Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter Training

Having been mostly home-bound the past couple months, I did not have the chance to go on long cycling adventures like I did earlier in the year. Having worked so hard at improving my fitness level, I thought I should find an alternate way to stay in shape. It would be a shame to lose all my gains.

It looks like I have found the solution — a bicycle trainer. This is a device that I attach to my bicycle that converts it to a stationary bike. It is basically a simple stand that holds the bicycle upright by the rear axle, and provides resistance to the rear wheel.

All the time I have attempted in years past to ride an actual stationary bicycle resulted in my becoming bored to the point of mental pain. My hope was that since I am using one of my actual bicycles, I would have some familiarity and comfort, leading to a better experience.

Although skeptical, I decided to give it a try. The fact that I did not have to buy a new trainer (my friend Rom lent me his since he was not currently using it) made it easier to start the experiment.

Click on either picture to see the full-size image.
Here you can see my bicycle set up on one side of the garage. I have placed the front wheel on some wooden planks to keep the bicycle level. In the second picture, you can see a close-up of the bicycle attachment to the trainer. It is being held by both sides of the rear axle, and a resistance cylinder is pressed to the tire.

It was probably good that I was expecting the experience to be boring, because I was able to put up with it and get a good workout the first time I tried it. I found that I could pass the time by listening to my MP3 player while riding. (I will do a future report on what exactly I listen to when I ride.) The trainer itself has 5 resistance settings, plus I can further adjust resistance by shifting gears on my bicycle.

I eventually found a routine to get a good workout in a one hour session. I start with 5 minutes of low intensity (medium gearing, medium cadence), then follow with 10 minutes of medium intensity (high gearing, medium cadence), and then 5 minutes of high intensity (high gearing, high cadence). I then twice repeat the sequence of medium/high intensity. Then I finish with 5 minutes medium intensity followed by 5 minutes low intensity.

I set up the bicycle in the garage instead of in the house for one big reason — sweat. My workout requires enough effort that I am dripping with perspiration for the last half hour. I did not want the bother of keeping it from getting on the carpet indoors. Plus the garage is much colder than the inside of the house, so I don't start sweating until later into the workout. It is a good indication that I am getting a good workout that I am sweating profusely even in a 50°F garage.

But the real indicator of the value of the workout would be by whether I am keeping my level of conditioning. I found that the few times that I have been able to get out for short rides, my legs were stronger than they would have been had I not been using the trainer. My hill-climbing strength seemed to have remained at the level it was when I was riding regularly. However, my flat ground strength seemed to have increased. But maybe this was just in my head, since this type of riding is what the trainer simulates the closest.

Last weekend, I had the chance to measure my fitness somewhat objectively. I did a longer ride from home, and the route included Old La Honda Road. As I have mentioned before, this is the benchmark climb for most Bay Area cycling enthusiasts. My time of 26 minutes 20 seconds up the hill matched my personal best. This time pegs me as an "intermediate" level rider. A cyclist fit enough to race competitively would do it in under 20 minutes. Beginner-level riders would probably take 35 minutes or more. Anyone not in shape probably could not make it up the hill at all.

So I am declaring my bicycle trainer experiment a success thus far. I have maintained my fitness level despite not having the time to bicycle outside as much as I used to. I have been able to adjust my schedule so that I am able to ride the trainer for one hour before work 3 days a week. (I am finding that I need to have a couple rest days in my schedule to allow my leg muscles to recover.)

The next season of centuries and double centuries will start in another month or so. Time-wise, I am not yet in a position to plan to do any of them. It's good to know that fitness-wise, I am keeping the same level. So I do not need to plan this far in advance which organized rides I want to do — I can make a last-minute decision, thanks to my trainer.

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