Monday M.O. – 1/9/2017

The view is pretty sweet from the top. Maybe it’s just the top of the hill by your house (prompt side-eye given to the one I live on) or maybe it’s the wrap up to a grand bike-tour. Either way, hills can suck! They’re challenging, they make you question whether you can make it, they make you question life itself. And I’ll be honest, some days you won’t make it up on the bike, you might have to hop off and walk your butt up it before hopping back on. But guess what, if you keep trying, it will get easier. Your body will adapt, your muscles will get stronger, your lungs will get more resilient, and your heart more efficient. Plus, when you get to the top all on your own, you will feel A-MAZ-ING. Double plus – it’s so much fun to go downhill after you kicked your butt on the way up!

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They See Me Rollin, December 2016 Monthly Miles Update

Total Miles: 52.6 (womp womp)

Total Rides: 12

Average Miles/Ride: 4.38

Average Miles/Week: 13.15

No fun pictures on this update since it was all done from my trusty CycleOps indoor trainer. All in all, December wasn’t spectacular BUT it was a step up from November. I was about 2/3 to my goal of riding 20 miles per week. I won’t beat myself up too much about it though because I kicked it into higher gear, pun intended, the last two weeks of the month and January started out strong (minus the fact that I am now sick as a dog).

So what next? Well January’s goal is going to be to hit at least 20 miles/week average.

 

Monday M.O. – 12/26/16

Just a little reminder that more stuff does not = more happiness. I’ve unexpectedly started heading down a minimalism path recently, all completely prompted by our upcoming move. You really never realize how much stuff you have and NEVER use until you have to decide whether to pack it or not. So lots of stuff getting donated, sold, or chucked in my house right now. I also watched a great documentary which is a little intro to minimalism, it’s up on Netflix right now, you should check it out: Minimalism, it was made by the two guys that run The Minimalists blog.

All that being said, try to spend less, love more, and pedal longer.

What Is It Wednesday: Bikes That Question What a Bike Is Really

I bet plenty of you are rushing to get ready for the holidays, even if you don’t celebrate the end of the year tends to be a time of reflection on how far you’ve come this year and where you’d like to go in the year to come. Bikes have been around for centuries, with some argument over which was the first and over the fact the first wheeled human-powered device didn’t look like the bicycles we know and love today. Isn’t it interesting that the predecessors of our two wheeled wonders were so similar and so dissimilar at the same time? Fast forward a century or two, or six to some interesting design modifications to the standard bike. Now I’m not talking about the differences we see from the various styles of bikes, or even frankenbikes, I mean commercially available bikes that get a double take when they pass by. You know the ones – the prone, the treadmill, the elliptical bikes. So let’s take a look at a few.


 Prone Bikes

birdofprey
Credit: Bird of Prey Bikes

If you’re not familiar with anatomical terms for body positions, prone is when you lay face down on your abdomen. The cyclists lies on a padded platform that supports their core and pushes behind them to propel the bike forward. Instead of the bottom bracket being, well at the bottom in the center of the bike, it’s extended back behind the rear wheel. The rider’s position makes this an extremely aerodynamic bike, and by moving the crankset to the rear the rider is able to engage their lower extremity muscles more efficiently because they are in what we physical therapy folks like to call a gravity eliminated position, which basically means their legs aren’t fighting gravity every time the begin a new pedal stroke. You can see the Bird of Prey in action with it’s creator to get a better sense of how this bike just seems to glide on the road.  The Bird of Prey isn’t the only one to do this, the H-Zontal and others have explored using the prone position for cycling, likening it to flying like superman.


Elliptical Bike

elliptigo
Credit: ElliptiGo

So if you’ve ever spent hours on an elliptical at the gym, you know how boring it can be, effective but boring. A few companies have challenged the concept that ellipticals need only be an indoor experience. Whether it’s a two wheeled bike-elliptical hybrid like ElliptiGo’s model or a trike-elliptical hybrid like the StreetStrider, I’ve got to admit they do look like fun and definitely eliminate some of the typical soreness and tight muscles associated with traditional riding positions. I saw one of these on a marketing video about a year ago, and not more than a month later did I see someone riding (running?) theirs on the street on my way to get groceries. I wanted to stop and asked them what they thought about it, but sadly not dying in a horrible car accident caused by braking suddenly and running out of my car was not in the cards for me that day – phew. I’ve been on the lookout for that guy ever since. From what I saw in person he was going at a pretty good clip without looking like he was overexerting himself to do so until he got to the hills that dot my neighborhood. I’ll be honest, I love this idea as a cross training device and wouldn’t mind giving one a whirl, but I don’t see making this my standard-get-around-town bike by any means.


Treadmill Bike

lopifit
Credit: Inside EVs

Now some may classify this one more scooted than bicycle, and I won’t necessarily argue with you there, it is very scooter-like. I’m including it here because unlike a traditional scooter which requires the rider to push with the feet akin to a skateboard, the Lopifit is an electric treadmill/scooter/bike hybrid. Now I plan on covering e-bikes in a future WIIW so I won’t go into too much detail here, but this is indeed an electric based design. The Lopifit glides you along the road using different gear levels while you walk at a normal pace on a small treadmill belt at speeds of 4 to 17 mph. Not too shabby. I could totally see this being a part of a bike rental program in tourist heavy cities if only it weren’t for the hefty price tag per unit. Also, at over 100 pounds per bike, it’s a chunky monkey should you actually need to lift it for any reason. Interesting concept none the less, and I can see this being a nice gateway device to get someone into biking who’s fearful of being on a traditional bike or lacks coordination.


Bicycles got their start not necessarily looking like the ones we lust after today/ These bike hybrids are taking the chance to break the mold of what we consider a bike. I foresee that happening going forward for quite some time ahead as we play around with the notion – what really IS a bike?

Monday M.O. 12/19/16

So 2016 is coming to a close, and likely many of you are considering New Year’s resolutions for 2017. Personally, I stopped setting them because it didn’t work for me. It never felt like it was a plan I could follow through on because it was tied to a date versus being tied to what I want out of life. And after the first few weeks the rush was gone because so many other people who had similar resolutions dropped like flies all around me, which became demotivating. And then it became hard, too hard.

So a few years back I tried something out, instead of a New Year’s resolution I opted to start making changes right then, at the time it was November. My thought process was if I start now, by the time NYE rolls around, it should be a habit. And honestly, it worked, but not for the reason I initially thought. I was still thinking new year, new me, but I’ll just get a head start. What was really going on that I couldn’t even see until later was that I identified something I wanted, started right away, set realistic goals and strategies for when things got rough, and most importantly I was doing it for me. Not for a cultural norm of setting a resolution, not for others, it was for me. That was the start of my journey to getting healthy and the start of my 100 lb+ weight loss, more on that another time.

Every time I set goals for myself and things get hard, I remind myself that I have been through worse, harder, more agonizing, more _____. I promise I will write about this at some point, but I remind myself that I learned how to walk again when doctors told me that I should get used to being in a wheelchair. That event in my life has had such a profound impact on me in ways I’m sure I have yet to fully understand. But what I do understand is that almost nothing worth having will be easy and laid out for you. You have to work for it.

Now I’m not saying you need to have as profound a moment as that. What I am saying is if you’re planning on making a resolution for 2017, why not start now? It won’t be any easier 2 weeks from now, but if it’s something you want, why wait? Setting goals shouldn’t be a resolution, it should just be SMART.

  • Specific: Just answer the 5 Ws here – what is it I want to change/do, who will be involved, where will this happen, when will I make time for it, and why do I want this?
  • Measurable: Have a way to see your progress with something that can be evaluated (miles ridden, time spent riding in one sitting, 0-10 mood scale, etc).
  • Attainable: Have a stretch goal, something that pushes you beyond your limit but isn’t so lofty that you will get discouraged too quickly. Once you reach it, you can always set another one, right?
  • Relevant: Your goal should be something that matters to you and will make you happier because of it, not something forced on you by what you think others want you to be.
  • Timely: Lastly you need to be able to hold yourself accountable to a deadline. What can you accomplish in the short/medium/long term.

What Is It Wednesday: Gyros

I’m not referring to the kind you put tzatziki on for lunch, although now that I think of it –  I’m hungry. I digress… So one of my goals for the blog is to make From The Top of the Top a fully inclusive space for all kinds of riders so I am not limiting this site to just road or mountain biking. One of the What Is It Wednesdays that I am super excited about coming up is  going to be about adaptive cycling, which as a Physical Therapist Assistant I can honestly say I am stoked about writing that one. Sometime soon I will also write a bit about Cyclo Cross, so basically anything on 2 wheels will be fair game here. This week I wanted to introduce a little drop of knowledge from the world of BMX and talk about gyros, or detanglers as they’re also known.

tailwhip
Credit: bikeshed.projects

So why did I want to write about a piece of equipment that is really only seen in BMX which I only have experience as an observer? Well, have you seen how they work? It’s freaking cool and borders on black magic.

So the way this came about all started on YouTube, as many horrible wonderful things do.  I was watching some pretty ridiculous bike tricks and saw a few people doing some crazy things with their BMX bikes. Sure, I’ve seen people spin their handlebars or do tail whips before, and didn’t think much of it because they didn’t have brakes, so it would be easy to make the handlebars and stem spin around the headset and head tube. But I was watching a few people do it with front and rear brakes and for the life of me couldn’t figure out how the cables didn’t get jacked up. That single thought led to a night of looking up how BMX brakes work and it felt like a good topic to cover here, because hey – maybe you didn’t know either!


So I would say 90% of how the brakes work is the same as on any caliper or disc brake system – a lever when squeezed  puts tension on a cable that causes the brake to activate.

detangler1
Credit: Park Tool

Nothing new there. Where we start to differentiate is the fact that BMX bikes need a full 360 degrees of freedom  between the front and rear. If you were to try and turn the handlebars on a non-BMX bike, you’d eventually be stopped by the cabling. So how do BMX bikes do it? This is where the detangler comes into play.

 

So let’s start at the front. The brake lever attaches to the brake cables which run down to the upper cable stop on the top plate.

Now from the rear. The cable that runs to the brake will be threaded through the lower cable stop on the bottom plate.

detangler2
Credit: Park Tool

Both the cables from the brake lever and the ones running to the brakes themselves will then connect to the detangler. When the lever is pulled the unit pulls up as one piece. When inactive the top half and the detangler are free to rotate while the lower half remains stationary. Josh Bentley from Vital BMX has a short but sweet video explaining detangler magic.

So that’s detanglers in a very basic nutshell. Hopefully I have demystified them for you, and if I missed something let me know! One of my goals for 2017 is to give BMX a try and see how I like it. I have no expectations of doing flips but maybe some ground tricks wouldn’t suck so bad if I don’t land them?

Monday M.O.

You’ve heard and/or seen this phrase right? I’d credit the photo but it’s been shared all over Pinterest I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But hey, if you’re the owner, let me know and I will most definitely give credit where credit is due.

So onto the motivational part of Motivation Mondays, I set up my indoor trainer in my living room, off to the side so that all I have to do is angle it out so I can ride and watch Good Mythical Morning everyday (if you haven’t heard of Rhett and Link, you should chekck them out – they’re ridiculous). Depending if I am focusing on endurance/cadence/power I will typically put in anywhere between 20 – 45 minutes at least once a day right now. This has been keeping me calm in the storm that is relocating in the middle of finding a job in the middle of finding someone to take over our lease in the middle of my husband coming off unemployment in the middle of the craptacular year 2016 shaped itself up to be.

But – I ride. I can count on that not sucking, at least in the way that suckier things tend to suck. If the weather warms up again, which seems to happen in NC quite often in the winter, then I’ll venture outside with the bike. But right now the air is just a bit to chill for my lungs to not feel like they’re on fire.

So do like it says and pedal it out.

What Is It Wednesdays Sensor Edition

Speed, cadence, power, heart rate – these are just a few things you can track while riding. It seems more and more we’re a data driven society. Data is no longer facts and figures relegated to analysts stuck in basement offices crunching numbers. Anymore we can just look at our phone or even our wrists to see just how many steps we’ve taken, calories burned, distance traversed and much more. Bike computers aren’t exactly new, but now more than ever they are more easily accessible to the masses. With that in mind, I’m sure plenty of you have asked exactly what are those number crunching devices and what are they doing – and hey, do I need one? So allow me to take you on a brief tour of the main sensors you will come across and hopefully answer some of those questions for you.


Speed

bontragerinterchange
Credit: Trek/Bontrager

Whether you measure in kilometers or miles per hour, a speed sensor is going to give you information about how fast you’re going (or not going in the case of that monster hill you dread, just me?). It’s taking your distance divided by the elapsed time that has passed. There’s a few ways you can measure your speed including dedicated sensors or computers,and apps like Strava, MapMyRide, and Wahoo.

If you opt for a sensor setup then what you will typically see is a magnet that attaches to a spoke on your rear wheel and a receiver mounted on the chainstay. Models can either be wireless or wired and may work with either a display mounted to your handlebars, or synced to an app on your phone. Personally I use the Bontrager Interchange (pictured above) which measures my speed and cadence, paired with my phone (via Bluetooth/Ant+) which I keep mounted to my stem while running Strava. This setup works for my rides at the moment, but one day I plan on upgraded to a full on bike computer, more on that and Ant+/Bluetooth later.

If you plan on utilizing your phone’s GPS to display that info instead of a dedicated system, no worries, it will give you a great estimate. One word of advice just from my own experiences, the GPS available in most phones will just draw a straight line between two points as it pings the satellite with your location meaning it can over or undershoot your distance. In areas with spotty GPS this can provide unreliable stats. For example, I was once going 3,200 mph on my bike, now I know I like to think of myself as Wonder Woman but I had left my invisible jet home that day. I’ve also missed out on many miles that were cutout because of the finicky GPS in my phone.


Cadence

cateyestrada430
Credit: Cateye

Often you will find speed and cadence paired together on sensors, not always but typically if the unit cost $25 or more it’s going to have both. Cadence is the number of times you pedal within a given amount of time, with the standard being rotations per minute or RPM. If you wish to measure cadence then you will have to have a dedicated sensor as your phone will not be able to measure this on its own. Same setup as a speed sensor – a magnet on a rear wheel spoke that connects to a receiver every time it passes during the wheel’s rotation. The Bontrager model that I showed in the section above also tracks cadence, but I thought I would also show a model that is built into a dedicated bike computer such as Cateye’s Strada 430. You can see the cadence displayed at the bottom right.

Don’t be mistaken with cadence, the higher the RPM doesn’t always equate to faster speeds ESPECIALLY when multiple gears are involved. When going up a hill I will shift to a lower gear in order to pick up my cadence and maintain a fairly level rate of perceived exertion (RPE). In English that means that while I am going up a hill, something that is more difficult that riding on a flat surface, I will drop my gear so that I can pedal faster but with significantly less resistance so that my legs don’t feel like murder jello later, saving energy so I can ride longer.


Power

garminpedalpower
Credit: Garmin

This one I had to do a little of research on because while I have heard of them and seen a few, I don’t have any personal experience using one. Power meters measure how much effort you put into moving you and your bicycle over a distance in a measurable amount of time. Power meters will display in watts which translates to the amount of energy it took to do what I just broke down. Power meters come in a few styles and can be found on the crank, pedal, hub, and less common as a footpod you can put in your shoe. The one pictured here is a pedal based unit from Garmin Vector. As you can imagine, the calculations that go into interpreting this data are much more complex than cadence and speed.

Power meters allow you to see just how hard you’re working because speed and cadence don’t always give the full picture (hello fast down hills!). A great combo to analyze is actually the power you’re outputting in conjunction with your heart rate to understand if you can push harder or if you’re running out of juice.


Heart Rate

polara300
Credit: Polar

The last sensor we’ll discuss is the humble and handy heart rate monitor or HRM. HRMs come either as the traditional chest strap model or less accurate optical sensors on some watches and fitness bands. HRMs are measuring how fast your heart is beating over the course of a minute represented as beats per minute or BPM. Some bike computers can pair with HRMs otherwise you can use one that displays on a watchface like the Polar A300 pictured.

As I mentioned in the power section, measuring your heart rate can give you insight on how hard you’re training. Once you figure out your max heart rate and target heart rate range then you’ll know if you can kick it up or notch or need to take it a bit easier. If you’re interested in learning more about target and max heart rates, let me know and I can make that a What Is It Wednesday one of these Wednesdays.


Ant+ and Bluetooth

I am going to keep this section brief. If you have a smartphone or tablet then likely you are already familiar with Bluetooth, it’s a method of pairing devices together so that can work hand in hand to perform a task (phone + Bluetooth speaker = jamming out while meal prepping for the week). Ant+ isn’t new but it’s not as big of a name as Bluetooth. It serves a similar purpose – allowing two devices to communicate with each other wirelessly. Newer phones are coming with built-in Ant+ more increasingly. If your phone, or computer, doesn’t have Ant+ built in you can still use it, you’ll just need to purchase a separate Ant+ stick to plug it in to your device. I am actually going to be signing up for Zwift soon and need to replace my Ant+ stick, maybe I’ll do a review 🙂


So whether you need any of these is really up to you. My recommendation is that if you’re a casual rider then you’re not likely going to benefit and can likely take a pass on these. However if you ride as a means of training then try using what is already built into your phone/apps as a test run before dropping some cash on a device and when you’re ready to make that step – do your research! Find out what will work for your riding style, where you ride, and how you plan on keeping tabs on all of this information. Alrighty folks, this concludes another What Is It Wednesday, see you in a week, hope you learned something!

They See Me Rolling – November 2016

Alright, so today was supposed to be the day for a monthly miles update, the FIRST ONE actually. No excuses, November was a rough month for me to get any miles in and the ones I did get in, I barely recorded. We’re in the beginning/middle stages of planning/executing our relocation so this month kind of got away from me. I sucked, I admit it. However, I’ve already logged some miles for December to make up for the No Bike November (or at least what felt like it) so stay tuned on January 5th because I promise there will be an update then.

Photo credit: The Bold Italic Editors