The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 4: Intermediate Spinning

January 14, 2014 § 12 Comments

Now that you have mastered basic spinning, you have lots of questions and you’re not very pleased.

“How long was I supposed to spin for?”

“How far was I supposed to go?”

“What were my average watts/HR supposed to be?”

“How can I keep people from laughing at me when I post this to Strava?”

Well, grasshopper, that was just your first entry into the world of the Wanky Training Plan ™. Now that you have mastered the art of going out and doing something other than hammering, it is important to remember this Russian proverb: “The best way to protect yourself is to shut up. And when you finish doing that, shut up some more.”

As with excessive blather, spinning and rest must be followed by more spinning and rest. Here’s a handy-dandy self-evaluation quiz to help you determine whether or not you’ve truly mastered the art of spin.

Self-evaluation Quiz

  1. Why’m I going so fucking slow? Yes/No
  2. My legs can’t turn that fast. Yes/No
  3. Hey! There go my peeps! I’m gonna hop in and hammer for just a few minutes! Yes/No
  4. This is boring. Yes/No
  5. Can I hammer now? Yes/No

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, you haven’t yet mastered Spinning 101. Please return to the street and repeat the lesson in Chapter 3. Once you can spin in your tiniest, itsy-bitsiest, teensy-weensiest baby gear for two hours, you will be ready for Intermediate Spinning.

Torque v. Angular Velocity

Although Wankmeister generally eschews science in favor of completely made-up bullshit, it is a proven fact that on a bicycle power is the result of torque and angular velocity. This sounds complicated, but it’s not. Torque is mashing on the pedals. Imagine that you had the leg strength of Godzilla. When you mashed on the right pedal you would shear it off from the crank, dig the teeth of the chain ring into your leg, strip all the muscle away from the bone, and shatter your foot into a billion pieces when it hit the ground. This is torque. The more of that you have, the faster the bike will go, unless you have so much of it that you end up with no foot whatsoever, in which case you’re pretty well screwed.

Angular velocity is a fancy way of saying “making the crank spin quickly.” The quicker it spins, the faster you go. So if you could twirl the cranks at, say, 4,000,000 rpm, the whole contraption would heat up, melt the bottom bracket, tear the crank out of the frame, and result in a catastrophic accident. But if, say, you could twirl the cranks at a more reasonable 160 rpm, you’d go like a bat out of hell.

Most training plans try to help you develop torque by various impossible methods, listed below:

  1. Improve muscular force by diets designed to get rid of all your flab. Diets don’t work. Please quit now and have another helping of cookies.
  2. Improve muscular force by working out in the gym. You want to be a gym rat? Dude, gyms suck donkey balls. They are nasty, microbe-infested shitholes that are filled with sweaty big people who sneer at you because you’re so tweezly. Also, there’s no empirical evidence of any kind that gym work works.
  3. Improve muscular force by S/E workouts. These workouts are stupid and ineffective if you believe in science. They are great if you want to brag about your Wednesday “Big Ring workout” on Via del Monte.
  4. Improve muscular force through intervals. These work and are a living hell. You will hate racing and riding if you do them for long, or, you enjoy them because you are batshit crazy.
  5. Improve muscular force through banned PED’s. These work, but only when combined with #4. So, you’re back to square one. Plus, they’re expensive and will get you a 2 or 4-year racing vacation when you get caught.

Since improving torque is hopeless and/or painful, that only leaves one avenue: increasing angular velocity. In other words, spin the damn pedals faster. The problem is that you’re too weak to do it in a big gear, but there’s an additional problem. Your legs aren’t accustomed to going around fast. You’re a gronker with an average cadence of 70-85 rpm, and if you can’t turn 120 rpm in your 34 x 28, how the hell are you going to do it in your 53 x 11?

Answer: You aren’t.

So the challenge is to begin with baby steps. Start with your easiest gear, go out on your bike, and ride for an hour trying to keep it at about 100 to 110 rpm. This will feel like your legs are coming detached at the hip. If you’re really unlucky you’ll tear a tendon, ligament, muscle, or your tongue. Give it a try. Then get back to me and we’ll see if you’re really and truly ready for the intermediate lesson.

The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 3: How to Spin (not “Spoon”)

January 13, 2014 § 3 Comments

Aside from age, inability, laziness, drunkenness, and absence of desire — all key qualities for any racer seriously embarking on the Wanky Training Plan ™ — it is important to realize that the main thing holding you back from the fifth or even the fourth step of the ugly wooden podium that someone hammered together with cheap plywood so you could totter on it, arms waving wildly as you try to keep from plunging off the back and onto the concrete in the typical arms-raised-cyclist-in-slippery-cleats-on-painted-wood-pose, is fatigue.

The fact is that aside from the creaky joints, achey back, loose bowels, urinary incontinence, and general systemic collapse that generates discomfort and pain as you rush maddeningly faster down the death spiral of human longevity, your main problem is that you’re bone tired. And please don’t give me that “But I take off Mondays and Fridays,” or “Last week was a rest week” crap.

At your age it has to be a rest month, and you’d better be ready to make virtually every week a rest week if you’re going to succeed on the Wanky Training Plan ™.

Fatigue self-evaluation

The difference between fatigue and being tired is simple. Tired is what happens when you stay up late eating potato chips. Fatigued is what happens when you ride your bike for hundreds of miles every week. But in case you’re unsure, or more likely, in total denial, take the quiz:

  1. After riding, I sit at my desk and stare vacantly at the screen. Yes/No
  2. I do “training blocks.” Yes/No
  3. I do “base miles.” Yes/No
  4. If I miss three consecutive riding days I tell myself (and every wanker who will listen) that I’m “out of shape.” Yes/No
  5. I’ve never missed three consecutive riding days. Yes/No
  6. More is better. Yes/No
  7. I’m a gronker. Yes/No [Refer to Wanky’s Circular on Gronking, #45, in a previous blog post.]
  8. When I’m off my bike, motion is my enemy. Yes/No
  9. No injury or illness is so severe that some type of cycling (trainer, rollers, spin class) can’t be sneaked in. Yes/No
  10. I would ride less if … well, no, I wouldn’t. Yes/No

If you answered “Yes” to any of these, you are fatigued. Fatigue won’t go away with a day off, or a week off, or beer, and it’s different from overtraining. Whereas overtraining simply means you are stupid and cannot be helped, ever, because your newt-sized brain is permanently stuck on No. 6 in the quiz above, fatigue can be overcome. But like the lightbulb, you must want to change.

The Yin to the hammer’s Yang

Hammering is the Yang of cycling. You do it because you can, because you get sucked in, because you’re a chronic gronker, and because no one has ever shown you how to spin. Spinning, of course, is the Yin of cycling. We’ve all heard the same stupid advice for decades. “Spin to win.” “The pros all know how to spin.” “Practice with a fixie.” “Race the track, that’ll get your cadence up.” Blah, blah, blah.

Before you can spin, however, you must truly understand the Yin and why it is so important. It is important because, properly done, spinning will rest your legs, actively recover your legs, and build your cardiovascular fitness. What’s most extraordinary is that you can achieve all these things without ever doing an interval, with the exception of perhaps a Belgian Tripel followed by a stout and finished off with an IPA.

In order to spin, you must first relearn some basic stuff, and the most basic one is this: You gotta go slow. Right. I’m talking to you, Mr./Ms. Hammerallthetimebecauseitsfun. Because you have a hard time with new ideas, this one is going to be very simply stated.

  1. Put your bike in your easiest gear, no matter what the terrain.
  2. Start pedaling.
  3. Do not change the gear.

Okay. That’s it for today. Now go have a beer. See? I told you the Wanky Training Plan ™ was fun!


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Time to quit gronking

November 3, 2013 § 34 Comments

An article came out in Bike Radar a couple of days ago that reasserted what pros have known for a long time: quit gronking.

Gronking, of course, is the pedaling style of 99.9% of all bicycle riders everywhere, except for those who “super gronk.” I passed one of those dudes on the Donut Ride today, buried in the most intense super gronk I have seen in a long time — no helmet, rusted out MTB from 1989, and going up an 8% grade at the astounding gronk rate of about 20 rpm. I could count the hairs on his leg, he was pedaling so slowly.

Spin to win

We’ve all heard that stupid line. Has it helped? Hell, no. We keep gronking away, shoulders swaying so far from side to side on steep grades that they scrape the pavement, knee joints popping, IT bands snapping, and the only one who’s winning is the physical therapist.

So instead of “spin to win,” which plainly motivates no one, I’m urging you to “spin to beer.” The more you spin, the sooner you’ll get to the end of the ride and beer. You won’t win shit, and you won’t care.

The science of gronking vs. spinning

“Everything happens for a reason, and the reason is usually physics,” a wise woman once said.  With regard to cycling, everything happens due to physics and, of course, drugs, tainted beef, and volcano doping, but today we’ll just focus on the physics.

“There is an optimum torque for a given individual, much like there’s an optimal torque range in a car,” says Allen Lim. “Generally speaking, there is good research that shows that as power output goes up, the most efficient cadence for that power also goes up.” Lim, of course, is the former trainer of dopester Floyd Landis and employee of the now completely disgraced dopester team RadioShack during the Armstrong era.

If anyone should know about power output and the variables that affect it, it’s Lim, who’s now doing penance for his association with the dopesters by selling healthful nutrition for athletes.

But back to gronking …

What Lim is saying is that you, essentially, suck, and that in order to reduce your suckage coefficient you can either train harder and smarter (har!), volcano dope (not happenin’ with the kids’ orthodontia, etc.), or raise your cadence.

Why we gronk

Our terrible, inefficient, power sapping, esthetically unappealing cadences are a function of laziness. Intuitively, our bodies know that the faster we pedal the more tired we will get. This is the same body that tells us to have just one more for the road, to give crystal meth a try, and to invest in penny stocks.

In other words, our bodies and minds are clueless and delusional. Doubt me? Look at all the people who have purchased an Elliptigo. Or a unicycle. Or lottery tickets.

Your body, although generally stupid, is simply operating based on the data you provide it. When you were a little kid, you noticed that the faster you ran, the more exhausted you got. When you graduated to bicycling, you noticed that the faster you went, the more pain you felt in your legs. Your body then did the arithmetic and concluded that “the more pain you feel, the faster you’re going.”

Never mind that you are a slug, and never mind that external data contradict your internal arithmetic: even though you’re slow as shit, as long as you’re feeling discomfort as a result of mashing harder than a Tennessee bootlegger, your body concludes that you’re “going fast.”

So while your body is telling you to lapse into that laboring, soul-sapping gronk, physics is telling you to find an easier gear and spin. More importantly, fashion is telling you that  when you gronk and slog and mash and grind, you look like you’re giving rectal birth to a watermelon.

Technical solutions

For years, the compact crank has been regarded as the old man’s dying wheeze or the refuge of sissies. That’s still true. However, by replacing your current 56-47 chainring configuration with a more svelte 50-34 you will not only cease showering the bunch with the juice from your exploding knee joints, you will go faster.

To add even more kick to the likker, you can abandon your corncob and hit mountain bike ratios on your cassette. SRAM offers a 12-32, a 12-36, and, for those who are unreconstructed gronkers with a penchant for double IPA’s and cheeseburgers, SRAM also offers a 15-75.

So the next time I see you on the road, let’s quit gronking and “spin to beer.”


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