Bike Commuting

Started bicycling seriously as a lifestyle thing that brings me free exercise benefits. I hate the cost and dependency of cars.

 From my front door to my office door, by trail and some paved road, takes me 34 minutes each way.  Burning about 540 calories. I am paranoid about flats and leave early and use really good tires. So there is my cardio workout.

Thankfully I have an office with a closet so I preposition clothing and shoes to work in.  About three jackets, and five each of shirts and pants.  I just rotate.

Here is a picture of my Schwinn Searcher which I purchased in 1999.  This hybrid bike is perfect for commuting and has been extremely reliable. Geared just right for my commute which includes two pretty steep hills.

Steel frame, actually in my mind a good thing, and a bit on the heavy side this is my workhorse.  I just purchased a 2009 Surly Cross Check.  Jury is still out.

Thinking this might be my touring bike and recreational bike, and serving as a backup for the Schwinn.

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Injury & Weight Gain: An Update

The Bad News

About a year ago I started to gain weight, and went from 165 lb average, to a 175 average, and that creeped up to a 185 lb average. Waist size went from a rather loose 34 to a rather snug 36. The problem started when I tried to maintain my weight at 165, then 170, and failed.  In the meantime I injured my left knee, and have just confirmed that it has arthritis.  I will know more after May 22ed when I visit an orthopaedic sports doctor.

The Good News

There is still lots of good news. My peak weight, before I started to loose, was up around 245 plus pounds, and a size 46 inch waist size was tight. I would have been satisfied with 185 if I had been convinced it would stop there.  I did not.  I have given up running for the meantime, but suspect that the doctor’s advice will be to continue to avoid the sport I love.  During the process I learned a lot, and am taking up competitive race walking under the theory that it will not be so hard on my knee. The weight is starting to go down, partially because it is warmer now, and I am out of school with more free time.  Less stress.

What I Learned

What did I learn?  A lot, and I plan to learn more.  First of all I think I lost the weight too fast, and that steep weight lose has had an effect on my metabolism.  Most BMI calculators say that I should be able to eat 2000 calories net per day.  I have found that number to be too high.  For me it is 1400 calories.  I suspected my metabolism might have had something to do with it, but was pretty much convinced after I went back down to 1400 net calories per day, renewed  a stricter diet  (avoiding high glycemic  foods such as pasta, potatoes, etc.), and then started to see the weight come off again.  At around the same time the Biggest Looser story broke which told how research had shown that most of the contestants gained back a lot of weight, and an altered metabolism was suspected as the culprit.   Thinking it was starving, the body wisely went into a survival mode as it slowed down metabolism. We use a scale, the body seems to have other metrics. You can read the article online at the New York Times. Was that what had happened to me?  Maybe, and then again maybe not.  I suspect there are a lot of factors that come into play with weight loss, and the science is just not there yet.  In the meantime, I have resigned myself to the 1400 calorie ceiling and found a way to keep it that seems to work for me now.

The Way Forward

One strategy that I found that worked for me was a schedule that included shifting my meals to later in the day, and essentially eating four of them.  Around 300 – 350 calories at noon, the same amount at 4 p.m., and then 600 – 800 for supper at around 7:30, and finally a late snack.  Noon and lunch do not vary much at all.  Supper and the late snack calories vary depending on how active I have been. I know it breaks a LOT of the rules but it works for me.

I also discovered how much it meant to me to have fitness goals, and  incorporate competition into my goals.  Not that I was that competitive for my age class as a runner, but because I found those competitions to be tremendously motivating.  What to do?  Race walking. It has always appealed to me since I was a kid when the renowned race walker Larry Young could be seen around town training.   Walking VERY fast. By the way, Larry Young competed in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, and is the only American ever to medal in race walking in that venue.  Larry attended Columbia College on the ONLY race walking scholarship ever awarded by a college in the United States.  Hometown boy made good.

Race Walking

I know I could just go out and walk.  There is also Nordic Walking, and fitness walking, and then just kind of making up your own thing. Strolling.  While walking is natural to us, race walking requires a very specialized technique that you have to learn. Starting with Larry Young  I have a rather long history of being interested in race walking which I will write more about later. For now, suffice it to say that the first and only time I have race walked was over thirty years ago, with my oldest daughter and we were both disqualified.  I plan to do something about that.  I will compete again this summer, fully expecting to be disqualified, but have decided that next year my goal is to be competitive in my age group while  avoiding being disqualified for the wrong technique.  Stay tuned.

Flat Tires and Bike Commuting: Are Airless Tires the Answer?

I try to commute whenever I can. The local trail is about a mile from my house, I ride the trail for about three miles, and then exit in the downtown area. From there  it is a  wee bit under a half mile to my job.  A pleasant ride that takes me just under a half hour there, and back.  I started last year, and this semester I have been doing it a little more.  It helps that I am better organized, and have fresh clothes that I keep in my office closet to change into. Being a guy you can get by for a couple of weeks with just five pairs of paints, five shirts, and three sport jackets,  with one pair of black work shoes. I just mix and match the shirt and trousers so that I I have different outfits.  After I have worn everything a couple of times, I switch them out with fresh ones on the weekend. It works great. Below is a picture of my commuter bike which has made a previous appearance on this blog:

20150902_150404A couple of weeks ago on my way to work I came close to crashing.  The next day on the way home I recreated the incident:

20150902_15315120150902_153220

On the way to work I rode into a large crack, a seam in the road, and was barely able to muscle my way out of it without going down. I was about a quarter mile from home when this happened.  By the time I rode into my driveway the tire was flat.  I changed the tube and tried it again the next morning.

That next morning I managed to get just past where I had ridden into the crack when I noticed my tire was going flat.  I called my wife,and luckily she was able to to pick me up, and she dropped me off at the bike shop where I do business which is located very close to where I work, and they were able to take a look at it right away while I waited. I ride with two spare tubes, a co2 kit, and flat patch kit, but I didn’t want to bother fixing the puncture and getting grease all over me on my way to work. Two flats in less than 24 hours.

It is because of such possibilities as this, that I make sure to leave in the morning at least an hour early, and the day when my front tire went flat I had left even earlier.   The shop replaced the tube at my request after they were unable to find a hole in it. They also adjusted the rim tape.  So far, after sixty miles are so, no further problems.

The one thing thing I dread the most is the possibility of flats in the morning when I am going to work. I don’t mind fixing them, or changing tubes.  I don’t even mind having to push my bike if I have to.  What I want to avoid most of all is being late for class.

What to do?  Since then I have been investigating other alternatives and have discovered several possibilities.  One possibility I am gong to try for sure is the Slime Tire Sealer.  You put the slime inside the tube and it seals small punctures.  If nothing else it might buy you some time. Several small companies are working on solid tires, and airless tubes, and you can find them on Amazon, or other retailers.  I also found airless bike tires at www.airlesstires.com.

The reviews for the flat proof tires are all over the place but they do have certain disadvantages.  For one thing, there is air in tires for a reason.  It does not weigh much, and it acts as a shock absorber.  The reviews I did read talked about increased rolling resistance, a rougher ride, problems with getting a proper fit, some handling issues, and difficulty in fitting the tires to some rims.  In addition there were stories of the tire rolling off the rim, sometimes causing a crash.  It seems the idea has been around for awhile, but so far not that effectively.  However, I think we will see great strides in airless tires, which are essentially flat proof, in the next five years if some of the bigger tire manufacturers get behind the concept.  I suspect that for this to work well, it will require special wheels which can hold the tire in place, and a more-or-less regular tire casing on the outside bonded to some kind of effective shock absorbing material on the inside. Flat proof tires are too good of an idea to go away.

Shoelaces: Part II

Okay. Last post about shoelaces but I could not end without completing what I had to say.  Last post I gushed about the cord lock as a way of not worrying about loose shoelaces flaying about and creating havoc.  I thought this week that I should mention another system which is popular.  One is a patented system called Lock Laces (registered trademark and all that) that is not pictured here but there is a web site for, and the other very similar system is pictured below:

Shoe lacing system using a locking mechanism and stretchy shoelaces.
Close up view on the same shoe.
Shoe lacing system alternative view.
Lacing system on a pair of my all-weather running shoes.

Personally I do not use anything but the cord locks I wrote about in my last post.  I don’t like the stretch style shoe lace which gives it a “cushy” loose feel,at least on my feet, nor the cost.  My own personal preference, but I do think this type of alternative is better than just tying the shoes.  You may like that kind of  system better though.  I have tried both, and find no fault with the lower cost alternative which has proven very reliable, but admittedly does not make a dashing fashion statement.

Coming up is a series on safety while running and walking. It will also apply to bicycling but I will leave biking safety to someone else with more experience.  I ride largely on the local trail system avoiding the streets whenever I can.

Get up, get out, and do something!

How Many Calories Did I Just Burn?

I have found that keeping accurate records has been helpful to me as far as getting in shape, and staying there.  That means using quantifiable metrics to measure how much, how far, and how often.  Keeping records has helped me immensely although I am throttling back on how, and what, I keep track of, and especially how I do it.

We are obsessed by calories, but for good reason.  They do matter, and you ignore them to  your peril.  I know I did.  Unfortunately I think measuring calories burned, and to a lesser extent calories consumed, can be problematic. So what are we talking about?

What is a calorie?

Most of us know that food has a quality about it that we call calories, but what is it?  It is:

The amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). One calorie is equal to 4.184 joules, a common unit of energy used in the physical sciences.

Most of us think of calories in relation to food, as in “This can of soda has 200 calories.” It turns out that the calories on a food package are actually kilocalories (1,000 calories = 1 kilocalorie). The word is sometimes capitalized to show the difference, but usually not. A food calorie contains 4,184 joules. A can of soda containing 200 food calories contains 200,000 regular calories, or 200 kilocalories.

from:  http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/diet-fitness/weight-loss/calorie1.htm

Our body:

… needs calories (energy) to survive, without energy our cells would die, our hearts and lungs would stop, and we would perish. We acquire this energy from food and drink.

If we consume just the number of calories our body needs each day, every day, we will probably enjoy happy and healthy lives. If our calorie consumption is too low or too high, we will eventually experience health complications.

The number of calories foods contain tells us how much potential energy they posses. Below are the calorific values of the three main components of the food we eat:

–   1 gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories

–   1 gram of protein contains 4 calories

–   1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.

from: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263028.php

How Many Calories Do We Consume By Exercise?

It is technically possible to measure how many calories we are burning  with  some precession.  Unfortunately it is not yet practical (issues with reliability and validity) since it currently requires laboratory conditions although advances in wearable technology coupled with smart phone technology will probably change that in two to five years.  In the meantime what we  have are essentially estimates, based on laboratory findings.  These estimates use  calculations that take into account some combination of age, weight, type of activity (running, walking, bicycling, etc.), intensity, and duration .  There are several formulas, and it depends on which formula is being  used.

How Are Calories Burned Measured?

Most modern exercise equipment has some kind of calories burned function.  GPS watches, smart phone apps, and web sites will also give you an estimate, and remember it is an estimate.  Accuracy will vary as we are about to see.

Lately I have been using the MapMyRun app on my iPhone 5 to keep track of time, distance, and calories burned while running.  It syncs with MyFitnessPal which I switched to from Livestrong’s MyPlate app (which I think was actually better).  Before that I used my Timex Marathon GPS watch  for time and distance while ignoring the ridiculously low caloric estimates it provided.  Instead I ignored the calories burned number on the GPS watch, and used the calories burned calculator from Runners World (which is specifically for running, and is available online)  using the time and distance from the Timex.  I stopped  that practice after I got the iPhone.   But, last week I decided to compare the two methods because I suspected the results from MapMyRun were too high.

For 3.19 miles, at a 10:50 pace here are the results from MapMyRun;

MyFitnessPal calculation

Here are the results from Runnersworld.com for the same workout. I used time and distance from MapMyRun.*

Runners World CalculationMy schoolboy arithmetic indicates a difference of over 18%, or nearly 100 calories.  I would say that is a significant difference.  Subsequent comparisons showed the same pattern.  The MapMyRun app  is consistently more optimistic when it comes to how many  calories I burned.

Which One Is Right?

I have no idea.  I know that the Runners World site does not take into account age or gender.  MapMyRun has access to all that information, but I do not know if it uses it. I decided to use the more conservative measure from the Runners World website for two reasons:

1.  Tired of lugging around the iPhone.  I never found a way to secure it comfortably or usefully other than holding it in my hand. Am I turning into one of those people?  I hope note. Also, battery life is problematic, and sometimes it just does strange and wacky things.

2.  I wanted to be more conservative and go with the lower estimate.

That means I am back to using my Timex GPX watch in conjunction with the Runners World website.

Are There Other Measurements?

Yes.  Some consider measurement of the heart rate over time as the best estimate.The Journal of Sports Sciences  provides the following two calculations based based on gender:

Males Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.2017) — (Weight x 0.09036) + (Heart Rate x 0.6309) — 55.0969] x Time / 4.184.

Females Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.074) — (Weight x 0.05741) + (Heart Rate x 0.4472) — 20.4022] x Time / 4.184.

Those calculations would be difficult to do in  your head while  you are out running or on the elliptical machine. Also, have you ever tried to take your pulse rate manually while running?  Of course this method requires a heart rate monitor, and the sophisticated software that comes with them.  I am still doing my research.  My current understanding is that good ones are expensive, and there can be problems with their accuracy as well.

What to do?

I think we are inclined to underestimate the calories we eat, and overestimate the calories we burn.  Because of that, I am comfortable in going with the lower number calculated by the Runners World website. I also know there are ongoing issues with reliability and validity when we measure some things (such as calories burned), but we have more mature technology measuring others (such as distance and time).  Probably the best we can do is utilize the tools we have with care, caution, and consistency.  More later.

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*M y tests show reasonable consistency between MapMyRun, the Timex GPS watch, and my bicycle computer regarding distance and time, but between them the calories burned estimates are inconsistent.

Running Ugly: The Upcoming Book

This is the preface of my  upcoming book Running Ugly: A Fitness Memoir.  I would love to get feedback from you.  

Preface

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime. Bill Rodgers (American marathon runner. b. 1947).

This is the story of a very ordinary runner, and a very ordinary person. No matter what they mean to me, my accomplishments are modest to the world, and if there are any strengths in this book it lies in that fact. This is a book for persons of modest means. What I have managed to accomplish was by the way of humble tools, and a meager athletic ability, fortified by persistence. I am still astonished at what happened, and can scarcely recognize my own hand in it.

I started this book when I was 56, and will be over 59 years old before it is done. In the meantime I have explored the jagged edges of my emotional, physical, and spiritual capabilities. In the meantime I have twice become a grandparent. I have become more at peace, and more comfortable, with myself. Fitness, the weight loss, all those original goals have become secondary. It turns out running was a tool, maybe even a metaphor, for something else, and there is no denying the existential aspect of what running represents. But, we cannot run forever. We must take time for other things, and eventually even the best runner can run no more. Aging is something that we cannot conquer but, that we can perhaps come to a gentleman’s agreement with.

What is this book about? This book is about a journey to regain my health so I could live better, and perhaps longer, and where that journey ultimately led me. I wrote it because I think there are a lot of people like me, and that I may have learned something from my experience that may be useful to them. I also wrote it for deeply personal reasons, perhaps even selfish reasons, as part of my struggle to understand what happened as well as what it might all mean in the end. This book is also about hope. This book is also about our ability to assume at least some control of our destiny rather than to be passive recipients of what popular culture wants to spoon feed us figuratively, and literally. This book is about running ugly. So what is running ugly?

Running ugly means running for the joy and the benefit of it rather than for the laurels of victory or the false accomplishment of trying to look good. If the laurels, and looking good, come to us it is a by-product of almost no consequence. A light desert to an already satisfying feast. Running itself is always a process, never a product. When you are in your fifties you are no longer the belle at the ball, and in our youth oriented society you are considered a has been anyway. So why doll yourself up for nothing? Don’t worry about how you look, how fast you are going, if you look weird, if you run strange, or lumber about on the track without grace. If so, you are probably doing something right. At the very least you are at least doing it. You have been freed from the the prison of the couch. Just run.

Run ugly. Run often. And if you can’t run too far, or often, do what you can. If you cannot run walk. If you cannot walk, live a mindful life. Exist with gratitude for the experience of being a part of it all.

I said earlier that running ugly is a metaphor. Perhaps a metaphor for something very much beyond running. Perhaps it means for us to have patience, curiosity, and grace as we explore the contours of our lives in order to make meaning of it. Perhaps it means that we cultivate an inner beauty by letting outer appearances take care of themselves as we strive to become beautiful on the inside. To become kinder to ourselves and others. I went outside to run, but instead entered a classroom.

Biking Ugly

I love to bike, but I don’t like doing it for exercise. Seems like I would rather run, or walk, most of the time.   Even I find that odd.  However, I do like bicycling as a means of transportation, and as a lifestyle choice.  Bicycles are a marvel of evolutionary engineering, and just get better all the time.  I am lucky to live in a town which, although not perfect, does provide an environment where bicycling is promoted, and encouraged.

Schwinn Hybrid
Schwinn Hybrid

I have a Schwinn hybrid that is at least ten  years old.  I bought it when click shifting was maybe one or two years into production. It has a steel frame, it has gotten a lot of use, and it was a perfect choice.  I am still completely satisfied with it.  I went from a racing bike, that I actually did race (that is another story), to a bike I could use on the trail system here, and that would be reliable transportation. It was a great purchase. I purchased it from Walt’s Bike Shop here in Columbia, and they offer lifetime free labor.  I just had it in for a tune up and they replaced the chain, and some cables.  It cost me around thirty dollars.

I think walking, or riding  your bike, as an alternative to taking a car is an absolute sane, and healthy way to live.  It is better for you, the environment, and certainly  your pocket book.  I can drive my car to work and burn no calories, or I can ride it to work and burn 400 for free, and enjoy the outdoors all at the same time.  Weather is seldom an issue except for severe thunder storms, or extreme winter weather.  I will not ride in the ice and snow.  I would LOVE to do without a car entirely, and use my bike for everything, and am getting closer to being able to do that, although replacing a car 100% here in the United States is  challenging.

All of these pictures are ones I took yesterday when I rode my bike to campus to meet with some students, and stop by our local public radio station, KOPN at 89.5, to pick up a free mug I got for joining as a member.  They were having a pledge drive that day.

KOPN Coffee Mug
The coffee mug that cost me 90 bucks but I get to make monthly payments on it.

If you use your bike to commute you have to have the right bike, rightly equipped. For example,  I am very paranoid about breaking down,  getting stranded,  and then missing a class.  It takes me about 30 minutes door-to-door leisurely riding averaging right at 10 or 11 miles per hour.  In case something happens I allow for an hour which provides time to either fix things up, or walk in pushing the bike.  I carry C02 cartridges, spare tubes (more than one – I have had two punctures on one ride only once, but it was enough), and a few tools.  Also, a tube repair kit which I have absolutely no faith in.  I have learned that fifty dollar tires are worth the price.  To domesticate an already placid, forgiving, and reliable ride I have added the following accessories:

bicycle saddle bags
Cheap eBay saddle bags. LOVE them. Large capacity, and somewhat water proof. Less than ten bucks.
Cheap, WalMart bell.  Works great.  It does kind of chime as you ride and hit bumps but that is kind of charming.
Cheap, WalMart bell. Works great. It does kind of chime as you ride and hit bumps, but I find that rather charming.
Fenders.  These drive me crazy with their rattling, and they are finicky as far as adjusting them so they make less noise (never no noise), or rub.
Fenders. These drive me crazy with their rattling, and they are finicky as far as adjusting them so they make less noise (never no noise), or rub. But they are worth the expense, and trouble.  My most expensive add-on accessory.