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  1. #1
    Senior Member Absenth's Avatar
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    Trying to improve as a cyclist

    I'll provide a little back story.

    I'm 33, going on 34 years old. Prior to May 30, 2010 I hadn't been on a bicycle in at least 12, and more likely 15 years. I've picked up back up with quite a bit of passion actually. I'm commuting to and from work at least twice a week, usually three times if my wife's schedule allows.

    I am using the bicycle first as a way to get into better shape, and be healthier. And second because I have great memories of cycling with my parents when I was growing up. My daughter just had her first birthday a few weeks ago, and I'd love for her to grow up with similar fond memories. The only way for that to happen is for me to be in good enough shape to go on rides with her.

    I've worked up to pretty easily doing 12 mile rides, regardless of weather, at an overall average speed of about 12.5 miles per hour. In the examples where I went 12 miles I'm pretty sure I could have easily doubled the mileage and still been alive at the end. What I would like to do is get myself up into the 18 mile per hour average cruising speed. And I'd like to be able to sustain that average speed for at least an hour and a half, but would rather be able to do it for "as long as it takes."

    I've noticed even when going in that 12-15mile per hour range that I tend to pedal for maybe a half block then coast. Rinse and repeat. I'm certain I'd average a higher overall speed if I kept spinning, but can't seem to figure out how to make that work without feeling like either my legs, or lungs (it's one or the other) are on fire. I'd love advice on how to just spin, and only coast when it's fun, not because I need a break.

    I don't know how much equipment comes into play, but I'll share some details anyway.
    I'm 5' 10", weigh ~ 225# (at least I did before I started riding)
    I'm riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker complete, with the standard 35mm wide 700c Continental Contact tires. I have a set of Shimano SPD pedals (from when I had a Diamondback Venture in highschool) with a new set of Shimano shoes.

    I'm certain my form needs improvement, but I don't know how to get from where I am, to where I think I should be.

    Any advice the collective intelligence that is bikeforums.net can provide would be GREATLY appreciated.

    If you're in the Indianapolis area, and would like a slow riding partner, or would love to coach a slow rider into being a less slow rider I'd happily entertain PMs. In fact I'd be willing on weekend to even travel to other parts of Indiana to ride with folks who wanted to help

    Thanks again BikeForums.net!
    Last edited by Absenth; 07-16-10 at 08:38 PM. Reason: %s/peddle/pedal/g -- thanks coffeecake :)
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  2. #2
    Blocking your fire exits coffeecake's Avatar
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    Hey! That's great you're back on the bike and enjoying it.

    An easy way to learn how to increase your cadence is to select a gear that's lower than what you would normally use. You might feel a little silly at first, but it's easier on your legs to spin at 90 rpm than to crank out a revolution every one to two seconds. Since you're using clipless you can also pull up and get more bang for your spin, as it were. I found this tip helpful when learning to maximise clipless: bring your foot around like you're scraping something off your sole onto the pavement.

    Try to keep your back straight and don't round your shoulders - if you're hunched over, you might end up with problems in your neck and back.

    (also, it's 'pedals' and 'pedalling', not 'peddles' and 'peddling'. Just helping you avoid some grief.)
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  3. #3
    Senior Member Absenth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by coffeecake View Post
    (also, it's 'pedals' and 'pedalling', not 'peddles' and 'peddling'. Just helping you avoid some grief.)
    You mean I'm not trying to sell my wares on unsuspecting passersby?

    More seriously, thanks for the tips above. I guess I should swap cycle computers. The wired computer on the vintage Trek has a cadence pickup. The wireless computer on the Trucker doesn't.
    I currently turn about 60-70 rpm while pedalling. So you're suggesting one and a half turns per second, vs about one turn per second. I can certainly try that tomorrow when I go out and ride. I'm pretty good at at least pulling towards the back while pedalling. I didn't think I was great at lifting on the back stroke, until I took my wife's bike for a spin with it's platform pedals. My feet kept coming off them on the way up
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  4. #4
    Old fart JohnDThompson's Avatar
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    Many bike shops sponsor group rides where you can ride with other people and exchange experiences. Perhaps there's one in your area?

  5. #5
    Blocking your fire exits coffeecake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Absenth View Post
    You mean I'm not trying to sell my wares on unsuspecting passersby?

    More seriously, thanks for the tips above. I guess I should swap cycle computers. The wired computer on the vintage Trek has a cadence pickup. The wireless computer on the Trucker doesn't.
    I currently turn about 60-70 rpm while pedalling. So you're suggesting one and a half turns per second, vs about one turn per second. I can certainly try that tomorrow when I go out and ride. I'm pretty good at at least pulling towards the back while pedalling. I didn't think I was great at lifting on the back stroke, until I took my wife's bike for a spin with it's platform pedals. My feet kept coming off them on the way up
    Hey, you're welcome. I don't use a computer, I just count "one-one thousand" under my breath, and when in doubt, spin higher. Once you get the hang of it, you'll feel weird doing otherwise. I have to resist the temptation to shout at other bikers, "Gear DOWN! Your knees will thank you!"
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  6. #6
    Senior Member travelmama's Avatar
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    What type of bike are you riding and does it fit you? If I were in your shoes I would remove the computer. Numbers tend to freak people out and that is not a good thing for beginners of any kind. Since you haven't been on a bike for a while you should learn to feel comfortable with your surroundings, bike, saddle and posture. You are coasting which is not bad so as you go along, you will notice that your pedaling will increase to the point that coasting an inch will seem long in distance. Do some cross training. Just get out, ride and don't put too much thought into it right now because sooner than you know, your speed will increase and a new computer will be worth having.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Absenth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnDThompson View Post
    Many bike shops sponsor group rides where you can ride with other people and exchange experiences. Perhaps there's one in your area?
    The LBS I purchased my LHT from doesn't really do group rides.
    The LBS that's a mile from my house does, but their "slow" ride is 20mph with bursts up into 30mph sustained for 1.5 - 2 hours. I'm currently a 12mph rider and would get dropped like a bad habit before we got out of the parking lot. This IS the primary reason I want to get to an 18mph average that I can sustain for however long.... I'd like to go on their Saturday and Sunday morning rides before my wife or daughter wake up.

    There is a meetup group that does rides, it just happens to always work out that their scheduled rides are on days my wife works late, and I get to spend time with my daughter. (I guess I should suck it up, toss the cart in the car, and bring her with me )

    Quote Originally Posted by coffeecake View Post
    Hey, you're welcome. I don't use a computer, I just count "one-one thousand" under my breath, and when in doubt, spin higher. Once you get the hang of it, you'll feel weird doing otherwise. I have to resist the temptation to shout at other bikers, "Gear DOWN! Your knees will thank you!"
    I'll give it a shot!
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  8. #8
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    +2 on learning to maintain a higher cadence.

    When I first started, I was a skinny kid with smoker's lungs. Couldn't do crap. I drug my bike out and wore myself out for a few months before starting to read up a bit. Then, after starting with smaller distances at higher RPM's, I managed to whip my lungs into a workable state, and my legs became the restriction... and that only gets better with practice.

    Nowadays, I average an 8-12 mile ride everyday holding ~16 mph in the rolling foothills of Georgia, and can pound out longer rides when I have the time. The legs are still puny, but I'm impressed with how the body can adapt and improve fairly quickly.
    1996 Giant ATX 980 - 1993 Specialized Rockhopper, full XT - 1989 Schwinn Prelude

  9. #9
    Senior Member Absenth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by travelmama View Post
    What type of bike are you riding and does it fit you? If I were in your shoes I would remove the computer. Numbers tend to freak people out and that is not a good thing for beginners of any kind. Since you haven't been on a bike for a while you should learn to feel comfortable with your surroundings, bike, saddle and posture. You are coasting which is not bad so as you go along, you will notice that your pedaling will increase to the point that coasting an inch will seem long in distance. Do some cross training. Just get out, ride and don't put too much thought into it right now because sooner than you know, your speed will increase and a new computer will be worth having.
    I'm riding a shiny new Surly Long Haul Trucker. Which the Bicycle shop even spent time with me to adjust the saddle, for height and forward/rear alignment. It actually fits quite well, and unlike the Trek 520 (1984) I was riding which was previously my dads, I don't have upper/mid back pain after riding. I 'm sure part of that is I've been riding more and am getting stronger in areas that hadn't been used in years, and in part because the Trucker feels like it's part of me fit wise.

    I use the computer more because I want to be able to keep track of any progress I make, and it keeps me honest. While I'm riding I rarely pay attention to it. It's something I look at after the ride, drop a few numbers into a spreadsheet, and then clear the computer. I'd imagine replacing the 35mm wide Conti Contacts with 25mm wide slicks would improve my speed some, but I don't see any reason I shouldn't be able to average 18-20 miles per hour on the Trucker as is, even with my pannier full of laptop, clothes, and tools.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member Absenth's Avatar
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    Well I tried some of the suggestions above today. I went out with a friend who has recently started racing in Triathlon Sprints. He usually pushes 17 or 18 miles per hour as an overall average and I figured riding with someone faster than me would be likely to improve my personal performance. I also focused on riding in a lower gear than I would normally, and spin faster than my normal ~ 60 rpm. I wasn't able to get myself up to 90 and stay there for any length of time, but I did maintain 75 rpm for much longer periods than I would had I been in the higher gear turning 60 rpm.

    We went 13.86 miles which isn't a long ride. We averaged 13.1 miles per hour which isn't my best, but it's better than I normally do. We also had a lot of stop signs to contend with, and a MUP that required we average ~ 10mph for a good portion of the ride because of walkers.

    All in all, when we were moving I was holding in the 16-18 mph range which is good for me. We even did about a mile at 27.6 miles per hour which was mostly flat... that got the legs burning On my commute on Tuesday where I'm not trying to pace another rider, I'm going to see if I can get my cadence a bit higher still and see how that goes.

    Thanks again for the help!
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  11. #11
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    I started out late in April with a new bike Purchase in roughly the same situation. I hadn't touched a bike in many years, am 27 years old, 5'10" and 215lbs. I went with a road bike, and the smaller tires and lighter frame might be helping out a bit but I started at roughly 10 miles and 14.5 mph. I commute to work whenever possible. 3 Months later I averaged 17.5mph during a Charity 50 mile ride in the rain with 2000 ft of ascending. My commute to work (3.85 miles) has gone from 13:30 down to 11:30. You'll see improvements as long as you keep with it. It will come quicker than you think.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Absenth View Post
    The LBS I purchased my LHT from doesn't really do group rides.
    The LBS that's a mile from my house does, but their "slow" ride is 20mph with bursts up into 30mph sustained for 1.5 - 2 hours. I'm currently a 12mph rider and would get dropped like a bad habit before we got out of the parking lot. This IS the primary reason I want to get to an 18mph average that I can sustain for however long.... I'd like to go on their Saturday and Sunday morning rides before my wife or daughter wake up.
    Are there any other bicycle clubs in the area?

    http://www.highaltitude2u.com/indiana-cycling-clubs.php

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    all of the above but above all...ride as much as you can.

    I never showed much improvment until I started riding at least three times a week and trying to keep my rides to over 25 miles.

    I have a cadence counter on my Strada and that is the most useful feature. A good spin for me is mid 70's, I imagine everyone has their own cadence but 75-78 is my place.
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  14. #14
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    Attach your computer sensor to the frame so you can get a reading from the chainrings instead of the wheel, and put 4 or 5 magnets on the arms of the chainring. Your computer will then give a cadence readout (not the actual cadence number but in proportion). Watch your cadence while riding and shift gears to keep it between 80 and 87. Pedal continuously without concern for speed. When you get accustomed to this cadence increase the pace a notch, eventually working up to maintaining 90-95.

  15. #15
    Senior Member pablosnazzy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Absenth View Post
    I'll provide a little back story.

    I'm 33, going on 34 years old. ..................

    ............ I'd love advice on how to just spin, and only coast when it's fun, not because I need a break.

    I don't know how much equipment comes into play, ...............
    well, first it's good to see you are 33 going on 34, not going on 37 or 43 or 82, so you are doing good on that part.

    the trick to being a good cyclist is riding your bicycle a lot. if you want to ride faster, then on your commute, do sprints. pick a sign in the distance and sprint to it. try to sprint all out for 10 seconds, then 15, then 20. do this a few times each ride. if you want to be stronger, ride up hills. if you want to spin, then just keep pedaling no matter how much it hurts for as long as you can.

    equipment doesn't really come into it. put lance armstrong on a huffy and you (or me or anyone on this forum) on a bad ass cervelo and he will still kick all our asses. because he rides his bike a lot. up hills, sprinting, etc. if you are worried the surly isn't good enough, don't. it's a great bike. it's not the bike that matters, it's the engine

    keep riding, don't worry, it will come. if you want to improve quickly, you gotta "train," and that means pushing yourself harder so it becomes easier.
    Last edited by pablosnazzy; 07-20-10 at 03:51 PM.

  16. #16
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Don't fall for the fads and obsessions with equipment and numbers: weight, cadence, mph, calories, etc. Forget the computer too. That's not what riding a bike is about. Just ride and have fun. Millions of people were/are riding without worrying about those unimportant details. They will matter perhaps when you do a century or a multi-day tour, but now they are useless for you and will only add complications and distract you from the fun of riding and from the freedom of being on a bike. Everything will come with time.

  17. #17
    Blocking your fire exits coffeecake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AdamDZ View Post
    Don't fall for the fads and obsessions with equipment and numbers: weight, cadence, mph, calories, etc. Forget the computer too. That's not what riding a bike is about. Just ride and have fun. Millions of people were/are riding without worrying about those unimportant details. They will matter perhaps when you do a century or a multi-day tour, but now they are useless for you and will only add complications and distract you from the fun of riding and from the freedom of being on a bike. Everything will come with time.
    I see what you're saying, but upping your cadence will increase your staying power and is easier on your knees. It's a small adjustment but I wouldn't classify it as an "unimportant detail"; it's like having your seat height adjusted correctly. Unless you're focusing exclusively on your cadence/heart rate etc. in which case one should be posting in the Road forum, lol.
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  18. #18
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by coffeecake View Post
    I see what you're saying, but upping your cadence will increase your staying power and is easier on your knees. It's a small adjustment but I wouldn't classify it as an "unimportant detail"; it's like having your seat height adjusted correctly. Unless you're focusing exclusively on your cadence/heart rate etc. in which case one should be posting in the Road forum, lol.
    Sure. But you can do that without any equipment, as you said in your first post It'll take no time to get used to higher cadence without making this into a science project.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Absenth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pablosnazzy View Post
    well, first it's good to see you are 33 going on 34, not going on 37 or 43 or 82, so you are doing good on that part.
    heh

    Quote Originally Posted by pablosnazzy View Post
    the trick to being a good cyclist is riding your bicycle a lot. if you want to ride faster, then on your commute, do sprints. pick a sign in the distance and sprint to it. try to sprint all out for 10 seconds, then 15, then 20. do this a few times each ride. if you want to be stronger, ride up hills. if you want to spin, then just keep pedaling no matter how much it hurts for as long as you can.
    This makes a lot of sense, and is a very practical approach. I hadn't though of sprinting for that stopsign, or the last half block, or whatever. I also hadn't though about really pushing myself to get up the hills faster. I'd guess if I hammer my way up the hills now they'll be easier later.

    Quote Originally Posted by pablosnazzy View Post
    equipment doesn't really come into it. put lance armstrong on a huffy and you (or me or anyone on this forum) on a bad ass cervelo and he will still kick all our asses. because he rides his bike a lot. up hills, sprinting, etc. if you are worried the surly isn't good enough, don't. it's a great bike. it's not the bike that matters, it's the engine
    I love my Surly! It's the most comfortable bicycle to ride I've ever owned. I only added notes about it because questions like these usually include at least someone asking what kind of bike the OP is riding, followed by a paragraph about how mountain bikes are always slower than road bikes....


    Quote Originally Posted by pablosnazzy View Post
    keep riding, don't worry, it will come. if you want to improve quickly, you gotta "train," and that means pushing yourself harder so it becomes easier.
    I'm working towards a hundred miles a week. I don't think I'll make it this week. Next week however I'm hopeful.

    Quote Originally Posted by AdamDZ View Post
    Don't fall for the fads and obsessions with equipment and numbers: weight, cadence, mph, calories, etc. Forget the computer too. That's not what riding a bike is about. Just ride and have fun. Millions of people were/are riding without worrying about those unimportant details. They will matter perhaps when you do a century or a multi-day tour, but now they are useless for you and will only add complications and distract you from the fun of riding and from the freedom of being on a bike. Everything will come with time.
    While I agree with this statement overall. I honestly enjoy pushing myself to try harder. When I'm on a ride, and I look down, and see that for this trip I'm below 13 mph as an average it drives me to push harder because I want to be faster. It's also nice to be able to log "how far, how long, how fast." in a spreadsheet so I can look back over the last week / month (I've not been at it long enough to say year) and see if I've improved at all. I'll be honest I need to get into better shape, but most of the things I've tried (going to the Gym for instance) I just don't enjoy at all. I'm an I.T. guy. My entire life is a technology filled science experiment. Bicycling is fun, and I love it. Playing with Gizmos makes it more fun, and I love it more
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    To improve basic fitness, I suggest doing the basics of calisthenics; That is to say, do squats, push-ups, crunches, pull-ups, and chin-ups. I'm 21 and thats what I'll be doing for the summer till I hit the weights again. And if you do hit the weights again, weighted squats are the best in my opinion. I'm also an I.T. kid, studying to be an Engineer .

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    I'm pretty much in the same situation as you. I'm 45 and just got back into riding after many years off of a bike. I bought a Hybrid as a Christmas gift to myself with the intention of just doing short rides to try to get back into shape. After several short rides I decided to take a long ride and see how I would do. I ended up riding 20 miles that day and I was hooked. After several 20+ mile rides on the hybrid I decided it was time to get something a little faster so on June 7 I bought a Felt F60. My longest ride to date has been 54 miles. I usually try to ride at least 50 miles during the week and do a long ride on the weekends. I try for at least 3 rides during the week, 2 20+ mile rides and on one ride I do a 8 mile ride that is fairly flat and try to maintain as fast a pace that I can then I do intervals. I have a great new subdivision near my house that only has 2 houses in it and it has some steep short climbs that is awesome for intervals. I am still slow but I am getting faster and stronger on the hills. On my long rides I am averaging a little better than 12 MPH. Last night I managed to average 13 mph on a 21 mile ride that has a few decent hills, about 1100 feet of climb total. My LBS has a group that rides that same every Saturday morning and they avg. 16 - 17 MPH. My goal is to ride with them without getting dropped. The first time that I rode the loop I averaged less than 10 MPH and that was just a few weeks ago. I struggled with maintaining cadence at first, as I have gotten more familiar with my bike and have gotten more comfortable shifting I am able to keep my bike in a gear so that I can maintain a sustainable effort at a cadence of 80 - 85. If my cadence get above 85 I shift to a higher gear. Occasionally I will push my cadence up to 100 on a slight grade to see how long I can maintain it. At first I felt like I would blow up after just a few seconds and I was bouncing in the saddle terribly bad, after getting my saddle position adjusted properly I am spinning much smoother.

  22. #22
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Absenth View Post
    While I agree with this statement overall. I honestly enjoy pushing myself to try harder. When I'm on a ride, and I look down, and see that for this trip I'm below 13 mph as an average it drives me to push harder because I want to be faster. It's also nice to be able to log "how far, how long, how fast." in a spreadsheet so I can look back over the last week / month (I've not been at it long enough to say year) and see if I've improved at all. I'll be honest I need to get into better shape, but most of the things I've tried (going to the Gym for instance) I just don't enjoy at all. I'm an I.T. guy. My entire life is a technology filled science experiment. Bicycling is fun, and I love it. Playing with Gizmos makes it more fun, and I love it more
    IMHO, people often go through this stage at various times. I've gone through that too. But once I saw people on club rides who carried more gadgets and electronics on their bikes and bodies than I carry on my belt at work (IT as well) I realized there is something wrong. And I've scaled down, no bike computers, no heart rate monitors, no cadence sensors, no carbon bikes. On my tours I carried a GPS, solar charger to keep iPhone happy, so sure I like gadgets too as long as they have real use for me and those are useful for navigation, communication etc, but for everyday biking I have zero electronics on my bikes. They were just a distraction. But I really don't care what my cadence is, what's my average and how many calories I burnt. For me riding a bike is a part of my life, it's intuitive, natural and I don't need to measure anything. But if for someone biking is a sport and they like to measure their performance I guess that's OK. There are many ways to ride a bike.

    Adam

  23. #23
    Senior Member pablosnazzy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AdamDZ View Post
    .... There are many ways to ride a bike.
    YES! you can ride it naked. you can ride it drunk. you can ride it drunk and naked. the list goes on!!!! the important thing is, you are riding your bike. riding bikes make good things happen.

    oh, back to the original topic.....

    since you say you are an IT guy who likes gizmos, and you want to improve.....have you thought about going the heart rate monitor route? heart rate monitors will tell you when you can work harder, even when you think you can't, and are good to help you lose weight and all that. it's an option if you are into that sort of thing. also, ride with people who are faster than you, that will make you ride faster and you will get better without even (consciously) trying.

    and just so you know, riding drunk won't make you improve, but it sure is a heck of a lot of fun on a summer night.
    Last edited by pablosnazzy; 07-21-10 at 07:40 PM.

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    If you're willing to make the trip, the Bloomington Bicycle Club has rides every Saturday and Sunday: http://bloomingtonbicycleclub.org/

  25. #25
    Senior Member Absenth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alan wrench View Post
    If you're willing to make the trip, the Bloomington Bicycle Club has rides every Saturday and Sunday: http://bloomingtonbicycleclub.org/
    How fast are your rides? I might take you up on the offer soonish.
    2010 Surly Long Haul Trucker -- Blue Velvet
    2005 Trek Pilot 2.1 -- Silver
    SOLD --- 1984 Trek 520 -- Taupe



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