Anniversary

I feel a bit guilty, as this post has been sitting in my queue for awhile now, but I got distracted by podcasting (cycling AND movies!). Now that those have been established, I can get back to writing.

As this post was languishing in drafts, an important anniversary came and went- namely the anniversary of my bike marriage. It was a year ago February that I finally took the plunge and asked a bike to go home with me. Luckily she said yes and we’ve been life partners since. Like any relationship, there have been ups and downs. There are the awesome highs of finishing an amazing ride, of feeling deliciously drained after a hard ride, of finding yourself up to a challenge. Then there are the horrible lows of riding a saddle made of nails, of lady bits screaming in pain, of having legs that feel like wood, of changing endless flat tires, of the never ending pain of climbing. In fact, the lows got so bad during RAGBRAI, and our relationship deteriorated so badly, that there was a period of separation after it ended. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy being with her again. But after a week of a self imposed bike fast, getting back on the bike felt right. It constantly amazes me how even when I’m dying on the bike and am totally miserable, I keep going and I’ve yet to find anything that can keep me off my bike permanently.

I remember the first time I rode my bike home. It was probably only a half mile, but I could barely climb the stairs to the house when I got home, my legs were so shaky. Even the little hills of my neighborhood were daunting. My first rides were just half hour rides around the neighborhood. Once I discovered the trails near my house, I rode on those. They were easier, because they weren’t as hilly as the streets and I felt safer without the traffic. I started riding for an hour after work. Once, I went on a ride with Shannon around Greenbelt part which was quite hilly and I felt like death. After that ride, I realized it was time to start riding hills. So I mapped out a route in my neighborhood that took me up every large hill. It sucked, but definitely helped improve my fitness and I was able to ride hills without standing the whole time.

When I look back on my first year with my bike, the two things that strike me the most are how much my fitness has improved and how climbing doesn’t seem so scary anymore. My fitness certainly has room for improvement and I’m not looking to train like a pro, but when I think back on those first few rides, it’s crazy how far I’ve come. And I LOVE it! I still get frustrated when I can’t keep up with others, mainly because it’s a dispiriting reminder that I have a long way to go. Learning to not dread hills is also a huge hurdle I’ve gotten over. I can’t say I like hills, but I don’t despair quite as much when I see them as I used to. I’m pretty sure I have RAGBRAI to think- the rollers of the Midwest will do that to you.

So, what lies ahead for me and my bike? More riding, of course! I want to do more organized rides and more group rides. No RAGBRAI for me this year, unfortunately. I’m not able to get a ride back to Iowa and the thought of arranging and paying to get me and my bike home is more than I can handle. But I’d like to find another long ride to do- multi day or not. Maybe a century. Fitness-wise, I’d love to get better on the hills. I can usually hold my own on the flats, but the minute the road turns up, I’m out the back. Not dying on the hills would be nice.

In an advocacy vein, I want do more to help women get on bikes and feel comfortable. Recently, I helped put on a buying a bike workshop with one an LBS downtown. I’m part of an all female Meetup cycling group and I’m going to plan beginner rides to introduce women to group riding, trail riding, street riding. I really just want to be able to share my experiences getting back on the bike with other women to help make them feel more comfortable.

Off the bike, I’m going to go to more bike races! I’ve already bought tickets to go out to California for Sea Otter. I’m going to go to the Philly International Cycling Championship in June and I’m gonna try my hardest to work around my brother’s HS graduation so I can go the US Championships in Greenville this year as well! I want to go to more racing around the DC area and support the local racing scene.

But, mostly, I just want to continue to ride my bike.

Podcast: All Hail the Classics

Excited by the Classics, we couldn’t help but record a podcast.

Races:

  • Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, of course. Won with style by Sep VanMarcke, despite all the hard work of Tom Boonen.
    • But we must know- why all the hatin’ on Thor??
  • Andalucia: won by Dan’s boy, Valverde!
  • Tour of Langkawi: Zabriski killed the TT and is still in the leader’s jersey after the 2nd stage.

News:

Download here!

Subscribe via iTunes here.

Anna and Dan Have Pelotonitis

Another successful podcast in the can! Thank you, thank you for all the nice things you said

I got a new microphone, so hopefully the sound quality is better on my end. We still have some issues with extraneous noise, but are working on that!

Things discussed:

  • We reveal our new name (thanks, @jaowen!)
  • Pozzato’s return to racing 9 days after breaking his collarbone (article)- hardman or foolish man?
  • Charging spectators to watch racing (article)
  • Dan gets his ranty pants on to talk about the UCI not following the rules while expecting everyone else to follow those same rules (article)
  • The Tour of Oman and how much we love Sagan and, of course, Nibbles
  • The race-name-we-don’t-know-how-to-pronounce-so-it-is-awkward, Volta Ao Agarve
  • riders who had shitty seasons last year but are already starting their year off right

Listen directly here: (The closing got cut off for some reason, but the rest is there and I don’t want to upload another copy)

Download here.

I’m working to get the cast up on iTunes, and will let you know when that happens.

Follow me @bloomingcyclist and Dan @DanKalbacher on Twitter and feel free to offer advice and suggestions.

Podcast Liftoff

I love podcasts and have been playing with the idea of creating my own podcast for awhile. I also love cycling podcasts, but have yet to find a cycling podcast I love that publishes consistently. I really liked Flammecast, but that imploded and the revamped VeloCast is not really to my liking, as it too much music and not enough cycling talk (although, now that I go back and listen to the recent episodes, it seems they’ve gone away from the music bit. So it looks like I’ll be listening again!). I also listened to Velo Club Don Logan, but I lost interest as they talk a lot about the local scene in Scotland and many things that I consider peripheral. I LOVE Real Peloton, as they are funny, knowledgeable and have a great rapport, but they publish so infrequently it’s hard to stay excited about them. The Spokesmen Cycling Roundtable podcast has good content, but the format makes it hard to listen to- there are too many people trying to get a their opinion in and that results in a lot of overtalking. In addition, there are quite a few podcasts out there that have a pro and local focus as well as ones that are skills focused.

Now, all of those podcasts are great and maybe they suit your taste. But I wanted a podcast that was exclusively about pro cycling and which paid special attention to American riders and teams. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and create my own. Plus, I love the sound of my own voice. I found a casting partner, Dan Kalbacher (@DanKalbacher), and after extensive research (podcasting is a lot harder than it looks. So hat to those who make it look easy), was able to put voice to the ether.

This is our first attempt. I know the audio quality is not great, but the content is awesome! (if I’m allowed to have an opinion) We also do not have a name yet. Coming up with clever names is hard. If you have suggestions, drop them in the comments. I’m working on making it RSS readable, so if you use an RSS reader to read the blog, you might have to click through to get to the actual file. You can subscribe to the blog in a reader! And eventually I’ll be putting it up on iTunes. When I can figure out how to do that.

Enjoy!

The Cast

In this first episode we talk about the dropping of the Armstrong case by federal investigators (Dan’s article here), how much I love Tom Boonen and how he might be bike doping, the Tour of Oman, and the effects of the breakup of HTC.

Listen directly here:

Download here! (to save to your computer so you can transfer it to an mp3 player, right lick and choose Save Target As… or Save Link As… you Mac users are on your own.)

Let me know if you have any problems or comments/suggestions, either here or on Twitter. I’m @bloomingcyclist and Dan is @DanKalbacher

Because People Always Want to Know

Because People Always Want to Know

Marijn de Vries explains (and illustrates!) peeing techniques for women out on a ride.

Happy Results, Unhappy Process

To be honest, the Contador verdict today given by CAS was the best case scenario that I thought would never play out. From my perspective, it couldn’t have been a better outcome. CAS upheld the rules created by WADA, and Contador’s 2 year ban is retroactively applied so he gets to start racing again in August (right in time for the Vuelta even though he has to miss the Tour and the Olympics). But there is so much that doesn’t sit right with me.

First, CAS was the only one to do anything right, in my opinion. To start, the UCI waited ages to release the positive and apparently only did so when German media threatened to out them. And they apparently told Contador to keep quiet about the positive when they told him about it. The Spanish federation sanctioned him, then backtracked, said “just kidding!” and reversed the sanction. The UCI did appeal the Spanish federation’s no-sanction decision to CAS, but they waited until the very last minute to do it! I know it is not up to the UCI to decide how a rider is sanctioned, but you would think that they would do everything in their power to make sure the rules were upheld. Even though the CAS took its sweet time releasing a decision, its decision was in line with the WADA no-threshold drug rules, concluding that Contador’s contaminated beef defense wasn’t strong enough to prove that the ingested Clenbuteral came from outside sources.

Second, Bert only has 6 months left on his 2 year ban to serve! This is not CAS’ fault. It’s the fault of the UCI/WADA for not moving quickly enough to appeal the Spanish federation’s decision not to sanction Bert and the two sides playing cat and mouse for a year, drawing the trial out. Now, I don’t want Bert to have a 2 year ban from today, but to count all that time he was racing in 2011 as time served on his ban is bull doody. I’m not sure who to blame for that- the UCI, the rules themselves, everyone who farted around and delayed the trial, who knows. But in the end, he will have to spend 11 months not racing out of a two year ban. That’s a lot of race results to strip.

Lastly, and most grievously, is the apparent lack of consistency in treated failed drug tests. Now, I haven’t been around cycling long enough to have sat through any other positive results trials. But the example that sticks out to me the most is the Landis positive. From what I understand about that, they practically yanked him off the podium to serve him his positive. There was no hiding it. There was no delaying. The UCI basically called him guilty from day one, who cares what anyone says. That’s a marked difference from the UCI doing what it can to cover up and delay Contador’s positive and only pressing the case to the CAS after it was clear the Spanish federation wasn’t going to do anything- I believe the UCI hoped Spain would do the actual dirty work of sanctioning Bert so they wouldn’t have to. And I think if the public and WADA would’ve let them get away with not appealing the Spanish federation’s decision, they would’ve just let it ride. And we haven’t even talked about the Spanish federation’s handling of the whole situation! Not only did they do everything in their power to make sure Bert wasn’t sanctioned, the way they handled the positive of Bert’s countryman, Ezequiel Mosquera, was remarkably different.  In my mind, it doesn’t matter that Mosquera’s positive was a more “traditional” positive- a positive is a positive and Bert should’ve been sanctioned just like Mosquera, especially with the rules as they are. On all levels there seems to be favoritism and inconsistencies in enforcing rules which, in my mind, is cycling’s biggest problem. The only way cycling can truly be clean is if the rules are clear, the process simple, and the punishments consistently applied.

I’m relatively happy with how it all turned out, but the whole ordeal makes me realize that cycling can only be as clean and efficient as its processes.

Sources:

Confession

I have a confession to make: I want Alberto cleared of doping charges. He won me over so thoroughly during last year’s Giro and seems so dedicated to cycling, that the thought of not seeing him in the peloton makes me sad. Moreover, I’ve come to like him and want him to be innocent. I don’t want his past podium wins to be nullified. I don’t want him shamed. I don’t want him pulled from the peloton. But this side of me that has come to love Bert wars with the side of me that says justice must be done- for no matter how that clenbuteral got in his system, it was there. And according to the rules (no matter how right or wrong they might be), if the drug is there, a ban must be served. The eternal optimist and Bertie lover in me wants to believe he is not a doper. And maybe it’s naive of me, but I do think he’s clean. But the fact of the matter is that clen was found in his system and unless he can prove how it got there, he should serve a punishment. But. That doesn’t stop me from wanting him to be cleared.

Buried In Choices: Bikes

Flickr user DaveZahrobsky

This is another entry in my series to help get more women on bikes. I previously talked about intimidation!

Once you’ve worked up the nerve to walk into a bike shop, you face your next challenge- actually making a decision. Some decisions are small- bike lights, saddle bags, gloves. Others are big- bikes, bike shorts, pedals, shoes. If you’re starting out from scratch, then you’re faced with the biggest decision of all- which bike to buy! First, it is important to understand that you can’t buy a bike online. I mean, you can, but I would imagine that only the most experienced cyclists can order a bike online and  get exactly what they want. If you’re just starting out, you need to touch, feel, ride the bike. In my opinion, there’s not really even a reason to research bike brands online, because you don’t know what your bike shop is going to have. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do research on different bike brands, but it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the choices and varieties- and if you’re like me, all those choices will make you want to give up. Most bike shops only carry certain brands anyway, but if you know what brands your store carries, you can do some  research on those. However, I suggest just going into the store and seeing what they have. Bike stores don’t carry bad bike brands. Any bike shop worth it’s salt is only going to have bikes it’s proud to sell, which means no matter what you buy, you’re getting a good bike. Hopefully the shop will have a few choices in your size for you to ride, because I do think you should ride more than one bike before you decide.

Before you go into the store, though, you do need to decide why you want a bike, so you can get the right style.

There are quite a few sub categories of bikes, but I think most of them can be put into 4 categories: road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, and cruiser.

Road Bikes

Best for: going fast, racing, paved roads, charity rides, fitness riding

If you want to go fast or race, if you plan on doing most of your riding on paved roads, if you want to do longer charity or century rides, if you’re riding for fitness, then a road bike is a good choice. It will go fast on smooth road, but it’s thin frame and thin tires aren’t ideal for anything less than a smooth road or path. They’re usually very light, which means faster riding and climbing, but that means they can’t really take a beating. A road bike can be too much bike for many people and the bent over, forward position can be uncomfortable and intimidating at first. These feelings quickly fad, however, and even road bikes come in simple designs and it’s easy to find one that is just enough bike for you. And, in my opinion, they look sexy as hell. One thing to keep in mind- there is very little reason for you to buy an all carbon bike unless you plan to race or if money is no object. An all carbon frame can offer more comfort on really long rides, as it absorbs road noise better than other materials, and it’s lighter weight might help you go a bit faster, but generally it is not worth the extra money for casual cyclists.

A subset of road bikes that is also very popular are touring bikes. They look very similar to a road bike, but usually have a less extreme position, wheels that are a bit wider and places to attach bags to the bike. They are designed to carry heavy loads, over long distances, with a slow and steady pace. They’re great if you want to do long, multi-day rides, and rides where you carry everything you need with you on your bike or for commuting.

Mountain bikes

Best for: off road riding, rugged terrain, really crappy street riding

Mountain bikes are pretty self explanatory. They have big, fat tires, so they’re awesome at helping you avoid flats and giving a cushier ride on rough terrain. But those fat tires really slow you down on smooth roads. In my opinion, unless you plan on doing some serious off roading, a mountain bike isn’t very practical for everyday life.

Hybrids

Best for: commuting, casual city riding, running errands, those who prefer a more upright riding position, light off roading

Hybrids offer a bit of both worlds- with fatter tires than road bikes, they’re better able handle unpaved trails and with skinner tires than mountain bikes, they allow for more speed on the roads. The fatter tires are better at avoiding flats than a road bike. They also have the more upright position of the mountain bike. A hybrid is another commuting alternative for those who prefer a more upright position to the touring/road bike forward position. However, because it’s a bit of both worlds, it’s not great at either. But it’s great for running errands, moderate trail riding, and commuting. If you plan to do long rides, train intensively, or get really serious about cycling, then a hybrid is probably not the best choice.

Cruisers

Best for: beach rides, flat trails, basic errands, cruisin’

With it’s oversized tires, totally upright position and single gear, a cruiser is perfect for those who just want to ride short distances in comfort. Because cruisers usually only have one gear, they’re best on flat, smooth roads (paved trails). They’re heavy bikes, but that means they’re durable and can handle a beating. Don’t expect to go fast or far on these bikes, but they make riding on the beach very fashionable.

So, that’s a very basic overview of the types of bikes out there. Once you can narrow down what type of riding you want to do, then you can narrow down what type of bike you’re looking for. If you just want a bike to run to the grocery store or take weekend picnics on the trails, a cruiser or a hybrid is probably the right choice. If you want to commute, a hybrid, touring or road bike is best. It’s important to think about the future as well. If you imagine yourself doing century rides, a road or touring bike is best, even if the drop handle bars and more forward position scare you. If you seriously want to loose weight, a road bike is also a better beat than a cruiser or hybrid. But if you don’t imagine yourself doing anything more strenuous that getting groceries or riding to work, a hybrid or mountain bike will work for you! Even though I was a beginner cyclist, I decided I wanted a road bike because I planned to do RAGBRAI and I was going to ride for fitness and fun. And I liked how road bikes looked ;)

Now you gotta get into that shop, talk to the sales person about what you want, ride a bunch of bikes and see what works for you. If you’re just getting back into cycling after an absence, don’t let the drop bars and more aggressive position of the road bikes scare you off- you quickly get over that and learn to love it.

Follow me on Twitter for other spectacular insights to cycling: @bloomingcyclist

The Intimidation Factor

Intimidating? Yes! Photo: Flickr user Becky E

This is the first part of a three part series where I share what my experiences and observations have been in the bike world.

Bike shops are intimidating. They seem more exclusive than regular stores, where you are only welcome with open arms if you speak the secret bike language. Someone less prone to intimidation than me would have no problem walking into a bike shop cold turkey and walk out with what they needed. Not me. I really have to work up courage to walk into a shop! It can only take one rude or condescending sales person to make the trip miserable. In addition, the people who work at bike shops are often very passionate about what they do (because with they kind of money they (don’t) make, they’re the only one’s who will work there). And sometimes that zeal can be seen as condescension, or it can make it hard to relate to a person who is not an expert like them. In general, I think those in bike shops are awesome people, but it doesn’t always seem that way at first glance.

So the key is to find a shop that you can be comfortable in. And that can be difficult. If you’re lucky, the local bike shop (LBS) near you will be able to offer that comfort. I can’t tell you what will make you comfortable- it’s a gut instinct you’ll have once you get inside and talk to someone. If you’re fortunate to live in an area with more than one LBS, hopefully you can find one that speaks to your needs and has a staff that can make you feel comfortable. Don’t be afraid to admit you have no idea what you’re doing! I’m terrible at taking my own advice in this area- I hate admitting a knowledge gap. But admitting when you have no idea what the shop person is talking about is better than buying something you’re not comfortable with! In that vein, don’t feel pressured to buy anything. Many people (me!) like to research purchases before committing, especially if it’s a lot of money. Do that if it makes you feel better! Get prices, brands, their recommendations, then go home and sit on it if you feel like it. Go online and compare prices and look at reviews, but I would recommend buying directly from the LBS if at all possible- unless there is a huge price difference or there is something specific you want that the shop doesn’t carry, spending a few extra dollars at your local LBS is totally worth it. Plus, instant gratification!

Photo: Flickr user - TC -

Now, for the second type of intimidation: other cyclists! It’s so easy to be intimidated by other cyclists, especially those consider themselves to be serious cyclists. I suffer from severe intimidation from other cyclists. I’m always worried that my gear will not “fit in” or will be looked down upon by others. BUT, that’s mostly because of my personality, more than actual reality. Yes, there are some who will judge you for not having the highest end, most expensive gear. But you probably won’t end up riding with those types much anyway. If riding RAGBRAI taught me one thing, it was that there is no wrong way to be a cyclist- if you’re comfortable and having fun, then it doesn’t matter what you wear or what you ride. I’m a huge fan of group rides and think those are a great way to have this point illustrated. I encounter so many different types of cyclists on those rides.Overall, on those rides, and elsewhere, I’ve found other cyclist to be friendly and accepting. I enthusiastically encourage group ride participation- it’s a great motivator and a great way to meet like minded folks. However, most groups rides tend to be heavily populated with males, and for women, that thought can be scary- for myself, when there are males around, I usually feel as though I’m trying to prove myself. Plus, I’m easily intimidated by cute boys ;) If you are like me, then I would suggest searching out all female group rides. I find I am more at ease going into an all female group rides, as I know there won’t be any cute boys. Even besides that, many women’s groups offer introductions to group rides, introductions to bike maintenance, etc. So, if you’re new to cycling, women’s groups can offer a lot of resources. Meetup.com and your local bike shops are great places to start to find group rides. In addition, there is probably a local cycling scene forum online where you could ask for recommendations and find suggestions.

I think the intimidation factor exists in everyone and it’s up to you to overcome those barriers. Hopefully, I’ve given you a few tools and enough information to help get you started!

I often dispense advice on twitter, so follow me at @bloomingcyclist.

That pesky business of women and bikes

Ages ago I went to a forum put on by WABA, a bicycling advocacy group in DC, about female cyclists and how to get more women onto bikes. Now, I’ve never really identified as a “female cyclist.” I consider myself to be a cyclist who just happens to be female. The only barriers I experienced when getting into cycling were ones I created myself and I’ve never felt discriminated against or dismissed on my bike because I’m a female. I’m not saying there aren’t barriers for women getting into cycling because I didn’t really face any or that women who cycle aren’t discriminated against or dismissed because I’ve never felt that way. But for me, at my level, I’ve never felt dissed or dismissed because of my gender. Buying a bike had always been on mind, it just took awhile to work up the nerve to go to the shop and I’m a comfortably moderate cyclist who’s impressed enough with my own achievements that I want others to marvel at my work on the bike too. But as a cyclist who’s female, I thought I should attend this forum, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Truth be told, I didn’t take too much away from the forum. Mostly the panel talked about why there aren’t more women cycling, with only a bit of talk about how to change that. To me, it felt just like a rehashing of known issues.

I felt very similar when I went to a round table discussion at cross nationals in Wisconsin about women in cycling. There was a lot of talk about why women weren’t in cycling, but not a lot of talk about how to increase participation. I did learn some interesting things about what it means to be a female pro cross rider.

  • They don’t care much about an increase in prize money. To get that money, you have to win and even if you do win, it will probably just be used to cover your travel expenses to get there.
  • What they do care about is sponsorship. If they have sponsorship, they don’t have to pay for travel, gear, support, or entry fees out of pocket. Then they don’t have to draw on family funds to support their racing.
  • They are only able to race if they’re in a relationship that respects and supports their racing habit. That support can come through being the primary bread winner, being handy with a bike wrench, watching kids while the mom races, etc.

Now, while I’m not interested in racing, nor am I much interested in getting women involved in racing, I was interested in the parallels I heard at the WABA forum. There was a lot of talk at both places about how time and intimidation were two big factors to overcome when it came to getting women involved in cycling. Time is not something I can help with. That’s a social problem, with the expectation that family and home is a woman’s responsibility. But I can help those women who want to find time, but aren’t sure were to start or are intimidated and overwhelmed with the choices and environment. I can do that by sharing my experiences.  I’m going to break it down into three posts, because I don’t like huge blog posts- the intimidation factor, the “too many choices!” problem, and my continuing struggle with saddle. I’m doing this mainly because I’m tired of just talking about it and want to try to do something, even if it’s something as small as writing a blog post. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help other women overcome barriers either put in place by themselves or society and get them on bikes!

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