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  1. #1
    Unobtanium-Based Lifeform calamarichris's Avatar
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    A Fresh Start? Guidance Appreciated.

    A herniated disk gave me six months off the bike last year and I decided this is a good opportunity to unlearn some deeply-entrenched bad habits.
    Even with my fitness currently in the toilet, I can hammer my way through a century. But my form would be all over the place. I'd consider it a greater accomplishment to finish 50 miles with solid, fluid, balanced pedaling form.

    Am currently riding rollers with dual resistance units, am building up a fixed-gear bike, and am waiting to hear back from a coach here in San Diego. No racing aspirations, just want to become a solid climber with a minor in time-trialing proficiency. (Who knows? Maybe by focusing on form first, I'll become even better than when I was a young hammerhead?)

    What has worked for you?
    Would you simply start hammering out miles and let good form emerge...?
    ...Or concentrate on the position, riding form, and then use it to go after fitness?
    Know of any good form-focused DVD's?
    Recommend any good coaches or exercise-physiologists in the San Diego area?

    I spent 18 years riding a beloved Masi Gran Criterium that really didn't fit, but now have the freedom, funds and focus to go after this. I've also read several books (is there anyone from the 80's who didn't read the Eddie-B. book?) but at the very least would like to have my position looked at.

    Any serious responses appreciated. Thanks and safe riding!
    -Chris in Carlsbad, CA

  2. #2
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Here's something that might help you finish a century more comfortably than it sounds like you currently do:

    http://www.machka.net/century.htm

    As for form and improved climbing skills, check out a spinning class. The fixed gear spinning bicycles can help with your pedal stroke.

  3. #3
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Lots of roller miles while concentrating on form. That's made the biggest difference for me. FastPedal for 45 minutes continuous on the rollers, cadence 115 and higher, only in zone 2. Or work up to that. Do that once a week or so for a few weeks. Then do one legged pedaling on rollers, 2 minute or longer intervals with each leg, some at 50 cadence, some at 85 cadence, taut chain all the way. And of course lots of steady ordinary zone 2 work on rollers. Then do some zone 3 tempo work on rollers at 70 cadence, 20 minute or longer intervals, up to an hour total per session, keeping the sound completely even. That will give you both form and fitness.

    By then you'll be into the start of the season.

    Latest thinking seems to be don't ride fixed, ride single-speed instead. Fixed can actually harm your stroke because it pushes your leg up instead of you pulling it up. Plus you can keep up on a group ride if you're riding SS. I group ride with a couple of champs who ride SS with us to make it more of a challenge. They get plenty of spinning as well as low-cadence work, which is the whole idea. Racers used to ride fixed with us, but I don't see that any more. Now everyone who wants that training is on SS bikes. You set up an ordinary vertical dropout road bike for SS with a special single cog and an idler pulley.

  4. #4
    Unobtanium-Based Lifeform calamarichris's Avatar
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    Thank you Matchka! But finishing the century comfortably isn't the problem. My goal is to undo bad habits and turn last-year's unfortunate downtime into a fresh start with even better form than before.

    And thank you too, Fiberboy. How do you maintain concentration on your form? I'll start a session with concrete intentions to focus strictly on form (even putting away headphones, heartrate monitor, computer and Giro D-Italia dvds), but invariably my mind wanders and my form erodes after 20 minutes.
    When you say "Zone 2 work" do you mean heartrate?
    And by "FastPedal" do you simply mean spinning at 115, or is this a DVD? (You capitalized it, making me think it's possibly a proper noun.) I fear focusing on cadence at this point will detract from my concentration on the fluidity I want--is this neurotic hypochondria?
    Do you think it's wiser to begin slowly with a focus on form? OR to simply get going on base miles and let the body figure out good form?

    I've been getting back into it slowly and 3 or 4 times this year I've felt especially fluid--I want to duplicate that feeling at will, rather than resume my mindless hammering.
    Thanks very much! Tonight I'll see if I can hold my heartrate in zone 2 at 115 rpm.
    -Chris in C'bad

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    I find it easy to concentrate on form on rollers. If I start bouncing around it means my form is bad. And if I find myself wedged in the doorway, it means I have fallen asleep.

    I found my comfortable cadence on the bike (I was smooth here) and then I upped it to where I was just bouncing around. I worked at that until I got smooth. Then I upped it again. And repeat.

  6. #6
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by calamarichris View Post
    Thank you Matchka! But finishing the century comfortably isn't the problem. My goal is to undo bad habits and turn last-year's unfortunate downtime into a fresh start with even better form than before.

    And thank you too, Fiberboy. How do you maintain concentration on your form? I'll start a session with concrete intentions to focus strictly on form (even putting away headphones, heartrate monitor, computer and Giro D-Italia dvds), but invariably my mind wanders and my form erodes after 20 minutes.
    When you say "Zone 2 work" do you mean heartrate?
    And by "FastPedal" do you simply mean spinning at 115, or is this a DVD? (You capitalized it, making me think it's possibly a proper noun.) I fear focusing on cadence at this point will detract from my concentration on the fluidity I want--is this neurotic hypochondria?
    Do you think it's wiser to begin slowly with a focus on form? OR to simply get going on base miles and let the body figure out good form?

    I've been getting back into it slowly and 3 or 4 times this year I've felt especially fluid--I want to duplicate that feeling at will, rather than resume my mindless hammering.
    Thanks very much! Tonight I'll see if I can hold my heartrate in zone 2 at 115 rpm.
    -Chris in C'bad
    How to answer? "They say" that what separates the champions is that they concentrate on what they are doing the whole time. It's so funny to see people on aerobic equipment at the gym, reading magazines! My god people, if you can even think about another single thing, you aren't even beginning to go like you could. I'm no champion, but I just concentrate on every single pedal stroke. It's a form of meditation, which is actually concentration, mindfulness, not mindlessness. Here's a person who offers a relatively accessible entry into these subjects: http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/

    You need your HR and cadence monitors to focus on form BTW. You need metrics as well as abstracts. Yes, I mean zone 2 heart rate (HR). This is usually understood to be 70-75% of max HR (MHR) and is really a recovery zone 2 HR.

    By FastPedal, I mean yes, just spinning really fast at a low effort, steadily at 115-130 for long periods. I capitalized it because to me it's the name of a very particular workout used by Carmichael, Burke, and Lippert. No DVD.

    Training at very high cadences builds fluidity. That's what it's for. It improves neuromuscular coordination. BTW, don't pedal so fast you bounce on the saddle. You should be able to pedal up to at least 150 without bouncing, if your coordination is good. So pedal as fast as you can while still being smooth in this drill. Keep your feet level and don't ankle. Relax your toes. Hell, relax your legs. Imagine a layer of air between the soles of your feet and your shoes. I usually do this in 42X23 or 42X21, so pretty low gears. Your legs should not feel like they are loading. If you can't pedal this fast and stay in zone 2, try a lower gear. If even in a very low gear you can't stay in zone, just pedal as fast as you can at that 75% HR. Your speed will increase with practice. This is a recovery ride. You shouldn't be tired from it the next day, hence the low HR. Work up to a continuous 45 minutes of FastPedal. No point in doing it for longer.

    I think focusing on the fundamentals of form in the early season is the way to go. Try to pedal every stroke perfectly and see how many perfect strokes you can string together. Watch yourself in a mirror on the rollers and watch the shadow of your upper body on the road. Try not to move it, not at all. No wiggling the front wheel; the bike just steady like it wasn't even moving. Your body should be quiet at 100 cadence and just as quiet at 50.

  7. #7
    Unobtanium-Based Lifeform calamarichris's Avatar
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    "Mindfulness"... there's that word again.
    Thanks CFBoy!
    I just started getting involved with yoga to heal my post-surgical back, and was encouraged to read recently that Bernard Hinault got involved in yoga & meditation after his knee-surgery and credited much of his success to it.
    About a year ago, I changed from a 172.5 to 175 crank (I'm 6'2" with a 34-inch inseam after all, and my goals mostly center on climbing and time-trialing) so 115+ for 45 minutes (with relaxed legs and keeping my HR in Zone 2!?!) sounds a improbable right now, but I'm open and willing to build up to it.
    I'm getting my position checked/corrected this Sunday, and getting excited about this! THANK YOU!

    Oh yeah. I can get the 172.5's cranks back; would you recommend doing so? I'm compelled to believe that leverage will come in handy when climbing and riding solo. (I have no track nor USCF aspirations.)
    Peace!
    -Chris in C'bad

  8. #8
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    I'm 5'7" and a short-legged knuckle-dragger. I have 170s on my single bikes and a 175 on the tandem. The 175 works, but definitely slows me down a couple RPM. So I'd say the 175s are fine. 175s are proportionally much shorter for you than my 170s are for me. You could go longer.

    Yes, so build up to it. Might take a couple years. Don't be impatient. You wanna be smooth and efficient - this is a great way to get there. You might start out at only 105, but you'll be surprised how you'll get better if you ride a lot. Start with this: 15 minutes of zone 1, 15 minutes of FastPedal, 15 minutes of zone 1. Next week do 20 minutes of FastPedal and the same zone 1. Etc. Only do it on rollers - it's too easy outdoors.

  9. #9
    Unobtanium-Based Lifeform calamarichris's Avatar
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    I'm relieved to hear you say that because I've also got a pair of 177.5's which I got for climbing.
    I guess the only thing I'm still curious about is that it feels like I'm 'forcing it' whenever my cadence gets over 105--it seems counter-intuitive to force myself to spin that fast to generate a smooth, fluid stroke.
    I'll give it a whirl and check it with this coach I'm seeing on Sunday.
    Many thanks!
    -CCinC

  10. #10
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Yes, it will feel like you are forcing it. Whole idea. Have to go outside one's comfort range to get better at many things. Many coaches recommend running it up to the point of bouncing and holding for a couple of minutes, then taking it back down and repeat, like intervals. I've found the continuous thing works better.

  11. #11
    Unobtanium-Based Lifeform calamarichris's Avatar
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    Thank you very much CFboy!
    I didn't expect it to be easy, and the more I think about it, the more absolute sense this makes. I'll see how long I can hold it </= Zone 3 at >/+115rpm this evening.
    THEN Sunday I'm having a coach look at my position!
    I'm really looking forward to this.
    If you ever come to the San Diego area, bring your pedals and shoes, as I've got a loaner (admittedly only my commuter: a 56-cm '86 Schwinn Peloton with 175 cranks, mustache-handlebars with bar-end shifters) and some fun climbs to show off.
    May you get mild weather and courteous drivers for the rest of the month.
    -CCinC

  12. #12
    Senior Member late's Avatar
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    Raise Dat Stem!

    by Bob Gordon

    A flat back is one of the hallmarks of an experienced cyclist, particularly a racer, and over the years I have seen the prevailing attitudes towards rider positioning devolve to the point where if you don't cycle with your back parallel to the ground, you're cast off as a beginner.

    But like many other concepts recreational riders adopt, the low back originated in the professional ranks after extensive research in aerodynamics proved this would help the fast go faster. Competitive athletes routinely sacrifice both their short and long term health for the express purpose of winning, but you may have a different agenda.

    Lower back disc problems peak the ages of 30 and 50. There are many causes, but if your back pain is exacerbated by riding, it's a good bet the cause is bouncing around on your bike while your lower spine is extensively flexed (loss of lower back arch). A low, forward torso causes the inner portion of the disc (the nucleus purposes) to press back against the outer restraining fibers (the annulus fibroses). This pressure eventually causes the disc to bulge or herniate. The nearby nerves get squeezed, and the next thing you know, someone like me is telling you you have sciatica.

    Cycling mitigates some of the problems of a habitually flexed lumbar spine because of the "bridge effect" that's created by resting some of your weight on your hands. But the lumbar region and its soft tissues are still at risk just by being continuously hyper flexed, and if you sit all day at your job, the danger is compounded.

    On the flip side, cycling entirely upright does not solve the problem either. True, the inter-vertebral discs and spinal ligaments are in a more neutral position and absorb shock better, but the load is now transmitted axially, which is fatiguing and jarring. Also, in a bolt-upright position you can't use your gluteus or hamstrings to great advantage, which means your thighs (quadriceps) get overworked, you lose a lot of power, the unused hamstrings and gluteal muscles go flabby, and you catch all that wind. It's hard to be happy about all that, racer or no.

    There is, however, a position that allows good performance while minimizing risk of lower back injury. I like a stem height and length that puts your back about 50 degrees from horizontal, while your arms and legs bend slightly at the elbows, as shown in figure 2 up there. To achieve this, you'll probably have to raise your bars, and assuming you want to keep the same bar style (as opposed to riding with stingray bars or something), that usually means getting another stem, one with a taller quill or a steep rise to it. If you hit the sweet spot, a photo of you from the side will reveal a nice pyramid composed of top tube, torso and arms.'
    Your friendly, local, minor god of information.

  13. #13
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by calamarichris View Post
    If you ever come to the San Diego area, bring your pedals and shoes, as I've got a loaner (admittedly only my commuter: a 56-cm '86 Schwinn Peloton with 175 cranks, mustache-handlebars with bar-end shifters) and some fun climbs to show off.
    May you get mild weather and courteous drivers for the rest of the month.
    -CCinC
    Thanks for the wish! I ride a 52 with the stem all the way down. They don't make head tubes short enough for me to even get close to having my back horizontal. There are some interesting issues with hip flexibility and pelvic shape that affect how straight one can keep one's back in the classic road position. A good bike fit is a wonderful thing. I ride with quite a number of >50 and fewer >60 riders who pretty much all use the classic position with bars even with to 3" below saddle height. Bar height vis a vis saddle height seems to be more in line with length of longest ride than age, a long ride being ~1200k, and short 100k.

  14. #14
    Unobtanium-Based Lifeform calamarichris's Avatar
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    Dude. I have a ways to go.
    I was bouncing at 115 most of the time. For a few instances, I was able to focus on staying fluid, but this is a foreign zone to me. Also tried shifting up a few gears and the slight load seemed to allay the bouncy-bouncy, (but perhaps also sent up my HR?)
    Haven't spun like this since I was a junior and we were doing 39x21 granny-gear sprints for four telephone pole lengths up at Lake Bonelli near Pomona, CA--good times!
    I managed to (mostly) hold it over 110rpm for 10 minutes, but toward the end my heart rate was at 170, but at least now I have a beachhead from which to continue the campaign.
    Did a granny gear sprint for old-time's-sake and managed to hit 157 rpm. After all this, my usual 95 rpm felt like crawling.
    Left knee feels a little off now, but'll hit it with Mineral Ice, yoga and if necessary Aleve. Perhaps this will be easier after the coach has had a look at my position?

    And Thanks, Late. The herniated disk was actually from many other youthful follies, not solely riding for 18 years on a Masi that was too small. Why, I've had motorcycle accidents that I didn't deserve to walk away from. Nevertheless I'll check with this coach about possibly raising the stem.

    Milli grazzi, Gents!
    -CCinC

  15. #15
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    How cool! I probably have my head screwed on backwards, but I think you're at the most fun part. I know that 95 feeling well. Whole idea, right? Enjoy. Next thing you'll need is a brand new carbon bike with all that light shiny stuff on it.

  16. #16
    Unobtanium-Based Lifeform calamarichris's Avatar
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    Heh--Don't accuse me of becoming an equipment-worshipping fred, for I've been one for years. I'm currently on a 2005 Felt F55, which has carbon fiber stays, Dura-Ace 10-speed throughout, and a Brooks saddle with titanium rails.
    And my original '84 Masi Gran Criterium, which I'm restoring with C-Record throughout (including yummy Delta brakes.)
    And my '86 Schwinn Peloton, which was my racer back when I was a Junior.
    And to make up for the titanium & carbon-bling, I keep my trusty cast-iron Locomotief Populaire, from when I lived in the South of Holland.



    This is a very neat experience. How wonderful to be a novice starting out again with the eyes of an old fart to appreciate it all the more.
    -CCinC
    Last edited by calamarichris; 01-26-08 at 01:35 AM.

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