Friday, July 20, 2007

The Bicycling Paradox: Fit Doesn’t Have to Mean Thin

Andy Hampsten, the former pro cyclist, the only American ever to win the Tour of Italy, the first American ever to win the grueling Alpe d’Huez stage of the Tour de France, does his best to discourage casual riders from signing up for the cycling trips he leads in Tuscany.

“All of our trips are designed to satisfy experienced riders,” Mr. Hampsten writes on his Web site. To train, he suggests, “you should ride at least 100 miles a week for at least 6 to 10 weeks” on routes with “as many hills as you can find.”

So I had an image of what our fellow cyclists would look like when my husband, son and I arrived in Castagneto Carducci for a cycling vacation. They would look like Mr. Hampsten, who at age 45 remains boyishly thin and agile, bouncing with energy.

I was wrong. For the most part, our group consisted of ordinary-looking, mostly middle-age men and a few middle-age women.

These were serious cyclists. One of them was Bob Eastaugh, a 63-year-old justice on the Alaska Supreme Court who said he rode mostly to stay in shape for his true passion, downhill ski racing.

And our trip was challenging. The longest hill was 15 miles, the steepest had a 15 percent grade, the longest one-day ride was 90 miles, and the terrain was never, ever flat. It is hard to imagine that a group of middle-age adults could have handled an equivalently difficult 10 days of running. What, I wondered, made bicycling different?

It turns out that others, too, have been struck by the paradox of bicycling fitness.

“When I first got into cycling, I would see cyclists and say, ‘O.K., that’s not what I perceive a cyclist to be,’ ” said Michael Berry, an exercise physiologist at Wake Forest University. Berry had been a competitive runner, and he thought good cyclists would look like good runners — rail-thin and young.

But, Dr. Berry added, “I quickly learned that when I was riding with someone with a 36-inch waist, I could be looking at the back of their waist when they rode away from me.”

He came to realize, he said, that cycling is a lot more forgiving of body type and age than running. The best cyclists going up hills are those with the best weight-to-strength ratio, which generally means being thin and strong. But heavier cyclists go faster downhill. And being light does not help much on flat roads.

James Hagberg, a kinesiology professor at the University of Maryland, explains that the difference between running on a flat road and cycling on a flat road has to do with the movement of the athlete’s center of gravity.

“In running, when you see someone who is obviously overweight, they will be in trouble,” Dr. Hagberg said. “The more you weigh, the more the center of gravity moves and the more energy it costs. But in cycling, there are different aerodynamics — your center of gravity is not moving up and down.”

The difference between cycling and running is like the difference between moving forward on a pogo stick and rolling along on wheels. And that is why Robert Fitts, an exercise physiologist at Marquette University who was a competitive runner, once said good runners run so smoothly they can almost balance an apple on their heads.

Even Mr. Hampsten has been surprised by the cycling paradox. He recalls a woman from San Diego who went on one of his trips. “She was quite overweight,” he said, and even though she claimed to be an experienced cyclist, he worried that she would have trouble keeping up with the group. He was wrong.

“She rode so well,” Mr. Hampsten said. “Her cadence was very efficient. I was just amazed and delighted.”

As for the effects of aging, serious recreational cyclists do slow down, but they are not penalized as much as runners by the passing of years, Dr. Hagberg said. It’s because cycling, while grueling, is not as demanding as running.

“The best example of that, in a bizarre way, is the Tour de France,” Dr. Hagberg said. “What runner could go out six hours a day for three weeks and not be totally trashed after a day or two? That’s a microcosm of the aging issue.”

Still, even the best serious recreational cyclist is almost a different species from a professional rider. How much faster, our touring group asked Mr. Hampsten, would a professional rider go up that 15 percent grade during a race? About twice as fast as the fastest in our group, he replied.

And how about recovery after racing? Mr. Hampsten used to compete in 100 races a year, including the Tour de France, and he would recover by going for a long, relaxed ride. It sometimes took him three hours of cycling to warm up after a hard race. Then he’d continue for another two hours.

But recovery does become a limiting factor for professional cyclists, Mr. Hampsten said. It’s why most professional riders can no longer win long, multiday races after age 32.

“It’s almost eerie that at 32 years, you stop winning,” Mr. Hampsten said. “The endurance seems to stay, but recuperation doesn’t come around.”

When Mr. Hampsten retired, he was 34, “and I hadn’t won a race in two years.”

Now, he estimates, he is 80 percent as fit as he used to be.

But 80 percent for Andy Hampsten is still impressive. As soon as our cycling tour ended, he headed out on a fast ride that included a long hill to the town of Suvereto, taking a road with 187 switchback turns.

“It is my favorite road to ride,” he said.

Source: The NY Times: Fitness & Nutritious, by Gina Kolata

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Use Tennis Ball Grips to Ease Soreness, Numbness

Touring cyclist Christopher Madden lives in Washington, D.C., and was out riding recently when he spotted another cyclist with two wooden balls mounted as grips on the ends of his bar end extensions. The cyclist told Madden -- who has had problems with numbness and soreness in the palms of his hands and fingers on longer rides -- that these wooden balls, about the size of tennis balls, allowed him to maintain a more comfortable hand position that had eliminated hand numbness and soreness for him.

This got Madden thinking about how he could replicate the set-up for himself, and while riding the next day, he found two tennis balls alongside the path. He took them home and voila! 45 minutes later, the tennis balls were installed on the bar extensions of his own bike.

"The tennis balls are the perfect size and shape for a secure but relaxed and comfortable grip," says Madden. "Plus, there are many different comfortable grip positions as I rotate my hands and wrists around the tennis balls. I do most of my riding with a relaxed grip on the tennis balls and only drop back to the bars when I need to brake or shift."

Other Positive Features of this Set-Up

Madden has since ridden over 150 miles with the new grips and had no problems with the tennis balls coming loose. He noted the following other features about this set-up:

  • Contact is spread over a large smooth curved area so you won't get any numbness or soreness.
  • When you hit big bumps the tennis balls collapse because they have no air pressure in them but instantly spring back to provide excellent shock absorbsion.
  • The surface of the balls don't get slippery when wet and provide for excellent gripping.
  • In case of a crash the tennis balls will cushion any contact with the bar end extensions.
Source: Bicycling- by David Fiedler

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tire Rotation

It is common for a front tire to outlast a rear tire by as much as three to one. Rear tires have more weight on them, and also have to deal with drive forces. This disparity in tread life is exacerbated in the case cyclists who rely on their rear brake.

Well-meaning cyclists, even some mechanics who don't know any better, sometimes try to deal with this by swapping tires, putting the less worn front tire on the back wheel, and moving the worn-but-usable rear tire to the front. The idea is to equalize the wear on the two tires, but this is a serious mistake, don't do it!

The only time tire rotation is appropriate on a bicycle is when you are replacing the rear tire. If you feel like taking the trouble, and use the same type of tire front and rear, you should move the front tire to the rear wheel, and install the new tire in front.

The reason for this is that the front tire is much more critical for safety than the rear, so you should have the more reliable tire on the front.

If you have a blowout, if it is on the rear tire, you have a very good chance of bringing the bike to a controlled stop. If your front tire blows, you can lose steering control, and a crash is a real possibility.

Source: Harris Cyclery- Sheldon "Put the good one in front" Brown

The Flying Scotsman

Check out this movie, a true story based on the life of Graeme Obree, a Scottish and remarkable cyclist who broke the world one-hour record on his handmade bike back in 1993. Brilliant!

Source: YouTube.

Established in December 2006