Archive for the ‘Biking’ Category

Win Some Lose Some

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

Dan and Liz at the top of Mt. Diablo — PHEW!

Soon after the New York terrorist mowed down and killed several people on a bike path, a CNN story, Why we’ll never stop biking, caught my eye. As I read it, I found a resonating quote:

“A bicycle is a human-powered machine weighing next to nothing that can travel easily at 10-15 mph, needs only a surface on which to move, is not limited to transit schedules or beholden to fuel prices, does not pollute the environment or require large parking spaces, has demonstrable benefits to the health of individuals and the strength of economies, is easily repaired, costs nothing to operate, and is, above all, really, really fun to use.”

In mid-October, sombody stole both our bicycles from our garage — on a cul-de-sac at the end of a dead-end street. The theft was more than a material loss, it is depriving Dan and me of an important aspect of our outdoorsy lifestyle. We continue to “play outdoors” in other ways, but road biking was an activity we are enjoyed sharing for hours at a time. And at this age, it is less traumatic to the joints than our replacement choices: running, hiking, biking and inline skating.

We are already discovering the silver lining behind this cloud:

  • Soon we will have better home security systems, including cameras and a self-closing garage door
  • The latest models of Trek bikes have some very cool features we are eager to experience
  • We lost our bikes at the end of biking season; and ski season is just around the corner!

Midwinter Musings

Sunday, February 12th, 2017
Skier Liz

It takes years to become competent but the muscle memory is always there

I am always amazed that on my first day of skiing every year, I’ve remembered how to make those delicious carved turns. One might think that after months of doing other sports, there would be an awkward transition back to skillfully sliding down a snowy slope. But that’s not true. Without fail, the muscle memory kicks in every year, and within the first two or three turns, I am thrilled by the speed and the ready availability of my skiing skills.

During this extra rainy winter of 2016-2017, I’ve ridden a couple hundred miles  on my bicycle  mounted on a trainer in the garage. We rode outside for the first time today, a sunny February weekend when we’d managed to resist the call of the  Lake Tahoe slopes. Setting out, I was confident in my aerobic endurance. But early in the ride, I found myself thinking that a person needs more than muscle memory to get back in the saddle in the Great Outdoors. I was forced to recognize that my drafting and bike handling skills were slightly regressed. On the first two hills of significance, I totally blew my gear shifting. I knew that last year I’d come up with a special hill approach that helped me improve my times, but today I could not remember what that was.

My all-season trusty steed both indoors and outdoors

So I must conclude that unlike my experience with skiing, when I set out for a early-season bike ride, besides recalling the muscle memory of the basic skills, I have to use my brain, too, because riding on streets and with other bikers requires a lot more strategic thinking and mid-ride planning.

Still, what a glorious day, and what a glorious way to get out and play! But you’ll find me on the ski slopes next weekend.

The Five Thousand Mile View

Saturday, April 9th, 2016
5,000 miles and counting. No more white sidewalls and no more white handlebar tape. (It'll look cleaner more of the time!)

5,000 miles and counting. No more white sidewalls and no more white handlebar tape. (It’ll look cleaner more of the time!)

Anybody who read my early biking days posts will understand my delight to have passed the 5,000 mile milestone. As a little reward, I bought new tires and will soon be riding with an upgraded computer.

What have I learned since 2013? A couple things.

Being in great shape is simply is not enough to keep up. I can build strength and endurance with all the leg presses, chin ups and top-to-bottom ski runs I want, but as serious biking season approaches, I know I’m still the most likely rider in my (sneakily) competitive group to bring up the rear on the flats and downhills. My new cycling computer will track my speed, time and  distance as before but will also capture heart rate (one less readout on the handlebars) and revolutions per minute. For RPMs, the guiding rule is that fast spinning combined with proper shifting (every hill is a learning experience) should  keep my legs fresher longer. We’ll see!

Distracted biking, oh no! Where fear once compelled me to stay focused on my surroundings, now I find myself processing work issues, mulling over a foreign language, or imagining some wonderful or difficult future. For me, this is actually a form of blindness.  I am constantly reminded that it’s bad for me because my day-to-day job tasks are all related to safety: I work with a global facility management group’s safety team; write and share corporate communications about health, environment and safety; and provide editorial support for incident investigations to determine the root causes of workforce injuries. Not following procedures and mental slips are the two prevalent human performance issues behind almost every accident.

The stoplight dilemma. More experienced road bikers assess an upcoming street intersection with the expectation that the light will stay green. If it’s not a high-risk gamble to ignore a yellow light or run a red, they’ll do it. Despite the negative of being dropped by whoever I’m riding with, this is one area where I do retain my feeling of vulnerability.  As a distracted rider already, I am much safer with the instant decision-making of having a rule to always follow: red means stop. And for me, yellow from about 3 car lengths back also means stop (easy to anticipate if you scan the cross traffic streets). Riding alone, that’s not a problem. But on group rides or even with one co-rider, if I decide to set aside my safety rules and give away that power, I may end up getting hit by a car.

60 Mile Loop – Am I Ready?

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Tomorrow (9/20/14), Dan and I will ride the medium distance loop of the Veterans Victory Velo (V3) fund raiser. Sixty miles is farther than I have ever ridden on my road bike so far. The hilly 52-mile route I did a month ago didn’t trash me, so I’m not too worried.

2014 has been a great year of advancements for me, especially when I look back at my prior bike-related posts.

My off-bike workouts have evolved

I’ve made some adjustments in the gym based on what I’m reading online and what I’m hearing and seeing when I ride with others. It must be working because on routes with lots of uphill climbing, I manage to keep up with fit-looking guys near the front of the pack who want to know how many gears I have on my bike and how I’m training.

  • Hip flexors: I added incline sit ups performed without curving my spine.
  • Upper glutes: I recently added straight leg dead lifts with a light bar bell because I tend to get a burning tiredness in that area.
  • Low back, side waist and abdomen: I do “torso curls” in every direction. I used to skip these but I’ve found that engaging my core on the bike really gives me a stability and efficiency boost.
  • Quads and hamstrings: I continue to rely on balance lunges (front-to-back without touching down in between.) These are great for preventing soreness and maintaining core, balance and strength year-round.

Less death grip on the handlebars

When I feel comfortable with the traffic and roadway, I am able to grab a drink of water, do turn signals, swipe at my wind-caused tears and scratch my nose! That has taken a long time. But on long, steep downhills, my hands feel so stressed by the weight of my torso and constant braking that I feel off-balance, and then I brake even more.  (Fortunately the V3 route map shows easy hills so I shouldn’t drop too far behind Dan’s pace line pack.)

Managing an erratic heart rate

This has been tricky. During early season rides, I’d check my heart rate monitor after a hard effort and see numbers as high as 225! I did not feel awful or overly breathless, but I was concerned.

Two tricks seem to be keeping my heart beat at more reasonable levels (160-185 max when working hard). I learned if I pull over and take a 2-minute rest by the roadside I can “reboot” it back into normal ranges for the rest of the ride. Which means the pack will indeed leave me behind. The last two rides, I decreased my pre-ride coffee intake to no more than 5-6 ounces and my heart rate behaved very well. I’ve always been overstimulated by caffeine.

Planning for 5-6 hours of fuel and hydration

I’ve never bonked on a long ride (up to 3  hours so far), but that doesn’t mean I am immune. With help from Dan and some biker friends, I’m daring to go off the Zone diet on bike days to avoid that. I have had leg cramps at a stop light, and jumped out of bed with horrendously painful calf cramps two times in the past week.

If I’m really serious about getting enough water tomorrow, I’ll wear my bulky Camelback to make sure I sip water every 15 minutes–saving the bottle mounted to my bike frame for chugging electrolytes at stop lights. I’ll pack spare tablets to add at the rest stop refills. High-carb snacks on the list are Cliff Blocks, Cliff Bars and Beans.

Skills that will come in handy someday if not tomorrow

After swearing I’d NEVER be comfortable drafting in a pace line, I have experienced the benefits a few times this summer. I sometimes dare to get my front wheel close enough to see what gear the person ahead is using, but I can’t sustain it for very long. What an incentive, though! That brief respite from leg effort is a dangling carrot I’m now determined to pursue whenever possible.

I continue to be slow on most down hills, though I’ve upped my maximum historic speed to 32 mph. I brake before almost all corners because I don’t trust centrifugal force enough to relax and tip the bike. I need lots more experience doing the nimble weight transitions that result in fast back-to-back S-curves. I’m not even that good making tight-radius turns on the flats.

V3 here I come. Wish me luck!

Local Rite of Passage and a Biking Milestone

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Every weekend is another opportunity to test my legs and lungs.

Road cyclists who live in the East Bay area of Northern California like to test their fitness and skill  by riding up and down Mount Diablo. It’s 3,848 feet high, and on a clear day, you can see the Sierra Nevada range across the Central Valley from its peak. A year ago, I swore I’d never ride on that curvy road with its long climb up and fast ride down. This is big time biking: it’s part of the Amgen Tour of California every year.

Mt. Diablo

Mt. Diablo

But there I was with Dan and my fellow Team Chevron riders on a foggy morning in July. We headed east and began to climb. I was worried on the ascent because I had no experience with a long climb like that. How much is in the tank? What if I can’t make the pedals go around?

I was relieved to make my objective for this first time, the junction of South Gate with North Gate roads. I was proud and jubilant! After a brief rest, I watched just about every body else head up for the final third of the climb, which culminates in a brutally steep but short strech to the very top. After supporting me as I made my first (partial) ascent up the hill, Dan rode away with them.

Aftermath of success.

Aftermath of success.

On the long descent, I tried not to brake continuously, but my hands did get tired and I stopped to shake out my arms at a pull out. I was alone except for the two or three guys who whizzed past me.

The following weekend, as Dan joined Team Chevron on a 35-mile loop that included Altamont and Patterson Passes, I was eager to check my progress on something I’d ridden after only 4 months on my new bike a year ago, the hills on Calaveras Road.  I rode the full 32-mile route on my own (with lots of company from bikers I didn’t know). In solidarity with Dan’s harder ride, I also biked the steep hill at the end, which I’d skipped last year.

Braking down that hill felt stressful, and I confess I got off and walked down the S-curve.It’s a struggle to get my fingertips out that far to squeeze the brakes, and the weight on my hands and stress on my thumb is considerable. I think I need to add another pair of shims to bring the brake levers closer.

On the ride back, I practiced banked turns on the curves, standing on the pedals to pass people for the few uphills, and getting into the drops.  I felt amazingly good. I rewarded myself with Ooie Gooie chocolate cake as soon as I got home!

Finally Old Enough for the Draft

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

FBPostWith over 1700 miles logged, it’s time to share my latest biking revelations. I didn’t dare hope for this so soon, but my Year of Fear is gradually fading from memory. These days I even dare to brag in Facebook.

My main goal last year was to desensitize myself to the intimidating aspects of riding on streets next to fast-moving cars. I still have plenty of skills to master: hand signals, drinking from my water bottle, and fast cornering. But these weren’t at all approachable with my whole body tightened up with tension. I don’t know how many times I had to remind myself, “Don’t strangle the handlebars!” “Quit hunching!” “Pretend you’re relaxed!” (helpful to my skate students). I know it’s not safe to get too relaxed in the face of these dangers, so lately I’ve had to add “Pay attention, be here now!” when I notice I’m daydreaming.

As 2013 saw the shorter days of fall, I returned to my favorite morning spin class. The noise has always bothered me. I made the mistake of researching the issue of ear damage caused by the high decibels so common in group exercise classes.  When I learned typical music volume matches that of a chainsaw, my attitude began to sour. After two more classes trying out ridiculous-looking ear protection, I finally vowed, “No more indoors spinning for me!”

It’s not so bad riding at near-freezing temps. I learned that layering up in a neck gaitor, extra gloves, and fleece tights and vest works just fine for cold-weather commuting. When the days were at their shortest, I was still able to get just enough daylight before and after work to be safe, attaching a flasher to my handlebars and saddle for extra visibility. Once it became light enough, I found an hour-long morning commute I’m still enjoying this summer. It has a very wide bike path where I can safely practice lifting my hands off the handlebars and drinking from my water bottle. The route also has several long hills, both up and down, where I work on efficient shifting and try hard to resist braking on the fast descents.

Bike2Work2014LiznDanThe best indicator of my 2014 biking progress is that Dan and I are now riding together on the weekends. He’s shown me many of his favorite routes and for the most part, I am able to keep up. In the past few weeks, we have completed two 30+ rides with Team Chevron. (Thus my Facebook brag above.)

Riding behind Dan last weekend, I found myself thinking, “Why isn’t he pedaling harder? I’m gonna have to pass him! Those two guys up ahead are going to leave us in the dust!” And then I realized what was happening: I was drafting! I’ve always sworn I would never feel safe enough to get that close (and I never did on inline skates). But 25-30 miles into a long ride where I’m trying desperately not to be dropped by “the big boys,” my legs don’t care about my fears. I never realized how nice it could be to spend a few moments soft pedaling while the burn in my muscles gets a chance to subside. And actually, our wheels weren’t that close, just close enough.

And that’s where I am now:  just close enough to taste the bright future promised by my sexagenarian fitness program.

My Spin Class Strategies for Road Biking

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Last February, I still had my doubts about being worthy of the expensive racing bike Dan got me for Christmas, especially after The Big Crash. But my bike riding skills and confidence slowly continued to improve as the year and miles (1200+ so far) progressed. In late summer, I finally had to admit that the feeling of terror that dominated most rides had evolved to one of FUN!


Now, holiday commitments, the ski season, loss of daylight and unfriendly weather make time on the bike difficult to fit in, so I’m back to Spin classes. The outdoor riding fantasies that get me through that intense two hours every week often result in drills and experiments to address issues I experience on the road.

Here are my strategies. Feel free to comment!

  • Remember that Spin class is about fitness, not road-cycling.  The instructor’s training plan and hand and body positions will not always apply to riding a road bike in the real world.
  • Be realistic with RPMs. I realize the slow “walking” pace in spin class is geared towards building endurance, but I try to avoid that on the road.  The indoors advantage is that I can get a feel for my real-world RPMs from the Spin computers. Since it’s pointless to shoot for 150+ RPMs during sprints like some competitive folks in class do, I try to see how many watts I can generate by gradually adding resistance.
  • Study avid road cyclists I’ve befriended. Where does Jimmy put his hands when he’s standing? When does the other Jim diverge from the instructor’s recommended tempos?
  • Get a more efficient stroke (because fitness isn’t enough). After being challenged for falling behind, I figured out I only “turn on the after burners” (pull up on the pedals) to catch up or at the beginning of a hill. As with inline skating, biking power and efficiency have to be learned and practiced in order to become habitual. During spin class, I now try to incorporate my pulling muscles both seated and standing.
  • Standing and the female center of gravity. I Spin where I can check the mirror directly to my left. When it comes to pedaling while standing, I still don’t have a groove. When I try to lean forward as suggested, my power to the pedals feels off balance. Then this timely article, Are Women’s Body Proportions Different From Men’s? showed up on I learned my center of gravity is in my thoracic area rather than my low back. Now I think I need to think less and feel more to master this skill. (But I look perfect in the Spin class mirror!)

My enduring enthusiasm and inclination to analyze make it clear that I’m very happy I decided to take up this new sport in my 6th decade of life. I see many more years of riding ahead!


Not Yet One With the Bike

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Capture“You go ahead and start, Liz. I’ll catch up,” Dan said on the Friday morning we did a fitness roll before work. I took off, excited to be worthy of a morning ride with Dan, who has been road biking since well before I met him 30 years ago. Two miles later, I was proud when he came up from behind and exclaimed, “That was harder than I thought it would be!” We proceeded to tackle the steep uphill on the next block together, but he screamed past on the downhill, tilting elegantly into a hard right turn leading to our country road route. Sigh. Maybe someday I’ll look like that…

My recent drilling has been focused on how my body interacts with this high-performance tool. It will be a long while before I feel “at one with the bike,” but it has been a great week of accomplishments. (I realize many cyclists will laugh at me for being such a sissy, but this isn’t for you.)

  • I finally drank from my water bottle while rolling. Afraid to take my eyes off the road, I groped down to find the bottle, yanked it from the fasteners, and tipped and sipped to the side. Then groped again (where’s my knee? It’s lower than that!), found the holder and shoved until it clicked. Phew! Didn’t get much to drink but I did it on the country road! Two days earlier I’d managed drinking on the safety of our neighborhood street.
  • I made slalom turns without steering. As with skating or skiing, going forward on a straight path isn’t so hard. It’s all the other stuff–like short radius or high speed turns–that require skill. One day, I did agility drills in the neighborhood. I learned that poking my chin to the right or left shifts my center of gravity just enough to tip the bike into an arcing turn. Tighter and faster turns are still a work in progress, though.
  • I biked “in the drops” and got sore. Dan confirmed that continued practice builds tolerance in the low back muscle groups. So I need to keep doing that.
  • I am getting better at stand-up pedaling. On my drilling day, I chose a low gear and slight hill to figure out the forward stance and proper amount of pressure. The gear I’m in must have just enough resistance so I don’t push too hard and go “clunk!” on the stroke. Then I must pedal with just enough pressure, not all out. When I get it right, it feels like I’m just jogging along, saving a bunch of shifting effort.
  • I washed my bike for the first time. (Thanks to How to Clean Your Bicycle, an article I found on  All went well, but since I have not yet had any flat tires, removing and remounting the wheels took extra time and, I’ll admit, pondering.

My computer shows a cumulative 698 miles since I got my bike for Christmas. This being August, that averages out to 100 miles a month. Pretty good for a newbie like me, and it is definitely helping me get the saddle time I know I need to someday become one with my bike.

Biking Like the Big Kids

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Much to my amazed relief, I really am becoming a “road biker.”


My early season rides with Team Chevron really helped my cycling, both in skill and confidence. We went from 20-mile to 40-mile rides before they cranked it up to serious training on much more demanding terrain. Maybe next year!

Thanks to those group rides, though, I was gently introduced to several popular local routes I now feel comfortable tackling solo: San Ramon Valley Boulevard to Niles, Niles via Calaveras Road (almost) to Ed Levin County Park, SRVB to Cull Canyon (a 40-mile round trip) and bi-weekly SRVB to Walnut Creek Saturday commutes to meet my Tai Chi instructor. According to my bike computer, my average mph and — more important — my max (downhill) speed are creeping up.

I’m almost feeling like one of the big kids! But I still have my amateur moments. I actually got a braking-related blister on my right hand on the downhill return trip on Calaveras, and am still pretty hesitant about banked turns. Today I toppled to the ground at a busy intersection because I was off balance to the left and still clipped in on that side when the light turned green. So embarrassing.

As with the long process of becoming an expert skier and inline skater, I get the occasional “revelation” on my bike. The Liz brain is always churning to keep me learning the way to better biking:

  • Cliff Blocks are a quick re-builder at the regroup/turnaround points.
  • A double-dose of sugar-free electrolyte drinks helps keep leg and foot cramps down afterward. (Drinking while in motion is still beyond me.)
  • On a long descent, squeezing the top bar with my knees made me feel a bit more stable and less prone to braking.
  • I get a big confidence boost passing others on uphills because using clips (finally mastered those!) and not carrying a lot of body weight are assets.
  • This week I realized that by focusing on my contact points with the bike rather than the hand I want to stick out, I can make a turn signal! (But I still need lots more practice.)
  • Today I discovered a Canadian website,, and signed up for their newsletter and Twitter feed. That should help!

To get in a little cross-training I skated to work last week. Here are my thoughts about biking compared to skating

  • Skates: “So much friction!” Bike: “Wow, it’s just so easy to propel this thing forward.”
  • Pavement quality is an issue for both. Faster rolling makes wheels ride smoother across the rough stuff.
  • Stance is important to both for good control where wheels meet the pavement.
  • “Pretend you’re relaxed” is good advice for both. When muscles are bunched up, we are less flexible, less bio-mechanically positioned and have less control over the bike and skates.

I didn’t get sore after my skating commute, and I am not getting sore from biking. (I am getting sore from Tai Chi practice!)

Leg fatigue has been an issue, though. I always use the stairs at work and I don’t think my legs should feel that burned out all the time. So I’m backing off the heavy leg weight lifting two days a week because I think biking, Spin class and Tai Chi have got my legs covered.

Le Tour De FranceWe’re watching the Tour de France as best we can with the time difference. Are you?

Free and Easy High, Get Yours Today

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Me: “You know how I react under the influence of endorphins, right?”

Him: “Yeah, phew, every morning after your workout!”

Me: “Yesterday I had another shower epiphany after spin class. I was like ‘Wow, I love how I feel so self righteous! I’m such a wonderful person! I’m all set for a great day! Exercise is so great for a person’s self esteem.”

Him: “Mmm hmm.”

Me: “And then I was sharing this thought with another lady in the locker room (poor thing), saying, ‘Man, if only I could bottle this stuff! It would be so great if I could share my overabundance of feeling good with somebody else who really needs it!'”

Me continuing: “I mean, it would be so great if I could give you a shot of it! I know you’ve always said that to you ‘Exercise is a 4-letter word.’ But maybe you should start taking a daily walk around the block and get some of your own?”

Him: “Hah! Endorphins are just another drug!”

Me: “Yes, you’re right, but it’s a great one!”

But I should have also said to him: “And it’s free and so easy to get!”