Monday, November 25, 2019

Statistically Insignificant

Yesterday I did my first bike ride since October 27. That’s 4 full weeks out of the saddle. Searching my training logs, I had to go all the way back to December 24, 2015 through January 24, 2016 to find a longer break.

I gained 6 pounds in January 2016. Part of my motivation to ride yesterday came from the suspicion that I have gained a couple of pounds this month. I’ll know for sure when I do my December weigh-in next Sunday. This is a dangerous time of year for me. My activity level drops dramatically and I gain weight easily. It’s never a matter of whether I will, only a matter of how much before things turn around again in early spring.

By riding on Sunday, I kept alive a streak of consecutive months with at least 1 outdoor ride. The streak began in February 2014, so I’m now at 70 straight. That’s neat, I suppose, but it’s hardly one of my most cherished records. With snow in the forecast for next weekend, I don’t have high hopes for December.

I rode again today … and got rain blown into my face for all my sins. A slow hour of that was all I could stand, and the sun mocked me by reappearing almost as soon as I finished. Oh, well. It’s time now for laundry, dinner, and a nap before my new work week begins.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

West Bend Says Goodbye To ToAD

Good luck, Manitowoc!

The Tour of America’s Dairyland will not return to West Bend in 2020, a city official confirmed on Monday. ToAD came to West Bend in 2016, but during its 4-year run it failed to generate the excitement that we see at other locations like Grafton, Downer Avenue, and Wauwatosa. And the city wasn’t happy about the extra street maintenance and law enforcement costs. Racers loved the West Bend course—it was so much more interesting than a standard 4-corner criterium course—but the event never put “heads in beds.” If local hotels and restaurants got any bump from ToAD, then it wasn’t much. Falling on the Monday after the first weekend of ToAD, the West Bend race occupied the least desirable spot of the 11-day series: potential spectators went back to work, and promoters struggled to find enough volunteers to staff the event. Manitowoc will take West Bend’s spot in 2020. ToAD will announce the rest of the schedule soon.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Stationary, But Not Fixed

The next time you’re in the pain cave cursing your indoor training routine, remember: it could be worse. You could be riding a stationary bike outside. Imagine going nowhere on this:

Ouch! Please tell be there used to be a proper seat of some kind. These days, you might want to bring a stadium cushion and a handful of chamois crème. In fairness, this torture device never was intended to be used for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s part of a circuit training course at Ridge Run Park in West Bend. And the course is not without merit. Moving from station to station, you use your own body weight for resistance on some pretty ingenious machines. That “bike” though … wow.

If you simply must see it for yourself, then you will find it just west of the University Drive entrance:

Saturday, November 16, 2019


My new cross-training tool is simple, cheap, and effective.

I may ride my bike again this year, or I may not. It doesn’t matter much, as my racing season is surely over. And with the early arrival of winter weather, my thoughts have turned to offseason cross-training options. I like to hike, but I want to make my hikes more challenging without turning them into trail runs.

The simple solution is to hike with a weighted backpack. There’s actually a word for that: rucking. It’s an activity with military roots reaching back to the earliest days of organized armies. Modern armies still march with heavy rucksacks, both in training and in combat. The physical benefits of rucking are so clear that in recent years the activity has gained popularity with civilians looking to increase their fitness. Who wouldn’t want greater aerobic capacity, stronger muscles, and better posture? Rucking offers all of those without the impact of running. We’re talking about functional fitness, not some weight room exercise that looks cool but has little practical value. You might actually have to carry something heavy someday! And unlike so many fitness routines, with rucking there’s no learning curve: just walk.

Rucking also appeals strongly to the cheapskate in me. I paid $3.79 for 40 pounds of wood pellets—the smallest quantity I could buy—and transferred 25 pounds to a barely-used book bag from my children’s elementary school days. I’m considering a repurposed book bag to be fully amortized, so I’m all-in for $3.79! How’s that for a low cost of entry to a healthy new activity?

There are many ways to weight a backpack. I chose wood pellets not just because they’re super cheap, but also because they’re small and biodegradable. Being small, the wood pellets fill the pack in every dimension. That prevents the weight from shifting, which is a problem if you use something like a weightlifting plate or a couple of bricks. Being biodegradable, the wood pellets will do no harm if the pack ruptures and the contents spill onto the trail. They’re also not food. To avoid the attention of animals and insects, I didn’t want to go with something like rice or dried beans … probably not a concern while I’m in motion, but it could be an issue when the pack is in storage.

I mentioned last year that on a couple of hikes I was probably going too hard for the friends who accompanied me. Adding weight is going to make my effort harder at the same speed. Soldiers carry considerably more than the 25 pounds I’m using. Perhaps someday I will get a bigger rucksack and go heavier, but I have to experiment first. My chief concern is that my frequently damaged left shoulder will fatigue under the weight. I did my first ruck march on November 9 and my second on November 15. Each was 40 minutes on the Eisenbahn State Trail, through a subdivision, and around Forest View Park. The terrain wasn’t strenuous and the shoulder held up, but I could feel the extra strain the weight was putting on my hips and knees.

I went hiking again today: 2 hours, 15 minutes on the Ice Age Trail from Ridge Run Park down to Paradise Drive and back. But I gave the rucksack a rest. I didn’t trust my left shoulder to hold up that long, and I didn’t want to throw off my center of gravity on a day when the trail was sure to be slippery. In the week to come I will experiment with at least one 1-hour ruck march. If the shoulder still feels good over that duration, then I’ll try 90 minutes. Like any new workout, rucking comes with a break-in period and for a while I’ll be giving my body an unfamiliar challenge. But that’s the point. Let’s find the weak spots and make them strong.

Friday, November 15, 2019

On My Calendar Already

Washington County residents, please show your support for the bike plan the county adopted earlier this year. We have a great framework, but the only way to ensure this plan comes to fruition is by staying involved and holding your elected officials accountable. Nearly 350 miles of bikeways and trails can be yours, someday, if you get behind the idea now. Please put this event on your calendar:

Monday, November 11, 2019

All But Ignored

We are fortunate to have cycling-specific media outlets on the Internet, because without them we would get very little news about our sport from the mainstream American media. Have you ever tried to find it? Here’s what I found today on America’s leading sports websites.

Bleacher Report – No cycling, but you can get coverage of the WWE. That’s right, folks: In America, the real sport of professional cycling ranks below the make-believe sport of professional wrestling.

CBS Sports – Also no. But click the unobtrusive little ellipsis where the miscellaneous interests reside and you’ll see not just pro wrestling, but also the World Series of Poker. So, cycling isn’t even worthy of mention but playing cards is a sport. Really?

ESPN – Let’s see if “Bicycling” is in this alphabetized list. No. How about “Cycling” instead? No. Wait! Cricket? esports? For fuck’s sake.

FOX Sports – More pro wrestling, more ellipsis for the sports not even as important as pro wrestling, more no.

Sports Illustrated – Surely, we can count on the venerable gold standard of American sports journalism, can’t we? No. SI can’t see past football, baseball, and basketball. Same as it ever was.

Of the big mainstream American sports media outlets, only NBC Sports is giving cycling some love. “More” is a real word, more respectable than weak, cowering ellipsis. And when we click More and click Cycling, we get cycling! Finally.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Christmas Comes Early

It's beginning to look a lot like ... the end of the 2019 cycling season!

Since the end of October, I have been walking through a winter wonderland. What choice have I had? It has been too cold and snowy to ride through it. (Have fun on your fat bikes, you plaid-clad guzzlers of cheap domestic beer, I’m just not into that whole scene.) My workouts on Tuesday and Wednesday were leaf raking and snow shoveling, respectively. We might spend all next week below 32° and a couple of days might not even make it out of the teens. It could be April before my yard is snow-free again.

My 2019 season barely has a heartbeat. But there will be a 2020 season, and I will need new stuff when it arrives. This week was as good a time as any to do a little shopping. It made me feel connected to my sport while I am literally disconnected from my bikes.

First item on the list: a new pair of Continental Gatorskins. They should be the only tires I need for my road bike in 2020, no matter how many miles I ride. Second: a replacement bottle cage for my cyclocross bike, which also serves as my gravel and rec trail bike. I broke one of my two matte white Bontrager RL cages in a little crash back in September, and that model is now discontinued. I had to find one online before they disappear forever. The gloss white version is still widely available, but I’m damned if I’m going to have mismatched cages on my bike.

Aside from the bottle cage, I did a really good job of not breaking things this season. I had to replace a shifter on my road bike in April—SRAM Red, thank you very much, so it wasn’t cheap—but that was a case of wearing something out after years of use, not of a mishap. Really, I spent very little on repairs and replacements. Last year was good in that regard too, so maybe I’ll treat myself to some more nice things for 2020. I feel like I deserve it, and with all the money I’m not spending on race entries right now, I can afford it.