So You Want To Start Road Riding - Part 2

In Part 1 I started you on your way to being a Road Rider with some equipment tips. In this post I continue getting you going with some riding tips:
  1. Save your legs, not your gears. We have gears on a bike for a reason. They make pedaling over any terrain more efficient. And by efficient, that means finding a gear that lets you pedal at a cadence (the number of times in one minute that one foot makes a complete pedal revolution) between about 80rpm and 100rpm. Even if the bike computer you picked up didn't have a cadence function, you can still estimate it by watching the elapsed time while counting the down-strokes of one foot for 6 seconds. Add a zero to that count and you've got cadence. I see too many new cyclists mashing it out in a really big gear at a cadence of 60rpm or even less. While you may think this is giving you a really good workout (it feels so hard, after all!), when you're just starting out this will likely mess up your knees. Later, when you've got lots of miles in your legs, you can try some big gear, low cadence riding to build strength. But that's a specific type of workout. When you're just starting out, use your gears and learn to spin.
  2. Use various hand positions on the handlebars. Changing your hand position is not only good for hand comfort, but it's also good for your neck, low back and rear end. The most comfortable position should be with your hands cupping the brakehoods. That LBS bike fit (discussed in Part 1) should have addressed this set up for you. Moving your hands to the flat top part of the bars will shift more of your weight onto your sit bones. It's a good position when you're riding uphill, as it creates a bit better leverage for pushing the pedals over. But it's the least aerodynamic, as your chest catches a lot of wind. Moving down into the lower drops will let you ride much faster, and it's probably the best position for bike handling. But it puts more strain into your low back, neck (you need to crane your neck to look up), and adds pressure to the front area of your rear end as you'll be sitting more on the nose of the seat. As with all the gears you have available, you've also got all these hand positions. Use them all to keep your ride comfortable.
  3. Look down the road. Look ahead and scan the road for obstacles and debris. If you see something, don't continue to look right at it, but look to where you want your bike wheels to go. Staring straight at that sewer grate makes it a target in your mind, and you'll probably hit it! Concentrate on an area about a foot to one side of it. If you find yourself riding with other cyclists, don't stare down at their rear wheel right in front of you. Look up at the rider's hips and low back. Let your peripheral vision mind the gap between their back wheel and your front wheel. And then keep glancing up, over, and around that rider, down the road to see everything else that might be coming your way. The sooner you know something might be happening, the sooner you can react to get out of the way.
  4. Be predictable! I think the single most easiest way to keep yourself safe while riding in traffic is to be predictable. Follow the rules of the road, and you'll be doing everything the cars will be expecting you to do. Drivers are expecting the things moving on the roads to be doing the same things they do. So use those hand signals when turning. Stop for all traffic lights and stop signs. When you come to an intersection with another driver, look them straight in the eye. You might both be wearing sunglasses, but usually you can tell if they've seen you by the way they hold their head. If you've got the right-of-way, and they really don't seem to see you, then get your hands ready to brake!
Cycling is an activity we can do for pretty much our entire lives. Following these 8 points (the first 4 are in Part 1) will ease you into becoming a comfortable, proficient and safe rider!

Leave me a comment if you've got any tips of your own to add … 

So You Want To Start Road Riding - Part 1

Whatever your reason for taking up cycling — fitness, charity event, gran fondo, racing — here are a few tips to get you off on the right pedal stroke.

In this first post I'll give you some equipment tips. The next post will cover some riding tips.

  1. Fit the bike properly. When you get a new bike at your local bike shop (LBS), ask them to give you a proper bike fit analysis. They should do this for minimal or no extra charge. Even if you've picked up a used bike from Kijiji, eBay, or Craigslist, it's a good idea to take it to your LBS. It's more than worth the investment of your time and money. I had some aching low-back issues that physio wasn't fixing. So, I paid for my own bike fit and the back issues were solved! The most important point to remember is that the bike should fit the rider, not the other way around. The handlebar stem is one component that's easy to change and can make a huge difference in riding comfort. An LBS should have a good variety of different lengths and rises to try.
  2. Get a seat that's right for you. The seat is the most important contact point on your bike. Don't fool yourself into thinking that a wide cushy model is what you need to start out. It might work for a 5 minute ride, but not a 5 hour ride. If you're beginning with a used bike, its seat probably isn't right for you either. While at the LBS for your fit analysis, ask about their bike seat demo program. Most bike seat companies make a selection of demo seats that you can try for a few days before making your purchase. In the very least, strongly consider a model with a cut-out center, as these help get your weight distributed onto your sit-bones, where it should be. Specialized even makes a neat gel pad measuring device that your LBS might have. You sit on a memory foam/gel pad that leaves an impression of your sit-bones. That impression measures the width between those bones, so you can get the proper saddle width — from any manufacturer, not just Specialized.
  3. Get a helmet. This is another vital piece of equipment that you can pick up at your LBS. 60% of cycling-related deaths are the result of head injuries. It makes no sense to take that risk, when the helmets we have today are so light and well-ventilated, You'll hardly even know you're wearing one. Most places throughout North America now have mandatory helmet laws for children. Regardless of where you live, make sure your children wear helmets, and make sure you do to. Children will copy what they see their parents doing. Helmets are also mandatory for most gran fondos, charity rides, and certainly every organized bike race.
  4. Get a bike computer. You will need a bike computer to help manage your training rides. Look for something that provides at least speed, distance, cadence and elapsed time. Wahoo even makes a brilliant gizmo to plug into your iPhone, turning it into a full-functioned bike computer. The next upgrade to consider is something that gives you Heart Rate, a key metric to start monitoring once you take training more seriously. A Power Meter is the gold standard of riding metrics, and a hefty investment. In a few years you might find yourself considering one of these, as they can really make training scientifically accurate.  
See Part 2 …

    How CPR Saved My Life

    [NOTE: Here's a post from my archives that's been updated. Despite what happened to me, I continue to train and compete…]

    Race Season 2009

    Okay. So I haven't posted for a while. Not because I've got nothing to say. Far from it. I just don't know quite where to begin...

    My 2009 race season hasn't gone as planned. Pre-season training was good and consistent right through from October '08 to April '09. I capped off the pre-season by logging a massive week of hours and miles at the ABA Spring Bike Camp in Penticton, BC.

    I don't want to sound immodest, but for where I'm heading with this post you must understand: I'm a fit guy.

    I've been racing on the road and track for about the past 10 years. I can hold my own against many riders 20 years younger than me. I can consistently ride 40km time trials in under an hour. My resting heart rate is in the high 40's. I have a body-fat-percentage in the 6% range.

    So what gives?

    On May 9, an hour into the first race of my season, I got taken out by a crash right in front of me. At 50+kph I had no where to hide and down I went too. I expected to have some road rash, but not much else.

    When I stood up all seemed okay, but my bite was all wrong. Later in the ER I'd learn I broke my jaw. I was "looking forward" to a liquid diet for just over 4 weeks. That sucked - pun intended!

    The same crash posted a bruise on my left leg, just above my ankle. I didn't think too much of it at the time.

    But then after 4 weeks of limping and painful plyometics, I learned I had broken my fibula! (the smaller bone in your lower leg). At least it was well aligned, and I didn't need any further medical work.

    As you can imagine, my training got a bit goofed up. But I managed to stay almost on schedule. Power levels were increasing. I competed in another road race and didn't crash — though I did have to avoid a crash that slid across the pavement at 60+kph. I also rode a track meet and finished 6th in the omnium.

    I was starting to think my season wasn't going to be too bad after all.

    Then the bombshell dropped...

    I was all tapered and set to ride in the Banff Bike Fest Stage Race. But then, at about 4:30am on the morning I was to drive to Banff, I awoke with a sharp pain in my chest. It centered on my solar plexus, radiating outwards to both sides. I thought it might be indigestion, but it didn't have the burn of acid reflux.

    I stood up, thinking the pain might subside if I changed body position. I managed to walk around my bed. Then I collapsed.

    All I can say about what happened next is I'm damn lucky my wife is an intensive care physician. And she was right there by my side. Many times in the ICU Dr. Ella has seen fainting and cardiac arrests. She knows the difference. She's sure my heart had stopped.

    I was rigid. My eyes were wide open and staring straight out. She could find no pulse. At first she felt utter disbelief. This couldn't have been happening… But she kept her wits, switched into physician mode and immediately began CPR on me.

    One big thump and many chest compressions later I regained consciousness. My first memories were like trying to force my mind awake, like I was deep asleep but knew I had to wake up. And I heard Dr. Ella on the phone to 911. "Why's she calling 911?" I thought.

    Quickly I realized something bad had just happened to me.

    Now you know why I wanted to tell you a bit in the beginning about the shape I was in. I spent the next 48 hours in the hospital, hooked to a heart monitor, thinking, "What the F... ??" It didn't make sense.

    After the continuous monitoring, 3 blood tests (and enough needle tracks to make me look like a heroin junkie), a chest x-ray, an enhanced CT scan, a cardiac ultrasound, a treadmill stress-test and finally a cardiac MRI, we found nothing remarkable.

    We proved I was an extremely fit middle-aged man

    I had healthy blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels, and a normal "athlete's heart", i.e., an enlarged but dilated  left ventricle. You see, the left ventricle does all the work pumping blood to your body, so it grows a bit like any other muscle tissue that gets a good workout.

    So why the cardiac arrest?

    It's important to distinguish that I didn't have a heart attack. That implies a blockage in an artery of the heart leading to death of some heart muscle tissue. My heart is still completely intact with no indications of arterial blockages. But it did stop - hence the term "cardiac arrest".

    My recent broken bones could have led to a blood clot thrown into my lungs or heart, but the blood work and many scans ruled that out.

    At this point we can only say it was some kind of arrhythmia - an unusual sequence of heart beats leading to stoppage.

    Why did it happen? Perhaps this electrical engineer has an electrical problem in his heart. More tests by an electro-physiologist might point in that direction. And there may be a few other genetic scenarios that could explain things. Some genetic testing might provide those answers.

    On the one hand it's great to know I'm "healthy". But really, WTF? Something happened and I don't want it to happen again. I don't seem to have an issue while I exert myself, so perhaps my training can remain intact.

    I can't expect Dr. Ella to be by my side every moment for the rest of my life. So is there a preventive solution? Sure. An Implanted Cardiac Defibrillator. Stay tuned… I might become the Bionic Bicycling Blogger...

    Does this mean anything to you?

    Damn right it does. Two things.

    First, being an athlete doesn't guarantee you a long, healthy life. A high degree of physical fitness should give you a high quality of life while you're here. But high fitness levels can mask underlying health issues. You might have issues that could have grabbed you from the face of the Earth sooner if you hadn't been athletic.

    Don't neglect to get annual physical checkups and blood tests. Work with your family doctor to maintain your health. If you've got small problems that don't seem too bad but don't fully correct themselves, don't ignore them. Keep an open discussion going with your family doctor. As athletes we tend to think we're invincible, that a little rest is all that's needed to get better. That's not always the case.

    Second and more important, learn CPR if you haven't already. Dr. Ella is the director of CPR training at the hospital where she works. Until you take a course yourself, she has these pointers to keep in mind. What they teach now is a little different from before:

    How To Perform CPR
    1. Make sure the person is lying on their back on hard ground.
    2. Check and double-check that there is no pulse and no breathing. The best place to look for the pulse is to first position the person on their back. Find the point on their jawbone just beneath their ear (it doesn't matter which side, left or right). Then slide your fingers - not your thumb - down onto their neck.
    3. If there is no pulse, then find the bottom of the sternum, i.e. the bottom point where the ribs meet in the middle of the chest. Measure up 1 hand width from the bottom of the sternum. This point will become the focal point of your compressions.
    4. Begin with 1 solid hard fist-blow to the focal point. Really hard!
    5. Start chest compressions on the focal point. Put one palm on top of the back of your other hand and interlace your fingers. Get yourself directly above the person's chest (not reaching towards them at an angle). Begin direct downward chest compressions. Keep your arms firm, and don't let them flex during a compression. Try to compress the chest about 2 inches with each press. Keep a tempo of about 1 compression per second, or slightly faster. Think "1 and 2 and 3 and 4..."
    6. Now here's the BIG difference from what you might have learned in the past: do not stop to administer any mouth-to-mouth breaths. Just keep on compressing.
    7. Call for help and get someone else to dial 911 if at all possible.
    8. After about 1 minute of chest compressions check again for a pulse. If you're still alone at this point, call 911. If you still didn't find a pulse, don't waste too much time on the 911 call. Get back to the chest compressions and just keep going until help arrives or the person starts to come around.
    The key difference of not stopping to apply mouth-to-mouth is much like pumping up a bike tire. When you pump a tire it takes many pump-strokes before enough pressure builds to break the valve seal and start getting air into the tire.

    With CPR, the concept is similar. It takes many compressions to build up enough blood pressure to get some blood flowing.

    The most important thing you're trying to do with CPR is to keep blood flowing through the brain to preserve as much of it as possible. Any time you stop CPR compressions it's like taking that pump off your bike tire. You lose all the pressure gained and all the flow you started. You open the person up to more possibilities of brain damage if their heart ever starts again.

    Back On The Bike

    I'm back training, doing my best to be ready for the Canadian National Track Championships at the end of August. I'm spending a lot of time second guessing myself, but I will not be defeated by this. If I'm not back racing this season, I'm certainly going to be back at it in 2010!

    What Happened Later in 2009?
    Read how my story continued at the end of the season. I bagged a couple of medals at the Canadian National Track Championships. But I also bagged a little extra metal in my chest… Read all about it in this post: Bicycling Blogger Restarts With An ICD

    Photo "Heart anatomy" by: Patrick J. Lynch