Building a better bicycle engine.

Building a better bicycle engine.  (Or, once again, it’s not about the bike.)

When you ride a bike, you’re exercising.  Working out.  Getting fit.  Improving your cardio.  Getting healthy.  Using those muscles.

And sometimes you’re pulling muscles, straining tendons, pushing your heart near it’s maximum capacity, and getting hurt.  Just stop that already.  I know of no instance of a bicycle user guide including a note telling new purchasers to get a physician’s approval before riding it.  Maybe that would be good.

In the case of ‘bent riders, most of us are old…enough to know better.  We bought a ‘bent, because we’re wise enough to know a good thing when we see it, free of all the hype around the latest, lightest, greatest, or hippest.  We bought a bike, some of us after not having ridden for many years.  We thought we’d just start tooling around town.  But suddenly, we’re masters athletes, using our bodies to propel us to unnatural speeds.  And after a year or so of this, we begin to look a bit like master’s athletes, muscles in new places; better results from the cardiogram; greater interest in what our bodies can do.

But we may have forgotten that we’re not as agile as we were when we last worked out for 10 hours straight.  Our bodies are no longer as forgiving.  When our muscles get sore, they stay sore longer.  When we eat food that is nutritionally void, it effects us longer and more deeply.  If our muscles get tight, they get tighter, and the secondary problems caused by tight muscles are that much worse.

The other month, a user on Yahoo’s excellent user group for Rans owners lamented about the speed of his bike, yet rather admirably offered that perhaps the engine is in part to blame.  It was a good insight.

When we start riding again, please, think hard about the bike, but after you buy it, try to forget about it.  Just ride.  And think about the engine.

What to Think About:

– Stretching.
Not even 21 year old athletes can get get away for long without stretching.  At masters age, you definitely can’t afford to overlook it.  You must stretch both BEFORE and AFTER you ride.  For 30 years I’ve owned Bob Anderson’s _Stretching_.  I don’t know if it’s still in print, but if it is, I recommend it.  If you can’t find it, find another stretching book written by a qualified author, like a physical therapist.

– Cross train.
Do something besides riding to keep your body in balance.  Lift Weights.  Swim.  Jog.
Take dance classes (I’m not joking).

– Do Sprints.  But only once or twice a week.
Specifically, look up “tabata sprints.”  The essential idea is these are short sprints, repeated.  The version I follow consists of: 20 second sprints, 10 seconds rest, repeated eight times (for four minutes total).  By sprints, usually it means 100% effort.  This is incredibly hard, even though it’s only 4 minutes.  Before I start sprint workouts, I first warm up for about 30 minutes.

– Do fewer long, long, long days.
“Love” might be too strong a word, but I have an _affinity_ for endurance activities: the 70-mile ride, the multi-day hike, the 5- or 10-kilometer swim, the 12-hour work day.  But I’ve begun to strongly suspect that the long cardio workout isn’t good for me; for you, I don’t know, but it probably isn’t good for you either.  We all want to do the long ride, but I’ve begun to believe that it should be the occasional thing, rather than the everyday thing.

– Days off
Take days off from exercising.  If you ride to work everyday, consider taking the subway on Wednesdays.  (Yuck, I know.)  Or at least, take some easy days.  Give your body a break.

– Massages
And I don’t mean the cheap ones.  I mean the good, professional, $200 for 90 minutes type of massage.  New York City’s leading Thai massage master is Al Turner, (appointments: Tel: 212-501-3833).  I wouldn’t waste my money on anything or anyone else.  When you were young, massage was a luxury.  For masters athletes, if you want to outlast your Volae, it is a necessity.

– Eating nutritionally rich foods will help you feel your best.  Eating carb-rich foods leave me feeling awful.  I used to believe in the carb-rich runners diet, but not any more.  These days I eat more fruts and veggies than ever and feel a lot better for it.

Spend good money on good food.  You probably already know what you’re supposed to be eating, but in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll remind you.  Lots of vegetables.  Tons of fruit.  Fish, chicken, turkey, quality ham, quality beef.  Eggs.  Milk.  Cheese.  Soy.  Complex carbs.  How much vegetables and fruit?  Eat till you’re full before eating the others.  If you’re a vegetarian, you already know what you’re supposed to be eating.  And use olive oil.  Buy free-range, grass-fed, buy organic even if you wonder if it’s worth the cost, buy fresh.

Avoid soda pop….potato chips…ice cream…avoid dry crunchy stuff that you’ve been tricked into thinking will fill the vacant hole of sadness deep inside your heart.  Avoid candy like the plague.  If it’s got an advertisement associated with it, avoid it (except “Got Milk”).  Forget about bagels.  Someone has to tell New York Road Runners club that bagels aren’t particularly nutritious.  I say this, suspecting that NYRR management, given how smart they are, know this full well.

I’m no longer a fan of sports drinks and foods — all brands — with the sole exception of Gary Null’s nutritional products.  I strongly suspect the sports foods are little more than candy by clever name.  I’m very suspicious of the designer foods one finds in sports shops; they may or may not include ingredients that are prohibited by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.  If you’re not racing, you may not care, but you should; if they’re prohibited, it means they’re probably very bad for you in the long run.  I’m suspicious of anything that is purported to make me faster/stronger if I consume it.  There is no easy route.  Anyone who promises you an easy route — like with a special food or a special bike — is simply conning you.

If you want a sports beverage, drink DILUTED fruit juice; nothing, and I mean NOTHING is better than a good orange juice or an organic grape or apple juice, and they’re usually a lot cheaper than the mass-market sports drinks.  If you need sodium, throw in some fleur de sel or good sea salt.  If you really need some high-octane carbs, i.e. during a race, use honey (nothing’s better than good honey) and/or brown rice syrup and/or barley malt.  Coffee, tea or a coffee-sub like Inka with barley malt is unbelievable.  If you must have a “sports food,” eat a banana or two…or five.  Eat nuts and seeds and fruit for snacks and as a “post-workout” fuel-up.  Right now, I’m adding walnuts to almost everything.

And then, experiment with real foods every time you ride.  Don’t try anything new on “race day” — on the day of your big event or ride.

– Take dance classes: modern, ballet, ball room, tango, hip hop.  And I’m not joking.  Will it make you faster?  I don’t know.  It’ll make you more agile, that’s for sure.  And it’ll make you a more interesting person for the people you meet.  Mind you, I’m a clod; three left feet; but I still like dance classes.

When you find yourself thinking that your bike is slow — and, yes, maybe a more aerodynamic bike would make you faster — but do think also about how you might take better care of your engine.  For that’s where you’ll get the greatest speed gains over the long, long term.

All best,

Robert Matson
NYC Recumbent Supply (TM)
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2009 Robert Matson

Leave a Reply