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Old 08-16-09, 12:29 AM   #1
MinnMan
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Some newbie questions -riding technique

OK, I'm not quite 50 (48), but I feel old enough to qualify.

After not riding for quite a few years, I bought myself a modest touring bike (KHS Flite 220) and I"ve been riding daily for about 5 weeks. I ride 15-20 miles a day on very flat Minnesotan terrain. I try to ride hard for most of the ride, though I don't feel too bad when the experienced bikers whiz by me.

So I think probably my technique sucks - any advice on the following?

1. THe experience bikers are generally in much lower gear than me, but moving much faster. I average about 13 MPH on my rides, and I'm generally in the larger front gear (50 teeth- it's a 2 gear crankset) and the 3rd smallest front gear (don't know the specific size of the gear, but it's a 12-25 8 gear cassette). When I try to gear down, I don't feel like I can gain much power and I end up going slower. What am I doing wrong?

2. I have toe clips, but I'm not sure I use them right. Mostly I am just powering on the downstroke. When I need a little speed or am climbing a hill, I can power on the upstroke for maybe 4 cycles, and that works great, but I don't have the stamina to keep going. Also, when I do that, I lose downstroke power. So when I'm really trying to go fast, maybe I'll pull hard on the upstroke for 4 cycles, then just do downstroke for 10, and repeat. But I can't do that for long....

Any advice would be appreciated.
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Old 08-16-09, 12:55 AM   #2
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If u're enjoying your ride, don't be concern about others whiz pass you. Ride your comfortable pace & observe safety rules. That's more important than techniques.

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Old 08-16-09, 02:40 AM   #3
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Riding for 5 weeks and worried about technique!! Think I would still be worried about Butt ache.

The cadence (RPM of the pedals) that you are thinking about- Don't think about it much. Reasons for a higher cadence are numerous- but the common reason is to take strain off the legs and joints. By pedalling faster- and staying in a low gear- then speed will not go up but strain will go down.

If you are worried about it- measure your cadence now at say 15mph (Or 10 ) and at your usual pedalling rpm. Count the number of revolutions in 15 seconds and multiply by 4. For a beginner- this is usually about 60. Lower and you could be in trouble- higher and you are getting there. To increase cadence- get to a speed and in your normall pedal rpm. Then change one gear lower and keep the same speed. Takes practice but gradually your cadence will go up.

In the mean time- just get on the bike and get fit(ter) and enjoy the ride.
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Old 08-16-09, 03:39 AM   #4
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If you are doing about 13 mph in the big ring and mid cassett you are probably lugging the engine. IMHO Stapfam is hitting on the right points but I would really focus on cadence. Cruising cadence should be around 80, if your resting drop down to 70, if you are accellerating, up above 100. For some people these numbers are even higher - one guy I ride with some times - his cruise cadence is close to 100.

The other thing I would look at is an HRM - that will help you make sure you are giving yourself a good workout and making the most of your time on the bike.

Now - with all that said, if you don't want to be a speed junkie, forget about all this. The world looks pretty good at 13 mph.
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Old 08-16-09, 06:09 AM   #5
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If you want to go faster, get in group rides with faster cyclists.

That's a two-edged sword, tho. You might not really want to go there for awhile. But it will make you average speed go up if that kind of thing is important to you.
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Old 08-16-09, 07:17 AM   #6
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I"ve been riding daily for about 5 weeks.
Five weeks is a *very* short time. I returned to cycling at age 49. When asking similar questions at the time, I was told that if I worked at it, I could expect to increase my speed each year for about five years.

It's taken me four years to build my speed to a level I'm happy and comfortable with, and I still have one to go. So give it some time.

I also listened to the advice about cadence. It transformed cycling from a chore to a pleasure. I had thought higher gears and slower pedaling was better. My average cadence in a ten-mile ride on flat terrain was about 60 RPM.

I listened to all the advice here and tried lower gears and spinning faster. At first, anything above 70 RPM made me feel like my legs were going to fly right out of my hip sockets. But, I could feel the difference in less strain on the joints and muscles.

These days, I can ride all day long averaging 90 RPM. My legs feel tired, but not leaden after a 100 mile ride.

So pedal an easier gear faster, and give time some time.

EDIT: Re-reading the original post, the biggest issue I see is being impatient. For me, it was six or eight *months* of daily riding before I saw significant changes in stamina. And the stamina needs to come first before speed and power.

The reason, as it was explained to me, is that first, your body needs to build more capillaries to serve the muscle cells. For cyclists, this is the primary component of aerobic training. We think of aerobic training only as heart and lungs, but the real benefit is in capillaries. Building blood vessels takes more time than building muscle, but muscle cannot be built without better plumbing to service it.

So this year, work on making more and better capillaries. That's what gets you the stamina. Work on speed and power next year.

ANOTHER EDIT: I looked back on my BikeJournal.com Ride Log. June 2006 was my third month of cycling. My average speed on the month was 13.44 MPH at 67 RPM. My averages so far this month--including several intentionally slow rides--is 16.31 at 88 RPM.

Last edited by tsl; 08-16-09 at 07:43 AM.
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Old 08-16-09, 07:50 AM   #7
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Like others have said, for now just work on your spin and your cadence. Cadence is personal, and some do well with a slow spin, but most will benefit from higher rpm. Try to focus on a smooth spin and think about pedaling circles.
If you're just riding flat ground, your biggest resistance is the air. Try to get low and aero to go faster.
btw, "bikers" are those guys on Harleys.

One more thing; take a rest day. If you're riding every day you don't have time to recover.

Last edited by big john; 08-16-09 at 08:03 AM.
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Old 08-16-09, 07:59 AM   #8
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I understand your feeling - Spinning uphill today! Woot!

I envy the people who've been riding for years and make it all look so effortless. Still, I'm making progress, if slowly, and feeling much better overall. Plus, I spend less money on car insurance!
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Old 08-16-09, 08:10 AM   #9
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I think big john said something that nobody else has pointed out. It is the "big secret" that helped me almost more than anything else - "focus on a smooth spin and think about pedaling in circles" To me that is key to getting cadence up and getting a better ride and workout. Think - make your feet go in circles.

The rest of the advice here is great too so don't get in too big of a hurry.
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Old 08-16-09, 09:10 AM   #10
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TSL's comment on capillary development is spot on, as the Brits would say. It takes years, not months, to achieve a total package, of aerobics, pedal form, high cadence, and strength. Even then, one's VO2 max might have dropped due to extended years of under-usage.
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Old 08-16-09, 09:13 AM   #11
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First off, let me say that you are doing great. You are riding a nice distance. You are doing it routinely. And you are enjoying it.

As others have said, you should learn how to spin your pedals.

Currently, you are riding a 50 tooth chain ring in your 3rd smallest cog which I guess is 15. To get chain inches that is 50/15 times 27 (wheel diameter) = 90. At 90 chain inches and 100 rpm, you would be going 27 mph. By you are going 13 mph which means your rpm is about 48. That is about what one would expect for a neophyte rider.

An experienced rider can cruise for hours at a cadence of over 100 rpm. Everyone has their preferred cadence. Lemond liked to ride in the low 80s. I believe Armstrong rides in the low 100s. Riding a high rpm allows a cyclist to generate power on a sustainable basis. But it takes some time to develop the ability as others have said above.

Something to do when you is practicing increasing your cadence. Concentrate on spinning your legs faster. You will probably feel your quads burning. Back off a bit. I think over time, the quads develop more capillaries which allows more blood flow so you can sustain a higher spin. It took me a whole summer to develop a decent spin and that was riding a bunch of miles. But keep at it, it will come.

As for your toe clips, you should do more than push down your pedals. What happens is many riders use the power stroke to push up the foot on the recovery stroke. You should think of lifting the foot on the recovery stroke whilst pushing on the other foot on the power stroke. A lot of people describe this as "pedalling in circles". The whole point of toe clips is to have your feet firmly connected to the pedals so you can develop a smooth spin.

Clipless pedals provide a better connection to the pedals than toe clips. But toe clips work just fine. Another aide to a better spin is a bike computer that gives a cadence read out. That will provide you with an instant read out of your current spin which is a great learning device.

I learned to spin before cadence computers so I calculated the mph at 100 rpm for each of my chain ring and cog combinations and arranged those in 2 columns and taped it to my spin. That way I could glance at my current gear and look at the table and figure out how close I was to 100 rpm. It worked reasonably well and was dirt cheap.
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Old 08-16-09, 10:41 AM   #12
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You already seem to have the right ideas, just keep working on them. The two things you mentioned, cadence and spin dynamics, are very interrelated.

Try lower gears to get your cadence up. You will seem to run out of power at first, but keep working toward spinning faster smoothly and you will see improvement. A computer with a cadence feature can be very helpful while learning this as you will almost always overestimate your cadence until you learn to spin faster comfortably.

Others have mentioned thinking about spinning circles, which is good advice. But at this point it may help you to concentrate on pulling your foot back across the bottom of the circle instead of pulling up on the backside. It is hard to actually power the upstroke. Ideally you want to at least avoid having to push the back foot up while powering the front foot. When I was learning this I was told to imagine I was wiping dog poo off the bottom of my shoes. It helped. Once you get the basic actions down, start thinking about circles and the pieces will come together and your stroke will become smoother.

If you do this right you will notice your speed increasing every time you do it. You will also notice your legs getting tired quickly as you are using different muscles than when mashing the downstroke. Just keep doing it as much as you can and you will soon developthose muscles and become more comfortable spinning faster circles.
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Old 08-16-09, 10:54 AM   #13
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Just to echo what most people above have said - focus on increasing your cadence. You do that by choosing lower gears, and learning to spin.

One way to train yourself to do this is to just tell yourself that every time you feel any significant pedaling pressure, you are going to resist the urge to "press harder" and instead shift to a lower gear and "spin faster."


In your second point, you also expressed some doubts about whether you are using toe clips properly to apply power during your upstroke. I don't think of toe clips in that way at all. For most non-racers, toe clips (or clipless pedals) are primarily useful as a way to keep your feet properly positioned on the pedals and to help you spin through the transition between your "down stroke" and your "upstroke." It's helpful if you think about the toe clips as a way to "help me spin" as a opposed to way to "apply power."
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Old 08-16-09, 11:22 AM   #14
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Thanks for all the advice and encouragement. You guys rock.
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Old 08-16-09, 11:29 AM   #15
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5 weeks? Your doing great. Just keep riding. If you can find some club rides, that will improve you. But some people don't like it.

Here are some things to think about, and some exercises to work into your rides.

First, as far as "technique" goes, most of us adults ride a bike like when we were kids. We just press down, left, then right, then left, etc. The pros call it "mashing" It has it's place, but there are more effective ways to pedal for distance.

"Pedaling in circles" allows you to use more muscles, and pedal faster (higher cadence) with what feels like less effort.

Think about the face of a clock. from 12 to 3, imagine you are pushing down on the acceleroator of you car, from 3 to 6, think about scraping gum off your shoe, from 6 to 9 thing about lifting your foot up a step, and from 9 to 12, thing about skating your foot forward.

Try these exercises.
1. Pedal only by lifting the pedals. Do not push down. Do it for as long as you can.
2. Pedal only by pushing and pulling (9 to 12 with one foot, 3 to 6 with the other)
3. Take one foot out of the clip, and pedal only with one foot. Change feet when you leg gets tired.

Do it for as long as you can once each ride. You will over time see that you can do these longer and longer, and pretty soon you will be pedaling in circles at 90 rpm and going 25 mph.
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Old 08-16-09, 12:50 PM   #16
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As you mentioned, this group rocks! They have hit on and emphasized some very important points, such as the importance of pedaling in circles, higher cadence for sustainable power, and patience. Big John mentioned a rest day and TSL mentioned his log.

As a student of physical therapy (literally) please allow me to add a couple more observations. Muscles grow through 3 stages: 1 alarm reaction, 2 adaptation, and 3 exhaustion. When you exercise you stress the muscle and in fact your whole metabolism. This moves the body out of homeostasis (comfort zone). The body then enters phase 2 and builds new capillaries, muscle tissue, etc. Here's the key - adaptation only occurs during rest. If you continue to stress the system without allowing adaptation, you will enter phase 3 exhaustion. Phase 3 can actually inhibit phase 2. After a good workout, your body needs time to recover and adapt. If you don't take some rest time, it will be forced on you.

Now all of this assumes that you are working hard enough to "alarm" the system. If you are simply using what you already have, you can continue for a long period building cardiovascular health, but NOT increasing muscle strength.

This leads to the other key point. You need to maintain c-v capacity and you want to increase strength. These are conflicting goals! The long rides (a relative term based on lots of factors) that maintains and even increases c-v capacity will do little to build stronger muscle. To increase strength you must work at a higher level that is NOT sustainable for a long period. This is why (as often noted in this forum) hills and wind are your friends. Several 2 to 5 minute hard effort hills or flat high speed runs (with a 5 to 10 minute warm up and cool down) followed by some stretching would be a good way to build up the cycling muscles. This is called Interval Training. You can also work the muscles using weights and floor exercises when you can't ride and achieve good results.

The rest cycle will vary based on your level of overall fitness, strength, your particular physiology and your psychology. Lance Armstrong takes long rides on rest days, but not at race speeds. I channel surf while doing core exercises and eating snickerdoodles. If somebody has really pushed one day, more than one day totally away from the exercise may be in order. In general one should alternate hard work, rest, and c-v days in a way that is satisfying and enjoyable.

This all leads to the most important point. Enjoy the ride. It isn't necessary to follow a strict training schedule to see improvement, but if you keep a log you will be able to see improvement OVER TIME. Remember that your body needs time to adapt and that it is working on a microscopic level to accomplish this improvement. If you aren't enjoying the activity you may become discouraged long before there is enough change to provide the encouragement we all need. Unless you are trying to become a professional, in which case the encouragement comes in the form of $$, it would be vastly preferable to continue to take long comfortable rides maintaining your c-v health than to push yourself so hard that you become disenchanted. Keep it fun, whatever that means to you: hard work, leisurely rides, travel to "exotic locales," group rides, etc.

Now for the disclaimer-
I know all of this stuff in my head. Even so, returning to cycling after a long hiatus, I still FEEL impatient and discouraged by how long it is taking to see small improvements. Fortunately, I have a young bride who enjoys the ride and we enjoy pushing each other, but we also respect each other and trash talk is all in fun. That's what keeps it fun for me and encourages me to maintain some kind of discipline. - I want to beat her up the hill, not watch her butt disappear over the top
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Old 08-16-09, 12:53 PM   #17
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As you mentioned, this group rocks! They have hit on and emphasized some very important points, such as the importance of pedaling in circles, higher cadence for sustainable power, and patience. Big John mentioned a rest day and TSL mentioned his log.

As a student of physical therapy (literally) please allow me to add a couple more observations. Muscles grow through 3 stages: 1 alarm reaction, 2 adaptation, and 3 exhaustion. When you exercise you stress the muscle and in fact your whole metabolism. This moves the body out of homeostasis (comfort zone). The body then enters phase 2 and builds new capillaries, muscle tissue, etc. Here's the key - adaptation only occurs during rest. If you continue to stress the system without allowing adaptation, you will enter phase 3 exhaustion. Phase 3 can actually inhibit phase 2. After a good workout, your body needs time to recover and adapt. If you don't take some rest time, it will be forced on you.

Now all of this assumes that you are working hard enough to "alarm" the system. If you are simply using what you already have, you can continue for a long period building cardiovascular health, but NOT increasing muscle strength.

This leads to the other key point. You need to maintain c-v capacity and you want to increase strength. These are conflicting goals! The long rides (a relative term based on lots of factors) that maintains and even increases c-v capacity will do little to build stronger muscle. To increase strength you must work at a higher level that is NOT sustainable for a long period. This is why (as often noted in this forum) hills and wind are your friends. Several 2 to 5 minute hard effort hills or flat high speed runs (with a 5 to 10 minute warm up and cool down) followed by some stretching would be a good way to build up the cycling muscles. This is called Interval Training. You can also work the muscles using weights and floor exercises when you can't ride and achieve good results.

The rest cycle will vary based on your level of overall fitness, strength, your particular physiology and your psychology. Lance Armstrong takes long rides on rest days, but not at race speeds. I channel surf while doing core exercises and eating snickerdoodles. If somebody has really pushed one day, more than one day totally away from the exercise may be in order. In general one should alternate hard work, rest, and c-v days in a way that is satisfying and enjoyable.

This all leads to the most important point. Enjoy the ride. It isn't necessary to follow a strict training schedule to see improvement, but if you keep a log you will be able to see improvement OVER TIME. Remember that your body needs time to adapt and that it is working on a microscopic level to accomplish this improvement. If you aren't enjoying the activity you may become discouraged long before there is enough change to provide the encouragement we all need. Unless you are trying to become a professional, in which case the encouragement comes in the form of $$, it would be vastly preferable to continue to take long comfortable rides maintaining your c-v health than to push yourself so hard that you become disenchanted. Keep it fun, whatever that means to you: hard work, leisurely rides, travel to "exotic locales," group rides, etc.

Now for the disclaimer-
I know all of this stuff in my head. Even so, returning to cycling after a long hiatus, I still FEEL impatient and discouraged by how long it is taking to see small improvements. Fortunately, I have a young bride who enjoys the ride and we enjoy pushing each other, but we also respect each other and trash talk is all in fun. That's what keeps it fun for me and encourages me to maintain some kind of discipline. - I want to beat her up the hill, not watch her butt disappear over the top
Hey, that is really good stuff, and well stated.

It may become a part of an article for my Bicycling Around Parker series, if you don't mind.
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Old 08-16-09, 01:00 PM   #18
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This is all public domain schtuph. Go for it
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Old 08-16-09, 01:26 PM   #19
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For improving you technique. try pushing forward at the top and pushing back at the bottom, and not pushing any harder at the front. Spinning fast will leave energy in your muscles for when you really need it.
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Old 08-16-09, 11:10 PM   #20
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OK, I went on my first ride after reading all this fine advice. I can see that this is going to take some time. I tried staying a gear or two lower and tried to pedal circles, but it's going to be a while. The faster cadence is, for now, more tiring, not less. And the faster I pedal, the harder is is for me to concentrate on pulling back during the understroke, etc. I'll keep at it and remember that it all takes time. Would it be such a long haul if I were 30? Don't answer that.
Probably my biggest challenge is going to be how to stay fit in the winter. I really enjoy my rides, but this is Minnesota. Half a year of bitter cold, early darkness, and terrible road conditions are not my idea of fun. And neither is the gym. It's just not the same...
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Old 08-16-09, 11:29 PM   #21
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X-Country skiing is supposed to be a pretty good cross-training program for cycling.

Admittedly, our winters aren't quite like yours but we have a trainer in the garage. We strap the bikes in and watch tv or a video - even training videos occasionally. It isn't the same, but the workout is certainly cycling specific!
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Old 08-17-09, 05:01 AM   #22
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OK, I went on my first ride after reading all this fine advice. I can see that this is going to take some time. I tried staying a gear or two lower and tried to pedal circles, but it's going to be a while. The faster cadence is, for now, more tiring, not less. And the faster I pedal, the harder is is for me to concentrate on pulling back during the understroke, etc. I'll keep at it and remember that it all takes time. Would it be such a long haul if I were 30? Don't answer that.
Probably my biggest challenge is going to be how to stay fit in the winter. I really enjoy my rides, but this is Minnesota. Half a year of bitter cold, early darkness, and terrible road conditions are not my idea of fun. And neither is the gym. It's just not the same...
Check out spinning classes in your rec center or gym. They are usually sort of fun.
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Old 08-17-09, 06:48 AM   #23
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The faster cadence is, for now, more tiring, not less. And the faster I pedal, the harder is is for me to concentrate on pulling back during the understroke, etc.
Start one gear lower, not two.

You have some pretty big jumps between gears on your cassette. It's fairly flat around here too, so on my 8-speed, I replaced the cassette with a 13-23. They don't seem to make it any more, but your LBS can order loose cogs and make up anything you want. With your crank and flat terrain, a 12-21 or even an 11-19 might be worth trying. With loose cogs you can buy lots of extra ones and make up new combinations as required.

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Would it be such a long haul if I were 30?
Yes. Twenty years might shave 20% off the time. That's not much in the grand scheme of things.

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And neither is the gym. It's just not the same...
I have the same issues here. I *do* ride year 'round, but my mileage drops considerably in the winter. I maintain power during the winter, but lose both speed and endurance.

My commuting bike I outfit with studded snow tires. My fair-weather fun bike gets full fenders because no matter how nice the day or road conditions, there's always snowmelt somewhere.

DF's suggestion of spin classes could work, if you're both competitive and social. I'm neither, so I'm not a gym kind of guy.

I'm looking at a set of rollers again this year. What I like about rollers is that I still have to ride them as opposed to just sitting there and pedaling. True, all you can do is a straight line, but I have to be fairly present and can't zone out. My galley kitchen seems like the perfect place for them. Drinks and snacks are handy, and it's easy to mop up the sweat from the vinyl floor.
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Old 08-17-09, 06:54 AM   #24
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McQz - thanks - your post taught me a lot more than I thought I knew about the physiology of riding.

MinnMan - DnvrFox is right - check out your local gym or rec center. I have a friend out in California who swears by spinning classes. He loves them. They don't know what that is where I live so it's not an option. Other than spinning classes, faced with Minn. winters, I would get a trainer even thought most people here may disagree. At least it is a way to continue to ride and get the exercise.

My suggestion would be not to worry about speed just yet. Work on getting the technique down. Spinning and getting your cadence higher may be a little more tiring right now but it will pay off big once you get it down.

Good luck and keep at it.
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Old 08-17-09, 07:25 AM   #25
bobthib
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Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Coral Springs, FL
Bikes: ''09 Motobecane Immortal Pro (Yellow), '02 Diamondback Hybrid, '09 Lamborghini Viaggio, ''11 Cervelo P2
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MinnMan, I'm 61 and took up road biking in feb just after my bday. A 69 yr old friend (not a rider) decided he wanted to do the Miami MS150 in May and wanted me to join him. He spent $2500 on a new Tarmac and equipment, I borrowed an other friends beater bike and we started riding.

We joined a local club and started on the Sat AM club rides. At first I was a "masher" pedaling at 50 or 60 cadence. Why were all these guys spinning like crazy?

A lot of questions and on-line research brought answers, and a lot more riding and practice ( I ride 3x a week, about 100 - 120 mi.) brought results. I now can go all day at 85 rpm and average 17.5 mph or more.

In Fla we ride 365 d/y. The advice on poster gave about spinning classes is great. They can be a lot of fun and a huge workout packed into an hour. I suppose the trainer in the garage thing could work, but I'm not sure I would be motivated enough to use it regularly. I had a Schwinn Aerodyne type exercise bike but never used it much.
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