Sunday, June 29, 2014

Riding Faster

A friend recently told me he wanted to ride faster, and I started to write an email about the things I've found that work.  After I got started, I figured it might be worth adding another post to this blog since I haven't written one for quite a while.  People have written about this topic extensively and I am by no means an expert.  I have ridden a few miles and think I have a small clue.

The most immediate ways to increase your speed on a bike are not training exercises that improve your fitness.  They are skills.

Don't use your brakes

Seriously, they only slow you down!
OK, that one is mostly a joke; but it is also true.  The more you can avoid using them, the faster you will be going given the same amount of effort.

Ride in a Paceline

By riding in someone else's slipstream, you can really decrease the amount of energy you expend.  It really is amazing.  I've heard people say you save 20 or even 30% of the energy by drafting.  I haven't seen any mathematical proof of those numbers, but they seem pretty reasonable to me.  The first 3 minutes of this video explains how to do it safely.

And here is a helmet-cam video of cyclists doing a double paceline.

Ride Over Hills rather than To the Top

A lot of riders focus on getting to the top of a hill, and recover before accelerating.  If you accelerate when you get to the top of the hill, you can recover while going at your target pace, rather than recovering at a slow pace.

Aerodynamic Tuck

Get aerodynamic as often as you can.  It might look silly; but it works. 

Stop Pedaling Downhill

I find that I often I can go faster downhill if I tuck and don't pedal.  It also saves energy.

Stay in the Saddle and Spin

Stomping on the pedals is an extremely inefficient way of moving a bike.  Instead of climbing out of the saddle, go at whatever pace you can without going anaerobic.  Remain seated and spin.

Use it at the End

You've done a lot of things to conserve energy through your ride.  If you want a fast pace, at some point the value of staying aerobic is gone.  Use every last bit of energy and really push to the end.

Staying Safe

I love recording a personal best pace; but I also ride on the roads.  It doesn't make good sense to shave time by doing stupid things like crossing intersections dangerously.  Stay safe.

Monday, October 29, 2012

An Energetics Lesson for AP Biology

It has been a year since my last post here, and I thought I'd post an update on how I've been using the data from my trip in classes.  We recently started a unit on energetics in AP Biology, and I used my trip as the hook to get students interested.  I used Prezi to introduce the unit, and then had students add content on the different metabolic pathways.  Click here to see the collaborative presentation using Prezi..

The topics for students to work on were:
1. Glycolysis and Fermentation
2. Pyruvate oxidation and the citric acid cycle
3. Mitochondrial electronic transport and chemiosmotic phosphorylation
4. Fat metabolism
5. Light, the antenna complex, and oxygen production in the chloroplast
6. Photosynthetic electron transport and chemiosmotic phosphorylation
7. Carbon fixation and the Calvin cycle
8. Photorespiration, C4 and CAM

Each small group learned the material and put together their part of the shared presentation.  Because I have 2 sections of AP Bio., topics 1-4 were assigned to the first class, and 5-8 to the second.  Over the next week, each group will present to their own class.  Then they will be required to teach a group of students from the other class who will be responsible for presenting that material to their class.  This way each student presents on two of the topics, and is forced to learn those in depth.

I also wrote a set of questions that each student is expected to use as a study guide for metabolism.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Before and After Body Analysis

How did I do with with respect to weight loss?  Let's look at pictures.  This first one was taken on day 3 of the trip, just outside of Twisp, WA.  The one below that was taken on day 26, just outside of Somerset, PA.  As you can clearly see, I have become so thin that I no longer show up in digital photos.

Below are some actual before and after pictures taken on the first day of the trip (left) and the last day of the trip (right). 

Anacortes, WA

Sandy Hook, NJ

Back in May, I wrote a post about Body Mass Index and % Fat (BMI vs. % Fat).  I concluded that BMI was a bad measure of health and that % body fat should be used instead. 

So what does the math say?

Table 1.
Weight 238 224
BMI 39.8 37.4
Fat % 23 18.6
Fat Free Mass 184 183
Min. Wt. at 7% BF 197 196.81

I lost 14 pounds in 30 days.  I decreased my BMI by 2.6 points.  I used to be classified as "obese" by this method.  Am I still?

Table 2

Yep.  In order to move out of the "obese" category, I need to weigh less than 180 lbs.  If you look at table 1, my fat free body mass is 184 lbs.  At that weight, I will have zero fat.  Clearly the term obese is a mis-label for anyone with zero body fat.  It makes me angry that my physicians have been using this completely misleading index to determine a healthy weight for me.  The fact that life insurance companies also use this index is also maddening. 

Let's see how I did on a % body fat basis.  I went from 23 to 18.6%.  On Table 3, below, that is from the high end of average to the low end of average.  Clearly, I could still stand to lose some weight, but how much?  I think my minimum should be 197 lbs (7% body fat).  To be in the athletic range, I want to be no more than 13% fat which translates to about 208 lbs.  Assuming I don't lose any muscle mass, that means I should lose about 16 lbs. 
Table 3
If you're a real data junkie, you will have noticed that my fat free body mass went down by a pound (184 to 183).  I suppose it is possible that I lost muscle mass.  With the amount of exercise I was doing, I would have thought I would have been adding muscle.  I did constantly crave protein (give me meat).  Perhaps my body scavenged from unused muscles.   I didn't cut any limbs off and my hair has negligible weight (as well as neglibible volume and incidence).  My best guess is that this is random error, but I welcome any ideas about this.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

To the Atlantic

From Chambersburg to Phoenixville, PA we went through a fair amount of rolling farmland.  It's very scenic with a high concentration of solid biofuel waste (horse manure).  We saw many Amish folks dressed in their best clothes on their way somewhere (it was a Wednesday).  One buggy was really moving.  I suspect that they were late.  I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures of these deeply religious people--plus I was afraid that Harrison Ford might punch me.

Copied from

If you want pictures of Amish, just do a google image search (Amish pictures).  
For a deep understanding of the Amish, this educational video might be helpful:

Click here to see movie

The Amish grow a fair number of crops, among these are corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, and tobacco.  I was surprised at just how much tobacco they grew.

Tobacco field in Lancaster, County, PA
They also grow about every kind of vegetable, cane fruit, tree fruit and flower that will grow in the climate.  The desire to provide order to nature seems apparent in much of what they do.
The amish know how to use nature to beautify their homes.

We stayed with Doug & Lisa Jenkins in Phoenixville, PA.  The food was amazing.  Thanks for your hospitality.  Doug was a 1992 graduate of Juniata College (my class) and Lisa was two or three years ahead of us (although she looks exactly the same as she did).  Doug and I also went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison for graduate school.

The Jenkins home is on the top of an insanely steep hill.  It had to top a 14% gradient.
Doug sharing his homebrew

Lisa and Shiloh (a rescued grayhound)

From Poenixville, we Rode to the Schuylkill river trail - a nice, wooded rail-trail.

Schuylkill River Trail
Schuylkill River Trail

Another highlight was the Henry Hudson trail which goes all the way out to Sandy Hook, NJ
Henry Hudson Trail

The bay through the trees on the Henry Hudson Trail

The Atlantic Ocean at Sandy Hook, NJ.
The Atlantic Ocean


Coming soon:  physiological data and analysis.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tunneling Through Western PA -- A good idea.

Western PA features repeated steep climbs.  This one measured in at a 14% gradient.  I managed to stay on the bike, but there simply is no gear low enough to make this climb comfortable.  

 The views are worth the climbs though.

My mother's side of the family (Livengood) is from Somerset County, PA.  I'm sure that when Peter Livengood came to the area from Switzerland, the terrain seemed tame by comparison.  Family history says that he was the first person to cross the Allegheny Mountains in a Conestoga wagon.

 Rather than climb these hills, the PA Department of Transportation (PENNDOT) preferred to dig through them.  As a result, the PA Turnpike was referred to as the Tunnel Highway.  Two of these tunnels east of Breezewood were abandoned in 1968 when a bypass was completed (abandoned PA Turnpike).  If you are in the area, this ride is definitely worth doing.  Bring a strong headlight for the tunnels.

Myna entering the first tunnel

Me entering the second tunnel

Flat road, no traffic, a few potholes.

The view from inside the tunnel--the squiggly white line is the distant light at the end of the tunnel and the sway of my hands.

The abandoned turnpike ride goes from just east of Breezewood to just west of Hustontown.  Much of our ride across PA followed Bike Route S (PA Bike Routes).  The climb up to Cowan's Gap is a nice gentle rise.

The beach at Cowan's Gap State Park
We stayed with my father-in-law Don in Chambersburg, PA and had dinner with my parents in Waynesboro, PA.

Note:  I am currently at home in NJ--life here is busy, but I still have material to share with you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Climbing to Somerset, PA

Today, we set out from Murrysville, PA through Latrobe (site of the old Rolling Rock Brewery) and then south to pick up route 31.  Route 31 climbs Laurel Hill before descending into Somerset PA.  Western Pennsylvania has absolutely no sections that are flat.  As soon as you are down one hill, you begin climbing another.  I saw slopes as steep as 15% today.  Fun going down, but my heart rate was regularly up into the 160's.

Laurel hill is appropriately named because there is lots of mountain laurel there, which was in full bloom.  I was too busy focusing on the climb to take any pictures.  Laurel hill is inappropriately named because it is no mere hill.  As I was climbing, I heard a truck honking, smelled burning rubber and saw smoke.  The truck passed another, narrowly missing an oncoming car.  I had never seen a real runaway truck, but I suppose that's what the runaway truck roads are there for.  The mountains in the west may be taller, but the roads in the east are steeper.

My bike couldn't figure out how to take a photo.
 I was born and raised in Pennsylvania and I love the state; but it has always neglected the roads.  I hit a monster pothole today, got a flat and threw my wheel out of true.  Even though it was after hours when I found a bike shop, Kevin and Eric opened up to help me out (  Many thanks to them for getting me back on the road.

Kevin and Eric get my vote for employee of the year.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Made it to Pittsburgh, PA - Rest Day at Andrew's

I took a rest day to spend time with the family on Lake Michigan
Katie filling the castle moat.

Libby and Krista

John and Myna road while I played with the kids.  I rode the following day.

Lilly Pads as far as the eye could see.

Black-eyed Susans

We stayed at AP Reader Susan Zuber's in Auburn Indiana.  She and her friend Ken rode with us the following day.

Bike-related mailbox in western Ohio.

Western Ohio is pretty flat.

We stayed at Clinton Lake Campground near Republic, OH

Everyone at the campground had a golf cart.  Some of them were very fancy.
No till farming, where soybeans were planted before the wheat was harvested.

We stayed with Lisa and Doug Herr in Medina, OH.  They took us to a graduation party for one of their friend's daughters.  Thanks to them for letting us crash the party.  

My Nephew Aengus at his Father's Brewpub (Rivertowne Pour House) in Monroeville, PA
My sister-in-law Melissa, and neice Finlay at the pub.

We're spending our last rest day at my brother Andrew's house in Murrysville, PA.