible.

Will I ever find someone to cycle with, I doubt it. I do wish I could find someone who gets me and likes to rides as much as I do? Sure I do! I have visions of traveling to different cities to cycle and explore the area together. Is that such a bad thing?

Well, there you go. I think I’ve explained why I don’t cycle with someone. If you can understand my rambling mess please share your thoughts with me. If you have any suggestions to help me out then let me know too!

Weight Loss the iBike Powerhouse v1.3 way

iBike_POWERHOUSE_InsertionAs stated before, my number one goal is to lose the weight though cycling. Riding fast, or going on club rides takes a back seat to my objective, weight loss. Going out for the sake of riding is not the ideal way to lose the weight, at least not for me. For me, I need a plan that I can follow day-in and day-out and that is where the iBike Powerhouse method of weight loss intrigues me. It is a simplified Power meter with customized power based interval training sessions created by the legendary Hunter Allen (power based cycling coach. A bio can be found at Peaks Coaching Group.) .

The system is a combination of a water/dust resistant case that contains the electronics that measures temperature, altitude, inclination, wind as well as the receiver for any ANT+ compatible sensor such as speed and cadence, heart rate monitor and even a DFPM (Direct Force Power Meter). Combine the case and it’s electronics with the Powerhouse software along with your iPhone or iPodTouch and  you have a complete package for training.

The software itself comes with several different training goals to choose from:

  • iSlim (the one I’m currently using)
  • CycleMax
  • 0-20
  • Express Fit
  • Brazilian Butt

Each has their specific goals and can be used over and over. The basic concept is to choose a training plan, depending on your goals, enter the vitals (weight, height, type of bike, bike weight, tire circumference), sync sensors (done only once), tilt calibration and a setup ride (all done only once or as needed) then do a fitness test. Afterwards, a daily ride plan is generated. Just do the daily rides as prescribed. At regular intervals throughout the plan, you will be asked to perform additional fitness tests so that the workouts can be adjusted. After each workout you are asked to rate the intensity of the workout from a scale from 1 – 10 where 1 is easy and 10 is near death. These ratings also adjusts the following workouts as needed.

The Case

As I mentioned before, the case contain all the electronics for the system as well as a protective housing for your iPhone or iPodTouch. It is water and dust resistant and I have ridden in the rain with no water getting to my beloved iPhone 4. It is hinged at the top with a clamp that holds the lid shut tight. The case can be mounted on either the stem mount or on the handle bar. If your stem has a high angle you might be better off with the handle bar mount because the case may not be able to slip into the mounting bracket. On my set up I had to shimmy up the bracket to get the clearance I needed and on top of that I had to add rubber feet at the bottom to keep it from rattling on the bolts that hold that handlebar.

One last thing about the case is that because it is water/dust resistant, there is no port for headphone jack nor a button to turn off unit. To many that my not be such a big deal but to others it can. To listen to music or listen to audible feedback and cues headphone are needed. In this case Bluetooth headphones. For those that want to use the same case for social rides or other non-training rides, access to the power button to save battery life is a must. The simple solution is to open the case and push the button, but in my opinion that is added extra wear and tear on the hing.

During the Ride

iBike_POWERHOUSE_iSlim_ride_screenOne of the nice features of the system, is at the beginning of each interval, you have Hunter Allen motivating you and giving you a heads up on what is coming up next. Although not necessary, Bluetooth headset are needed to hear the heads-up. As a bonus you can listen to tunes while riding via a music button that allows you to pull up your favorite playlist while riding. If not, then there is a visual feedback to. It’s up to you if you want to use head sets or not. Each ride includes a warmup period, the workout followed by a cool down. The displays are large and easy to read as well as a count down timer for each interval.

You goal is to match the target cadence and the floating intensity level. You will have to be changing gears to reach the two targets. Sometimes you will need to be changing gears often depending on terrain and wind. If you never done intervals then you are in for a treat. You alternate from recovery spin to work intensity.  Another bonus of this program is the variety of intervals! It’s not the same one day-after-day. You have pyramid, big gear/small gear, below/above upper threshold intervals to name a few as well as endurance rides and scheduled rest days.

My iSlim workouts, 56 in all, have been between 50 and 75 minutes with 54 minutes being the average. This gives me a great workout in a short amount of time. What I normally do afterwards is go riding free style and just put in some saddle time.

After the Ride

Once the workout is finished, there are some things you can do. First of all, you can see what the next ride is going to be. You can then upload your ride to Strava. Strava is the only site that is supported by the app. Hopefully others will be supported but only if users ask for them.

Something that I found out is that you can go back in history and pull up all of your ride files. This is cool because I can go back to my first ride and compare that to my latest ride. For me, it was an increase of  2 mph average.

One thing that i have noticed is when I do ride with a group, I tend to recognize the riding situation as one of the intervals from the program. My body automatically reacts and I get into a rhythm quicker.

A Few Caveats

I really like this system and there is always room for improvements. One thing that annoys me is the data from the fitness test can’t be upload to Strava. To me, if you are trying to achieve a mileage goal it would be nice to record it. You can’t even see the results in the history. It’s like the ride never occurred, but your lungs and legs tell you otherwise.

More sites to upload or tweet about your ride with the workout details are needed. Not everyone uses Strava and there are many to choose from. Even if they provided an email GPX file that would be good. Most places accept a GPX file to upload.

The ability to redo the last workout or fitness test is a must. Sometimes the fitness test didn’t come out as you would like to have or maybe you got interrupted while doing the workout. There should be a way to redo the previous ride. From what I’ve read on their forums, they do plan to implement this request.

The door cover snap handle did crack and eventually fell off. That means that I cannot lock the door closed. I contacted the company and they said they would replace/repair the case, I just had to send it in with a copy of the invoice. To me that mean one to two weeks without it. I opted for some Gorilla Glue and all is fine now. That has been about 2 months ago and the glue is still holding strong.

One last caveat is the receiver for the ANT+ sensors only work with iBike Apps. This means that if you are doing a non-training ride and want to use your existing favorite app like Cyclemeter you can’t sync the speed and cadence sensors or heart-rate. You would have to use GPS only mode with other Apps. Luckily, the folks at Velocomp have an App that you can use for just that purpose called iBike Coach.

Chip Seal Roads

Chip seal roads are rough on the case. If you have the stem mount option for the case, then expect a lot of vibration with the top of the case and the handle bar clamp bolts. It rattles the hell out of the unit and makes a lot of noise too! I don’t love those types of roads but you must be able to ride on it. Being the tinker that I am I came up with a solution of gluing strips of a used tire tube in the troubled area of the case. After a little tweaking it is now super quiet. If you get the mount that attaches to the handlebar then you shouldn’t have that problem.

Is the setup worth it? I my humble opinion, I believe it’s worth the investment. Just by following the program I have gotten fitter, stronger, faster and have been losing the weight. You still have to do your part with following the program and eating sensibly. This doesn’t give you the excuse of going out and downing a cheeseburger and a milkshake after the ride. Diet is just important as the method of burning the calories.  The iBike Powerhouse method of losing weight is an excellent, fun way of achieving your goals.

I don’t know about everyone else, but this is how I clean my bike

One thing that many beginning cyclist fail to do is to show some love for their bike and clean the chain as well as the drive train. Bike maintenance is often overlooked until someone points it out to them. A few days (OK 2 weeks ago) a go a friend of mine asked how to clean it after seeing one of my posts. Lucy, this is how I clean my bike. There are a zillion ways of doing it and they all accomplish the same thing, a clean chain and drive train.

First of all you will need some basic tools. You do not need to go out and buy bike specific stuff to do this as simple household items will work just fine. Lets run through the list:

  • bike stand
    • hang from tree or flip bike upside down if stand is not available
  • clean shop rags
  • degreaser agent
    • I use Simple Green degreaser that you can find at supermarket
    • I use both the foam and the liquid spray type
  • sprocket brush
  • chain cleaner cartridge
  • water hose
  • gloves if you don’t want to get your hands dirty

The basic concept is to clean the chain and everything that it comes into contact with. That means the front and rear cassette, front and rear derailleurs and the chain itself. With that in mind, this is how I do it.

The very first thing I do is get the water hose and spray everything down. If the bike is muddy, then hose of much of it off and use a wet rag or sponge to the rest off. I then use the Simple Green foam version and spray the chain, cassette and rear derailleur. Let it soak for a few minutes to let it do its magic. You may have to respray as needed.

Here are a few pics of the chain cleaner and the sprocket brush. They are pretty much self-explanatory on how to use them but I will cover that in the section below.

A chain cleaner is real important to get. This one is from Park Tools but there are other brands out there that will do a good job cleaning the chain. I happen to use this one to clean the chain with. I fill the reservoir with water and mix in some of the Simple Green liquid into it. You clamp it over the chain at the bottom and spin the crank. I usually give it 30 revolutions and a high tempo. Repeat as needed. To make things easier, be sure that the chain is in the outer most sprockets for both the front and rear, so change gears as needed.

Once done, use one of the clean rags to get the rest of the grime off. Just grip the chain at the bottom with the rag and turn the crank. You will need to move the rag around to a clean spot several times. Ideally you should not get any black stains on the rag but good luck with that. I keep at it until the stain has that watered down look to it.

At this point you can lube it or wait till the rest of the drive train is cleaned. I usually wait till every thing else is cleaned.

Depending on how dirty or muddy the rear cassette is determines if I will use the sprocket brush or not. Usually if you are a mountain biker that hits the dirt trails often, even after it rains, then you will need this or something similar to get out all the mud. For roadies, it usually after riding in wet conditions.  I have it in my toolbox and use it as needed.

The next thing to clean is the derailleur sprockets. Those little wheels under the derailleur. Many people just do the chain and call it quits, but the derailleur is one of the most grungiest places on the bike! There are several ways of cleaning these and you need to be careful as something can get caught in the chain and sprocket. You can use either the sprocket cleaner or a clean rag.

Before starting anything else you will want to spray the sprockets with some degreaser. This is where a foam type degreaser works well. Let is soak and start loosening the grease and grime. When ready you can use the sprocket brush and press the bristles on an exposed side and turn the crank. Just firmly hold the bristles as you spin the crank slowly. Repeat on the other side of the sprocket. Be sure to rinse bristles often and go at it some more. Be sure to do the same for the other sprocket making sure to get both sides. This the same procedure if you were to use a rag. Just find an area where you can press the rag against the sprocket and turn the crank. Be careful not to get the rag caught in the chain and sprocket. Move the rag to a clean spot and repeat and be sure to do the other side of the sprocket. You will find a lot of grunge in this area! The more adventurous people would take the chain off and clean both the chain and the derailleur wheels but I don’t.

Once done, give both the front and rear derailleurs a wipe down with a clean rag. With the front derailleur give the inside of the cage a wipe too. Wipe down the front cassette as well as you can. You are now ready to clean the rear cassette. With a clean shop rag, I slide it between gears and work it all around the cassette. You can slowly turn the crank to move it around. Do that for each gear and shift gears to move the chain out-of-the-way.

At this point get the water hose and rinse everything off and pat dry the frame and everything else. The last step is to simply apply lubricant to the chain and wipe of the excess and you are done. Run through the gears to see if everything is OK. At this point you should have a shiny clean chain ready for more pedaling adventures.

To take thing further, this is a good time to take a closer look at your bike while it is up on a stand. Spin the wheels and check for trueness. What do I mean by that? Simply check to see if there are no side-to-side wobbles in the wheel. You will notice it by looking at the brake pads. When the tire is spinning, the rim should stay at an equal gap from the pad. If you notice that on certain sections of the wheel the rim is closer or further from the brake pad then your wheel is out of true. Sometimes it is minor problem and other times it warrants getting it aligned properly.

Check the spokes and make sure none are bent, broken or loose. They are the culprits for the wobbliness in the wheel, get it fixed ASAP. Take it to the bike shop and show it to them. I usually use a twisty from a loaf of bread and wrap it around the spoke in question.

Next check the brakes. Are the brake pads in good condition? Do they open and close properly without sticking? Is the mechanism clean of any dirt and small rocks? Clean it out if needed. Clean the frame underneath the fork and any mounting brackets.

Last thing I do is to run through the gears slowly one gear at a time. I’m pretty sure that you would notice a sticky gear while riding but it does hurt to check it again at this point. It may need some minor tweaking or not.

Oh before I forget, check the pedals for any signs of unusual wear and that they spin freely. Nothing as bad as sticky pedals!

At this point you are done. Make any notes on problem areas and talk to your local bike shop about them. These checks are entirely optional but I recommend in doing them. It gets you familiar with your bike and how it feels when everything is working properly. Like I said before, there are a zillion ways of cleaning the bike, but this is how i clean mine.

Love your bike!