Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Indoor Cyclist's Guide To Winter Training:
Zwifting Into The New Year
If you haven't noticed yet, the weather is cold outside. The Northeast, well pretty much the entire country, is suffering from an Arctic blast.  It's so bad that alligators are freezing in the Everglades, leaving their snouts sticking straight up out of the water as they go into deep hibernation till things eventually thaw out.  I couldn't believe it either, but the reality is that it's winter, and it's here to stay for awhile. Every year I write about winter training, and the tools you need to stay fit before your next big event in the Spring, but this one is a little different because technology has changed and it's allowing people to ride together more than ever.  I'm talking about virtual training and the applications you can sign up for to ride with your buddies, no matter what the weather conditions.  So let me bring you up to speed on some of those applications, and what I've been using.

Many cyclists prefer indoor trainers that work with your bike and allow you to ride in the comfort of your home instead of riding the indoor bike at the gym. There are many types of trainers available today to choose from.  There are Wind trainers, Magnetic trainers, Fluid trainers, Smart trainers, Meghan Trainor (wait, wrong trainer). Each one has a different style of resistance roller, which can be smoother or quieter than the other.  Smart trainers are cool because they are interactive and can pair with a device that has Bluetooth compatibility. Although they are more expensive than a traditional trainer, they can measure power output, speed, candence, distance and provide a controlled resistance for a more realistic road ride. Brands such as Wahoo, CycleOps, Kinetic, Elite and Tacx offer trainers with these features.  If you are an athlete looking for the best indoor experience, these are the trainers for you. 

 Right now the most popular application to use with your smart trainer is Zwift, an online software that allows you to ride virtual roads, perform structured workouts, and ride socially with other riders from around the world! Other training applications include Trainer Road, and The Sufferfest that provide structured workouts, but with no social connection.  If you're more interested in riding with friends, and less interested in structured workouts, Zwift is the perfect choice. The best part about Zwift is that you don't need to own a smart trainer to experience this virtual cycling mecca. If you are on a budget, and have an existing trainer, you can still use Zwift and ride with your friends.

My indoor trainer is a CycleOps Fluid 2, which I've had for almost 15 years.  Since it's gotten very little use in those almost 15 years, it still rides like new. The Fluid 2 provides a real smooth riding experience, and the resistance builds as you ride harder on the trainer while shifting your bike.  Zwift has a list of compatible trainers on its website, but you can use practically any trainer as long as you have an ANT+ speed and cadence sensor(my speed sensor is shown in the photo below) as an accessory for the application to recognize. With my set up, I have both a Stages power meter and an ANT+ speed sensor from Garmin for the Zwift application to talk to.  

 I downloaded the Zwift app on my phone, and was able to sync my power meter and speed sensor to my phone.  When I tried to do the same with lap top, I had no such luck.  My Bluetooth was on, but the signal did not work to sync my devices.  I needed an external dongle to enhance my computers Bluetooth, so once I installed it I was able to pair my devices with my computer.  Originally, I was against riding the trainer this winter thinking that no cycling app could possibly make riding inside any better, and for years I had spent time riding inside listening to music or watching movies or YouTube to pass the time, which seemed to stand still no matter what I did.  But once I was able to start using Zwift, it completely changed the way indoor riding should be, dare I say enjoyable?  I chose to ride on my own, not with a group, for my first ride so I could get used to the application. 

 I have to say that it's been fun riding in the virtual world, and I've even done a few group rides as I'm writing this (I did one recently on a closed course in London, England).  I haven't done a race or a structured workout yet, but that is an option you can choose when you log in. The monthly membership is definitely worth it, especially with how unpredictable the weather is, you'll always have a place to ride.  So while the winter weather might be unbearable, at least riding your bike inside won't have to be.

Ride on. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Century In The Making: Riding a hundred miles

Riding a Hundred Miles

To all of my readers, I apologize for not posting a blog entry in awhile.  The Spring weather has officially arrived, which means business has been great at the Caffeinated Cyclist.  People are thinking about riding their bikes again, and getting them tuned up and ready for the season. New bikes are flying off the shelves, and new riders are excited to start pedaling them. The group rides are going on as well, so if you haven't made it out to one yet, please do so, it's always a good time!  The racing season has also started, so many of us have already pinned a few numbers on our jersey's in the past weeks. All this excitement has put the blog on the back burner, so let me bring you up to speed on a little road ride I did with a few friends to Ocean City New Jersey, and back.

The month of March had some interesting weather, so between the rain, snow, and warm temperatures, we really weren't sure if winter was coming or going. A couple guys had already done a century this year, which was awesome, so I wanted to do one as well before things got way too busy later in the year.  I hadn't ridden a century in almost two years, and normally I do at least one a year, so I was well overdue.  We all agreed on a date, and stuck to our guns, because this was happening rain or shine.  The night before, it was raining steady, so the roads were sure to be messy in the morning. Luckily I put a fresh set of Continental Gatorskin tires on my bike to keep me safe from punctures and made sure I wore some warm Castelli gear for the morning departure.

 We pushed the departure time back a bit to let the roads dry up a little, and made sure we had everything we needed before the seven of us left the shop.  Normally for a ride like this, I bring more supplies than I need which usually consists of: two or three large water bottles; food for five hours; a large saddle bag with two tubes and inflation with a multi-tool; my phone and some cash. There is usually a couple of WAWA stops during the ride to refuel, but I like to be prepared in case I feel a bonk coming on, or if anyone else needs some energy.  With so many hours in the saddle ahead of us, you never know how the body will react to the mileage, so better to be safe than sorry.

The ride down was quick, averaging close to 20mph, mainly because we had a tailwind, even though we agreed to cruise down slowly(that never happened, we just hammered).  Along the way the conversations ranged from humorous, to completely immature as we pedaled our way to the shore noticing the smell of the marsh almost immediately as we approached the 34th street bridge.  As we approached the beach, cyclocross style, we stopped and looked at the picturesque views of the ocean and took a few photos before heading to the WAWA.

Since this was our first stop I opted for some hot coffee, hash browns, and a Snickers bar to top me off before we got moving again, saving the carbonated good stuff (a.k.a Coca-Cola) and chocolate chip cookie till the next stop.  After some meowing, and mild complaining about how miserable the ride back was going to be, we got back on our Cannondale bikes to start the ride back to the shop. It was a pretty quick stop, which I was totally fine with.  Quick stops tend to be better for the body, and you're less likely to tighten up from "lounging" too long so the quicker the stop, the better. Already having fifty miles in our legs, we left Ocean City with far less enthusiasm than we did when we left Pitman, hoping the return trip would go by fast. Going into the fourth hour on the bike, acouple guys began to suffer as we made our way into Buena for WAWA stop number two. 

After stuffing our faces at WAWA, we couldn't help but notice how the wind had picked up, especially in the direction back to Pitman. I could finally feel my legs getting sore, which is right around the eighty mile mark for me in a century, so I gulped down my Gatorade like there was no tomorrow and made sure my bottles were full before we got rolling again.  Riding back on Tuckahoe  road seemed like an eternity as we took turns in a rotating pace line pedaling at 15 miles an hour into the head wind. The pressure from the pace, and the wind caused a couple of guys to get detached from the group but since we were a few miles from the bike path to Glassboro, there was no need to wait since we were getting close to the finish.  

Once we made it back to Pitman, I couldn't help but notice we were shy a few miles of our one hundred mile journey!  This was probably the hardest part of the ride, since I was pretty much ready to get off my bike and collapse in the street, so now we had to make up 1.5 miles somewhere.  The four of us took a longer way back to make sure the computer read 100.0 miles, or else it didn't happen, and believe me every pedal stroke was agony. As I coasted to the bike shop doors, I threw my arms over the bars exhausted, replaying the days ride in my head and thinking when we would do it all again.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Joining The Real Social Network: Group Rides.

Joining The Real Social Network:
Group Rides
 Spring is around the corner, according to the Weather Channel, though I haven't seen any sign of it yet.  We had a nice warm spell a couple of weeks ago, and it looked like it was going to be an early spring, but it was not to be.  Winter reared it's ugly head again and slammed a cold front in our faces, complete with snow.  Apparently March 21st will be Spring's debut for 2017, so it better not disappoint.  That being said, we can look forward to warmer weather from here on out, and along with the time change, our group ride season begins.  
Nothing is better than ending a long day at the office with a relaxing or challenging group ride.  Riding a bike, while engaging in conversation with friends, is a real bonding experience that I highly recommend.  Even if you're suffering while pulling through a rotating pace line, chances are you've made a close bond with everyone that suffered with you. That's the social network of cycling, you create bonds and make connections with people from all walks of life. One common passion, uniting everyone, which is pretty amazing.  
I remember joining my first group ride when I was in high school, looking to ride with other local riders.  The local club I was introduced to was The Vineland Velocity, out of Vineland, NJ.  I was mountain biking at the time, and couldn't wait to take a road trip somewhere where I had never ridden before. Even though a majority of the members were older than I was, and had been riding longer than I had, they welcomed me into their club.  A lot of great memories came from those group rides, and I got to experience some pretty cool places along the way.  
From there, I began to make connections with different people through the sport of cycling, eventually bringing me to where I am today at The Caffeinated Cyclist.  You'd be surprised who you'll meet riding with a group. They could be your local electrician, teacher, or city council member, and you connected with them while riding a bike.  It's a way to network without even realizing it, isn't that awesome?

You're probably thinking, "what group ride should I join"?  This is a great question, since there are several different levels of group rides ranging from advanced to intermediate.  Beginner or intermediate rides are the most social, and focus more on the casual aspects of cycling like cruising around, and taking in the scenery.  More advanced rides are focused mainly on speed and performance.  Typically those rides are generally ridden for intensity, not leisure, so they would be the least social, that is until the end of the ride where everyone talks about how they almost threw up in their mouths. Now that's a good time!  
It's important to ask a club team or local bike shop about the details of their rides, that way you can choose the one that best fits your riding style.  At the Caffeinated Cyclist, we offer at least three intermediate rides, two moderate rides, and one advanced ride. Both road and mountain bike rides are available to choose from, so there's sure to be a ride for you!
As for me, I'll be looking forward to a weekly ride schedule, putting in extra miles during the week as I gear up for the road race season ahead.  This weekend I'll be riding my first century of the year, which will be the longest distance I've done in awhile.  Most of the group rides I've done haven't been longer than forty or fifty miles, so I can't wait to see how my legs hold up.  Check back for a full report on that in the coming week, it should be grueling.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Getting Your Groad On!

Getting Your Groad On!


Lately, the sport of road cycling has fallen into a slump. A few things have attributed to this, such as American hero Lance Armstrong, and his rise and fallout with fans since he admitted taking performance enhancing drugs (EPO) throughout his professional career that included seven Tour de France titles; the lack of appeal to riding on asphalt roads at high speeds, while wearing basically paper thin spandex; and the increase in traffic, as well as distracted driving.  On the upside, mountain biking and cyclocross have become more popular, bringing people together on the trail, instead of the parking lot.  Riding on the road can still be enjoyable though, you just have to mix it up a little.  Welcome to "New Road" which is basically gravel road riding, or groading.  Gravel roads offer a new way to ride and explore, and give a little added thrill to your road ride, so I like to ride them whenever possible.

Though it's not a new style of riding, most roadies cringe at the site of taking their expensive road bikes off the road and onto the beaten path.  But what do you think Jacques Anquetil, Gino Bartali, or Fausto Coppi rode on in their hay day? Do you think the roads to Paris in the Tour were all paved with fresh asphalt? No.  They had to drag their bodies over the mountain passes on dirt roads.  Modern road bikes are pretty well engineered, and most accept a fairly wide tire to accommodate rough terrain, but several bike companies have also introduced "gravel ready" bikes like the GT Grade, Cannondale Slate, and the Focus Paralane, to name a few. 

Most recently, I rode a dirt section of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail, off of Hesstown road in Dorothy on my Cannondale CAAD12.  It was a four mile dirt road, with hiking trails along the route to view wetlands and wildlife.  I couldn't contain my excitement as I began riding on the dirt, checking out the scenery and dodging imperfections in the road. My Continental Gatorskin tires never slipped, as I railed though the turns in what seemed liked endless dirt road bliss. 

Once I finally reached the end of the dirt, and got back on the asphalt, I had a huge smile on my face as I pedaled along thinking maybe going back and riding it again.  I've ridden plenty of dirt roads in my time as a cyclist, and even raced on a few.  Last years Hell of Hunterdon was the last challenging dirt road ride I've done since the The Tour of the Battenkill a few years ago, so I'm hoping to continue the streak with The Monkey Knife Fight this April.  It has about a thousand feet more climbing than Hunterdon , so it should be a challenge for sure, especially since I'm not a climber!  In the meantime, I'll casually hop on and off some of the local dirt roads, looking out for a little adventure along the way.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Flatter Than Usual: Getting Pumped Up When Changing a Flat Tire

Flatter Than Usual: Getting Pumped Up When Changing a Flat Tire

If you're an avid cyclist, you've probably experienced the one thing that can really ruin a good ride, a flat tire.  Many new bike owners often skip the most important accessory with their new bike, the flat tire repair kit.  At The Caffeinated Cyclist, we often ask new bike customers if they are familiar with changing a flat and if they would like to know what what tools they need in order to change it.  The response is usually "I'll just call so and so to come pick me up" followed by a chuckle, or two.  But what happens when "so and so" doesn't pick up the phone and you're out in the middle of nowhere, what then? Being self sufficient is part of being a cyclist, I mean you wouldn't leave home without your water bottle's right? What would you do if you got thirsty?

I remember a road ride this past summer, I was on my lunch hour, and disaster struck twice.  My first flat left me on the corner of Breakneck road near Mantua TWP.  While I was changing my tube, I had plenty of drivers slow down to ask if I was OK, and needed any help. I told them I was fine and they moved along, not knowing what a tube changing ninja I was.  Before I put a fresh tube in, I checked my tire first to make sure whatever sharp object caused my flat wasn't still in there.  To my disappointment, I found a small cut in the tire.  At the moment, all I was thinking about was my hour of ride time slipping away and how this flat tire was to blame.  Luckily I keep a few glue less patches with me, and pressed one in the inside of the tire.  It looked like I would be well on my way as put the new tube in, closed up the tire, and slipped the wheel back into my trusty Cannondale.  I was back on the road again, and got a little sun tan in the process.

As I continued my shortened ride, I began to head back to work, and made sure I took some challenging hills along the way. Riding back into the town of Pitman, I headed up Cedar Ave and I felt the rim against the pavement.  It was the rear wheel again, so I knew it had to do with the hole I just patched on Breakneck.  I opened my saddle bag and pulled out my second tube, to fix my second flat. Since I used my only CO2 on the last flat, I had to break out the mini pump. But it was enough to get me cruising back to the store in one piece.  I couldn't recall the last time I had two flats in one ride, which was a good thing I guess. Nothing has come close to the 5 flats I had in one week, which included a tubular tire.  But since I was prepared with the proper flat tire kit, I wasn't left on the side of the road, on my phone, calling for help. 

If you're new to changing flat tires on your own, you can see an instructional video here staring yours truly. Remember, all it takes is a little confidence and some elbow grease to get back on the road again.  For updates on up coming flat tire seminars, stay tuned to our Facebook page for details.

Happy Riding!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Time To Ride: A Guide For New Parents

Time To Ride: A Guide For New Parents

I recently became a new Dad, and our new addition to the family has been a joy and a blessing.  The job of being a parent is a demanding one, so as a cyclist, finding time to ride was going to be a challenge.  I read an article in Bicycling Magazine about a new parent who was getting up in the middle of the night for diaper changes and bottle feedings, and couldn't fall back to sleep. He decided to use that time to go ride his bike instead of laying in bed, staring at the ceiling. He named the ride, "The Vampire" ride, because it was so early no one other than Nosferatu would be out on the streets.   As I read the article, I applauded his motivation, but realized that wasn't going to work for me.  Though "awake" at 3am, I wouldn't consider myself awake, more like a zombie and in no condition to pedal a bicycle. Stumbling in the dark to get to the nursery was enough of a workout for me, so I came up with a few solutions for myself to get some miles during the weekday.

 - Optimize Your Time:  Everyone's schedule is different, but there's always a free window in a busy schedule. Got a lunch? Don't sit at a break room stuffing your face with Cheetos thinking about a bike ride, go out and actually ride!  And make it count.  If you're a competitive bike racer, an hour is enough time to do interval training and still have time to cool down before heading back to work.  Non racers can benefit from the cardio, even a few short miles a day can add up by the end of the week. Just be sure to freshen up when you're done, no one likes a smelly co-worker.

-Planning Ahead:  Finding the right balance between work, family, and sport can be tough but all it takes is a little motivation and planning. I found that alternating weekends for group rides has been a success for me.  Talking to your spouse and working with a schedule makes it easier for you to ride. Don't be selfish, try to split the time with your riding buddies and the family as much as possible.

-Trainer Workouts: I have two options at home, a Cyclops Fluid 2 trainer and a set of rollers to choose from for riding inside.  I like to avoid riding indoors as much as possible, but since time is limited, they've been a lifesaver.  Since early mornings don't work well for me, evenings have been prime time to ride.   You don't need to spin for hours on the trainer, just do your workout, maybe an hour at the most and get off the bike.  It's also a good idea to give yourself time relax and unwind afterwards, or you'll never fall asleep.  

-Don't Stress: With all that it takes to care for a child, you can run yourself into the ground pretty easily.  Late nights, early mornings as well as all the other headaches during the day can stress your body out quickly.  My advice is to ride when can, and don't stress! If you have a consistent riding schedule during the week, you may have to alter it if things aren't going your way at home. Remember, riding a bike should always be an enjoyable experience!

-Get The Right Gear: Whether you're riding at night, or early in the morning, chances are you need appropriate gear to keep you safe and visible.  Making the investment in lights was a smart choice for me, since I wasn't riding with them before.  Cateye makes some of the best lights in the business, as well as NiteRider , Cygolite, Lupine and Light & Motion.  Did I mention you can find these systems at The Caffeinated Cyclist? Besides a good light system, the right clothing goes a long way.  There are plenty of brands to chose from, so if you're not sure, your local bike shop will gladly help you find what you need.

Now get out there and ride!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Beginning The Mountain Bike Ride

Last year we kicked off our beginner mountain bike ride to get new riders out together, learn some basic skills, but more importantly, to have fun.  It's easy to forget as an experienced rider how daunting navigating a log over can be without knowing how to approach it.  Often, new riders get discouraged when they ride with others who have more experience.  Usually because they work so hard to maintain the speed and agility that they never get to enjoy themselves. That's why we decided to offer a beginner ride for those looking for tips on how to ride the trails, and also meet new riders with the same ability.

Fall is the perfect time to mountain bike, in my opinion, mainly because I ride and race on the road the rest of the year and need a change of scenery.  The foliage is changing, the air is cool and crisp, and there's no wind to worry about.  It's a peaceful escape from the intense pace on the road, as well as all the crazy drivers we have in the area(thanks New Jersey).  In the winter months it can still be enjoyable and, personally, getting on the indoor trainer and staying inside the entire winter isn't that much fun. If you can get outside, do it!

Our Saturday morning routine brought a big crowd New Years Eve weekend.  Dressed in my Castelli and Pearl Izumi gear, I headed out to the ride on my Cannondale mountain bike. We had more than fifteen riders, all at the beginner level looking to have a great time.  There was even a husband and wife with a friend that were unfamiliar with the trails, and joined us so they could learn some skills and the trail system. We did a quick check list with the new riders, making sure their brakes worked perfectly and their tire pressure was set, and off we went! We rode our Cannondale bikes through the trails and along the way we practiced some log overs, cornering, and I answered any questions they had. There were some spills, some thrills, but in the end everyone was having fun. And that's really where great experiences begin.