How to Turn Your Bike into a Medieval Torture Device – in One Easy Step!

February 13, 2010

Wow, this is way too much like work!!!!

Winter is a rough season for cyclists.  We want to keep riding to stay in shape, but the weather rarely cooperates.  I ride outdoors in winter, but it’s an iffy proposition.  Riding a road bike in the snow is NOT recommended, so one must wait for the snowplow to do its job, then pray for sufficient sun to melt off the road surface before venturing out.  “Sun”, by the way, is a term not recognized by native Clevelanders.  I only know the meaning of the word because I was born far south of here.  As a result of all this, the average cyclist can’t do much outdoor riding in the winter.  Oh, and did I mention that winter starts right after Halloween and ends somewhere around Memorial Day?  Yeah, and spring is a theoretical season that is said to occur during that twenty-four hour period between winter and summer, at which point the temperature and humidity both shoot up to the high 80’s and everyone heads for the beach, only to find that the lake is still frozen.  But I digress….

A couple of years ago, I purchased a bicycle trainer in the hope of keeping in shape over the winter.  This year I set it up in the living room and I’m trying to force myself to use it at least five days a week.   For those of you who don’t have or haven’t seen one of these things, it’s definitely not like riding a bike outdoors.  The trainer is a stand in which you clamp the rear axle of your road bike.  The front wheel sits in a stationary cradle.  The rear wheel drives a roller, which is attached to a resistance unit, which uses either a torque converter of sorts or a pair of magnetic discs to provide adjustable drag on the wheel.  My trainer is a fluid model, which uses a torque converter thingy attached to a five-position shift lever mounted on the handlebars.  You can use both the fluid shift and the gears on your bike to change the amount of work required to pedal the bike.  So there’s a wide range of adjustment possible, but it’s still not easy.  You can’t coast, you must move the pedals continuously.  And, unless you set an electric fan in front of the bike, there’s no airflow, so you sweat at an incredible rate.  Nashbar, Performance, and some other companies sell a sort of “bra” to catch the sweat and keep your bike’s frame from corroding, but  I think the fan is probably the best solution, especially for the comfort factor.   Most cyclists don’t realize how much cooling effect they get from the forward movement of the bike, but a half hour of pedaling in dead air will make you realize how much sweat you’re generating over the course of your ride.

I started on the trainer, as I do most years, shortly after the holidays.  At this point in the year I’m usually about ten pounds heavier than my “normal” weight.  This year it’s closer to twenty; I’ve been spending a lot more time at home,  cooking a lot more than usual, and just plain enjoying myself way too much.  I had to start out wearing my “fat” shorts, pair of Canari padded cycling shorts that won’t even stay up when I’m in shape.   They fit great right now!

Sally’s decided she wants to get ready for riding season as well, so we’ll be swapping bikes on the trainer and taking turns from here on in.  Misery loves company!

Product information and tips:  I use a Travel Trac Century V Fluid+ Trainer with a CycleOps Climbing Block to cradle the front wheel.  Both products are excellent and highly recommended.  A fluid trainer is definitely superior to a magnetic one – smoother, quieter, and more easily adjusted.  And the CycleOps block gives you three height options, plus you can stack multiple blocks to simulate steeper climbs if you wish.  Be sure to put a mat down to cover and protect your floor covering – I use a six-foot length of vehicle carpeting, available in the automotive section of many big box stores for cheap.  When setting up the trainer, you’ll probably need to readjust your saddle height and position.  Make sure the saddle is fairly level, and adjust the front wheel height as needed to balance your weight distribution.  Too much weight on the hands can be really uncomfortable when training indoors (especially when you’re out of shape in the first place).  Don’t forget to wear your cycling socks, gloves, shorts and shoes – the same one’s you would wear on a fitness ride.  Otherwise, you’ll get blisters for sure.  I find that I get a really good, sweaty workout in about 30 minutes.  Good luck with your training!

The Leaf-Bagging Workout

November 16, 2009

I love my Billy Goat blower - it rocks!

When we returned from Myrtle Beach, we were greeted by the sight of a lawn completely covered in leaves.  Having already removed 14 bags of leaves from the lawn prior to our departure, I was not looking forward to tackling the newly fallen layer.   You see, I live in Mentor, Ohio, an otherwise fairly progressive municipality which nevertheless has an incredibly primitive and backward trait; namely, the total lack of any kind of curbside leaf pick-up.  Warning: ranting & raving begins here: Virtually every other city for miles around has trucks circulating throughout the neighborhood, sucking up vast piles of leaves from treelawns and carrying them off for disposal.  The denizens of these other cities have merely to blow or rake their leaves to the curb, and a day or two later – POOF – they disappear!  Not those of us in Mentor, Ohio (are you reading this, Councilman Micchia?).  We are required to place our leaves in 30 gallon paper bags of a type and size approved by the city, and to transport them to curbside on trash day.  We are limited to setting out no more than 25 bags per week.  HA!!!  I put out 56 bags last week, followed by 69 bags this week, and if the trash guys don’t pick this week’s bags up, they’ll be lookin’ at a stack of a hundred or so by next Thursday!  Fortunately, the guys who pick up the trash are smarter than the guys who wrote the city ordinance in the first place.  End of rant.

Anyway, in an effort to control my blood pressure, I decided to concentrate on the positive aspects of this leaf-removal experience.  I now think of this chore as a customized workout, designed to build up my abs and biceps, improve my stamina, and provide aerobic exercise that I’d otherwise have to pay for by joining a gym.  So here are the components of the Leaf-bagging Workout – give it a try, it’ll help you burn off a few calories!

Blower-pushing Boogie: this exercise is a real workout for the legs.  Build up those glutes and hamstrings as you push that blower around, and around, and around, and around………

Doin' the Boogie!

The Stoop & Scoop: Build up your lats, delts, biceps, and triceps while stretching your back and abs.  Scoop up those leaves!

Stre-e-e-etch those back muscles!

The Power Ram: A great ab and back exercise that also works your shoulders, forearms and wrists.  Packing those leaves down makes room for the next rep of the Stoop & Scoop!


The Funnel Jerk & Flip:  Another arm and shoulder workout – and you’re ready to repeat the whole set!

Oh yeah, I'm really getting too old for this s#%$ !

Ain’t it fun?

Baggin’ Update:   As of 11/16/2009, we have now filled 172 bags, and the leaves are still falling…….

Back on the Bike (and Breathing Hard Again)

July 19, 2009

After 20 miles of easy biking, I decided it was time to start pushing it a bit. Having fought off a serious case of pneumonia this winter, I’ve been working on controlling my asthma for several months now, and it’s working pretty well. But I’m just now getting back onto the bike for real, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s going to take a while to get back to my previous form.

The day before yesterday, I rode 7.6 miles in 32 minutes at an average speed of 14.0 mph. Yesterday, it was 7.25 miles in 30 minutes, avg. speed 14.5 mph. I’m taking today off, then tomorrow I’ll try to improve slightly on those numbers.

I’m concluding that my speed is pretty close to what it used to be, but my endurance is way down. I guess my first goal will be to get up to an hour at my current speed – but that’ll take a few days (or weeks).

In the process of preparing for this, I had to get my bikes back in shape. I own three French road bikes – two tourers and a club racer. All my bikes are Motobecanes, made by the French company of that name (they’re no longer in the bike business, but they continue to exist as a division of Yamaha that builds mopeds. Motobecane means “motor bicycle” in French)

The racer is my fitness bike. It’s a 1982 Motobecane Mirage Sport, a steel-framed 12-speed with racing gearing (meaning hard to pedal most of the time), downtube shifters, and all original components. 27″ x 1″ tires means a fast but rough ride. The plain old low-end 2010 steel frame, however, makes up for a lot in the comfort area. This bike rides sweeter than just about any aluminum-framed carbon-forked over-priced monstrosity you can buy today. It’s the bike I ride around the neighborhood, and it’s equipped for speed. I’ve had it for about five years – my first French bike, and the reason I have two others.
I bought it at a swap meet and had it overhauled at my local bike shop, the cost of which motivated me to learn how to do all my own bike repairs!

The real torture rack - the bike I'm using to get back in shape!

The real torture rack - the bike I'm using to get back in shape!

My 1977 Motobecane Grand Touring bike is definitely the best bike I own. It has a Vitus 172 DB chrome-moly steel main triangle, brazed lugged steel frame, and is completely original in it’s current configuration, right down to the Zefal pump that came mounted to the seat tube. It’s a light day tourer, and it’s great for longer rides that last all day. I got it from a friend at work – it had been hanging in his garage for over ten years. I completely overhauled the bike, but I only had to replace the rubber parts and the bearings, plus a bottom bracket spindle and a few cables. After a lot of leather treatment and mink oil, the Brooks leather saddle is as comfy as a hammock (Sally doesn’t believe it, but it’s true!). This bike was used on a fully-supported tour of Nova Scotia, so the frame is strong enough for heavier loads than I’ll ever carry!

Here's my baby - the lightest frame and the sweetest ride I own!

Here's my baby - the lightest frame and the sweetest ride I own!

The 1982 Motobecane Randonnee is my “heavy” touring bike. Although I’ve never used it for fully loaded touring, it’s capable of handling it. Rack and fender mounts are brazed onto the 2040 steel frame, and the wheels are wider for more load carrying capacity. I use it for trail and path riding. I got it from my neighbor’s trash one night when he wasn’t looking. Sally gave me hell for bringing it into the garage – it was a real rust pile! After stripping the frame, repainting, new decals, a few new components, tires, tubes, cables, new brake levers and hoods, new aluminum bars to replace the rusty chromed steel ones, she looks great! It’s the first bike I’ve built from the frame up – and maybe the last!

Doesn't look like she came from a trashpile now, does she?

Doesn't look like she came from a trashpile now, does she?

I don’t really need three bikes, but I’m not likely to get rid of any of these in the near future – it’ll take quite a nice bike to tempt me to replace one of these three.

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