Biking On The road

As I mentioned earlier, I love riding outdoors, safety risks notwithstanding. There are a few additional things to keep in mind when riding on the road.

I live in a relatively populated area, so I like to throw my bike into the back of my car and drive several miles out into the country to ride on rural roads with less traffic. If you don’t have a truck and your bike will not fit inside your car, there are several different types of bike racks which you can affix to your car; these generally cost $50-$100. If you do put your bike into your car, please learn from one of my more aggravating experiences. Every summer the Charlotte Motorspeedway hosts a series of bike races held on the 1.5 mile NASCAR racetrack, and one day I decided to drive the three hours each way to Charlotte to take place in their 10-mile time trial. My goal speed was 24 mph or so, and I was frustrated and perplexed when I only managed a relatively meager 21 mph. During my dejected drive home, I had a light bulb moment and pulled my car over on the side of the I-85 to yank my bike out of the trunk. When lifted my bike off the ground and spun the rear wheel, it made a half revolution before grinding to a halt against the brake pad, which had been pushed to the side while laying in my car on the way up. I tried the front wheel, with the same result. I had essentially driven six hours and paid the race registration fee in order to ride a 10-mile time trial with my brakes on. A costly lesson was learned. Since that day, whenever I retrieve my bike from my car I always check my brakes to make sure they are properly aligned and not rubbing against the wheel rim.

If you live in a crowded area and want to drive out to a less-populated area to ride during the week, churches make a great place to park. I almost always park at local churches because they have spacious, well-lit parking lots which are deserted during the week. If you’re riding on the weekend, summers, or evenings, a local high school is a good option as well. Riding groups will often meet at a school because they are familiar landmarks to most local riders.

Outdoor riding will give you a chance to practice pacing, as well as dealing with eventualities that you may encounter during a race such as intersections, hills, and wind. Pacing can be tricky while cycling because you may have to vary your effort at times, as opposed to a run where you will generally strive to maintain a constant effort. Any bicycle race is a continuous conflict between speed and conservation of energy. As with swimming in the water, the wind resistance you face on the bike is a function of your speed squared, so energy conservation is much more important at high speeds than at low ones. This effect peaks when coasting down a steep hill; once you reach a certain speed, no amount of pedaling will make you go any faster, and your main goal should be to streamline your body and take advantage of every bit of aerodynamic positioning you can get. At low speeds, such as starting out after a complete stop or going up a slow hill, you should focus more on getting up to cruising speed. One of the mistakes I made when I first started riding was to go up steep hills in my lowest gear, spinning my wheels away at a high RPM but only creeping up the hill at 6 or 8 miles per hour. If you find yourself in this scenario, it’s better to go ahead and upshift to a higher gear and get some momentum going. It will be tougher pedaling to get your speed up at first but will end up not being substantially harder than spinning away in a lower gear, and you will reach the top of the hill much faster. It’s better to spend 20 seconds at 95% effort getting up a hill than to spend a 60 seconds on it at 80% effort.

Close your eyes, and imagine you are teleported into Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. You are stuck in McDowell’s Cave with Tom with just a book of matches for lighting your way. Would you spend your matches on the easy sections where daylight trickles through the rocks and you can dimly see the path ahead of you? No! You would spend it on the toughest sections, when you are in the pitch-black darkness and don’t know which direction to take the next step. Similarly, in every bike race, you are given a metaphorical book of matches, which represent the energy you have available for the ride. Spend them on the tough hilly sections, and recover on the flats and downslopes. Importantly, you must always know how many matches you have left in your matchbook, because once they’re gone, they do not come back easily. Don’t spend them frivolously. This takes practice and experience. And if you know your race will be hilly, you must absolutely train on hills.

Outdoor riding is also a chance to practice eating and drinking while on the bike, motions that can be surprisingly difficult at first. If you have two water bottles on the tubes between your legs, practice until you can grab either water bottle with either hand without looking down, take a sip, and put it back into the cage without looking. The best time to grab your water bottle is on a slight downslope where you can coast without pedaling. Extend the leg on the side of the hand you are going to use to clear space around the bottle. Eating can be tricky as well, especially if you are trying to unwrap a plastic wrapper on a busy highway with sweaty hands. You will get better with practice, but if you get into a really sticky situation, pull over. There’s no shame in taking a two minute break to eat, and it’s far better than wrecking your bike because you are distracted.

Dogs. Man’s best friend can be cyclist’s worst. Some riders carry rocks or mace, but the sad fact is that there is no magic remedy to avoiding colliding with a dog, and the best strategy is to learn trouble areas and avoid them entirely. While some dogs simply want to run along down the shoulder of the road beside you, be assured that if they cross into the road itself, they are attempting to run you down. At this point, if you believe you can outrun them, you can start sprinting and hope you can drop them. In the worst case scenario you may have to dismount your bike and hold your bike in between you and the dog until they calm down or lose interest.

Next: Running