Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

This was the start of last weekend’s training session. I met Rick Wilson, owner of Cafe Velo, at his bricks-and-mortar version of the cafe at 05:00 on Saturday morning. The coffee trike has been making a splash in the Portland bicycle and coffee scene for a few years now. A Dutch bakfiet, it has been carefully and tastefully customized into a rolling coffee making machine. This was a Portland Farmer’s Market day and I was the lucky pilot who took her from her downtown parking spot uphill-all-the-way to the South Park Blocks. I spent the next couple of hours helping set up the cafe while Rick and I talked bicycles, fly fishing, chukkar hunting and fine European double-barrel shotguns.

The all-boy conversation ended with my wife’s arrival. We moved on to the finer things in life, including the excellent coffee that comes from this cart and the fine crepes that are made next door. This training ride was followed by a Sunday ride on the tandem with Sue, up and over the west hills via Saltzman, my touchstone for the local version of the strade bianchi.


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The readers here have told me, as clearly as possible, that I need to pay attention to my training and worry about tire selection another time. Really, the scientific and irrefutable evidence is on my previous post about tubular vs. clincher tires, all summed up in a poll. The poll is still open and I would be delighted if you could skew the results to something a bit more relaxing than training.

Yet, regardless of the advice, I am training and have been hitting the road and the trainer and the weight room. And, pushing myself away from the training table. Strong legs go much farther if they have less to push up the hill.

The training elements, early mornings in the gym, weekends on the road or short road rides after work, are beginning to take hold. I am breaking new barriers on the training machine and even the hilliest of rides is manageable.

The test of this preparation will come this weekend when I attempt either a long ride with my wife (and stoker) on the tandem or the more punishing ride up NW Saltzman on the Moseman. I may even try to get those brake levers returned to pre-aero condition, as if doing so might help me prepare for 2 October.

Lunch hour is over. Spare bits of chicken and salad with a few treats for a successful week of training. So as to leave you with something actually interesting on this page, I’ve linked to the new Rapha video by Nick Livesey. It’s over the top melodramatic, but it is Paris-Roubaix this weekend, which is nothing if not over the top.

A Throw of the Dice from RAPHA on Vimeo.

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Training for L’Eroica is occupying much of my interests, or fears, these days. Though six months away, everything I can glean about the ride tells me that my legs and every other part of me must be ready for a long, difficult day in the saddle.

I’ve ridden centuries before. I’ve been put to the test on challenging climbs. My first significant one came in 1985 and was the excuse for my first visit to Europe. The Alpenbrevet went 160K over three mountain passes including one with 15K of cobblestones on the descent. (Current routes are different than when I rode it.) I also rode the 1988 Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a ridiculously difficult century ride that sounded good on paper, but was murderous. But, scores of kilometers of strade bianchi has me spooked. What to do?

Distract myself. That is really the reason behind the headline. You see it at the health club, you see it among snowboarders, you see it in riders cruising the bike paths around town. Everyone seems to be plugged in to their own personal noise machine.

We can always make the argument that music, whatever the genre or style, is motivating or soothing or inspirational. It may be and often is. What we really gain from these earbuds or headphones is a transport to some other place where the burning in the thighs and the labored breathing don’t exist. That’s for the world of old-school training.

Although my wife and I were hold outs for an iPod, the moment we got one, we used it primarily for our trips to the health club. It wasn’t long after that an iPhone was in my pocket and we the both could be plugged in. I created a playlist of rock and roll music that I thought would be sufficiently noisy and hard-driving enough to keep us going at high RPMs.

That playlist was played to death, but we never seemed to mind because it wasn’t really music we were enjoying. We were using the beats and the bass lines to drive our legs. Billy Idol might have been dancing with himself, but we were trying to dance on the pedals.

Then, by sheer accident or forgetfulness, I left the iPhone at home and had to go it alone. The Clash and The Stones were not there to help me. And, I posted just as good a training effort on the stationary bike as ever. That’s when I realized that the music was only a distraction, so why not have more variety in my distractions? How about a little opera to go along with “Sympathy for the Devil?” Why not let Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, “Eroica,” help me visualize the roads of Tuscany, with the dappled sunlight and shining gravel?

And, that’s where I have ended up. I may put together other playlists including some with Billy Idol and The Clash. But, I’m just as likely to let Pandora do the work from Radio Opera.  Or, just as compelling would be entire symphonies, which often take us from slow warm up adagios to excited interval allegros and back to a warm down andante.

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Depending upon how you count it, a bicycle and its rider are in contact at three crucial areas: the hands, the feet and the bum. Of the latter, it is more accurate to say the ischium because we don’t actually sit on a saddle as if it were a chair. In fact, it’s easy to identify those who know little about the bicycle when they refer to the saddle as a seat.

Those who know me, either personally or otherwise, know that I am a devotee of Brooks saddles, still made in their shop in the Midlands of England. I say saddles because there are many of them in many styles, but they have one thing in common: They are all made of real leather stretched over a frame. They are made as bicycle saddles have traditionally been made and they have all of those same advantages and drawbacks. They are rarely found on racing bicycles today, but are frequently seen on touring bikes, hipster fixies, bike messenger machines and are used more than any other saddle to identify a handmade bicycle frame as a top-of-the-market product.

I imagine that anyone thinking about vintage bikes ridden over the old roads would expect they were ridden on leather saddles. That’s what I’ll be doing. Regardless, I’ll readily admit that most other elements of the bicycle have been improved upon, particularly the components, since 1987, the latest year of construction for a bicycle to be entered in L’Eroica. Pedals, for one, are vastly improved. Many of the other components, though more complex mechanically, show the improvement that comes with greater research, competition and technological advances. But, not the saddle.

Sure, you can now buy and use a saddle that weighs almost nothing. It will be made of composites or plastics or even have padding with a leather cover. It just won’t possess the individualized comfort or the aesthetic of the all-leather saddle.

Apart from Brooks, who dominate the category, smaller producers are making leather saddles including some fine ones from Gilles Berthoud in France. Their weight may exceed, by many grams, those racing and touring saddles made of plastic, but they trade that weight for comfort and durability that cannot be matched. The Brooks Team Pro saddle on the Moseman is nearly as old as the bicycle and provides day-long comfort, not to mention a handsome, well-worn patina.

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For a L’Eroica participant, spring is the time that alerts the senses to the open road and alerts the mind to the realization that training must begin now. Inspiration in these cold, dark months can

Book Cover, Spring Classics

be found in the sepia toned photos and online videos of previous rides. Another boost awaits us, though, and that’s the tonic of the beginning of the racing season in Europe, beautifully detailed in “The Spring Classics: Cycling’ Greatest One-Day Races.” from Velopress.

Just before this sumptuous bit of coffee table bike porn was released, I found an out of print book on a subject in sport that rises above most others for me: baseball. George Will’s “Men at Work” is an exploration of the important efforts made by several different baseball “workers.” It was auspicious that this book, which I read when it was released 20 years ago, would show up so close to the cycling book. 

I won’t try to draw parallels between the two volumes except for the fervor that both sports engender on opposite sides of the Atlantic. As with the excitement that accompanies spring training so it is with spring racing. 

Most of us know Paris-Roubaix and see it as the jewel in the crown of spring bicycle battles. In some ways, Paris-Roubaix is the only spring race that many on this side of the Atlantic can identify. The Tour de France occupies a similar position in American minds. Paris-Roubaix’s difficult conditions on the pave, the notoriously brutal weather, the distances and the agony of the riders all make for a compelling narrative and drama. But, many other spring races dominate the schedule, which began last weekend with the seminal Milan-San Remo. 

Readers who are most familiar with the sights of carbon fiber bikes ridden by highly trained athletes with radio earbuds fixed and phalanxes of domestiques pulling them along will enjoy seeing working class men pushing single speed bikes over the cobblestones and muddy paths that are the origin of today’s spring races. The copy matches the photography well. By that, I am confirming that this is foremost a picture book, with just enough historical perspective and race reporting to make it more than a gauzy retreat into nostalgia. And, sufficient space is given to current racers to insure that the book, and the races, are relevant to today’s reader. 

So, why review it here, in a blog about L’Eroica, a casual tour in the fall in Italy? Because, the focus of the book is really the tradition of the spring races, where fairly ordinary men, looking for a bit of money and recognition, rode the existing roads and cart paths to a heroic end. L’Eroica’s focus on the old roads and old bicycles, and by association old riders, is consistent with the conditions of the spring races.

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The Patron

It’s one thing to have a good friend who wants to sponsor your hobby interests with moral support. It’s quite another when he opens up his kitchen to offer you and your colleagues lunch. With Michael, it’s no surprise.

The dish at today’s training table, corned beef. Made right here, of course, by the Patron.
My office mates and I headed down to “Cru Central” for an excellent New York-style corned beef on rye sandwich, washed down with cream soda. My colleagues were treated to some Argyle bubbles, courtesy of one of Michael’s clients.
Guess this means an extra set of intervals tomorrow morning . . .

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That’s my typical experience in training. Or, rather, my experience with resuming training after the fits and starts and layoffs, mostly the latter, of the winter months. I’ve read that we’re programmed to build fat over the winter because we know that spring brings longer days, perfect for our hunter/gatherer impulses.

In the modern context, spring seems to be the time when we begin to worry about our evolutionary selves and the ring that forms around our middle. In the case of L’Eroica, it’s looking forward to a daunting, but beautiful ride. The daunting part is what accounts for sore and tired in the morning.

My own regimen has been a mix of health club activities in the dark, wet months of our Pacific Northwest winter, combining on-bike rides as the days lengthen and the rain abates. If I ever get to that project where I illustrate my activities on graph paper a la Edward Tufte, I’ll try to post it here. In the mean time, it’s your chance to tell me what to do.

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