Thursday, February 17, 2005

Self Discipline

I had a nice chat with an athletic man who looked to be in his 50s. He'd just bought some skate skis from me. In the course of that he mentioned that he rides a bike. From his stories and references I could tell he rides at a pretty high level.

"We ought to ride sometime," he said.

Are you kidding? He scared the crap out of me. He would ride me to death, if I didn't bore him to death first. He described riding in the Dolomites with a former member of the US Cycling Team, stomping up the switchbacks and screaming down the other side.

I can get up what I need to get up, and some members of our little riding community consider me a ballsy descender, but I know from actual racing what my limits are. I appreciate the offer and the compliment it implies, but I don't have the discipline to be competitive.

Training discipline has two components. One is riding and the other is not riding.

To be strong on race day, you have to rest on rest day. That may not mean you lounge by the pool, but it means you have to keep the schedule.

To be strong on race day, you have to go hard on the hard day. The length and intensity of the effort varies with your objective, but you follow the program and don't slack off.

Scientific trainers rule these days. An article in Bicycle Ratailer noted that personal coaching is a growth segment of the bike business. Hard-core riders look for the latest nutritional marvel, even if they aren't looking for pharmaceutical solutions to physiological inadequacies.

Racing and performance riding represent the most consuming aspects of human-powered sport. Racers will spend what it takes and burn whatever equipment they must, to stay competitive.

I'm just a dilettante. I like to ride hard sometimes. I try to follow a bit of a training rhythm just because it makes riding the whole long season easier. But I don't have the drive and focus to alter my diet. I drink too much caffeine. I like to do other things in the warm weather besides ride. This is heresy to the scientific trainer.

I know a number of these older riders, some of whom have been at it since they were younger riders and some of whom have come to it recently. They all have plenty of disposable income, which they were earning while I was being the impoverished athlete and starving writer. Now they're cashing in on their earlier discipline, nose to grindstone, to catch and surpass me in athletics as well, with their superior discipline. Let that be a lesson to you.

Chalk it up to attention deficit disorder, or actually attention surplus disorder, because I can pay attention to so much that seems unrelated. What might I achieve if I ever figure out how it all goes together?

I say just ride. Some will choose to ride scientifically. Others will just take it as it comes. It doesn't have to take over your whole life. Just let it take over a portion of your life.

My friend is not wrong. He seems like a nice guy and a hell of an athlete. I just don't think he wants to put up with a derelict on a 21-pound steel bike that's closing in on 20 years old. I'll be over on the other road, staying out of the way.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

February Thaw

It felt like spring in my part of New Hampshire yesterday. It's been feeling that way for too long, considering that it won't really be spring for another three months, no matter what the temperature does.

I almost took a ride on the fixed gear, but I figured that the discomfort of the different muscle use and my lack of saddle toughness wouldn't be worth it, since it wouldn't go to build this season's cycling fitness. Winter will return. It always does.

Once or twice in the last 16 years I've started riding almost this early and kept it up. But those were phenomenally bad winters, not just disappointing ones, as this one is proving to be.

Riders who live only to ride will be spending the winter either dealing with the weather outdoors or riding the trainer indoors. Someone like that would be ready to zip out for an off-season ride. But I try to let winter be winter, and do the things in winter that can only be done then.

Before I skied, I hiked. I like having an off season, an other season. If civilization overtakes me, destroying the nature around my home, perhaps I'll return to the mechanized faith. Mechanized, but never motorized. But that remains to be seen.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Women in Cycling

The first American winner of a Tour de France was a woman named Marianne Martin. The event was the first Tour de France Feminine in 1984, 18 stages totaling 620 miles.

Men had to race the original version for almost 80 years before Greg LeMond scored the first American victory among men’s teams in 1986.

While athletic achievements tend to be separated by gender, the areas of accomplishment do overlap. When I started racing in the mid 1970s, Mary Jane Reoch was the dominant woman rider in the United States. She was reputed to like to ride and win the women’s event at a race and then hop in with the men and dust half of them. She also supposedly raced and won criterium races during her first trimester of pregnancy and rode to the hospital in labor, offering advice on riding position to a male rider en route before riding away.

Britain’s legendary rider Beryl Burton listed a lifetime of accomplishments in women’s and mixed competition. In 1967 she set a record in Britain for distance traveled in 12 hours, 277.25 miles, almost six miles more than the men’s record. In a 1969 attempt at a 24-hour distance trial she was ahead of the eventual men’s winner by 9 miles at 12 hours and at the 300-mile mark was 20 minutes faster than he was. Unfortunately, a combination of problems forced her to abandon the event just beyond 300 miles.

The man she was leading became the first British rider to surpass 500 miles in 24 hours.

She was hampered in mass-start competition by the shortness of the courses set for women. She liked to ride hard and had the endurance to ride long, so the tactical sprinters would simply ride behind her to the finish. A longer event would have allowed her to burn them off.

Burton raced from her late teens until her death at 58. This was in spite of health problems that challenged her early and late in life. She and her daughter Denise were both selected to represent Britain at the 1972 Wold Championships in Barcelona and raced a team time trial in club competition shortly before her death.

Women athletes are scary. Dr. Dawn Richardson writes in an April, 2003 VeloNews about competing as a Category 2 racer while maintaining a family and a full-time job. For a woman, that includes carrying the little bambinos around inside for nine months and then recovering from that. Gentlemen, care to line up to try it?

Richardson’s article actually deals with the practical aspects of mixing pregnancy and riding. She does not endorse the most aggressive plan of action, but she does report on the whole range of approaches, from the women who take a break from cycling to the ones who calculate their heart rate to determine how hard they can ride without diverting oxygen from the fetus.

Lest you fear there’s nothing more to women’s cycling than blood, guts and amniotic fluid, there’s also Jacquie Phelan, founder of WOMBATS, the Women’s Mountain Bike and Tea Society. Here’s a person determined to have fun and demonstrate and teach how fun can be had. But she’s also won national mountain bike championships, pulling down the NORBA title in 1983, 1984 and 1985. Credentials like this are important to counter critics like the anonymous little predator in lycra in a sport shoe ad who said, “the person who says winning isn’t everything never won anything.”

Find out more about WOMBATS at www.wombats.org. Phelan may have earned her medals as a mountain biker, but she’s an all-around cyclist. The site has good links for any cyclist, not just a woman.

More and more products designed for the female cyclist are coming on the market, but there’s still a long way to go. Women’s frames are designed to accommodate women’s proportions.
Women are often shorter than men, but they also tend to have longer legs and shorter torsos. Bike makers are beginning to design for this, but tall women often have to choose from the standard production frames because the women’s sizes don’t run tall enough.

A good shop can often adapt a standard bike to a tall woman. Find a shop with patient, knowledgeable staff who will take the time to make the adjustments.

The Terry company, founded by Georgena Terry, specializes in women’s cycling products. They do offer larger women’s sizes, but the geometry of the high-performance road model is the same as many standard road frames. The touring models have much shorter top tubes. This helps make the bike more comfortable at slower speeds. But the trend industry-wide is producing touring bikes like this. A knowledgeable shop can help you decide whether you can get the ride you’re looking for from a model they stock.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Liberty or Death

I hardly ever go out to ride on the road without thinking of death. I don’t want to sound morbid or overly dramatic, but motorists will, without warning, raise the stakes drastically through either ignorance or malice.

Cyclists are to blame for the vast majority of cycling accidents. Riding erratically or against traffic, disregarding traffic signals, endangers cyclists more than any other thing. Cyclists who act like vehicles and ride responsibly get along quite well in the traffic stream.

Negligent and aggressive drivers present at least as much threat to each other as to cyclists. Cyclists are just squishier. The disparity in armor plating means that cyclists don’t have fender benders. But given the choice I would much rather be off to the side, passed and disregarded by aggressive motorists, than stuck in a string of traffic with them, having to go at their ill-advised speed.

All that aside, certain motorists just feel the need to lash out. It could be as annoying but harmless as a blast on the horn or as deadly as a calculated swerve or thrown missile. A young Navy aviator I know, who was based in Pensacola, Florida for a while, reported having a framing hammer thrown at his head while he was out on his road bike.

War takes place everywhere, not just in known war zones. Blood battles over principle are as close by as the city street. Cycling is incredibly beneficial. It is not fair that people using the roadways like race tracks cut off so many people from an activity that could vastly improve their lives.

While the rest of the country catches up with the idea, those of us who can are maintaining cyclists' toehold on the roads by using them. It is not enough just to wish the world were a certain way. You have to live toward it.