Monday, 29 December 2014

Late December Warm Spell

Late December brought us some unseasonably warm weather.  No kidding, we had a green Christmas for the first time in many years.  It's not great weather for my ice bike with its studded tires but it was a great excuse to pull out my hybrid.

Clothing at this point is kind of simple.  Winter jersey, thermal tights, cycling liner with chamois, thin gloves, merino wool socks, hiking boots.  With a temperature of 5C and some decent wind, I felt cold at first.  Which is perfect; ten minutes into my ride I was toasty warm.

You might notice most of the pictures are aimed at the ground directly in front of my bicycle.  I was trying out my new helmet mount for my crappy action cam.  It works but I set it at a bad angle.

But it does give me a chance to showcase exactly why I like riding my hybrid.  It's a versatile bicycle.  If pavement gives way to stone dust or mud, no worries.

There's a nearby trail that is perfect for getting the most out of my hybrid.  The trails are varied.  Pavement gives way to broken pavement, stone dust gives way to mud, leaves and pine needles.  The trail goes from smooth to cratered and back again.

It's also a great escape from the concrete jungle.  Scenic views of the river and wetlands that help you forget about the rat race.  It's nice to wind past the coniferous and deciduous trees and just let your stresses and problems melt away.

One of the positives about riding in the cold is the lack of insects.  With all the wetland areas it can get pretty buggy depending on the time of year.  There have been multiple days this summer where I took the trail and got swarmed by black flies, horse flies, deer flies and a legion of mosquitoes.  They are persistent (follow for many kilometers), mean (bite right through padded gloves) and the larger ones are faster than you (even on a bike).
The number of humans in attendance also declines drastically.  There were people still checking out the bird sanctuary and you do run into the occasional dedicated dog walker.  I never passed anyone cycling or jogging.

Of course, there are downsides to peace and quiet.  Further into the trail you don't see anyone at all.  It's also very inaccessible by car.  If your bike breaks down you are pretty much on your own.  The last time this happened to me I actually bent my rear wheel.  I had to walk 10km out half-carrying my bike.

Maintenance also takes a downturn.  It is normal to see trees fallen over the trail from late fall right into mid spring.  But hey, outside of cutting up some trees there isn't really a lot of maintenance done in fairer weather.  There are lumps in the paved sections of the trail (locals call them eggs) that are so large if you hit them you'd total your bike and probably endo as well.  Yet another reason why I prefer my hybrid here; my road bike probably wouldn't survive the trip.

Case in point, there is a bridge going across a wetland outflow to the river.  There has been an orange cone on this bridge since October.  Every once in a while the cone would get blown around the bridge.  Every week or so someone from the parks department would come out and place it back in the right spot.  Eventually the defective part of the bridge was identified with a board nailed to it.  And of course, the cone placed on it.  Which still gets blown around by the wind, so they continue sending someone out to put it back.  I'm pretty sure it's cheaper to just go out once and fix it!

Across the river is our neighbour to the south, the United States.  New York state to be exact.  Despite being a major seaway and an international border, it's remarkably quiet when you are on the trail.  Of course when its late December there's also no boat traffic at all.  Probably because everyone has winterized their boat and didn't expect ice-free water in December.

The ride itself is a pretty good work out.  My hybrid doesn't put out flashy big numbers for speed or mileage.  But I measure my effort based on my heart rate.  One hour of riding these trails  results in greater calorie burn and steady effort than my indoor cycling class.

I'm hoping to take my icebike into these areas sometime this winter.  It doesn't perform well in deep snow so I'm hoping for the time of year where the snow has melted and refrozen a few times making an icy crust on top.  Maybe next year I'll be able to pick up a fat bike and try floating on top of the snow.

I did notice that my hybrid is sluggish in the cold.  I had just cleaned and re-lubed my chain so it wasn't that.  I figure I will need to do some maintenance on my hub and other moving parts.  I feel like the grease is either old or not up to stuff in cold weather.  My icebike seems to have a similar issue and it gets worse as the mercury drops.

Friday, 26 December 2014

My Fight Against Diabetes Part 3 - Reversal

Diabetes reversal became my goal.  I tried to maintain a bike ride 4-6 times per week.  They consisted of  hard sessions (intervals, hills), endurance sessions (80km+) or shorter recovery rides in between.  I eventually stopped logging my food.  I was dropping weight fast and I was getting very good at knowing what foods had carbs and what sort of portions I should be able to eat.  I treated most of my time on the bike like a training session; I'd extend the endurance rides further and the high intensity I would ride harder.  My old endurance distances started to become my current recovery ride distance.

A few months (and 40 pounds) later, I was back getting another A1C.  The doctor was really happy with my progress, my A1C had dropped to a 6.3%.  I was a bit disappointed as I had expected more results from my hard work.  But the doctor really helped me put it into perspective; she reminded me I did it on half of my oral dose.  She confirmed that this was a pre-diabetic level and she was taking me off all the oral medication.  I had already achieved my goal of diabetes reversal!

This wasn't the end though, not by a long shot.  There's a reason why they call it "reversal" and not "cure".  It's because there is no cure.  You can reverse the progress of type 2 diabetes but the disease is a progressive one.  It meant I would have to continue riding my bike harder and faster and maintaining my good eating habits.  But in my mind this is perfectly fine; I knew no matter what, diabetes would bring lifestyle changes.  In my case I had just made very healthy lifestyle choices.  It doesn't hurt that I love cycling too.

So my next goal became more of the same, lower A1C numbers and continuing my diabetes reversal.  I made sure to continue extending the intensity of my hard rides and the distance of my long rides.  Times when I was grimacing in pain, I would visualize that pain being inflicted on my diabetes.  The thought would turn my exercise-induced grimace into a very broad smile.

It was definitely having a big change on my physique.  My weight loss slowed but was easily explained by the muscles; my quads started becoming quite large.  My waist size continued to shrink.  I was still pretty doughy on top, but south of my waist line I had the appearance of an athlete.  I only lost ten pounds but felt like I had lost another 40!

When winter started making things difficult, I executed my contingency plans.  My road bike was put on a trainer and used at an indoor class; Project: SubZero would be my experiment riding out doors.  I also had a stationary bike if the indoor class didn't work out.  I've been so busy with the first two I have only had one opportunity to use the stationary at home.

So recently I went back for another A1C.  I was expecting a small drop like last time.  So you can imagine my surprise when my reading was 5.7%!  My doctor was very congratulatory and pointed out this last drop was done with no oral medication at all.  Her suggestion was I continue exactly what I had been doing, as it was obviously very successful.

So I continue to progress against this progressive disease.  I do this by constantly extending my goals.  My A1C goal is to be lower than 5.7% next time.  My weight goal is to lose another 50 lbs.  While indoor cycling I'm hoping to increase my functional threshold power an additional 15%.  This coming spring I am looking into a 200km brevet.  As the saying goes, get busy living or get busy dying.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

My Fight Against Diabetes Part 2 - Diet and Exercise

When I first started cycling I knew that the hardest thing would be figuring out nutrition.  I wanted to avoid the dreaded bonk.  When I went online, again I found a lot of conflicting information.  Everything from no carbs to low carbs, to high carbs.... Not very helpful!  I realized that many people were at different stages with their diabetes, and some people were probably following misinformation.

So instead I opted to do a bit of field research.  I brought my glucose meter with me and took readings at set intervals.  I'd bring food of varying carbohydrates and GI and see what worked best.  I felt that this was the best way to cut through the misinformation and to give me readings specific for me.  Don't worry, I cleared things with my doctor first; if you are reading this wanting to do the same thing, always keep your doctor in the loop!

What I found was very surprising.  Most of the time my blood sugar was at the bottom end.  I started to consume more glucose with a higher glycemic index and it would still be borderline low.  Eventually I tried very high glucose with high GI, gels and energy drinks.  The stuff that's normally considered poison for a diabetic.  I found on very long rides (3+ hours) I could have a gel or an energy drink every hour and my blood sugar was optimum.

If you read about dieting and exercise to manage type 2 diabetes, you'll see they recommend aerobic exercise and strength training.  Both activities make your body more sensitive to insulin.  In addition, while you are exercising, your muscles use up glucose; the bigger your muscles and harder the activity, the more glucose they burn.  This is why cycling is so effective for managing diabetes; you can easily vary your ride experience; riding hard and doing intervals is strength training.

One of the newer tests to diagnose and monitor diabetes is called HbA1C; or hemoglobin A1C.  The test gives an average of your blood sugar over the previous 2 or 3 months.  For a person without diabetes their value should be in the 4%-5.6%.  If you test between 5.7%-6.4% you are considered at risk of diabetes.  A reading of 6.5% or higher is considered diabetes.  At 7% it indicates poor control of blood sugar; 8-10% is considered very poor control and a much higher risk for diabetes complications.

My type 2 diabetes diagnosis was indicated by an A1C of 7.3%.  I was started on some oral medication and an appointment was set with the diabetes education centre.  Before I got talking to them, I decided to start exercising; the one thing I knew about diabetes was losing weight helped.  And I was massively overweight, I'm pretty sure I was in the obese range.  I couldn't even ride a bicycle properly then.  I just started by walking.  Walking longer distances, harder and faster each time.  It helped me lose enough weight and gain enough strength to start riding my hybrid.

My next appointment with the doctor was a big eye opener.  My A1C reading was 6.5%.  Since I was logging all my food and using apps to track my exercise activity, my doctor was able to review the data with a high level of confidence and no worries about exaggeration.  What she said surprised me.  She told me to cut my oral dosage in half and told me, "If you keep this up you could reverse your diabetes."

REVERSE?!

There is no cure for diabetes but in some rare cases a type 2 diabetic can "reverse" the condition.  It involves a lot of work but you can bring your numbers down to the point where you no longer need medication to manage your diabetes.  It's not a cure because you are basically locked in a battle with a progressive disease; it constantly fights your attempts to control it.

To be continued in part 3 where I work hard at my new goal of diabetes reversal.

Friday, 5 December 2014

My Fight Against Diabetes Part 1 - Diabetes Education

I still remember my doctor telling me not to make any big changes and to get educated about diabetes first.  My instinct was the complete opposite.  I didn't want to wait three weeks until the diabetes centre had an opening.  I needed to deal with this NOW!  But I fought the instinct and took my doctor's advice.

Now I know why she told me to do that.  There are a lot of myths out there regarding diabetes and there are also a lot of unaware people have adopted this bad information as gospel.  So you will be hearing this bad advice from people you love, people you trust and fellow diabetics; all of which are just trying to be helpful.  The diabetes centre was great for debunking this bad information.

For example, lots of people (including many diabetics) would give me advice about carbohydrates.  Most of it consisted of how you should be cutting it drastically from your diet  Yes, too many carbs is bad; but too little carbs is bad too.  It's kind of like suggesting the best way to avoid drowning is to never drink water again.

People will tell you what you can and can't eat.  Sometimes this is framed as "helpful advice" but I've even had people literally say "You can't eat that," in a restaurant.  They just saw carbs as some kind of poison.  They don't care about the glycemic index or how much of the carbs are dietary fiber.  Or how many there were in the meal.

The truth of the matter is, your body needs carbohydrates; moderation is the key.  For each meal I would have anywhere between 45-90 grams of carbs.  For a snack I would allow up to 30 grams of carbs

The other thing the diabetic centre made me aware of was the glycemic index.  Foods high on the index release glucose more rapidly; foods lower on the index release more slowly.  So for regular food I tried to stick with lower GI foods.

The centre also encouraged me to exercise, which is one of the best ways to manage type-2 diabetes.  They recommended both aerobic and strength training.  They gave me great information to help me along my journey; for example how to count net carbs properly (subtract dietary fiber from total carbohydrate count).

To be continued in part 2 where I will discuss my exercise and the impact of nutrition on cycling.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Indoor Cycling Week 4

Due to scheduled plans I wasn't able to attend the first 2 days of indoor cycling class.  That's just the way life goes sometimes.

I was determined to go on the third day.  I don't want to miss a whole week.  Even with a nagging cough and lingering migraine, I was still hell bent on going.  I took what I could to deal with the migraine and just hoped that coughing wouldn't be an issue.

The class was doing more over-under intervals.  As this is the third class of the week, the duration is an hour and a half.  After warming up and getting up to speed, we did 130% FTP 1 min, easy spin 1 min, repeat 10 times.  Then second set was similar, only we did 150% FTP.  The last set was also similar but the lowest amount of effort, 120% of FTP.

The bad part was I felt my smart phone at home.  Since my smart phone is the brains of my sensors, I basically lost any sort of read out.  No speed, cadence, heart rate, etc..  So I had to guess what my FTP was.

The good part was everything else turned out great.  I did still cough a bit, but almost always when I was easy spinning.  The head pain had dissipated when we had arrived.  During a particularly hard effort when my legs were burning and my lungs were on fire, I found myself smiling, really enjoying the intensity and burn.  What can I say, it's addictive!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Android Apps for Cycling

Sometimes I feel like the best modern invention for cycling is the smart phone.  When I re-ignited my passion for cycling, I had an Android phone.  I was hoping there would be a program that could make use of the phone's sensors and give me a good guess as to my speed.  Today I have a variety of apps that enhance my cycling experience.

Note: I will probably do some reviews of these in the future, which is why I don't want to go too in-depth with each app.  I will post examples that I have used in the past.  This is why you'll see sometimes I only have one example to offer up.

I'm going to stick with an Android perspective since it's what I know and use.

Activity Tracking
Strava screen.  No map as this
activity was indoors (no GPS).
When I was first exposed to an activity tracking app, I thought it was a great idea.  It would be able to tell me how fast I was going and show me the map of where I went.  I also like to joke that certain attributes (speed, distance time) are like scores on a game.  You've got to beat your old score!  Some trackers take this very literally and make your ride into a game.

It also keeps track of those attributes for you.  It does analysis on your ride.  It makes it easy to share on social media or connect into the other apps.  Some have interesting features like off-road maps, auto-pausing, camera shots included into your ride, turn by turn navigation, competitive leader boards and so on.  Many have feature-rich web sites which complement the application.

Below are examples of software you can do this with on Android.
Ride With GPS (free but requires monthly subscription for premium)
Strava (free but requires monthly subscription for premium)
Map My Ride (free but requires monthly subscription for premium)
Wahoo Fitness (free but only guaranteed compatibility with Wahoo products, which are only guaranteed with iPhones.  They have some Android support).
Zombies, Run (paid + paid upgrades).

Food Tracking
MyFitnessPal
An important aspect of diabetes management is watching what you eat.  So when I started to track what I ate, I looked for an app that could log food easily.  Like being able to scan a bar code to speed up entering in details or being able to repeat something I've logged before.  Things like being able to add your own recipes and foods are a big bonus.

A good food tracker can assist you with your diet.  You should be able to set goals such as weight or other parameters, for example waist size.  A good food tracker will help you watch whatever you need to; watching calories is great for dieting but watching carbohydrates is important for diabetics.

One function that is really important to me is a food tracker that will talk to my activity tracker.  That way your diet can be adjusted according to your exercise.

A popular free food tracker many people use is MyFitnessPal.

To be honest though I've been slacking in my food tracking.  At a certain point I was riding my bicycle so frequently that I was burning calories at a crazy rate.  But lately things have slowed.  I need to get back on this particular wagon.

People Tracking
Glympse
No, this isn't a lesson in stalking or a primer for a spy.  I'm talking about a more voluntary sort of tracking.  While most people would eschew others tracking them, this is a good idea for a few reasons:

  • Riding somewhere dangerous (environmental, wildlife, maybe its just the bad end of town).
  • Have health issues where you might need immediate assistance.
  • Live in an area with other cyclists where you might want to meet up with each other while riding.
  • Riding alone.  Even if it's somewhere safe.  Like winter biking around my house.  If I were to slip and hit my head, I could get knocked out and freeze to death.

In the past I've tried using the built-in "meet up" functionality that's already found in subscription-based activity trackers.  But it usually requires a subscription and the other person has to use the same app.  And its hard to just ride up and meet with friends when you live way out in the sticks.  Lately I've been using Glympse.  I like it because you can send anyone a link via email and you control how long it will track you for.

Weather Tracking
The Weather Network
One of the most important apps I use.  It tells me how to dress properly for a bicycle ride.  It will tell me how much or how little clothing I need to wear.  I hate riding in the rain so it also tells me when I need to dust off the trainer or stationary bike.  Here are several Android favourites:
The Weather Channel
The Weather Network
Accuweather
WeatherBug

Miscellaneous
St Johns Ambulance
First Aid for Cyclists
So you're out riding your bicycle and you endo (flip over your handlebars, "end over end" or endo).  You discover there's no reception where you are.  What do you do?  Well, there's an app for that!  I keep around a first aid app (I use St John's Ambulance First Aid for Cyclists).  A repair app would come in handy as well but I haven't found one I like yet.  Best would be any application that works offline in case the area has no cellular reception.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Winter Cycling Noon and Night

Still eager to hit the snow, I planned on two rides in the same day.  One would be a quick ride to the post office in the snow.  The other would be a longer night ride, with a clear sky and icy roads.  I was also eager to try out some new gear.

I Spy With My Giant Eyes
I had purchased Spy Optics Whip MX Goggles.  I was hoping they would fill the need for anti-fogging eye-wear.  I was also hoping for something that would be comfortable, especially over the course of a long ride.

The other piece to keep my face warm is a Seirus Neofleece Combo Scarf.  It works like a face mask that has a nose opening.  There are lots of small openings around the mouth.  It can also be flipped down so it functions like a scarf.
Very thin, very warm.

And of course, when you wear them both you look like a badass ninja.

I am a badass ninja!
The last bit of wear would be my MEC Watchtower Pants.  They're actually the 2013 version I bought on clearance.  It seemed like a great layer to use as an alternative to my usual thermal tights.  I would be wearing them with my Drencher pants to see if I ended up sweating a lot.  For a shirt and jacket I went with a very thin polyester shirt and my red rain coat.  The idea was using less insulating base layers so maybe I could be waterproof on the outside and sweat proof on the inside.

I started my quick noon ride.  The goggles turned out to be just what I was looking for.  They didn't fog up regardless of my activity level and they were very comfortable on my face.  In addition the wide band ends up insulating your ears a bit.  The lenses can also be changed out for new ones that block out various spectrum.  The only big downside is it did not play friendly with my cheap head lamps.  Not a fault of the goggles though; I should be using a bicycle helmet friendly headlamp. 

The mask was very easy to breath through but the material turned out to be very warm.  I ended up pulling it down into a scarf shape a few minutes. after I started riding.  At my halfway point I just removed the mask entirely and pocketed it.  I still believe this mask is going to be a great asset when it gets substantially colder.  Right now it is simply too warm.

My new layering idea didn't quite work.  Even for a short ride I found I was getting entirely too warm.  I think I need a windproof jacket that has a bit of breath-ability.  And perhaps some tights with built in water resistance.

The evening brought lower visibility and colder temperatures.  But I wasn't going to try the same layers.  Instead I'd be wearing a MEC Ardent Jersey with the MEC Watchman pants.  There was no snow so water resistance wasn't necessary.  Because of this I skipped out on the eye-wear portion entirely.

As I headed off to check out the MUP, I noticed that I was at the perfect temperature; not too hot and not too cold.  It looks like the combination was a good one.  The tires themselves did an amazing job of sticking to the ground.  My rear tire slipped at a couple of very icy areas but I was able to keep the bike upright without putting a foot on the ground.

Since it was a bit easier to see tonight, I noticed others taking notice of me.  Pedestrians looked at me like I was simply from another planet.  Cars and trucks made sure to drive slowly and cautiously around me.  Since winter biking is new in town I can forgive them if they thought I was an escaped mental patient.

Through both rides I didn't have a single problem with chain slippage.  I stuck to just spinning at a lower intensity and I think that is what did the trick.  I will talk to my bike mechanic and find out if we can narrow the problem further.  I don't want this bike breaking down on me in the middle of nowhere.

Stay tuned for more winter fun!


Indoor Cycling Week 3

Day 1
Today was the day to bring on the pain.  The intervals we were performing were called High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT.  With this sort of training, we are performing a "microburst" of activity followed by a very short recovery.

After the usual warm up and ramp up to get our heart rate going, we dived into these intervals.  They were only 15 seconds each at 150% of our Functional Threshold Power (FTP value calculated at first class).  After each we'd easy spin for 15 seconds.  Repeat this sixteen times for a set, then perform the set 3 times (with cool down in between).

I had a rough estimate of my FTP based on my heart rate.  The problem here is, how do you get to 150% of your FTP in only 15 seconds?  It takes a little while for your heart to fire up like that!  So instead I just threw every intensity I had at it.  I started standing up to pedal for every other peak, in order to make it even more difficult.

Day 2
 This was another new interval called a Sprint-erval.  First, a warm up with a bit of sprinting in it.  For a set you had to do 200% of your FTP for 15 seconds, then easy spin for 45 seconds.  This is repeated 3 times.  Finally, a sustained effort of 4 minutes for 90% of your FTP.  This set was performed five times.

Its very hard to get that heart rate up in 15 seconds.  I put everything on with the most resistance, stand on the pedals and power down as hard as I can.  I managed to stand for every sprint session.

Day 3
Unfortunately I got off to a bad start.  I was almost at class when I realized I had forgotten my phone.  All my sensors rely on my phone; without it I have no idea of my heart rate or cadence.  These have gotten very important in class.  I had to head back, get my phone and head to class again.  It made me 15 minutes late but I arrived in the midst of the first interval.

Today was a day I will refer to as Sprints and Sprint-ervals.

The first set of intervals consisted of a hard (200%FTP) effort for 15 seconds followed by a 45 second recovery.  Then a sustained effort of 4 minutes.  This was repeated three times.  At the end of the third set there was also a 30 second sprint effort.  For the sprints I was standing up to pedal and I did the sustained effort from the drop position.

The second set of intervals were hard sprints.  You start at 200% FTP for 15 seconds, easy spin for 15 seconds,   Repeat sixteen times for a set.  We did that set three times.  I didn't bother standing for any of these sprints; there was so much shifting I felt more comfortable with my hands on the brake hoods.  My chain managed to drop twice doing these.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Finally Some Winter Cycling!

Ride on ice like its dry pavement!
Well, we finally got some temperatures below freezing and some snow, ice and slush.  I was looking forward to putting SubZero (aka Project: SubZero aka The Scrambler).The only downside was I would have to ride after dark; I can't leave any earlier due to my day job.

The weather conditions were not ideal.  The temperature was about -1C.  It was snowing pretty heavily but most of it was melting right away.  Anything that did manage to stick ended up being pretty slushy.  In other words, pretty crappy conditions.  I'm not a commuter so I have the choice to shy away.  If it was raining I would have.  But I've been waiting eagerly to try this bike out in real world conditions.

For clothing I tossed on a MEC Ardent jersey with the Pearl Izumi thermal tights.  I thought about doing a waterproof shell but that combo always ended up too warm.  I wore merino wool socks and my hiking boots on my feet.  For gloves I thought I'd give my lighter MEC gloves a shot.

Snow acting like icing on a muddy cake.
I start off by heading down to the muddy road where I tested before.  I figured if anything the snow would stick there better than on the pavement.  Well after carving myself a path through the sopping wet mess, I found my way there.  There was definitely lots of snow as well as a lot of mud, clay and water.  I found that I was still kicking up mud as it hadn't frozen at all.  Riding through mud with snow on top is even more difficult than riding through mud.  After several minutes of powering through it, I figure it will be more funfun to try out in daylight hours when things are a bit colder.

I set my sights for a nearby multi-use path and started pedalling over.  That's when my chain started slipping a lot.  This is the same problem I had each time I took the bike out!  I've already replaced the chain and had it eyeballed.  It seemed like it had no problems prior.  I figured I should make some observations (what gear, how much slippage, does shifting help, etc.) so I would have lots of data for my bike mechanic.  It seemed to slip more in higher gears; shifting back and forth sometimes seemed to help and sometimes didn't.  But the problem would go away for 5 or 10 minutes at a time before returning to plague me.

Snowiest patch of the entire MUP.
I ended up on the MUP only to be disappointed.  I had been expecting some snow as there was slushy snow on the roads.  In my township, MUPs do not get plowed, roads do.  My guess is the MUP is slightly darker and retained more heat from the daytime sun.

I found my clothing choice was not good with the weather.  I've always concentrated on using certain clothing at certain temperatures.  If it wasn't snowing so heavily I would have been fine.  Snow would land on me and melt instantly due to the warmth I generated.  So in short order my clothes were already wet.  I was starting to feel the cold so I made up with it with some more exerted effort.

Winter cycling version of HIIT!
I found an open field of snow and figured I'd give it a shot.  Well now I know how to peak my heart rate pretty quickly, just mountain bike over some snow and grass!  I got most of the way across when I felt the need to stop.  I quickly realised I was getting cold fast from being wet so I got out by spinning a much smaller gear.

I was running out of fresh terrain to test out on and figured I'd give the nearby parkway a shot.  It was definitely bicycle and runner friendly during the summer.  In the winter it doesn't get cleared so there ends up being less car traffic.  Later in the year there would be a surge of snowmobile and ATVs.

Reflections look better when they aren't pairs of eyes.
Upon arrival I noticed it was pitch black on the parkway.  Really a great way to test lights!  I felt like my lighting situation was sufficient (head lamp, handlebar light, animated pulsing rear light, laser red outline around bike).  But then the dreaded chain slip hit me again.  I started to think about being stuck by myself on the parkway in the dark, already soaked.  Walking home would be a good way to freeze.  So I ended my trip on the parkway early.

Snow.  Or a broken hyperdrive.  Mmm.  Probably snow.
I ended up cycling around on residential streets (and the occasional patch of grass) to get a feel for the snow and slush.  It didn't take long before I started getting chilly; the temperatures kept dropping and I was still wet from the snow.  I really need to learn to mix and match my layers more, to take into account the type of precipitation I was going to experience.  The last time I tried a waterproof shell I had these clothes on underneath; it was entirely too warm.  Maybe I need to try with some lighter layers underneath?

There was one other thing I wanted to check next ride and it involved my chain.  My current hypothesis is that something ends up failing whenever I apply a lot of force to the pedals.  Both times this problem occurred were after I had tried riding through that muddy area.  The other time we experienced chain slippage was after any forceful pedalling in the mountain bike area.  On my next ride I would stick to fast, light spinning and see if I had a similar issue.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Hybrid Rides and Dancing Deer

Most of my bike rides lately have been on a trainer.  I've been itching for any reason whatsoever to take one of my other bicycles for an outdoor ride.  Well, on this particular Sunday the temperature was only 2C.  But it was sunny and the roads were dry after days and days of rain.  It seemed like the perfect excuse to bust out my hybrid bicycle and hit some of the waterfront trail.

Dirt road complete with crater sized potholes.


The route I was planning on had mixed surfaces.  Some of it would be paved bicycle path.  But a lot of that pavement has buckled, cracked, broken and formed "eggs" (giant bumps in the road).  Some of it is dirt road pocked with hazardous potholes.  Some of it is stone dust with a smattering of gravel.  As the area is pretty flat there is little change in elevation.  Almost all of it follows a river and has plenty of ponds, marshes and other wetlands.  In other words, perfect for my hybrid bike.

An "egg" in the road.  Easily kill your wheel hitting it.
It was also a blast from the not-so-distant-past for me.  I started this journey on this bike and this route.

Clothing wise I had good ideas.  MEC Ardent jersey, Pearl Izumi Select Thermal Tights, thermal beanie, MEC Ace cycling liner, Mirelle trail running shoes and SmartWool socks.  I wouldn't dream of this combo at this temperature on the Valence.  But the Hybrid is a lot slower than the Valence so cutting the wind is a lot less of an issue.  I brought extra layers just in case.

Not sure why the cone is there?  I survived crossing twice.
I started to regret skipping the maintenance when I started pedaling on the bike.  I found lots of resistance but just chalked it up to being spoiled with a super light road bike.  After trying to tough it out for a while, I stopped and noticed my rear tire was really low.  I pulled out my hand pump and learned why it's so important to have a pump with you.  I also learned why people use CO2 pumps because pumping up tires with a mini pump SUCKS!

Pretty unstable ground here, back tire slid a fair amount.
On the way back while climbing a slight incline on stone dust, I saw a deer.  I have run into wildlife on a third of my rides in this area and had been hoping to see something.  When it dashed into the tree line I saw a second deer follow it in.  I noticed the tree line was actually just a line of trees blocking an open field.  One I would have access to another 10 or so meters up the path.  So I biked into the grass and aligned my video camera to see the deer...

... and I kid you not, they started leaping about playfully!  And I have some poorly recorded proof of the encounter, courtesy of my budget action camera!  It's a bit hard to see due to the sun.
video
Sorry about the bad sound and shakiness.  I need to get a better video editing software to clean up these clips.  I'm getting a helmet mount so the view should be more directional (and less shaky).  I also have a better camera on my wish list.

Trail gets washed out with old leaves and pine needles.
On my way back, I could see in my mind's eyes places where I huffed and puffed with exertion.  I was so much slower then.  I'd be wearing a smattering of sweaty workout clothes and a look of determination.  Now I'm more than 40 lbs lighter than the man I was; I'm leaner, more muscular, more fit than I've been in my entire adult life.  The one thing that hasn't changed an iota is my determination.

The bike ride was perfect.  I really missed riding outside and it was nice to do it again.  The deer incident really put a smile on my face.  I'm looking forward to doing it again soon.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Indoor Cycling Week 2

Day 1 (1 hour)
Tuesday's class consisted of some new intervals.  It started off similar to the others we've done; five minutes warmup, 70% effort for a minute, minute easy, 80% minute, minute easy, 90% minute, minute easy.  After that we went full-out effort for 30 seconds and easy spinning for 30 seconds, repeated 20 times for the set.  Then five minutes easy spinning and a repeat of the 20 intervals, finishing with a 5 minute cool down.

I noticed my wooden block slipping again.  I slowly (but firmly) tried to rotate my front tire with my hand, as though to pull the block under the tire more.  Instead of the block moving, my entire bike rolled forward.  Which again was fine, because I was centered on the block.  Unfortunately, my wife wasn't so lucky.  Her blocks few out from under her front tire with a clatter.  But like a trooper she just kept on spinning.

Day 2 (1 hour)
I wanted to put an end to the slippery antics so I went shopping.  I picked up two CyclOps Riser Blocks.  Unlike other blocks, they have three different levels.  Apparently both blocks can be combined to simulate many climbing positions.  I also picked up some cushioned interlocking mats.  The mats would help with the slippery sweat mess in addition to providing some dampening of vibrations.

Today's class started with an 80% effort to warm up, then we went right into Individual Leg Training, or ILT's.  In a nutshell, you start pedaling with one foot then switch to another.  While pedalling you concentrate on how to make circles with your pedal stroke. It sounds easy enough, but I actually found it pretty difficult.  I had my bike set for little resistance and was using an easy gear, but found my heart rate up while doing the ILTs.

The last intervals were interesting.  Each set was nine minutes.  The first 2 minutes were at 80% effort and the third minute was at 100%.  Then minutes four and five were at 80%, then minute six at 100%.  Then minutes seven and eight at 80% and finally the ninth minute at 100%.  We did this three times with a 5 minute cool down in between.

Day 3 (1.5 hours)
Last Saturday I was low on liquids so I thought I'd be better prepared this time.  In addition to my Polar 24oz water bottles, I also brought along a bottle of Powerade.  My bike doesn't have three bottle holders though.  I used a small bungee cord to fasten it to a sane spot on the front of my bike.

For this class we did more over-unders.  First a warm up to bring us to our Functional Threshold Power (FTP).  After a five minute cool down, three minutes were 90% of FTP, then 2 minutes 105% FTP, another 3 at 90% and another 2 at 105%.  That's ten minutes of cycling like a madman.  We did that particular set five times, with five minutes of cool down in between.


Thursday, 13 November 2014

Project: SubZero Update 3

Now I just need some ice and snow.
A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to put Project: SubZero through the paces.  I had heard about a mountain biking area nearby and went to check it out.  As I started packing for it, my wife expressed interest in coming along.  We'd have to take turns riding as we only had one mountain bike, and the trails here would have killed our hybrids.  But I'd rather spend time with my wife and share a bike than ride around solo.

The trails were pretty tough to navigate.  There was just so many fallen leaves from autumn covering the path, that sometimes the leaves were a foot or two deep.  You couldn't see rocks, roots or other obstacles.  But we found some areas that weren't too bad and had fun taking turns with Project: SubZero.  We did find there were some gearing issues so we tried to "single speed" it for the most part.

I tried messing with the derailleur when I got back.  I was able to get it shifting properly again but it just seemed off.  I'm not sure if it's an equipment problem or my inexperience with them.

I waited for an opportunity to test it properly.  Finally after several days of rain I was able to take it for a test drive on a back road.  At least, it was a dirt road last time I checked.  It ended up being thick gooey mud.  Normally the sight of a road like this would put me in a bad mood.  But I had a mountain bike equipped with fenders and big knobby tires; a thick gooey muddy road was ideal!

I didn't get in too far as it was starting to get dark.  I turned around and churned up the mud some more.  I found myself laughing as I watched my bike spray mud everywhere.  I felt my rear tire slip a few times as the mud started giving way into puddles.  I managed to stay stable and got out of the mud trap.

Riding a mountain bike is a completely different experience in comparison to road biking.  But I'm learning the one big thing they have in common is they're both fun as hell!

Next stop was another nearby dirt road.  This one didn't turn into gooey mud so I was able to pay more attention to how the shifts were going and other various noises coming from the bike.  While it was shifting there were obviously some problems going on.  I also noticed that my rear wheel was out of true.

The mud spray looks neat when lit up.
A few days later I rinsed off the bike as best I could, then packed it up in the car and headed down to the LBS.  They'll be going over both derailleurs to see what the problem is.  They'll also fix up my wheel so it is true again.  Last, but definitely not least, the studded tires are going on!

Still eagerly awaiting snow and ice.  For the first time since I made snow forts as a kid.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Cycling Indoor Edition Part 4

After an awesome party and return ride home, I only got a few hours sleep.  My wife was going to be working throughout the day and wouldn't be joining me for this class.  I felt like my determination to go was wavering.  My wife pointed out how much trouble I went to in order to attend..  It was subtle but effective prodding as I ended up heading to the two-wheeled torture chamber.

The Bike Thong!
I picked up a Minoura Safe - T - Net Sweat Net.  The amount that I sweat is nothing short of epic.  All that sweat is basically salty water and not good for my frame.  The sweat guard stretches from the handlebars to the seat post, creating a terrycloth towel-like barrier.  I like to jokingly call it my "bike thong."

Today's session was longer, 90 minutes instead of the usual 60.  It would be more intervals of varying effort with 1-3 minutes of easy spinning between each.  We started with a five minute warm up and started our first set.  It had 3 intervals; 70% effort for 5 minutes, 80% effort for 4 minutes and 90% effort for 3 minutes.  This set would be performed a second time.  Then a set with 3 intervals of 3 minutes duration.  The last two sets were the same 3 intervals; 70% effort for 3 minutes, 80% effort for 4 minutes and 90% effort for five minutes.  Then a five minute cool down.

The resistance changes I made fixed my problem.  I felt like I was getting the right amount of resistance.  I was able to stand up during intervals where it was called for and was able to keep pedalling along.

This class I ended up rationing my water carefully.  The last two classes I had brought sufficient water but this class would be harder and longer.  I made a mental note to bring either an extra bottle or an energy drink to the next long class.

The hardest part of the session was the cool down.  I kid you not.  Normally I'm all smiles and enjoying the endorphin buzz on cool down.  This time it was agony.  For some reason spinning with no resistance was leaving me with a permanent grimace.  It seemed like the longest five minutes of my life.

So far I've really enjoyed the class.  The work outs have me drenched in sweat and I'm already looking forward to seeing how it affects my performance in the spring.  There are three classes per week and I'm positive I can make a minimum of two, if not all three.  Between this, Project SubZero and the core exercises I've been planning, I should have a very active winter!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cycling Indoor Edition Part 3

Jet Black M1 Trainer with Tacx Trainer Tyre.
Our second day we had Tacx Trainer Tyres outfitted on our rear wheels.  The concept is they're made specifically for use with a trainer, so they'll last longer than a normal tire.  And of course, since you're not using your actual road tire, it's getting no wear at all.  The tires are smurf blue, guaranteeing you'll never confuse them with a normal road tire.

Through the fitness test we discovered what sort of sustained effort we could keep.  I think the term for it is "Functional Threshold Power."  Today we'd be making use of that information for our efforts.  I used a heart rate monitor to keep track of my efforts but the instructor also gave instructions for people with power meters and speed/cadence sensors.

The instructor dubbed the class "Throwback Thursday" with all music being from the 80's and 90's.  The format was similar to yesterday's class only the intervals were shorter and more frequent.  There were a few screens displaying this information with a series of graphic displays and timers,  The instructor would also call out any changes so you didn't need to keep an eye on them.

Looking around I noticed new faces and rides.  Lots of road bikes and more triathlon bikes.  It seemed like aero-bars were extremely popular.  From what I heard, this would be happening all month as people retired their rides for the winter.

At one point we were instructed to stand while pedalling.  I got up to pedal and found I couldn't.  I felt like there was no resistance there.  I ensured that I was in my hardest gear and my trainer's resistance was on the highest setting.  I looked over to my wife and noticed she had a similar problem.We ended up just sitting through the rest of the standing segments.  I tried to make up for it by greatly increasing my effort through cadence.

We discussed the problem with the instructor afterwards and got some tips on how to fix it.  After making some adjustments, I noticed there was a lot more resistance.  I don't think it was pressed up against the tire enough.  I checked the manual later that evening and it confirmed my suspicions.

Next up, the finale aka Part 4!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Cycling Indoor Edition Part 2

A window-less basement room with lots of bikes set up on trainers.
A window-less basement room filled with metal monstrosities
whose sole purpose is to cause pain and agony.
In medieval times it was called a torture chamber;
today it is called the spinning room.
On my first day I had a look around at other riders and bicycles.  It seemed like the majority of the bikes were time trial or triathlon bikes.  A few road bikes and I spotted one hybrid.  All the pedals that I saw were clip-less pedals.

Once we got started we did some light spinning while introducing ourselves.  After that the instructor gave us an outline of what we would be doing.  We would be doing a fitness test where we had to hold a certain amount of effort for two eight minute intervals, with a few minutes of easy spinning in between.  He explained that it was important not to go all-out; you don't want to just run yourself to exhaustion right away.  You want to go at your highest sustained effort that still allows you to accomplish the intervals.  And of course, there would be a warm up prior and a cool down after.

Well, it ended up being quite a workout.  I was sweating like crazy, even with help of three fans.  A puddle of sweat pooled below my bike.  I am so glad I brought two towels!  The only thing that was odd was my speed was pretty high.  I feel like there might be an issue with the resistance being too mild.

Picture of my wife's bike and my bike.  Both are Norco Valences but hers is a smaller women's version.
The Wife's Valence (left) and my Valence (right).
The style of trainer we had uses the rear tire, which elevates the tire.  Most people put something under their front tire to level things out.  I had grabbed one of the "freebie" wooden blocks from the front of the class.  At first it was working out well.  But my uber-sweating had created a pool of disgusting-ness beneath me which made the block a little slippery.  It ended out sliding from under me.  Fortunately I could feel it happening and made the transition as gently as possible.  I then made sure to put on my "I meant to do that!" face.  Might be a sign to start looking for a good riser block that won't slide.

I had heard one of the down sides of indoor cycling was the monotony of it.  You don't have the breeze in your hair or beautiful scenery to look at.  I found doing intervals really helped with this.  When you change things up every few minutes, the time just flies.

More coming up in Part 3!


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Cycling Indoor Edition Part 1

I had my last ride outdoors with the Valence.  The temperature was about 6C and the wind was southeast at about 20km/h.  I made the mistake of forgetting about the wind and rocketed along with it.  I ended up fighting a mean head wind all the way back.  Despite the rough ride back, I made sure to enjoy every minute of it.

One of my winter strategies was to take up cycling indoors.  I have a recumbent stationary bike that I can ride.  The upside is its free, the downside is I can't ride with my wife and it doesn't do much for my cycling form.  There are spin classes where they supply stationary bikes; I can ride with my wife but again it doesn't do much with cycling form.  I'm also worried that relying on either will mean getting used to my saddle all over again in the spring.

So instead we opted for an indoor cycling class being held by my local bike shop.  This class didn't supply equipment; you need to bring in your real bike and a turbo trainer.  These trainers basically convert your real bike into a stationary one.

My trainer, a JetBlack M1 turbo trainer.
We were able to obtain two Jet Black M1 magnetic trainers. A remote attached to your handlebars allows you to control the magnetic resistance.  The trainer holds onto the rear of the bike and presses up against the rear tire for resistance.

The indoor cycling room is a large basement room that is well ventilated with several fans.  We set ourselves up at the front of the class, near one of the larger fans.  I'm not normally a front-of-the-class kind of guy but I wanted to make sure not to miss anything.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we get right into the action!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Project SubZero Update 2

Project Subzero, the Icebike, side view.
All set up and ready to go!
Project: SubZero has made some further progress.  It won't be long before my little blue terror is tearing up some ice.  My road bike had it's last official outdoor day of 2014 so the project has seasonally inherited some goodies.  I will be getting more saddle time in so everything is properly broken in.  I'll just have to use mud as a reasonable substitute for snow until it falls.

Fenders
I had ordered Dave's Mud Shovel front and rear fenders.  They're normally used on fat bikes.  But I was considering wider rims (just not fat-bike wide) and I wanted to make sure to contain the icy carnage being thrown at me.

The front fender on my icebike.
PDW Origami Front Fender
The front was back ordered.  When it finally came in, the plastic fender had a split in it.  More than likely from the way MEC packed the package.  I didn't want to order another only to wait 2 weeks for another cracked fender, so I went to a local store.  Of course, they don't carry the front fender in store.  So I picked up the PDW Origami front fender to see how it would do.  I'm not sure if I will bring in the rear one, you can't get Origami rear fenders in store either.

While the rear one is much larger than the front, I might still keep it. I'm happy to get as much snow/water coverage from my back tire as possible.

Both fenders are ridiculously easy to install.  The fenders install without needing tools, aside from scissors to cut rubber fasteners.  Once set up it's easy to put on or remove the fenders.  You can use the snaps on the fenders themselves or easily remove the entire mount.  The fenders can flatten out and be tossed into a backpack.  Their flexibility would be an asset in surviving crashes.

I heard that using a non-stick cooking spray on fenders will stop snow and slushy accumulation.  When we start seeing some snow I will crack out the PAM and put this theory to the test.


Lights
My light shining on the road and reflective surfaces on a dark night
I had the opportunity to try my existing road bike light in dark conditions.  It is a MEC Zinger 480.  It is a USB rechargable LED headlight.  On the highest setting it produces a light at 480 lumens.  I was pretty happy with the visibility and will stick to using this on Project: SubZero.

I had my light mostly aimed down in the photo to the right.  I found that it was able to light up signs from far away and it gave adequate riding light.  I could have aimed it slightly higher and gotten a much larger patch of light in front of me.  I really didn't want to try my luck though, I already had one person high beam me because of my "overpowering" front light.  No kidding, take a look at the video below.

video


The rear bike light on my icebike, it has a line laser!
Lasers with camera flash.
My bicycle rear red light projects these laser lines.
Lasers without camera flash.
My rear light was an interesting find on AliExpress.  It uses a pair of AAA cells and provides 5 LED red lights and 2 red laser lines.  There are a variety of settings for blinking patterns for both.  It feels pretty flimsy but what else do you want for $5 including shipping?

So far it looks great, the pictures don't do it justice.  But I will have to watch that rear fender as it can block the lasers if moved around.

I also have a LED head lamp.  It's a Black Diamond that is several years old.  Can't find the specs online so I don't know how many lumen's it produces.  But thanks to it being liberated from my camping gear, it has a very low cost of 0 dollars.  Hard to beat!

Rear stay with red reflective material.
Front fork with reflective white surface.Reflective Strips
I added in reflective strips so I would be legal to ride in Ontario at night.  I'm not sure if it applies for off-road cycling but you never know when I might end up on a roadway. They went on fine but I did have to trim some material to fit around cable mounts.  Despite my dislike for uglying up my bicycle, I do notice they're extremely reflective.

I'm also hoping they do give me a different looking profile than a snowmobile or ATV at night.

My various gadgets mounted on Project SubZero, my icebike.
Horn, Light, (on stem) RFLKT+, Action Cam, Bell
(below) Handlebar bag..
Other Changes
Since my road bicycle is moving indoors for the winter, I have a bunch of gadgetry that I will be moving over to Project: SubZero.  I also had a few items that didn't work out.

Additions:
  • Electric Horn. Great for when you need more decibels than a bell can provide.
  • Action Cam. So I can capture whatever winter action I find.
  • Handlebar Bag. I usually put my emergency tools, first aid, phone and other goodies in here.
  • RFLKT+ Mount.  I will be using my RFLKT+ in spin class but I have two mounts.  I put the stem mount one on Project: SubZero.  So I can switch the head unit between either bike.
Removals:
  • Saddle Bag.  Tried replacing it with 2 other saddle bags I have.  Nothing would fit with both the fender and the rear light.  Will just use front bag and backpack in lieu of a saddle bag.
  • Phone Mount.  I don't really need it as I have the RFLKT+ showing me everything I need.  I will either put the phone in the front bag or in my coat.  The latter seems to be a great idea for when its very cold.  I will probably have this on the hybrid as it has no RFLKT+ mount.
  • Snack Pouch.  I was going to put it on here but it would just ensure my food would freeze.  It only has a mesh cover.  Better for me to just put food in a backpack.