Thursday, October 9, 2014

So you want to ride a bike? First step: Find the right fit.

A friend has asked me to put together some information that would be helpful to someone who is interested in getting into cycling but doesn't really know where to start.  I have been riding bikes for quite some time - really it started in 1985, however there have been periods that I have not really been cycling much.

That being said, I've been consistently cycling since returning to Greenville in 2005.  Started with my mountain bike, then more recently onto a road bike.  Between my wife and I we have 9 bikes.  Some are ridden more than others of course, but they span the range from a vintage Schwinn Tandem to a high end full carbon road bike and includes various other road and mountain bikes.

So, how's that help you, maybe not much right now, but my experience with bikes is what I hope to share with you so you can make some sense out of the whole bicycling scene.  You see, selecting a bike (new or used) starts with finding the right fit.  The right fit is really about three things:
  • Your lifestyle and the type of riding you want to do.
  • How much money you wish to spend (how does the purchase fit your wallet)
  • Your physical size and fitting the proper frame size to you.  
The very first thing I want to encourage is for you to find all of the local bike shops in your area.  Forget about bikes from big box stores (especially from places like Wal-Mart, Target, KMart, etc.) and steer away from even the big box sporting good stores (locally we have Academy Sports, Dick's, etc.).  The key point here is you want to find a place where the people are VERY knowledgeable about bikes.  The local bike shop is your very best source of information and for quality bikes.

1.  Your Lifestyle and type of riding
So, let's get started on fitting you to a bike.  First you need to consider what type of riding you wish to do.  There are a TON of different types or styles of bikes out there, just check out this page from Bicycling Magazine.  I count 28 different styles of bikes on that page!!

However, even with 28 styles of bikes, you can still create a smaller number of groupings.  Clearly, even Bicycling Magazine has broken it down to a certain extent.  Just within the Road and Mountain categories are a total of 18 specific styles.

Since this post is intended for a new rider who's interested in getting fit, I'm going to try to keep it  relatively simple and break it down into only three Categories:  Road, Mountain and Hybrid.

Road Bikes:
Road bikes are generally a skinny tire bike that obviously goes best on the road (and generally quite fast).  Think of Le Tour de France.  While those bikes are true race bikes, most 'roadies' are riding bikes quite similar to what those Pros are riding.  Generally these bikes have a total of 20-22 speeds (gears) and a body forward riding position.  Depending on where you are with your fitness, this body forward riding position may be difficult for you. 

Here's my personal road bike.  While it doesn't fit into Bicycling Magazine's category "Road - Dream", it really is just about my dream bike (Pinarello ROKH):

Bicycling Magazine actually puts that bike in the Road - Plush category.  Why it falls into this category is a good reason for you to go visit your local bike shop - they can help you sort out the many different styles of Road Bikes.  If you are interested in a road bike, read the reviews of the bikes in the "Road - New Rider" category.

The bikes found in this 'New Rider' category are going to have frames mostly of aluminum, but there may be a lower end carbon frame in this bunch.  Component group (see your local bike shop... ;) will be lower to mid range as will wheels, saddle, handlebars etc. 

Getting involved in road riding is pretty easy.  Every local bike shop here in Greenville offers an opportunity for group rides - it's pretty much common everywhere.  They'll have a group ride for just about every level of rider available.  You should also support your local Bicycling club - they are working to make roads safe and to promote bicycling as a mode of transportation, not just for kids.  If you don't know how to find out about a local club.....yes, go talk to the folks at your local bike shop.  They'll point you in the right direction.  

Mountain Bikes:
Another category to consider are the Mountain bikes.  These are 'fat tire' bikes generally with gearing.  Some of these are fully rigid (no suspension) while others may have just a front suspension and then there is a crop of full suspension bikes.  They'll weigh more than a road bike and they won't be near as fast (on the road) but you get that back in comfort.  Of course, these bikes are made to handle off road terrain, so this opens up a whole new experience that Road riding can't touch.  The riding position is generally more upright and the bike will feel quite plush (as compared to a skinny tire road bike) - especially a full suspension bike. 

The variations on mountain bikes are massive.  Today you can get a mountain bike with 26" wheels, 27.5" wheels or 29" wheels.  There are plenty of people who will tell you one is better than another, but read up on the reviews a little and talk to the folks at the bike shop.  They'll help point you in the right direction.  I have three mountain bikes in my personal stable.  Single speed rigid, a front suspension multi geared bike and a full suspension multi-geared bike.  Here's my Surly 1x1 (single speed, rigid) and my full suspension Kona. 

Each bike has it's purpose, and for me it's all just for fun.  For you, the bikes in the mountain bike category (look again for the "Mountain - New Rider" category) will provide a comfortable mount for you to get around town or out on your local trails.  

Take note:  Mountain biking requires a level of skill beyond that needed for riding on the road.  If you choose to buy a mountain bike and wish to take it off road, please check into meeting up with a local IMBA chapter - see this information for a local chapter.  Folks in these organizations frequently offer up group rides and may cater to beginners.  If you don't have a local chapter, well, go talk to the folks at the local bike shop from which you purchased your bike - they'll be able to help you find opportunities to get off road in a location that best matches your ability. 

Hybrid Bikes:
Hybrid bikes are generally more oriented towards the road with skinny(ish) tires, but offer the comfort of an upright seating position.  From the Bicycling Magazine link above, check out the "Commuter and City" bike category. 

These bikes will move quite well on the road and handle some minor dirt or gravel conditions.  Generally these bikes have gears which make getting around much easier.  They'll be easy to attach a rack or a basket and in fact may come with some of this stuff.  Not much more to say about this category except - go see your local bike shop!

2.  How does this bike purchase fit your wallet?
This is a tough question.  Clearly if you go to Walmart or one of those types of stores you can find bikes for extremely cheap.  YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!!  Please do a little research and purchase a quality bike - the kind that you find at a local bike shop.  You can buy new or used, but the value of quality groupset (shifters, derailleurs, brakes) makes a HUGE difference in how much time (or money) you'll spend on maintenance.  

You can see that bikes in the categories I've linked to above range from about $400 for the lower end bikes in Commuter / City and Mountain Bike new rider categories (about $600 in Road New rider)
and up to about $1400 for Mountain bike new rider, $1900 for Road New Rider and almost $5000 in the commuter / City category. 

Once you find the type of bike you want to ride, look into finding used.  Your local bike shop may have a bulletin board, online bike Forums, Craigslist, e-bay, etc.  All are good sources to find quality used bikes.  If you're not comfortable looking at a bike to asses it's condition, check with your local bike shop to see if they offer a service where they would check the bike out for you.  If someone is selling a quality bike, they should understand if you'd like to have a professional check it out for you.  Always check first with the bike shop, then suggest that the seller meet you there so you can look at and ride the bike. 

3.  Find the right bike frame size for your body. 
I can't stress how important this is.  There are some very detailed measurements that are taken when one goes to a professional bike fitting.  These measurements are intended to help the pro adjust your bike to fit you.  However, I don't recommend paying for a professional bike fitting at this stage, wait until you've found your inner cyclist and have decided that you really want to upgrade to a higher end bike.  That's the time to pay for a fitting (these can cost $200 or more and take several hours). 

However, since you're just getting into cycling, you'll have to do the best you can following the advice you'll receive from your local bike shop or from friends who are into cycling.  MOST IMPORTANTLY, ride a bike before you buy it.  Adjust the seat height and have a quick lesson on how to use the shifters.  Try to ride for more than just a few minutes.  If you're buying from a bike shop, they'll be able to set the right seat height. 

A couple of things to watch out for: 
  • Don't 'reach' too far to the handlebars.  This can cause strain on your lower back and it indicates that the frame is too big for you.  Even in a body forward style road bike, you need to watch out for this.  Your core has to support your body when you are riding - you don't want too much weight on your hands (regardless of type of bike).  
  • Seat height - your leg should not be fully extended but you don't want too much bend when the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke and the ball of your foot is on the pedal.  Just a little bit of bend is what you want.  Watch out for a seat tube that is extended all the way out or conversely seems to be all the way in.  All the way out could indicate that the frame is a little small, all the way in could indicate the frame is a little big.  If your knees are hitting the handlebar it's pretty likely the frame is too small.
Hopefully this information is helpful in getting you started on finding a bike.  Cycling is a fun, low impact exercise that you can enjoy with friends and family.  Additionally, cycling gives a great mental boost - it can really make you feel like a kid again. 

Of course, once you choose a bike, you'll have to outfit yourself with appropriate equipment and clothing.  I will say that you should purchase a helmet when you get the bike.  Nothing more important than protecting your head.  Next time we'll talk about other stuff you'll need to make your ride more enjoyable and safe. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Wildlife sighting!!

Back out on the Dale Ball trail systems today.  Today we started from yet another trailhead, this one called Sierra Del Norte.

These trails, like those from yesterday, are very runnable.  That being said, there was a couple times where Jenny and / or I did some walking.  Probably still a function of the altitude despite the fact we've been at altitude for nearly a week.

 The map above labels the intersections.  Our route went from 1 to 2 to 3, although we took the big loop around to get to intersection 3.  Just after starting on that big loop and barely a mile in - Jenny trips on a rock.  She is fine, although likely her pride was as skinned up as her chin / hands / knee are.  She bumped her chin and her knee pretty hard.  I felt so bad for her.  She being the trooper she is, she kept running.

Shortly after that, I finally get a wildlife sighting!!  Coming around a bend I see a pretty big Coyote trotting up the trail in front of me.  He / She turned around and gave me a look, but turned left off the trail pretty quickly.  Jenny came up and we looked for a minute but the Coyote was gone.  The loop around from 2 to 3 is a beautiful trail with some very nice views out over Santa Fe.

At intersection 4 our garmins showed around 2 miles.  Jenny was worried about her knee so she headed back to the car while I continued to intersections 5, 10, 7, 6, then I started backtracking to intersection 5, 4, 3 - long way around to 2, then back to the car.

That put me a little over 5.5 miles on the day.  Amazing how the altitude affects one out here.  My heart rate was pretty high at times when I wasn't really moving that fast.  Beautiful place, great running conditions.  I only wish Jenny hadn't had her spill so we could have run together.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Post Jemez trail run

Great day today.  We started with a fine breakfast, enjoyed coffee on the porch then headed up to the foothills for another trail run.  We managed to find information about the Santa Fe Foothills trails systems and even better we found that we could get a free map of the area!  Love having maps when running in unfamiliar territory.

Today we chose to run trails associated with the Dale Ball trail system.  From our little condo it took less than 15 minutes to arrive at the trailhead on upper canyon road (that was after stopping at the visitors center for the free map).  The terrain was mostly runable for us although there were a few spots where one or both of us walked up (or down) a section.

We started with the Nature Conservancy Interpretive trail that goes around a small pond.  A quick stop at the Audobon Center and we were back on the trails.

It was a great day for running and the foliage in the area provided for some shade along the way.  The route we took seems to be at an elevation between about 7000' and 7600' (not clear on the map).  That being said, the elevation definitely played a part in our effort.

Despite the difficulty my calf gave me on the Jemez half marathon last weekend, it felt great today.  Crazy!  Very glad there is no more trouble, but bummed it had to happen for the half.

The trails were well marked and at each intersection was a permanent copy of the map I had in my pocket.  Distances between intersections are indicated and the intersections are numbered.  Even better, the map is properly oriented so the intersection is easy to figure out which way to go for the different trails.

We saw a few mountain bikers out there.  No wonder, the trails were technical but totally rideable.  A great resource for the folks in Santa Fe.  If you come out this way, definitely pick up a map at the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Center at 201 W. Marcy Street (not far from the plaza) and give these trails a shot.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The most difficult trail run yet

Was the Jemez Mountain Trail heavy Half.  14 miles through some very rugged but very beautiful mountains surrounding Los Alamos, New Mexico.  A number of factors lead me to the title statement, but let's start a bit further back.

Jenny and I made the choice to do this trail half marathon several months ago.  With our nephew graduating High School in Clovis (New Mexico), it seemed a great opportunity to work in a nice event and wouldn't you know it, an excellent opportunity presented itself with the Jemez Mt Trail Runs.

These runs include the heavy half, a 50km and a 50 mile run.  Neither of us are prepared for the longer distances, but we both felt we were prepared for the half.  After all, we'd just finished the Smoky Mountain Relay where my last leg was one of the harder legs on the relay (certainly not the hardest, but among the most difficult).  That last leg was 9.5 miles with about 3000' of elevation gain over about 5 miles.  Furthermore, just a couple of weeks before the Jemez, we did a little less than 11 miles with plenty of climbing at Paris Mt State Park.  Because we weren't looking to set any records at Jemez, we felt we were well prepared.

We flew into Albuquerque on Wednesday prior to the event date (event date was May 24).  Dinner with family (in Clovis) Wednesday night and in bed early to try to work out the kinks from a long day of travel.  Thursday morning we got up to do a little run just to keep the legs fresh.

In Clovis there are really no hills, but the altitude is somewhere near 5000'.  We saw this as an opportunity to begin our acclimatization.  We left direct from the hotel and within 3/4 mile I suspected I might be in a little trouble with my right calf.  My lower leg was sending me some signals that I didn't like, but I thought I'd be ok, I'd felt this same feeling before.  Unfortunately by the time we hit a mile my calf was near full lockdown.  I told Jenny about it and decided I needed to stop running.  Because she was feeling fine, she was doing laps out and back to me as I walked, then ran back towards the hotel.

I made it by mostly walking back to the hotel.  By that time my calf was VERY sore.  I did my best to stretch it out after arriving at the hotel.  I wasn't pleased.

The rest of the day Thursday and all day Friday I didn't do any running and stretched as best I could.  Friday was a lot of hanging out with family before our Nephew's graduation which started at 6pm Friday.  We didn't get out of Clovis until around 8pm.  Thankfully we have a great friend in Los Alamos who put us up for the night (we arrived at midnight) and had some nice hot coffee ready when we woke at 530am Saturday morning before the race.

DeWayne and Valeria led us over to the start line where we were greeted by the awesome volunteers at packet pickup.  All went smoothly as expected and we lined up for the start.  Both of us were equipped with 50 oz camelbak packs with three or four Gu packs each. 

We started off like many other races do, we were passing people, people were passing us.  No complaints here, it made for a nice warmup.  Downhill on the road with plenty of room to maneuver around other folks.  I was trying to get a feel for my calf and I didn't really like what I was feeling. 

I'm a natural fore-foot runner so of course my calf plays a very important part in my stride.  I could tell it was not going to cooperate with me this day.  It was still early but I could feel the soreness and I had to compensate for it in my stride.  This put me into a heel strike mode.  I've run plenty of miles using a heel strike stride but they never turn out as well for me. 

Part of my compensation was to relax into the run and forget any competitive thoughts.  While I'm not a guy who is generally looking to win any races, I am a guy who sets goals and pushes myself to meet or exceed them.  My competition is with myself.  I had to really work to put these thoughts aside.  I knew I would end up with real issues somewhere along the way if I didn't take this relaxed approach. 

Off the road and onto the trails was great.  There were a lot of people out there but all were very cordial when passing or being passed.  At times I just sat in behind a group and at others I worked my way past them.  I'm a big proponent of giving the person in front of me the opportunity to find the right place (read 'safe' place) for me to pass so I talk to them when I am ready to pass.  Others who passed me treated me with similar respect.  I like that. 

My calf was feeling well enough as we ran through some beautiful terrain and up on the lower slopes leading to Mitchell Aid Station.  Except for maybe a rare occasion when traffic caused me to have to walk for a couple of steps, I was able to run all of that terrain.  Not bad considering we come from a town whose elevation is something around 1000'.  I could feel the altitude though.  I knew it was going to play a factor in my day. 

After Mitchell AS of course the trails turns up.  It was here that the terrain combined with the altitude really could be felt.  While my calf was forcing me to run differently than my natural stride, I was able to run / walk well enough.  As with many others on the climb to Guaje Ridge I was walking the steeper parts and running when I could.  I thought it was very cool that I could look back on the trail and see Jenny coming up behind me.

At the AS at the top of Guaje Ridge, the folks were super nice.  Because I knew Jenny wasn't far behind me I decided to wait.  Of course as I waited I chatted with some of the volunteers.  THANK YOU so much to these folks who give up their day to help us out.  I hope I was able to communicate my thanks to them. 

Within a few minutes Jenny arrived at the summit.  I was glad to see her and while I could tell she was feeling the effects of the effort and the altitude, she looked to be in fine condition.  We ran for a while together, then I started to open a gap. 

Here's where my calf really started talking to me.  Normally when I am not nursing an injured calf, I can move quite quickly down a trail.  Of course I do this by bouncing from rock to rock on the ball of my feet.  My calf was having none of this so I was in short stride, heel strike mode.  Add to this the VERY narrow trail which forced me to take slightly longer strides than I would have liked and I found myself moving quite slowly down the mountian. 

It wasn't too long before I was being passed by a lot of people.  I knew that Jen wasn't too far behind so I would look back to see her occasionally.  We would run together at times where the terrain caused our paces to match and at times I would open a small gap when the terrain leveled out or the trail became wider to allow me a more natural stride length. 

We ran briefly on a fire road before turning right onto more single track.  This brought us to the top of a very beautiful canyon.  I can't find the name for this canyon, but running down through this canyon was one of the highlights of the run for me.  I was starting to feel some fatigue now and I was a little worried that my heel strike stride was causing a blister on my right foot.  Just what I needed. 

Jenny was still with me or just behind me as we ran through this canyon.  She looked like she was beginning to feel the effort as well, but as normal, she soldiered on.  We came upon the Oasis which was the last chance saloon after running past a number of signs that made me laugh.  These folks really went all out to make for a great aid station. 

Of course the route then took us up one last slap in the face of a climb.  We managed to pass a couple of folks going up this climb, then into the home stretch.  Again, some great running on some wonderful trails.  Jenny and I stuck together through this last part, although I opened a small gap before our final climb through the rocks to the finish chute. 

I waited for her at the top, and we ran through the finish chute together.  I love that we can share these events. 

In the end, I have to rate this as my most difficult trail run to date.  Combine the altitude with the elevation gain and some extremely rugged terrain with the fact I was running injured and it all adds up to a very tough day for me.  That said, I really enjoyed spending that 3 hours out on the trails in the Jemez Mountains.  Maybe next time I can do it without the injury and just battle the course.

A final note - We had it easy with the weather.  We were back at DeWayne's house, showered and having lunch by the time the skies opened up.  The folks on the 50k and 50 miler have my enduring respect for the conditions in which they had to race.  Congrats to all of you who ran in those conditions, bummed that some were not able to complete the course.