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  1. #1
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    Newbe Needs Help.

    I'm 64 years old, 165 lbs. with a bad back (2 degenerated and 2 herniated discs, emphysema, one knee has been operated on and the other probably needs it. I can't do many types of exercise so for the last couple of years I have been trying to ride a bike a little. Now to give everybody a good laugh, I've been riding a Huffy Iron Man from K-Mart that I bought 12 or 15 years ago to ride with my friends kids. I understand Huffys are junk, but in almost 2000 miles the only problems I've had are 1 flat tire and when I caught my pant leg in the sprocket. So if everybody is done laughing back to my questions.

    I retired this year, but before that I worked by a rail trail (Panhandle trail) and would ride 10 to 25 miles after work three or four times a week in summer. Now that I'm retired there is no level riding near my home and I can't seem to be able to do hills. On even the smallest hills I get so out of breath I think I'm going to die and can't even consider trying to ride the streets/roads around the house. I wondered if I was just much more out of shape this year so I took the bike to a rail trail (Montour trail) last week and rode 25 miles (the last 12 in pouring rain) without any trouble so I'm thinking it's just that I can't do hills. I've been trucking the Huffy to a nearby park 3 or 4 days a week and doing 8 to 10 miles that include the profile attached and at http://www.localhikesbeta.com/Hikes/...1464#elevation . In my lowest gear (30x28) I can manage to get up the biggest hill, but just barely and think I'm going to die before the top. I've done about 400 miles in the last several months but it isn't getting much better and I still can't do the hills around the house. So my questions:

    I know that if I'm going to continue to ride I will need a real bike, but will a better bike make a significant difference in my ability to ride hills?

    How much riding does it take to improve breathing? Am I just not doing enough or is it my emphysema?

    How hard is biking on the knees? As I've been riding more my one knee is starting to hurt a little.

    Any insight would be welcome.

    Jim
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  2. #2
    Life is good RonH's Avatar
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    I know that if I'm going to continue to ride I will need a real bike, but will a better bike make a significant difference in my ability to ride hills?
    A good road bike, drop bar or flat bar, will make a huge difference.

    How much riding does it take to improve breathing? Am I just not doing enough or is it my emphysema?
    Could be both. Don't push yourself too hard. Just enough to see improvement each week.

    How hard is biking on the knees? As I've been riding more my one knee is starting to hurt a little.
    Cycling is very easy on the knees. I had arthoscopic surgery on my right knee 3 years ago. The physical therapy my sports med doc prescribed was riding my bike on the trainer for 3 weeks. Then he let me out on the roads again. He told me I could ride till I was 100.
    I'm 66 so I guess I'll be enjoying riding for the next 34 years.
    If one knee is hurting it may be your riding position, saddle height or saddle position.
    Make sure you get a good fitting at the bike shop when you get your new bike.
    Last edited by RonH; 06-19-11 at 07:20 AM.
    My bikes --> 2001 Litespeed Tuscany---2013 Cannondale CAAD 10 2 (5) "Racing Edition"

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  3. #3
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    jtaylor2, A mountain bike generally has lower gearing that's nice for climbing. Road tires can be sub'ed for knobbies. Riding at a higher cadence (pedal RPM) can help also with aerobics, cardio and will be kinder to injured knees.

    Proper bicycle fit is important and there are several internet articles. With the info you can optimize your Huffy and know what to look for in a replacement.

    Brad

  4. #4
    Senior Member rydabent's Avatar
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    A couple of thots. With the bad back, I would suggest a recumbent. However there is your hill problem, and bents can be a bit of a tussel for some people. But then you mentioned that you drove to some trails that are not too hilly. Another suggetion would be a trike. With a recumbent trike, you can simply stop, rest, and then continue up the hill. With the trike there is no balance problems, and if set up with fairly low gears, hills are less of a problem. One last thing on either a 2 wheel bent or a trike sitting back gives you a full open lung capacity. In any case what ever you decide, do continue to ride, dont set and rust.

  5. #5
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    Rydabent, I just can't see myself on a recumbent or trike, not sure why, but just can't see it. And if I ever get where I can ride hills enough to ride the roads around the house I would be worried about the low profile on the narrow roads around here. I'm not planning on rusting if I can help it so I may have to reconsider, but I'll probably try a hybrid first.

    Bradtx, How much lower gearing can I go. I'm struggling with a 30x28 on the hills so I figure much lower and I'll be so slow I'll fall over. I am trying to get my cadence up. On the level rail trails I used to mash along at 40-50. Now I'm trying to stay above 60 and work on getting it up, probably averaging 70-75. Will continue to work on it.

    RonH, Thanks for the comments. While my desire is to be able to do hills enough to ride the roads around the house I still plan on doing some miles on the limestone rail trails so was thinking more about a hybrid than a road bike.

  6. #6
    Senior Member kerk's Avatar
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    You might want to check your hip/quad strength. Here is a link to bicycling mag with some test exercises to check. Bicycle Mag
    I have trouble with hills and failed this more than I thought I would so I am working on the suggested exercises. Hope it works.
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  7. #7
    just keep riding BluesDawg's Avatar
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    Start thinking about cadence in the 90-100 range. When you can do that comfortably on the flats you will see a big improvement in your climbing and your knees will be much happier.
    The more you ride your bike, the less your ass will hurt.

  8. #8
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    jtaylor2, a hybrid might be the best bet. I too have herniated discs. Have a look at the Trek 7.3FX.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by jtaylor2 View Post
    Rydabent, I just can't see myself on a recumbent or trike, not sure why, but just can't see it. And if I ever get where I can ride hills enough to ride the roads around the house I would be worried about the low profile on the narrow roads around here. I'm not planning on rusting if I can help it so I may have to reconsider, but I'll probably try a hybrid first.

    Bradtx, How much lower gearing can I go. I'm struggling with a 30x28 on the hills so I figure much lower and I'll be so slow I'll fall over. I am trying to get my cadence up. On the level rail trails I used to mash along at 40-50. Now I'm trying to stay above 60 and work on getting it up, probably averaging 70-75. Will continue to work on it.

    RonH, Thanks for the comments. While my desire is to be able to do hills enough to ride the roads around the house I still plan on doing some miles on the limestone rail trails so was thinking more about a hybrid than a road bike.
    Not uncommon for a mountain bike to have a 22T chainring and a low of 30T in the rear. You don't have to use your lowest gear to climb, but the 22T gear makes for a nice bail out granny gear.
    Brad

  10. #10
    Senior Member NOS88's Avatar
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    When was the last time you had a cardio stress test from a physician? There's are lot's of other reasons than being out of shape that could make riding hills harder for you even with your emphysema.
    A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. - S. Wright

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by indycar View Post
    jtaylor2, a hybrid might be the best bet. I too have herniated discs. Have a look at the Trek 7.3FX.
    Thumbs up for a hybrid. My 1st bike back in 07 was the Trek 7.3fx. The hybrid gives you a road feel, but you have a larger tire and flat bars. There are many brands out there to choose from, but I can only speak of the Trek. I would recommend you visit a few LBS in your area, tell them what you are wanting to do and see who provides the best information. As mentioned above, once you choose the bike, be sure it includes a proper fitting. You will certainly noticed a difference. Good luck.

  12. #12
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    Hiya Taylor. I don't know if my experience would help you at all but here it is. I'm asthmatic and smoked two packs a day for many years which I'm sure contributes to breathing difficulties. On the asthma front, I have a new inhaler prescribed by an allergist that has made a very big difference in illiminating the difficulty in breathing. Perhaps your difficulty has an allergy component also.

    In spite of emphysema, out bodies are tremendously adaptable. If your are able to stay with riding, your body will adapt to the effort, maybe not to the extent that others adapt, but to the extent your body is capable of. In my case, I went from only being able to ride a quarter mile before gasping to a stop, to riding up to 60 miles and I continue to get stronger, even on hills.

    Then there is the tech solution. You've worked a lifetime so go ahead and get a brand new shiny bike with a triple chain ring in the front that will give you as low gears as you need. I've installed a 26 tooth ring and a 30 tooth cog on the back and can get up anything now. You might choose to go with full mountain bike or touring gearing which would be lower yet.

    A new bike will be much lighter also which will be important in climbing hills. The biggest surprise to me was finding comfort on a drop bar bike because I also have a bad back (doesn't everyone). Being stretched out actually feels good. I would suggest you make a list of local bike shops and make the rounds looking and trying out bikes. There are many bikes available for people like us. Take your time shopping and the various models will begin to fall into place.
    Last edited by berner; 06-23-11 at 06:46 AM. Reason: incomplete post

  13. #13
    Galveston County Texas 10 Wheels's Avatar
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    Taylor,

    Riding up hills is like walking up stairs.
    The way I do is with low gears.

    I had TB and it has left me weak in the lungs.
    My bike has a 50-39-24 triple chain rings and a 11-34 cassette.



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  14. #14
    Senior Member John_V's Avatar
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    All of the opinions here are great and getting a lighter bike, changing the gear ratio and improving the cadence will all help get you up those hills one day. The one thing that no one mentioned is improving your lung function. I don't know the severity of your emphysema, but as you know, emphysema decreases your lung capacity by destroying alveoli responsible for oxygen transfer and increases the amount of CO2 that you retain. Just opposite of those that do not suffer from the disease. For this reason, people with emphysema breath when their CO2 retention is low and not when their oxygen retention is low causing you to tire much faster. I would check with your doctor to find out what you can do to increase your lung function so you don't tire so easily and get your respiratory system to as-close-to the best that it's going to get. In the mean time, keep doing what you are doing in gradual increments but don't over task yourself.

    I know that it can be frustrating when you don't see much progress in what you are doing, but if you take care of the medical problems first, the rest will start to become easier. Just don't give up. I have leukemia and really worry about the anemia that is associated with it. I don't want to get to the point where in the middle of a century ride, I can no longer oxygenate myself because of the low red cell count and suddenly crash and burn. I am now working with my hematologist (also an avid cyclist) on my breathing technique so that I take in more oxygen without increasing my respirations. It seems to be working well so far.
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  15. #15
    Senior Member Wogster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jtaylor2 View Post
    I'm 64 years old, 165 lbs. with a bad back (2 degenerated and 2 herniated discs, emphysema, one knee has been operated on and the other probably needs it. I can't do many types of exercise so for the last couple of years I have been trying to ride a bike a little. Now to give everybody a good laugh, I've been riding a Huffy Iron Man from K-Mart that I bought 12 or 15 years ago to ride with my friends kids. I understand Huffys are junk, but in almost 2000 miles the only problems I've had are 1 flat tire and when I caught my pant leg in the sprocket. So if everybody is done laughing back to my questions.

    I retired this year, but before that I worked by a rail trail (Panhandle trail) and would ride 10 to 25 miles after work three or four times a week in summer. Now that I'm retired there is no level riding near my home and I can't seem to be able to do hills. On even the smallest hills I get so out of breath I think I'm going to die and can't even consider trying to ride the streets/roads around the house. I wondered if I was just much more out of shape this year so I took the bike to a rail trail (Montour trail) last week and rode 25 miles (the last 12 in pouring rain) without any trouble so I'm thinking it's just that I can't do hills. I've been trucking the Huffy to a nearby park 3 or 4 days a week and doing 8 to 10 miles that include the profile attached and at http://www.localhikesbeta.com/Hikes/...1464#elevation . In my lowest gear (30x28) I can manage to get up the biggest hill, but just barely and think I'm going to die before the top. I've done about 400 miles in the last several months but it isn't getting much better and I still can't do the hills around the house. So my questions:

    I know that if I'm going to continue to ride I will need a real bike, but will a better bike make a significant difference in my ability to ride hills?

    How much riding does it take to improve breathing? Am I just not doing enough or is it my emphysema?

    How hard is biking on the knees? As I've been riding more my one knee is starting to hurt a little.

    Any insight would be welcome.

    Jim
    Step 1, talk to your doctor, make sure that there is nothing medically that will get in the way.
    Step 2, get a heart rate monitor and a bike computer with cadence
    Step 3, do some hill training.
    Step 4, start looking at bikes.

    Now at age 64, with breathing issues, I would suggest the best investment is a heart rate monitor, second is a bike computer with cadence. Normally your maximum heart rate is 220 less your age, so at 64 that would be 156, emphysema shouldn't affect that, other then your going to get there a lot quicker then someone without it. The ideal cadence on a bicycle is between 80-95 RPM, you may not be able to get there, without a lot of riding at slower speeds. Next is Hill training, and it's wonderfully adaptable.

    Hill training, find a hill you can get 90% of the way up on your bike, without needing to walk, the rest of the way. 2-3 times a week, make sure you ride up that hill, as your conditioning improves, the amount you need to walk, becomes less and less, until you get the day, you get to the top. You keep riding up that hill, your conditioning will continue to improve, and eventually you get to the point, that riding up that hill is easy. Better conditioning will help the emphysema because what you have left of lung capacity will improve, it will also help the knees.

    Now you can look at a nicer bike.

  16. #16
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Gonna disagree with most here- But Wogster has it about right. Your Huffy can definitely be improved on--But to what? You also have a breathing problem- that hopefully can be improved on but how far?

    I have just got a couple of mates through starting to ride- One was very fit and no problems but the other was not. The unfit one had a bike equivalent to your Huffy except it was heavier -did not fit him and required a lot of Maintenance to keep running. 2 months ago he got a used Mountain bike for around $100. Big improvement on bike and it does fit. First ride out of 10 miles on the road and he was finished. Got him up to 20 miles and he was still finished. Last sunday he did 54 miles and he has sold the bike. The ride finished him----BUT- he is now looking for a road bike so he can get to the next stage of his riding. In the meantime he has borrowed a Road bike that is heavy- doesn't fit him and falls a part easily.

    He still has a long way to go to get fit but he knows that he wants a road bike and not an upright one and he also realises that the little bit of cycling he has done has improved his fitness no end. He is going to make it- but not next week.
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  17. #17
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    I have to put in a Bravo for John-V's comments on breathing correctly. Anyone who has played a wind instrument or has has voice lessons has received instruction on breathing. Although breathing is an inherent and instinctual process, its effectivness in considerably improved with training. Not only do musicians breath differently than most people, but high altitude mountaineers as well. As an asthmatic, a former trumpet player, a backpacker in the mountains of New Hampshire and Colorado, I've experienced deliberate breathing in all these activities. Most recently, I pay close attention to breathing while climbing. I feel this sort of attention to technique has helped me find a good sustainable cadence and when I find the groove, I feel I can climb for a very long time.

    Taylor, you stick with it and find the best path for you.

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    I really want to thank everyone for all the advise, comments and encouragement. It's given me a lot of good ideas and more things to research and try. It's just frustrating to be able to ride 25 miles or more on a level rails to trails trail without a problem and not be able to get up a 100 yard hill. But I don't plan on giving up, I'll keep working on it. I don't have to go far to find a hill to practice on, it's right down the street.

    The computer I have now doesn't have cadence so I'll order one from Nashbar so I can work on cadence. I have a SPO2 (Oxygen) meter that has heart rate and I've taken it with me a couple of times but I don't really know how to interpret what it tells me. At the top of biggest hill (which isn't all that big) in the trail profile I attached to my first post in this thread I just barely made it up and was gasping for breath and thought I would die. I checked and my SPO2 was 88 and my HR was 116. Neither of which would seem to indicate that I should be in as much distress as I was. I'm ride that loop 3 or 4 times a week and that hill is still hard. I'll have to take the meter again and see if anything is changing.

    I could improve my breathing somewhat with inhalers, but I have chosen not to. I have a Albuterol rescue inhaler that I never use, and I have used steroid inhalers (Advair) for a couple of months when I had colds and bronchitis, but as long as I can manage without them I won't use them as a matter of course. I know many say that if medicine will improve your quality of life use it, but I'll go as long as I can without it. Emphysema doesn't get better and I'm sure that if I live long enough I'll be on steroid inhalers and oxygen some day but I'll put that off for as long as I can. For now I'm hoping that biking will help me improve my breathing.

    John, I had forgotten all about the COPD breathing exercises and haven't tried pursed-lip breathing on the hills, thanks for reminding me.

  19. #19
    Dharma Dog lhbernhardt's Avatar
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    You don't need to be ashamed of that Huffy at all. It served its purpose, and now you've just got to the point where you've outgrown it, or seen its shortcomings. Now you have earned the upgrade!

    Whatever bike you get, though, won't make a really signifcant difference. It's the motor, not the bike. But, the more you ride, the more your body adapts to the demands you place on it, and a training effect takes place, even if you don't go that hard. So don't feel bad if you think there's no improvement. As long as you're riding, there's improvement.

    As for the hills, I used to have lots of low back pain. It disappeared when I stopped trying to push too big a gear while seated. Now if the gear is too big, I just stand on the pedals and use body weight, arms pulling on/stabilizing the handlebars, and back leg pulling up slightly to drive the bike forward. If you're not used to standing while climbing, just start small and work longer as you get more comfortable.

    L.

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