Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Ten Ways to Make Cycling More Comfortable: Wisdom I’ve learned in becoming a Roadie

Nota Bene: These rules specifically apply to your humble narrator, a male road cyclist in the pacific northwest. Your geographic region, gender, species, or favorite type of cookie may have other requirements.

  • Chill Out. You’re riding your bike, and that’s awesome. There’s a lot of people out there that aren’t, or can’t, and your life is much better than theirs. So, relax, and be thankful.
  • Wear an Undershirt. It doesn’t matter if it’s really hot or really cold out, you need moisture transmission. Imagine being out in the desert, where it’s 105 degrees out. Hot, eh? But you’ve got enough water, and some shade. Not that bad. But crank the humidity up to 100%. Feel the muggy stickiness on your skin. Yuck. Now, toss yourself up on the mountain in winter, but give yourself a nice ski jacket. You’re doing fine, until I have you open up the jacket, toss a pitcher of cold water inside, and zip you back up. You’ll have hypothermia in no time. I favor Underarmor “heat gear” short-sleeved and sleeveless tops, but Craft and many other brands work fine. And how Assos can get away with charging a hundred bucks for a “powerstatic base layer,” I have no idea. Undershirts pull moisture away from your skin, and they are the biggest temperature-regulation aid I’ve found. Wear one.
  • Bend your elbows – whether you’re on the hoods or the tops, you need to bend your elbows. Far too many beginners and recreational cyclists straight-arm it, which sends all the road vibrations up into your neck, tenses your shoulders, and abuses your elbows. They should pretty much always be bent at a sixty to ninety degree angle. Just focus on pointing your elbows towards your chest by rotating your arms down and in. It’s more aerodynamic this way, too. You may need to raise your stem to make this work properly.
  • Get Clothes That Fit. Most beginners have a tendency to size their cycling close based on their street clothes, and this invariably leads to cycling clothes that are too baggy. This is only a little annoying in jerseys, where it means that with loaded pockets they have a tendency to shift about, but a really bad idea for shorts. Cycling clothes ought to fit like a second skin. They tend to have a lot of stretchiness to them, and you need to size them so that they’re required to stretch, just a bit, to put them on. Chafing is caused by friction, and friction is caused by fabric sliding against skin, but not sliding very well. If your shorts are too loose, they will slide, and this will lead to very, very bad things in your, ahem, “saddle area.”
  • Downshift. Spinning sucks less than mashing. It doesn’t hurt your knees, disperses lactic acid better, and trains your cardiovascular system more than mashing. Your cadence shouldn't be much below 85 for most of your ride.
  • Get Good Shoes. You’re going to be pressing down on the pedals something like 25,000 times in a long ride. Your shoes need to be seriously comfortable, whatever it takes. For you, this may mean a simple $100 pair of road shoes, or it may mean going to left-and-right-foot differential, custom-footbed $600 Rocket 7’s, but you’ve got to do it.
  • Ride in the Rain. Wait a moment. This doesn’t sound comfortable at all. Why are you telling me to do this? Because people are very good at comparing. You know that the weather on this ride sucks more than the last one, and so you’re cursing it the whole time and you bring it in early. This winter, I got caught in sustained, sub-40 degree downpours a couple of times, and after one famous, epic 8-mile descent on gravel covered in snow and slush on a road bike, 50 degrees and scattered showers seems like the warmth of summer. You don’t have to ride in the snow, but don’t restrict yourself to only riding on the nicest, sunniest days. Then, when it is a nice, sunny day, you’ll appreciate it.
  • Arm Warmers Good, Jackets Bad. An insulated jacket can be a great thing if you’re riding in sub-freezing weather, but I’m guessing that if you’re like most sane people, you’re probably not. If that’s so, you probably don’t want a jacket; they are too bulky, stuffy, and inflexible. Unless you’re riding in 90-degree weather, you do want to bring along arm warmers. Have both thin lycra and thicker, fleece-lined arm-warmers in your wardrobe, along with a thin wind vest and a thicker insulating vest. You’ll be able to pack the right one of each for any riding condition you come upon. When you’re descending, the wind hits your chest and arms, so covering them up helps a lot for temperature regulation, even if it’s just a thin layer – it’s keeping the wind from directly blowing across your skin. Likewise, you’ll warm up and slow down a ton when climbing, and the bare surfaces of your arms make great radiators. As for the vest, when your “core temperature” is right, the circulation will be better in your extremities. You’ll be impressed how much your fingers and toes stay warm when you’ve got something over your chest, but such a thick layer over your whole torso would be far too stuffy.
  • Fuel. About the most uncomfortable thing short of crashing is bonking. We all know the feeling. Bring, and eat, enough food not to do it this time. I know it seems obvious, but you’ve got to fuel. 300 kcal / hour is a good standard.
  • Don’t Crash. Hitting the pavement just plain sucks. See previous post.

That’s it.


  • At 11:30 AM , Blogger ryan said...

    It sounds so simple!

    By the way, was "Your geographic region, gender, species, or favorite type of cookie may have other requirements" a Gasser reference?


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