Monday, June 22, 2009

Race Across America: My new fascination

I've been completely fascinated this week by a little known bike race: The Race Across America or RAAM. Although I've known about this race for years, I've never really paid that much attention to it. It's not part of the pro-riding schedule. Cycling pros like Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer or Alberto Contador don't participate in it. It's longer than the Tour de France and it's done in one third of the time. Last year, I realized that this race started just a few miles from my home. This year I decided to pay more attention to it. It's been compelling.

Earlier this month I did my first Century. Frankly I felt over the moon when I finished that ride. Here's some context, solo riders on RAAM will ride over 3,000 miles. I was looking at my training log and realized that if I do all the riding that I've planned for myself and reach my riding goals this year, it will take me 10 months to ride what RAAM participants will do in roughly 10 days. I am in awe of these people. Here are a few more statistics from the RAAM website:

  • Total distance is more than 3000 Miles.
  • Collectively, the Solo and Team finishers will travel a combined distance equivalent to circling the Earth at the equator seven times.
  • Lowest elevation is 170 feet below sea level. Highest elevation is more than 10,000 feet high above sea level. This elevation range exceeds two vertical miles.
  • Each Solo and Team will climb more than 100,000 feet. This is roughly the distance from the ground to the edge of space, more than three times the altitude flown by commercial jetliners and almost four times the altitude of Mt. Everest.
  • Less than 200 solo and tandem racers have officially finished solo RAAM earning the title of RAAM
  • Finisher, compared with over 2000 individuals who have summated Mt. Everest and 200 racers every year compete in the Tour de France.
  • Racers have come from 5 continents - North America, South America, Australia, Asia, and Europe. More than 25 countries have been represented in the Race Across America.
  • The RAAM staff during the race is more than 50 people. More than 200 people staff Time Stations. Racers are supported by more than 800 people. More than 200 vehicles are part of the RAAM caravan across the country.
  • In the last four years, RAAM racers have raised more than $4,000,000 for charities.

I want to thank my Twitter friends @katerpillar and @girlmeetsbike who are on the Crew for Janet Chrstiansen (Team Osprey) for their insights into RAAM and letting me hang-out before the start of the women's solo start.

Ride on!

For more information check out the RAAM website:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cycling Newbie: Buying a bike

As a cyclist I'm often asked for advice on how to get started in cycling. The question usually goes something like "So, how much does a new bike cost?" or "What kind of bike should I buy?" I've gotten the question enough of late that I decided to write a few short articles for "newbie" riders. Today we'll address the issue of what kind of bike to buy.

1. Don't buy a bike at a big box discount store. There are some things that big box stores like Costco, Wal-Mart and Target are great for, buying a bike is probably not one of them. As a runner friend is fond of saying, "You don't buy your running shoes at Payless." Sometimes low prices are bargains, and sometimes low prices are just cheap, and sometimes cheap means you'll be spending more money down the road.

2. What kind of riding are you interested in? Do you want to ride dirt trails and go off-road? Do you like riding fast on asphalt? Do you just want to ride with friends and family on the occasional weekend outing? How you answer these questions is critical because it will determine what type of bike you should probably buy.

If you want to be a roadie, perhaps you see yourself racing or riding with a local club, you probably want a road bike. These bikes are usually built for speed, they tend to be light and very responsive. The geometry of these bikes however makes riders take on a more "crouched over" position that may be uncomfortable for the novice rider. However, usually a good fit will minimize aches; this is one reason why you probably don't want to buy your bike at a discount store. Skippy, who makes minimum wage probably doesn't even ride a bike or even if he wanted to, couldn't fit you properly to your bike.

If you know you're going to do trail riding, then you want a mountain bike. Mountain bikes are built fortough terrain. Tires are bigger and the tread is made for dirt, and some even have shock absorbers. However, the thing that has made mountain bikes popular is that they allow riders to sit much more upright, which affords a more comfortable ride. Yet another advantage of these bikes is that they have three chainrings (the big gears attached to the pedals) that allows for more gears which makes going up hills a lot easier. This is why a salesman at a local bike shop was telling me that the vast majority of mountain bikes they sell probably never see dirt.

A third alternative is the hybrid bike. A hybrid as the name implies is a cross between a road and mountain bike. It offers the more comfortable upright position of a mountain bike, but it has the smaller tires and usually a lighter frame than mountain bikes. While these bikes are heavier than road bikes, they handle the pavement very well and do well on dirt and gravel roads. They probably don't do well on mountain trails however. These are bikes that beginners can enjoy as a beginning step into cycling. They are great for cruising, but have more gears than say a beach cruiser, they are good on the road, but are more comfortable than a road bike, and while they aren't the best on mountain trails, they hold their own on rough pavement or trails.

3. Bike Fit. I've mentioned this already but it bears repeating: No matter what type of bike you get, fit is key. Most bike shops, especially local shops, offer to fit, or adjust your new bike to your body. Good bike fit will prevent back pain and knee problems and improve comfort. The more comfortable you are on your bike, the more likely you will be to ride and the more enjoyable your rides will be.

Stay tuned for future articles and ideas for new cyclists. Let me know if you have any questions, I'll be happy to cover them in the future.

Ride on!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

LA River Ride Wrap-Up.

Ever since I became interested in cycling in the mid 1990s I've read about and wondered what it would be like to participate in a Century. To actually ride 100 miles in a single day. I had participated in half-centuries, metric-centuries (66 miles) and even the 80 mile version of the Tour de Tucson, but never a full century. This last weekend my wondering ended, as I completed the Los Angeles River Ride Century.

The pre-ride plan was for Molly and I to go up to Los Angeles early Saturday and just spend a nice evening lounging lazily. To make a long story short, a morning meeting led to quick and less then careful packing for me. We ended up getting to our hotel early, only to have to double back because we had forgotten some critical items for our ride.

Sunday morning we got up around 5 AM, criminal in and of itself for someone who values sleeping in on weekends. We had a quick instant oatmeal and coffee in our room; We shimmied into our cycling kits (you don't want to see me shimmy...take my word for it) and we were off to Griffith Park. We found the start, checked in and then got ready to go. Century riders lined up around 6:45, (some of us were in the port-a-potty lines) and promptly started at 7:00 am. I managed to catch up with the bunch before everybody had left the starting area. A couple of blocks later as I was attempting to put on my shades I dropped them. I stopped, and a very nice rider had picked them up and handed them to me. By the time I got going again, I had been dropped by the group.

Two laps around Griffith Park was the toughest climbing of the day. Half way through my second lap I had caught up to a woman and we paced each other around the last part of the loop. We didn't know it then, but Carmen and I would become riding partners for the day. We finally found our way out of Griffith Park, (there were sections that weren't well marked on the course) and we got to the first bike path along the L.A. River. We came out of the bike path and then rode some L.A. neighborhoods before getting to another bike path which led all the way into Long Beach. It was pretty impressive. We arived at Long Beach 38 miles in.

At the SAG stop in Long Beach I thought, "Cool! No sweat, now we turn around and head back." Then I overheard something about a loop. I took off with a group of riders, we found the course markers made our way southward almost to Seal Beach and returned back to Long Beach, across the way from the Queen Mary. The odometer read 60 miles.

The ride back simply retraced the morning route. A nice tailwind helped the legs rest a bit. However at about the 80 mile mark, fatigue was setting in, and I was nursing a cramp in my right calf. After a stretch stop, Carmen and I forged on. The last 10 miles were easy and flat, however mentally, I was ready for the ride to be over. After I had paced my riding partner for about 80 miles or so, she took the lead. A few miles later I caught my 7th wind and we pushed into Griffith Park together. My first century was under my belt!

Century rides aren't races, however there is always the personal desire to do well. My goal was an average speed of about 12.5 mph over the full ride, fully expecting an 8 hour ride. Turns out I did the ride in 7:10 (plus SAG Stops) for an average speed of 13.9 mph. A very nice ride indeed!

The L.A. River Ride itself was a good ride overall, and I would highly recommend it as anybody's first century. There is not a lot of climbing, it's pretty flat and there are a variety of distances. Molly did the 35 mile ride, and there were 50 and 75 mile rides as well. The organization was a bit lacking in my view, but not a deal breaker. There were very few port-a-johns at the start line and, for that matter there was no start-line per se. When a fellow rider asked where the start line was he was told "Somewhere around there." A map of the course was never posted online, you didn't really know what the course would be until you got there Sunday morning. This wasn't too big of a deal for local riders, but riders like myself who don't know Los Angeles all that well, it was a bit of a challenge.

Other than that, the volunteers at the SAG stops were very friendly, there was alway plenty of food and recovery drinks as well as water. Even later in the afternoon as we were coming back, the aid stations still had fruit and plenty of Clif Block Shots to give away. I was very impressed with that part of the organization. By the way, a big thanks to all the volunteers out there. From the kids that cut the bananas and oranges to the bike mechanics ready with a helping hand ... Thank you.

One of the things I enjoy about organized rides is the camaraderie that develops among riders. From my spontaneous riding partner Carmen, to the guy that picked up my glasses off the pavement, to that group that formed in Long Beach and kept it together until the loop was complete so nobody would get lost. Or the pair of riders who were going very strong but stopped at a SAG station waiting for their friend who had major leg cramps because as they said "no one gets left behind." In 100 miles I got to see many random acts of kindness such as these, making the suffering a little easier and finishing a whole lot sweeter!

Ride on.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Holy Guacamole I'm tired! Home after Molly took me to Sushi dinner to celebrate. All the road grime is off. aaaahhhhh
100 miles.. Done!
Not too bad though
Working out a cramp
21 miles to go
72 miles in. Already my longest ride this year.
60 miles in after a loop in Long Beach. 40 miles to go.
More oranges. Topped off the Cammelback and bye bye Queen Mary.
Oranges, Block Shots...done. Riding on.
2nd SAG 28 miles in. Feelin GOOOD!!!
On my way.
16 miles in. 1st SAG stop. Took a couple wrong turns.
Good morning everybody. We're up, coffee is brewing and we are getting ready.