Archive for the ‘Biking’ Category

Project Status (new road bike)

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Road bike trainer for stationary cyclingAs long as I’m not riding in the real world, I feel pretty comfortable on my road bike! I don’t even think about wearing elbow pads. BikeTrainer

A week ago I borrowed a trainer on which I can mount the rear wheel of my bicycle to get a workout in my garage. I don’t need the exercise so much as I need the muscle memory of bicycling basics. The way I see it, I am getting my body used to the bike fit and posture and I can practice moving my hands without fear of losing control of the steering. Some day I’ll have to pull out my water bottle for a drink or signal a turn. I also get to practice looking over my shoulder in preparation for turning when I’m near traffic.

Very importantly, the trainer is helping me learn how to instinctively shift the gears. Sometimes I get it wrong and start to panic. I have ten options for my right hand and two for my left. Riding on my straight, flat rail trail, I’m getting used to simple shifting up and down where the only variables are wind and stop signs at the intersections (and a major dip by the golf course!).

On the trainer I pedal away at a medium resistance, imagining myself biking in my local real world. As I gaze out the window at the peak of Mt. Diablo, I dream of the day I will be able to confidently circle the block in our own neighborhood. Just out my front door is a pretty steep one-block climb followed by a right turn down a gentle slope. Then I must make two right turns to return home. As I turn right again onto my own street and begin to repeat the steep climb, I need to shift correctly or I’ll stall out and have to get a foot out of the pedal clips to prevent a fall.

While practicing shifting on the trainer, I settled on special names for the left-hand gear shifters to use as memory aids. The little lever that makes pedaling easier on the steeps is now named “Wembly” after the steep street I live on. “Westridge” is the name of the gently descending street after I turn right at the top of the hill — and the larger gear I have to push to avoid scaryslipperyspeedy RPMs. Tomorrow I’ll find out if this works better than the many adjectives I’ve tried using to reflect either my shifting incentives or outcomes.

Stay tuned. I’m still evolving!

Biker with Inline Skating Beginner Empathy

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

There are slopes I’d feel safer descending on my inline skates than on my fancy new road bike. My fears of falling are greater when biking than skating!

That’s why, every week I am devising new ways to live up to my expectations to become competent enough to get over my beginner fears and enjoy myself. The learning process is constantly reminding me of my own advice to beginning inline skaters: in the past 20 years we identified and drilled away dozens of issues related to posture and fear.

So far, many biking situations put me into a panic and make me want to brake and bail, a state I call “terminal velocity.” I know from experience that I can raise the bar on when this feeling kicks in through hours of focused practice. So that’s my plan, even though it’s been bitterly cold these first few weeks of winter.

This morning I re-read my story “Fear: a Blessing and a Curse.” I can definitely apply anxiety-reducing tips I wrote there to my weekly practice sessions.

  • Limit the variables in the chosen learning environment (parking lot)
  • Practice and repetition builds confidence and maintains the learning momentum (weekly biking sessions when possible, and riding stationary on a trainer so can build muscle memory for future activities on the road, like grabbing my water bottle, looking over my shoulder and doing a turn signal)
  • Observe how the bike responds to my movements, how others move on and handle their bikes, how left turns are different than right turns
  • Play around, don’t always drill: get quality rolling time under my belt
  • Accept that fear is healthy and part of who I am (but don’t let it get irrational)

After my half-hour rail-trail ride last Friday, I practiced large figure 8 turns around the tree planters separating the lobes of parking spaces. This Friday, I am going to try guiding the bike between ever-narrowing chalk lines and then pairs of cones to build steering skills and tolerance for tight squeezes.

During spin class these days, I am trying to focus on strengthening my core, spinning with my legs, keeping the weight off my hands and building applicable muscle memory, such as looking behind me over my shoulder.

Now I’m reading a 2001 book by Greg LeMonde (having lost Lance as my hero). Competent cyclists likely don’t remember going through all of this to get as relaxed as they are today. Those who learned young enough and never quit never had to think twice.

But this is the Liz that is.

Rough Day for a Beginner Road Biker

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

When I first started inline skating, I was uncoordinated and erratic on those eight little wheels for a long time. But I was motivated enough to be patient. I remember it took about 20 hours of skating 2-3 times a week before I felt like I didn’t look like a geek, but only as long as I was just moving forward and making wide turns. Learning to stop? That was another 9 months later.

So this bike thing? I’m a lot like a novice inline skater who decided to start out on speed skates instead of entry-level recreational skates.

No hybrid starter bike for me!

Now that I’ve got my new high-end road bike (at my request, mind you), I am hoping 20 hours will be enough! I definitely lack coordination and confidence. It doesn’t help that I’m using clipless bindings, which actually means I am attached to the pedals. That’s not easy to get used to, especially when you forget you’re locked on when rolling up to a stop sign. At least the nice bike shop man put them on the easiest release setting for me.



On Sunday I was practicing riding around my neighborhood. I felt pretty good when I survived my stop sign pedal mishap unscathed, though I had to drop the bike and leap away.

We have a nice loop featuring a short steep hill, four corners and a long, gradual descent. It’s a piece of cake on my inline skates in either direction. What got me in trouble was when I left the loop and thought I was ready to stick out my arm to make a turn signal. Wham, bam!! My crash involved many body parts! Now I need a new helmet — but I think my hip and limbs will heal just fine.

Screen capture of facebook comments

My Facebook friends are so helpful! Andrea and Michael are talking about rollerblading, by the way.

My Facebook pals gave me some pretty funny feedback when I posted the above photo. Meanwhile, I’m a third of the way  through Every Woman’s Guide to Cycling.

Of course reading is not going to give me the skills and confidence I’ll get from 20 hours of riding.

No more turn signals for the near future though!

My New Racing Bike

Friday, December 28th, 2012

The gift I received on my 61st Christmas was no surprise.

Trek Domane 4.5W bike

Trek Domane 4.5 (ladies) under my Christmas tree

Indeed, I’d agonized over the decision to add road biking to my already long list of recreational interests. But after weeks of weighing the pros and cons, I decided that once I get used to biking in the real world (as opposed to in Spin classes), the fitness animal Liz will obliterate the timid analytical Liz.

However, I am humoring the analytical Liz. Along with the bike, I also requested books geared toward beginning road cyclists. My brother Don came through with two gems and a clunker whose book title is pretty darned close to my own book about skating: “A Beginner’s Guide to Biking.”  Thanks to holiday vacation time to read about and obsess over my new sport, I can strongly recommend both of these:

Since I’m already physically in shape thanks to Spinning, my initial goals are to learn the bike parts names and get used to speed, fast cornering and instinctively getting my foot out of the clipless bindings when stopping.

Knowing me, there will be endorphin-triggered revelations I’ll want to share in this blog. Building skills one step at a time helped me learn to ski the black diamond runs. Articulating what I learned when I took up inline skating resulted in a book. I’m pretty sure my perspectives on becoming a road biker will not be book-worthy, but they might be entertaining, so stay tuned!

And by the way, I am still a skater, though not rolling as frequently as I once was. I am passionate about promoting safer braking technologies and I continue to sell Get Rolling the Beginner’s Guide to Inline Skating all over the world.


Why Thai Chi

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

The martial art of Tai Chi offers many well-documented benefits. Now that I’ve been practicing the Guang P’ing form for a year, I can point out those I find specific to inline skaters:

  • Balance – slow and constant motion, many one-foot stances
  • Coordination – complex transitions involving every body part
  • Strength – the knees are always bent, loading leg muscles
  • Flexibility – everything from wide lunges to high kicks
  • Mind-body – moving meditation, mindful breathing
Group Tai Chi lesson

Master David Bernhardt is at far right

What attracted me to Tai Chi? Mostly the last bullet above, along with the coincidence that just as I’d begun to recognize Tai Chi would be a timely addition to my active lifestyle, I met Sifu David at my day job.

I reached a milestone age last December. While I am (probably overly) proud of my fitness level, I will admit to some creaky body parts that demand extra TLC.  As for brain fitness, those closest to me suggest my enthusiasm borders on the obsessive. While the ability to get things done can be great (and lucrative), those spinning wheels in my head become habit-forming and make it hard to relax and just be.

Poetry in Motion

With Tai Chi, I find that spending the necessary time to add each new move of the 64 that make up the Guang Ping form of Tai Chi is fun and relaxing, even though I am in constant (slow) motion.

But Master David has taught me that memorizing the choreographed sequence is just the beginning. Opportunities abound to achieve the precise kinetic, timing, and directional requirements of Tai Chi. Someday I hope to attend the Guang Ping Yang Conference and see what it’s like to join a large group of fellow practitioners.

For now, though, I am grateful to be learning each move at my own speed through private lessons and by watching David’s DVD — over and over!  I love that the names of some moves are quite poetic. For example, here are the ones I have been working on in the past month:

  • Golden Cock Stands on One Leg
  • Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain
  • Part Wild Horse’s Mane
  • Beautiful Maiden Weaves with Shuttle

Health and Longevity

Learning Tai Chi is not a short-term thing, nor is it like other fitness activities where you leave it behind after a session. My goals go beyond the skating and physical benefits: I am in it for the long haul, knowing its value to my ongoing process of aging gracefully.

Regular tai chi practice enhances health by activating the mind, by calming the nervous system, and by keeping the joints flexible, the muscles toned and the internal organs invigorated.”

— Excerpted from Chi and Tea, David Bernhardt’s web site

From Spin to REAL Biking

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

For the past 30 years, I can count the times I have ridden a bicycle out in the world on one hand. That’s one reason I got so deeply into inline skating. Dan would bike and I would go for a skate.

Within a few weeks of meeting Prince Charming Dan, I mounted my own bike on a stationary stand and never looked back. I knew I’d always be a sissy on the downhills. Dan and I already had a physically competitive relationship, and I could see he was a serious biker. I could not compete in this area and did not want to be an annoying lagger.

But now that Spin classes have built up my tolerance for sitting on a bike and rotating the pedals, I felt safe in saying yes to exploring the area in and around the beautiful Canadian city of Victoria, BC, a 2-hour ferry ride north of Seattle, WA. It would be fun to try out my new-found biking fitness on a moving bike. Further ahead, there will be at least one biking day on our multisport wine Tour in Chile and Argentina later this year and I wanted to get comfortable with shifting and any other issues.

What a scaredy cat I turned out to be!

There were more challenges in bustling Victoria than just learning how to shift the gears. First off, the rental place is smack dab in the middle of the city, with double-lane traffic, no bike lanes, and clueless motorists opening doors or pulling to the curb right in front of us. Trying to follow Dan and Clark as they casually maneuvered through all this was not my idea of a fun first mile on a bike!

And when did they stop making girly bikes? I had trouble getting the pedals rotating while throwing my leg over the saddle, with the bike quite often in the wrong gear for starting out. None of this stuff was second nature to me. Every bit of it was a distraction to be dealt with along with everything else. Oh, how I sympathized with my inline skating students as I felt the urge to call out “Watch out, I can’t stop!” to pedestrians or other cyclists on the street or bike path whose actions forced me to react in some way.

And the hills. Going up was OK, especially after I got good enough to shift to lower gears without dislodging the chain (I finally gave up on the gear combo of  1/1). Going down, though,  I kept a death grip on both brakes. I squeezed at the first hint of a downhill. This is what I do on skates too: I start dragging my heel brake just to reassure myself I am ready to apply full braking force the moment I feel the need.

We did some street biking on Friday and I felt proud and relieved at having survived about 20 miles of very scenic touring around the shoreline of the island, on city streets, down a couple of miles of gravel trail, and finally on a dedicated bike path. I was slow on the downhills but pedaled madly to catch up with my boys on the uphills. Legs and lungs felt good, and no butt or back pain!

On Saturday we biked another 20 miles, this time on a portion of a gorgeous trail I would recommend to my skating friends in an instant. The only glitch I had that day was the thunk, thunk, thunk that made me think I had a flat tire. It turned out I’d forgotten to pull up the kickstand.

On Sunday morning I woke up with a pretty bad backache that plagued me as I lugged my rolling bag with the disintegrating wheels back to the ferry, the light rail and finally the airport check-in. I learned several days later that I was in the throes of a systemic infection at that point, so I do not know if there was any muscle soreness from biking or if it was all kidney pain.

Now that I am feeling wonderful again, I can look back at my weekend of bike touring in Victoria BC with pleasure, and look forward to future bike adventures with less trepidation.

Teacher, Mind Your Attitude!

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Heads up fellow inline skating instructors. Whether intended or subconscious, the attitude you display toward your students has a big impact on how much they learn and how much fun the activity is—for you and them. Here’s a personal experience from the receiving end that drove this home for me.

By the time our  one-hour Thursday Spin class had ended, I’d decided there was no need to follow the substitute teacher’s directives because, really, that class was all about her, not us. Within half an hour, I felt disengaged from her and the group experience, and decided I’d have to get the best workout I could on my own.

For starters, we were ten minutes into the session before Debbie began her agenda. Maybe it’s because she got annoyed by satisfying our morning group’s preference for the overhead fans: back row on, front row off. People choose where to set up their bike according to this non-verbal standard. “Are you happy now?” she asked. “As long as you’re happy!” she repeated at least twice, only slightly sarcastically.

Then she turned on her iPod, climbed astride her bike (in the non-fan row) and started a standing sprint that lasted five minutes with no acknowledgement or instructions to us. That particular sprint is not a beginner skill: it takes coordination, core strength and lightening-fast leg speed. So basically it looked a lot like she was showing off as she watched herself in the mirror for five minutes. Or maybe it was her heavy-handed way to demonstrate her credentials (read: superiority over us mere mortals).

As her iPod music selections played in sequence from start to end (easy for the instructor, tedious for the participants), Debbie announced what to do at the beginning of each 3-4 minute piece and then left us to our own devices. No cheerleading, no encouragement, no “Only 30 more seconds to go, you can do it!” Her teaching style was to direct rather than guide us through the intervals, sprints and “hills,” and to berate us for being stuck in a rut (“You’ve got to learn something new every once in awhile!),” as though our regular instructor has been neglecting us.

During one moderate-paced song, our 15-year veteran (“I learned Spinning from the inventor!”) decided to improve our technique. First she pointed out that there was too much bobbing up and down in the ranks. Then she”congratulated” one  lady who had smoothed it out, pointing her out to all as the main culprit, although 2/3 of the room bobs.

Debbie got off her bike a couple times with no comment and for no apparant reason. Was she taking a break? (She never gave us one!) Finally, with several more minutes remaining, she started moving the unused cycles to the back of the room, apparantly to save herself some time so she could leave the gym sooner.

All of these  behaviors add up to what looks like nothing so much as an instructor with a chip on her shoulder, which translated to me as dislike or disrespect for her students. I was so shocked she felt free to express this attitude that I immediately scribbled out how it felt to be on the receiving end on a paper towel.

Note to self:  Give up teaching inline skating altogether if I can’t always be enthusiastic about my students and what I am about to offer them.

PS: If you are curious to read my Beginner Spinner series of Fitness blogs from start to finish, here is the first post, right after I started in November 2010, My Head is Spinning!

Beginner Spinner No More

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Now that my leg fitness is catching up to my heart and lung fitness, I am faring better as Erin drives my heart rate well above my anaerobic threshold several times during Spinning class.

I guess it’s the techie in me but unlike my fellow spinners, I keep my training zones chart in view next to the heart rate monitor that I strap onto the handlebars. I like to make sure my heart is slowing back down to 70% of max or less before our next push to 85% or higher. My tools tell me if I need to linger a few extra seconds at the recovery rate before charging up the next “hill” at the moment Erin kicks in with the pace music.

During the first half of class, I enjoy looking at fellow spinners who cycle to the beat of the music as I religiously do. Two women spinning side by side recently looked so beautiful in their unison it reminded me of an MTV video. I sneak peeks at my own form in a mirror to the side to make sure I am not moving up and down or side-to-side too much. I like what I see.

At about the third hill, Erin is working us hard. Whether I’m standing on the pedals or trying to keep up my RPMs while seated, my mind wanders to some of the most difficult physical efforts in my life. If I am beginning to gasp for air, I seek motivation by thinking, “Heather’s cuffs, Heather’s cuffs…” It was Heather who hiked ahead of me on the hardest part of the midnight climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro last winter. Our ultimate success was due in no small part to the trance-like state brought on in those dark hours by rhythmic movement and breathing.

The cardiovascular benefits of spinning class are paying off on the ski slopes. I love testing my ability to keep on going as my body is challenged by skiing lumpy Sierra Cement or high-speed top-to-bottom cruisers hour after hour.

No wonder so many people see themselves as athletes once they get past the trauma and drama of being a beginner spinner!