Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reaserching for a new bike

I am currently looking for a new bike that I can use for competing on. I am not sure whether to get a road bike or a tri bike as I probably intend to do other events or charity rides outside of the triathlon circuit. I do however feel like my triathlon race is the driving force for the purchase so I am steering in that direction.

I have found a good article here which I think really helped.

Triathlon Bike or Road Bike?

The other main thing I am confused about is the components on the bike. My current commuter based hybrid race bike has Shimano Sora which I know to be the novice style components so I am definately looking to upgrade. My question is what components should I be aiming for.

There are lots of choices which confuses things but I do know that Dura Ace is the top group from Shimano, I just get confused over Ultegra and 105 and which one is better and why.

Again, by the same person I found my answer in an online article so I though I would add it here too.
It is strangely, exactly the information I wanted and even referred to the same situation I have with my current bike.

Dura Ace vs. Ultegra vs. 105

This has given me something to think about so I will leave this here.

Seat Position or position on seat!!!

Just a quick one. I have noticed that while I am down in my aero position, I have the tendency to creep forward on my seat while I am cycling. Although this initially feels more comfortable, I am realizing that I lose a lot of efficiency. As I consciously move myself back, I feel a serge in extra power. This is something to note. I may need to adjust my seat position backwards to help but I am not sure yet. I will give it a go and see what happens.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


As I said before, I was disappointed with my initial cycling speed last Friday when I got back on my bike. It felt like I was putting in the same effort as before but my comfortable gear is now 2 cogs less at the back and my resulting speed is a good 3-4mph less. This may not sound a lot but this equates to a reduction of about 13% performance than usual. Baring in mind that my intention is to get my bike speed up to around 25mph for the race, this is a huge deficit before I have even started.

Given the two days of riding that I have done since this disappointing performance, I have been looking at my riding style to see if there is more to it than just a lack of fitness. I should at least be able to ride as fast as before, even if just for a few hundred meters.

The first think I noticed was with my cadence. I have a bike computer is hooked up to my front wheel that will tell me the speed that I am travelling, but it is also hooked up to my crank so that it can measure my cadence, that is for those not bike savvy, the speed that I am peddling. For those that think this measurement is not important when looking to pick up a bike computer, I warn you. It is one of my most important weapons on the road.

Just like a car engine, the human body on a bike has a very similar trait. We all have a power band. This is essentially the speed in which we most efficiently work. Most people would see this as the speed in which they can go on a bike without getting tired, but actually it is the speed we can efficiently move our legs and thus produce the power that drives the bike. The gear we are able to use with this leg speed ultimately affects top speed but for now I want to concentrate on pure revolutions per minute or cadence as it is known.

Again, using the motor engine as an example, as for what it is worth, this is what we are on a bicycle, we need to understand that each engine had different statistics and abilities. A big V8 engine generates lots of power but will not generally rotate as quickly as a small revvy 4 cylinder engine. The maximum power on this latter engine is likely to be much less, but it is still possible to drive quickly using it.

Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich are a good example of this. Jan is the big V8. He has big powerful legs and rides at a slightly lower cadence and Lance who is much slimmer and likes to peddle at high cadences.

Like an engine (again), breathing is important. If your engine can breath freely, it is possible to run at much higher speeds. Lance again is famous for his lung capacity which could be one of the reasons why he is able to peddle so fast. Hopefully, working on my fitness will help with this later on.

Anyway, back to me and my issues. I don't have big powerful legs and when looking at the cadence readout on my bike computer I decided that I was peddling at a slower rate than normal. My readout was about 70-75. I was essentially outside of my power band. I was putting in the same effort as before my accident but my peddling was not efficient and as such I was struggling.

If you have ever tried to drive a stick shift (manual) car and tried to pull away in 3rd gear by accident, you will understand this lack of power. As the revs slowly rise, the car starts to spring to life and eventually feels powerful again. The same goes for an automatic. There is a reason for when flooring the accelerator peddle, the car chooses to rev the engine more by changing down a gear or two. It is trying to find the power band for you.

So, with this observation in hand, I tried to experiment a little. I put in a quick effort, without changing my gear, until I was peddling at 85rpm. This instantly felt better, although I was putting in a little more effort to begin with, overall, I felt like my overall effort was less. I was travelling about 2mph faster than before with no perceived effort chance. There of course is a limit to this. As I have said before, gears are an important factor and of course, wind resistance increases the faster you go, so more power is needed, but the main limiting factor is how fast you can move your legs. It should be possible to peddle at over 100rpm but you will soon fall out of the top end of the power band if you go much further.

I found that I can increase my cadence up to 95rpm without feeling like I am putting more effort in. The peddling pressure should in fact feel lighter but the emphasis will switch from your legs to your heart and lungs.

I am finding at any given time that I can balance the emphasis between my legs and organs throughout my ride so that I don't over stress either.

Spinning classes are great for working on this skill. I am pleased with my choice of words there as leg speed is definitely something of a skill that needs to be and should be worked on. Peddling fast without the correct technique can feel awkward if not impossible. Trying to work on a cyclic motion with your peddles rather than a down push or even a push pull motion is a must. This smooth cyclic motion can be extended up to much higher speeds.

Anyway, I am pleased with my instant improvement so the search continues for anything else I can work on other than fitness.

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Starting Point

We all have to start somewhere and while there are many ways to measure or even perceive progress, I am going to use one of the standard methods to start with and add in other stats as and when I get to them. I would like to see how my body adapts physically as I have never tracked this before. I know I am out of shape at the moment and a quick tape measure around the waist gave me a minor shock.

I guess friends would describe me as a tall lanky fella. Apologies for the Britishness of that description. I'm 6'2 with a medium build. I never have an obvious problem with weight and can generally eat what I like, but the issue I do have, is any excess sits in a little pot belly. You know, The ones that old men have. I also don't have a well defined chest so the problem is increased with the appearance of a slight land slide. I am slim but I don't exactly appear athletic at the moment, especially when I take my top off.

So, one of my goals by the triathlon is to actually look more like a triathlete. I want to have the functional body of a triathlete and thus improve my performance along with it. I intend to track my strength as I go but for the time being lets record my body shape.

Height: 6'2"
Weight: 172.4 lbs
Fat %: 12.3
Muscle %: 43.5

Waist: 35" or 90cm
Chest: 38" or 96cm
Shoulders: 43.5" or 110cm
Left Bicep: 12" or 30cm
Right Bicep: 12" or 31cm
Left Thigh: 21" or 53cm
Right Thigh: 21" or 54.5cm

Ultimately, knowing my body type, I am expecting my weight to actually drop down to the mid 160's, my waist to drop to 32". I want to get my fat percentage below 10 Percent and my muscle mass above 50 Percent. Hopefully all of the other measurements should increase as I build muscle.

Correct fueling and nutrition should do the trick.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Okay, So I have been cycling into work everyday for the past month. This is an 8 mile commute so not really a training ride as such but I have been increasing the effort that I put in so that I am pretty tired when I get there. Okay, Not tired but hot and out of breath. I figure I only have 8 miles so I may as well go for it.

Friday morning was different though. I have been following the Tour of California this last week and my god are they inspiring. It makes me want to just jump on my bike and ride for hours. Unfortunately, time is my limiting factor and I need to get to work. This mornings difference was that I felt ready to get on my own bike. The bike that dropped me prematurely to the ground. I know I'm blowing this all out of proportion but I have had this thing about road bikes. Historically, while growing up, I always had a mountain bike. Maybe it's the width of the handlebars or the fact I never had toe clips that gave me a sense of security. This is probably why I have the bike that I have. The brand name should tell you something. It's a Marin. Marin are not known for their road bikes, well that is to say, they are mostly known for their mountain bikes and I understand that this whole revolution started up there in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had a Marin Mountain bike in England when I was a teenager and loved it. I could do anything on that bike and had all of the confidence in the world when riding it.

This is probably the reason, why in 2006, when arriving on American soil, I decided to go with a bike that I knew well. It was not a mountain bike as such, or a road bike for that matter. It was a commuter style street bike. The Marin Fairfax. If you were to take a mountain bike and blend it with a road bike, this is what you would get. All of the components are from the mountain bike devision. The handlebars with their bar ends are truly mountain bike style but the geometry and tires were that little bit more road bike like. This gave me the sensation of familiarity that I am accustomed to while having something that little bit more efficient on the roads.
This was a good bike for about $550 and I think I made a good choice for commuting. The problem was, I was asked by a friend if I wanted to take part in the Malibu Triathlon. I jumped at the opportunity but I didn't really have the budget or the room for another bike. What I decided was to work with what I had and try to make it more into a road bike while keeping the components and the frame the same.

I started with adding the tri bars just so that I was getting the correct sensation. My tires were 28mm and with slightly thicker rims than standard road wheels, I decided to to put on higher pressure 25mm tires. This made for a slightly faster and improved rolling resistance.

After a number of comments from other cyclists that I had tagged onto during my commutes I made the biggest move and the one I was most nervous of. I got some clipless peddles and a set of road shoes. I had been taking spinning classes using the same shoes for a while by this point so I was familiar with the sensation and the slightly different muscle groups that are utilized.

With a bike computer measuring my progress, this seemed to add considerable speed to my commute. I had a bike that I could race on. Okay, so it was a Frankenstein job on a hybrid commute bike but I was holding my own with club cyclists on the road so I went with it.

As the geometry placed me quite upright, I reversed the stem so that the angle dropped down rather than raising up and removed the spacers on the headset which further lowered the handlebars.

A year later I made the jump to slightly deeper dished rims and 23mm slick, racing tires. I now had a racey looking commuter bike. It was confusing everyone. I am hoping that this is the fastest Marin Fairfax on the planet.

Right, lets get back to the main topic. This Friday morning was different as I had decided that it was time to leave my wife's bike at home and take my own bike again. I put on my cycling shoes for the first time since falling off and took the bike outside. I jumped on and instantly felt like I was about to fall off the front. I had never realised how aggressive this bike was set up. The changes had been made gradually so I always assumed they were subtle and of very little effect. Now that I had gone from an upright geometry bike to my custom effort, I realised that I had done a pretty good job. It is important to note that I got the Marin Fairfax in the first place due to a recovering back injury that resulted in surgery. I wanted the more upright geometry in order to aid my cycling position. Now that I had made all my changes, I had eased myself into a more aggressive race position.
This really caught me out, but I eased my way down to the start of the cycle path, slowly getting used to the now, not so familiar, position.

On the path, I got up to speed and dropped down onto the tri bars. By now I was getting used to this again. The main problem however was my speed. Without looking down at my speedometer, I felt like I was going fast. Much faster than on my wifes bike. But the gear was not my usual commuting gear and the speed was much slower. I tried cranking up the speed but there was nothing there. I was only doing 17.7mph when I would usually be traveling at 20mph+.

Although phased, this gave me a reference point and only added to my inspiration. I knew what I was starting the year with before any training and I had something to monitor my progress.

I put a fair bit of this slowness down to the lack of training in the tri position and the fact that I had not been clipped in. The muscle groups used between these two scenarios is different and not as transferable as I would have hoped.

So next time, I will record my starting stats so that I really have my progress to track.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Back on my bike

Still recapping, 2009 swings in and I am heading back to work after a month off.

With a new baby at home, it is easier to try to get on my bike instead of trying to coordinate getting the little one up and out of the house in time to get to work. I should point out here that we only have one car and I would prefer that my wife has it at home to use instead of having it be parked in a car park all day long until it is time for me to return home.

The weather is still cold and the mornings damp so I figure I don't really feel comfortable getting on a bike that is set up for triathlons, especially the thought of clipping my feet in and the look of those slick racing tires. I have the jitters but I really want to confront my fears and get back in the saddle.

I decide to compromise and use my wifes commuter bike. It is a Giant FCR3 and I think it is even a male frame due to the colour being more appealing than that years female alternative. I only needed to make minor adjustments to get it to fit me. Okay, the frame is a little small so even though I can get the height right, the geometry or length is a little short. It makes for a safe feeling, upright position so I am happy and setting off to work at a sedate pace makes me feel good. I'm wearing Jeans and a fleece so this indicates that this is not a training ride by any means but I am back on a bike and feeling good for it.
As the days pass, I realise that jeans are not appropriate attire for cycling, especially as I am starting to build up a pace. I have no clips and chunky tires but even so, I am cycling at a faster pace every day.

One morning, I decide to adorn my cycle jersey and shorts with all of the cold weather trimmings. I can cycle at a faster pace but I am feeling a little out of place all tarted up but not on a race bike. Oh well, I will have to take things slowly until the weather improves.

Incidentally, we have been experiencing lots of rain for California so I am definitely sticking to my wifes bike for the time being.

Out and Injured, but I do have something better

So, while I was out injured in December we had a little boy named Benjamin. He is our first child and is such a bundle of joy. We are loving every minute. I am also pleased to say that I am able to pick him up without any major issues with my elbow or wrist so it looks like I am making a good recovery. I will keep this entry short as I am not doing any exercise or training except for wrist rotations which I don't really think are going to better my triathlon times. (Although it may help with the swimming).

Back to the beginning

Okay, This isn't actually the start but it is my first blog so I owe everyone a bit of background and a recap. I intend this blog to track my decisions and the progress I make as I meander down my random path to this years Malibu Triathlon. Let me introduce myself.

My name is Dan and I am a keen cyclist. That is to say I am one of those people that actually enjoys propelling myself around using only my own power. I like to run, but I have a bad knee. I like to swim but I don't really make the time to visit the pool at the moment so cycling is my thing. Adding to this the fact that I am a bit of a speed freak, somehow travelling under my own power whilst going faster than my body alone allows seems to make up the perfect scenario.

Right, Lets travel back in time about 4 months so that I can fill in the gaps. Myself and my pregnant wife Sam lived in Marina Del Rey, CA. Due to lack of space for the impending baby arrival we sought a new residence. Finding a nice apartment in Playa Del Rey seemed perfect and within 3 weeks we were moving in. The great thing about both locations is my route to work. Actually there is a problem with the latter location that I will get to in a minute but the important part is the access I have to what is known as the Ballona Creek Cycle path.

This essentially runs from the mouth of the Marina inland to and past Culver City where I work. Pair this with the California sun and I have the perfect cycle route into work. I believe it is about 8 miles each way including the small sections of street at either end.

Now for the problem. The california sun which we come to rely on so much, does actually grow weak in the winter and typically on days where I would prefer to stay warm and dry, I had grown accustom to taking the Culver City bus to work from where I live. This offered great flexibility and was plane old convenient. The new place is relatively in a dead zone for public transport. There is a bus, but I don't really need to head towards Compton so for the moment, I just ride.

So I was getting used to the new location and really enjoying the route into work, but on day three, things went slightly wrong. A combination of a cold, damp day, newly pressurized slick racing tires and
an ill judged tap of the front brake saw me not so upright any more and in fact sliding to a stand still from a speed of roughly 20mph.

Let me add into the equation that I have tri bars fitted to my bike as well as clipless peddles. My Elbow, Thigh and Wrist essentially took the force of the impact and off to hospital I go.

It turned out the I had a fractured Radius, a broken bone in my wrist and a good old helping of road rash to add to the equation. The elbow I suspected had something wrong as soon as I tried to get up. The wrist progressively got worse resulting in repeat trips to the doctors before actually working out it contained a broken bone and my wife had the pleaser or revealing the extent of the road rash while pealing away my cycling shorts. To put is simply, she did not hide her anguish at the sight. Even after clean up, it looked pretty sore.

I suppose the point of this initial round up is to highlight that I was put out of action as far as cycling goes and I resigned myself to being taken into work by my lovely wife. This was aided by the timely arrival of our baby boy, Benjamin in December, which allowed me to take off a whole month of work for paternity leave as well as recover from my injuries.